Crickets ~ Outdoor Hour #24

We spent a wonderful afternoon with our COOL friends at a local park on Friday. On the way home, we made a few stops. One of which was Pet Smart. We needed to get crickets for our Bearded Dragon and while we were there, the kiddos asked if we couldn’t buy a fish as well. As we are studying Vertebrate Animals in science – I couldn’t refuse and I allowed them each to pick out a Betta. I’ll be posting in a few weeks the activities we do in regards to Fish – so be sure to check back.

When we returned home, rather than release the crickets in our lizard’s terrarium immediately, we took some time to observe them more closely. Coincidentally, a recent Nature Hour focus is Crickets! Sweetie drew this picture of a female cricket for her nature journal. I read aloud from the Handbook of Nature Study as the kiddos observed the crickets and sketched (Buddy opted not to sketch this time).
That evening, after the kiddos were tucked in bed, DH returned from his buddy’s house where the two grown boys were tinkering with their RC planes. He brought with him a Praying Mantid that they had found in the garage. What a treat! I couldn’t wait to share the treasure with the kiddos in the morning. I went out onto our front porch (insects converge their at night as we leave the porch light on) to capture a late night meal. The little green mantid wasted no time in capturing the little beetle I had provided.
The next morning, the kids were ecstatic about their friend. “Now we have 5 pets! A lizard, a rat, two fish and a Preying Mantis!” We observed it for quite a while and went out to capture something for it to eat, though it wasn’t too interested in eating while we observed. You can see in Sweetie’s illustration the little circle on the foreleg. We read in The Handbook of Nature Study that this is the ear on a cricket and katydid. We assume it is the same on a mantid.

While enjoying the Sons of Norway picnic yesterday, the little guy Sweetie was playing with found a grasshopper. As they brought it to my attention, Sweetie said, “It is a girl.” “How do you know, Sweetie?” “Because it has that egg laying thing on it’s abdomen.” I was pleasantly surprised by the connection she made… the ovipositor of a cricket and a grasshopper are quite different, but she was right!
Later that evening, we went out to find our mantid friend a meal and we easily captured a fly. Within a minute or two of the flies arrival within the terrarium, the mantid had it between it’s forearms. We should have observed the fly on its own for awhile – flies are the focus of challenge #25. Next time!

Sons of Norway Picnic

We attended the Sons of Norway annual picnic yesterday afternoon and had a wonderful time. Just the kiddos and I as DH had made plans to fly RC planes with his buddy. He has also told me that he is expected to socialize, mingle and work with people as a part of his job… on the weekends and evenings, he is very tired (his job is intense and stressful) and prefers to just relax, do whatever chores need doing, and invest his free time in his family and personal interests.

I understand what he is saying… where he is coming from. He is a very social person. When we are together, I rely upon him to get conversations started. I am generally very quiet in large groups… I’m really quite shy when I don’t know anyone. It is actually beneficial that I attend these functions on my own as it forces me to open up and engage others in conversation. The only drawback is that it is difficult to do this when I must also watch the kiddos.

We haven’t yet had the opportunity to meet everyone – I know only a handful of the other members. One woman I met today, Priscilla, is originally from England. When we returned home and I was glancing at the lodge newsletter I discovered that she is a marathon runner and was recently inducted into the Distance Runners Hall of Fame. She won the Boston marathon in …. and hold many Masters records. I wish I had known this at the time I met her – I would have loved to talk more and even to ask for her autograph! I will certainly seek her out at the next gathering.

When we first arrived, Sweetie had brought along a cross-stitch project she had just started. She got to work on it right away and many of the older ladies were intrigued and impressed that Sweetie was doing it on her own. One woman asked her her age and Sweetie said she would be 6 next month. “Oh. You’ll be starting school soon. Where will you go?” The woman inquired. “I homeschool.” The woman smiled and said, “You are very blessed.” Sweetie replied, “Yes. I am lucky.” The woman then looked at me and with a smile asked, “So I would guess she is at the 3rd grade level?” I answered, “In some subject areas, nearly so.” Sweetie announces, “I love math! I’m starting a 2nd grade book soon!” Shortly after everyone had eaten, the games began. The social committee members had done a spectacular job organizing everyone and getting everyone involved. I was impressed with not only the variety of games but also with how everyone participated. The games were very simple and brought everyone to riotous laughter.

The games started with a Water Balloon Toss. The kids loved this and soon, the adults were joining in on the fun. It turned out to be a great way to get everyone up and motivated as it was a rather humid afternoon. The group was then divided into two teams. Between the teams were two sawhorses with a 2×4 laid across the top and secured with vise-grips. Each team then took turns attempting to strike a nail with a hammer while holding it with just one hand (the little ones were given an exemption from this rule). The first team to get the nail all the way through was declared the winner. We played several rounds of this game (I’ll call it Hammer Relay) – it was a huge hit!

Another game involved teamwork, as pairs had to work together to move two planks across the playing field. This game was appropriately called Troll Feet and illustrated upon the planks were the painted red toes of a troll. The highlight of the day, though, was undeniable a Rubber Boot Toss whereby participants, divided into two teams, raced one another to fling an adult man’s rubber boot through your legs and up and over your backside (you had to bend over to do this). The goal was to get the boot to go forward ahead of where you were standing, but this took a little getting used to. My first attempt sent the boot about 20 feet behind me which set my team back a huge margin. We managed to catch up but were not able to make up the difference in time.

We all had a great time – particularly the kiddos. We look forward to future gatherings. I would like to get more involved – we’ll see what opportunities may develop.

