COOL Owl Pellets

Our COOL friends gathered at our home on Friday for an engaging activity about birds of prey. We started out with a game from Ranger Rick’s Naturescope Birds Birds Birds called, “Pass the Part”. The kids worked in teams (I divided them strategically to assure there was a reader on each team) to review bird characteristics. After reading a riddle, the kids discuss the clue and decide what answer best matches. They then take turns using a straw (each child has his/her own straw) to pick up the answer (printed on a slip of paper) and take it to the answer chart posted on an adjacent wall. As soon as each team finishes, the game is over.I’ve done this activity many times in the classroom with great success. The kids love it and enjoy the silliness of using the straw to transfer their answers. In a mixed age-group like COOL, however, it was more difficult because not everyone was knowledgeable about bird anatomy and some terms were unfamiliar (air sacs, crop, gizzard, struts, etc.). I enjoy sharing activities and planning science lessons for the group but it is difficult to know what each family has been exposed to in the past. Nonetheless, I know they all enjoyed the activity and learned at least a little something. 😀
Perhaps the best thing about the day was the opportunity for the kids to interact with one another and learn from their peers. I love that homeschooling allows for children of all ages to interact more in a learning setting than they would isolated by age-group in a standard classroom. Of course, this also means I (as the one who planned the activity) need to mindful of different ability levels and varied interests.
I had expected all the kids to be interested in the owl pellet activity. As it was, only about half of the kids took the time to really investigate what was contained within each pellet. Some spent a good 20-30 minutes finding the little bones of the prey and worked to identify the tiny body part (vertebrate, scapula, skull, etc.). A few, like the girls pictured above, spent over an hour completely engaged and absorbed! Others, like Sweetie, spent only a couple of minutes at the table (I didn’t even get a chance to take her photo). Instead, she ran to get her crochet hook and sat down with another mom to practice her new skill.
This was perfectly fine! I love that she has her own interests and isn’t too timid to ask other adults for their help. Another great thing about homeschooling – the kids can follow their heart’s desire and learn what is of most interest to them! She will absolutely learn more this way than had I forced her to do the owl pellet activity.

The children will also be comfortable with other people – regardless of age, race, religion or otherwise. They will grow up appreciating that we can learn something from everyone. That everyone is valued.
As Buddy gets older, he surprises me with his curiousity and increased focus. He is beginning to play independently for longer and longer periods; building with legos or playing with his trains and trucks. He is also beginning to share an interest in doing schoolwork and periodically, when Sweetie is working on a task, he’ll say, “I do my schoolwork, too!”
He will sit and listen to picture books more and more. When I read aloud chapter books, he is beginning to use a much quieter voice as he plays on the floor nearby (he used to make very LOUD car noises which was not at all conducive to reading aloud). It is such a joy to me to be able to observe these little changes. To know that our presence in their lives is helping to assure that they are developing into happy, respectful, young people… curious about the world around them and eager to learn.

One Small Square :: Nature Study

I know we are a little behind on the Green Hour Challenges. We just got off track a little but we are back! We plan to catch up when we can and post as we go along.

Today we ventured out to the meadow in our planned neighborhood to do #9 – One Small Square. We probably should have selected an area randomly, perhaps by throwing a hoola-hoop out and studying the area in which it landed. However, the kids wanted a shrub in their study plot assuming it would provide more interesting discoveries. I figured I could introduce scientific sampling methods when they are older. 😀
This first picture shows the kids working together to investigate a small hole they discovered. They found a stick and used it to poke down in the hole to find out how deep it was. The hole was as long as the stick (about 1 foot) but it also turned as it went deeper so I imagine it went even farther. There were holes all over the meadow and we hypothesized that small field mice probably lived in them and that the holes were connected by underground tunnels. We plan to do a little research to learn more.
We also got out the loupes and looked at the small plants that were sprouting. We were surprised to find mostly dead grass. There were only 3 different types of small plants growing – 4 if you count the shrub which I think was Bitterbrush (hard to tell yet without the foliage). We were surprised to see only 2 insects (one small black ground beetle and a few ants) – we even dug small holes beneath the grass.
We spent about 20-30 in the meadow and then meandered over to the pond. We were hoping to find tadpoles as the kids have been wanting to catch some to observe the metamorphosis. Again, it seems spring is late in arriving to Central Oregon. We saw only a few water striders and whirligig beetles. Three Canada Geese observed us from afar.

Backyard Safari Frog Habitat by Summit ToysThe kids were delighted to get out again. We had intended on starting a year-long tree study, but our goals morphed as we were underway. We captured a few aquatic insects and the kids wanted to bring them home to observe more closely. We have two small habitats that the kids received as gifts some time ago but discovered when we added our specimens that they are much too small and are more of a cool-looking toy than a true aquarium for scientific study.

Backyard Safari Bug Habitat by Summit ToysBoth habitats are products of Summit Toys and are a great idea in theory. Put to use, however, I am not impressed. The water in the frog habitat splashes out and leaks out the bottom when the kids try to move the habitat to see different angles and there is so much plastic inside that there is very little ‘liveable’ space for the critters. The bug habitat is too shallow to add any substrate. My thought is that these toys are designed for one-day use and not long-term observation. I would not recommend these to families interested in studying insects or rearing tadpoles.

We Are Just Beginning ~ SOTW

I’ve seemingly been absent from the homeschooling/blogging realm lately. Marathon training and an online art class I’ve been taking to renew my teaching certificate have been overwhelming me a little lately. This is, perhaps, what I like best about homeschooling… the ability to relax and allow life and learning to happen naturally. We are not forced into some arbitrary schedule. Though I consider ourselves now to be a Classical/Charlotte Mason Homeschool, I am also very flexible and occasionally, our schooling looks more Unschoolish. For this reason, we won’t be taking the summer months off. We are a year-round school and take advantage of all learning opportunities that we are presented.

After recently reading The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer, I did a little research online and was intrigued by The Story of the World. It is a four-volume series of books (with accompanying activity guides) that introduce the student to the history of the world. It is designed to be a read-aloud for parents and teachers to share with elementary school children.

The history of the world is divided into four time periods and ideally, the student would cycle through each time period three time during their school years (grades 1-12). We begin grade 1 with The Ancients and will revisit the same time period again in 5th and 9th grades. As we do so, more indepth (grade level) readings will be integrated and by the third cycle, she’ll be reading original works (i.e., The Odyssey)

Volume 1: Ancient Times

Volume 2: The Middle Ages

Volume 3: Early Modern Times

Volume 4: The Modern Age

I purchased the first volume and planned to get started when Sweetie would unofficially start first grade (Fall ’08). [Because her birthday falls after the Sept 1st cut-off, she would officially be in Kindergarten this fall, however, we started in Aug ’07.] She saw the books in our new homeschooling classroom and immediately started asking questions. She found images of Chinese script and Emperor Qin in the book and was excited (we did a small unit-study on Ancient China in January). She started begging me to start now! I thereby gave in and we got underway last week.

Each chapter is divided into two sections. I read-aloud each section and then stop to allow her time to narrate (re-tell what she heard). Narration is a learning method that can be used for any age and for any subject. The child simply ‘tells back’ what she just had read to her. This simple concept is the cornerstone of a Charlotte Mason homeschool. Essentially, after we’ve watched a movie or educational program or read-aloud a book, I will ask Sweetie to tell me what she can recall. As she does so, I write down her words. When she pauses, I read back what she told me, inquiring if there are any details or facts that she would like to add.

Occasionally, a weak narration can be the result of simple misunderstanding. There may be key vocabulary words that she is not understanding. Maybe a key event was not grasped. When this happens, I ask questions to identify where the problem lies and we may re-read the passage.

Here is a sample narration that Sweetie did after we read “The Earliest People” from The Story of the World, Volume 1: The Ancients. The purple indicates her words. The black italic typeface indicates areas where she paused and said, “That’s all I remember.” When she does this, I try to illicit more information by asking questions. I may also review key vocabulary with her if she uses a word incorrectly.

Indians moved their tents a lot to get food. They looked for lizards, honey, eggs, nuts, seeds, berries, and roots. [We reviewed the term ‘nomads’.] A nomad is a person who moves around a lot looking for food. [When do they decide to move on to a new place? How do they know when to move?] They move when there isn’t as much food anymore.

In the Fertile Crescent and other areas, nomads kept coming back because there was a lot of food there. So they stayed there and started building houses and walls to keep bad guys out. These were the first villages and cities. [What about the animals?] They also started planting crops, raising animals for food, and trading with other people.

Narration also provides a foundation for good writing skills. Right now, as her writing skills are just beginning, she gives oral narrations. But later, those exact same skills of articulation, analysis, application, and comprehension are used in writing expository paragraphs and essays. We will begin transitioning into written narrations (instead of verbal narrations) around age 10 or 11, when she is comfortable writing.

Sons of Norway

While I was in college, I was a member of the local Sons of Norway lodge. I was not active by any means but I enjoyed reading the Viking publication that would arrive in mailbox and I looked forward to traveling to Norway some day. The primary reason why I wasn’t active is because there were no other young members – though my great aunt and uncle were long-time members, social functions were a little awkward. I also worked 30+ hours a week on top of my 18+ term credit load… I really didn’t have the time.

As a parent, I want the best for my children. As a homeschooling mom, I look for every opportunity to provide educational experience for them. I have known there is an active lodge here in Central Oregon since we first moved here… all things Norwegian tend to grab my attention.

A few weeks ago, I happened to drive by the lodge and I noticed there were a few cars parked outside. On a whim, I stopped and inquired within about the make-up of the members. I hoped there would be other young families so that I could make connections… I didn’t want to feel isolated and I wanted the kids to be welcome… their exhuberance and all.We attended our first Sons of Norway social last night and I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, as one would guess, the majority of the members are elderly… yet there were several young members… and the kids made friends with them immediately. Come to find out, the one family with whom I had connected when I first stopped are long-time homeschoolers themselves (though the girls are all in college). It was a little difficult at times to keep all the kids quiet at times – but all in all, the other members were very welcoming and accepting. I didn’t have a chance to visit with many but those I did talk with were very warm. I look forward to future gatherings. It will be a great opportunity for us all to learn about our cultural heritage and make new friends.

Vi sees (See you later).

Another Great Book ~ A Classics Based Education It Will Be

I just finished another great book on homeschooling… Anyone considering homeschooling should read this book. Parents who are frustrated with the public school system but fear they wouldn’t be successful teaching their own should read this book.

Let me state for the record that when I decided to homeschool my children, I was honestly intimidated. All my teacher education had brainwashed me. I was convinced that parents couldn’t possibly teach their own children. It had to be done in an institutional setting… professionals with specialized training and expertise. I happen to have a teacher’s certificate. But even now, just 9 months into our homeschooling journey, I have learned more academic material, more about how to manage individual relationships with children, and more about how to teach than I did in any of my teacher-education courses. Teacher-education courses gave me a great deal of good information on how to manage large groups of children. I needed that in schools, but a parent doesn’t need it to teach at home.


The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home
by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. It is very similar to The Thomas Jefferson Education that I posted about a few weeks ago… an approach to my children’s education based upon the classics with a heavy emphasis on reading and writing. Teaching history, science and literature in a four-year pattern; a pattern that roughly corresponds to the periods of scientific discovery.

Ancients ~ 5000 BC-AD 400 ~ Biology/Plants/Human Body
Medieval/Early Renaissance ~ 400-1600 ~ Earth Science/Astronomy
Late Renaissance/Early Modern ~ 1600-1850 ~ Chemistry
Modern ~ 1850-Present ~ Physics/Computer Science

“This pattern lends coherence to the study of history, science, and literature – subjects that are too often fragmented and confusing. The pattern widens and deepens as the child matures and learns. A first grader may listen to you read the story of the Iliad from one of the picture-book versions available at any public library. Four years later, the fifth grader reads one of the popular middle-grade adaptations – Olivia Coolidge’s The Trojan War, or example. The ninth grader, faced with Homer’s Ilidad itself – plunges right in, undaunted. She already knows the story. What’s to be scared of?”

It is strongly based upon ancient approaches to education called the trivium, which covered grammar, logic, and rhetoric as the tools by which a student can then analyze and master every other subject. Loosely, logic is concerned with the thing as-it-is-known; grammar is concerned with the thing-as-it-is-symbolized; and rhetoric is concerned with the thing-as-it-is-communicated

One of the most impressive things about this book is that it doesn’t just provide the theories, reasons, and/or personal accounts for why this approach works. It provides a history of classical education, an overview of the methodology and philosophy of classical education, and best of all (at least in my mind) an annotated lists of books, divided by grade and topic, that list the best books for classical education in each category. In essence, the authors (both homeschoolers themselves!) have done the heavy lifting by filtering through all the materials available today. For math curriculum, for example, they even weigh the pros/cons for all the major curriculum materials (Saxon, A Beka, Singapore, Math-U-See, Calvert, etc.) and thereby make a suggestion for the one that they feel is the best and why. This is why the book is so huge – 810 pages!

Note: Some of their suggestions are of other books they have authored yet they make a strong point of assuring readers to go their own route… choosing what is best for the interests/maturity level/needs/etc. of the students – your children. Their suggestions are just that – suggestions. Potential starting points.

I am so excited to be on this journey with my children. I know there will be good days and bad – bring it on!

Sedges Have Edges :: Nature Study

We went to the museum again for our weekly nature walk… though, the weather was a little chilly and due to a slight miscommunication in scheduling, our walk didn’t get put on the interpretive talks / animal encounter schedule until a just a few moments before we were to begin. Alas, it was just the 3 of us, allowing us time to practice and focus more on the challenge for last week’s Green Hour Challenge

I decided to focus on tree buds (as I knew it would be do-able in the field with lots of kids – should they come) and they would be able to extend the activity easily at home. Before we departed, I jotted down some notes and made a quick sketch in my journal to label the parts of a typical branch.When we started on our walk, we headed directly to the pond. In Central Oregon, the Ponderosa Pine and Junipers dominate… so I knew the best place for deciduous trees on the museum grounds would be near the pond.

We spent a few minutes watching the trout, a turtle and a Canada Goose before we turned our focus to ‘Signs of Spring’. Each of the kids pointed out trees that had buds on them. I told them that spring also brought out resident birds in search of nesting sights, migrating birds stopping by for a rest and a meal, and the rushes and grasses would send up new green shoots. They were quickly able to find evidence of new sedges growing up along the banks of the pond.

I shared with them a poem I used to teach my 4th graders:

“Sedges have edges,
Rushes are round,
Grasses have bumps all the way to the ground.”

We then took a small branch clipping so we could look more closely at the buds inside. It was uncomfortably cold out and I knew they wouldn’t be able to focus much longer outdoors. When we got back inside, they each climbed up on a bench and pulled out the small loupes to take a closer look at their discovery.

I encouraged them to sketch their branch in their nature journals. I was confidant Sweetie would have no difficulty but she struggled a little with the right technique. She wanted to trace the entire branch and was frustrated the branch was larger than her journal. I made a few suggestions and she was underway.

Buddy, on the other hand, surprised me. He doesn’t normally color or sketch anything! But he got right to it and completed his sketch in just a few minutes. Needless to say, I was impressed that he got even a slight resemblance (he’s done nothing but scribble before now). He is a little budding artist, too! (yes, the pun was intended).

I, myself, didn’t get a chance to sketch a single bud. Though I did bring home the clippings we took and I made a few notes. We’ll come back to our journals again tomorrow.