Our 2008/09 School Plans

It seems everyone is planning out the upcoming school year. I actually enjoy the process and get excited about all the activities I hope to incorporate over the year. This year, Sweetie will technically be in 1st grade and Buddy will be an official preschooler.

We have been using a blend of approaches but mostly Classical and Charlotte Mason. As a teacher, I am comfortable creating my own materials and pulling things together from a variety of sources. Other than an idea of what topics we want to cover over the course of the year – where I want each of my children to be academically – I don’t follow a specific plan.


The teacher within me has developed a weekly plan (shown above) of what subjects I teach on Monday, what subjects we do on Tuesday, etc. It gives me an idea of what to accomplish each week, however, I have discovered that I rarely follow this schedule. In this way, we are Unschoolers – taking it day by day. We do what we feel like doing. We study what is of interest at the moment. We go with the flow.
For Sweetie:

  • Reading: We’ll continue to use Teaching Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. It finally clicked this summer. She can read most 3-letter words now and is beginning to sound out longer words. We are also using the Now I’m Reading! series by Nora Gaydos. She is motivated to read all of the mini-books on her own and has nearly finished Level 1.
  • Poetry: New this year is also a new poem each week. My hope is to begin with copywork and then progress to memorizing the poem by weeks end.
  • Grammar & Writing: Integrated through science and history … copywork, letters to family and friends, creative writing activities, etc. We really enjoy the Draw Write Now! series of books – we have all 8 – and I select pages that relate to our studies in science and history. I work in grammar skills as she does these assignments. We also play MadLibs frequently and she is able to define verb, adverb, noun and adjective.
  • Handwriting: She’ll continue to practice cursive letters with a Practice Power book that has a write on-wipe off surface. Continued practice with alphabet sheets from LearningPage.com and copywork printed out at Zaner-Bloser online. Most of her daily work is done in block script. Once she is comfortable with cursive, I’ll request that she apply her skill.

  • Spelling: We didn’t do spelling last year. I thought I would give the Spelling Workout program a try this year. We’ll also take words from our reading to incorporate science and social studies.
  • Math: Math is her strong area. She can do multiple digit addition with carrying. She also can do multiple digit subtraction but can not yet borrow. She can tell time and does well adding/subtracting money. She is beginning multiplication and division. She has very few lessons left in Singapore 1B, then we’ll work through 2A and 2B. We didn’t use the workbooks with 1A and 1B but we plan to with level 2. Between each text, we’ll take a week or two to practice skills and before we advance to the next level. Throughout the week, I also try to incorporate as many games and manipulatives as possible.
  • Physical Education: She’ll continue with her study of Taekwondo. She may also continue with Ballet and/or Tap – depending on her interest later in the year. We’ll also continue to incorporate running, swimming and cycling throughout the year.
  • Chinese: We’ll pick up where we left off on Mango Languages and do a lesson a week (we’ve mastered only the first 2 lessons). Ideally, I’d like to do the online lesson on Monday so we can have the week to practice the vocabulary. I can then make up little activities to enhance the lesson (bingo, matching sheets, etc.).
  • Sign Language: When Sweetie was little, we did a lot of signing. We love the Signing Time DVDs which we borrow from the library. Another homeschool mom is teaching an American Sign Language class this fall and Sweetie has expressed interest, so we’ll give that a try.

For Buddy:
He has been saying, “I want to do schoolwork, too.” So he’ll be focusing on learning the alphabet, using letteroftheweek.com and occasionally alphabet pages from First-School. We will also introduce computer skills (use of the mouse) on occasion. One of my favorite learning sites is Starfall.

  • Handwriting: He’ll begin to practice block letters with a Practice Power book that has a write on-wipe off surface. Continued practice with alphabet sheets from LearningPage.com
  • Math: We’ll continue to practice simple addition and subtraction with manipulatives (his plastic animals, Hot Wheels, etc.).
  • Physical Education: He has expressed interest in also studying Taekwondo. He has participated in one class (for fun) and did well. As a result, we will register him in September when the Dojo begins offering classes for 4 year olds. Though he isn’t yet 4, he will be allowed to participate since he has watched his sister for 2 years and understands what is expected. We’ll also continue to incorporate running, swimming and cycling throughout the year.


Although I plan the rest of the subjects specifically for Sweetie, I try to include Buddy as much as possible.

  • Art: It was nice last year to have artist of the month to focus on, so I randomly picked 9 more artists to study. We discovered last year that we are most likely to do art when it ties into another subject so I did my best to also incorporate the art of ancient cultures.
  • Music: I really want to incorporate music into our curriculum. I have thereby randomly picked 9 composers to study, using materials from Classical Magic and Classics for Kids, among other resources. I also play to buy a few instruments and begin introducing them to reading music. I played clarinet 5th – 12th grade so I am familiar with the basics. As they progress and express interest, I’ll seek out other avenues, as this is the area I am least comfortable.
  • Science: Science is a natural part of life around here. This year, we will begin to follow the 4-year rotation of science outlined in The Well-Trained Mind. This year is life science. We spent much of the summer focused on plants, fall will be devoted to animals, winter on the human body, and spring will be on ecology. As I am a former elementary science teacher, I have a significant library of activities and materials. I will thereby pull things together as we go along. One of my favorite resources is Ranger Rick Nature Scope activity books. We’ll also continue with our Outdoor Hour Challenges each week.
  • History: We are continuing with the 4-year rotation outlined in The Well-Trained Mind. I recently purchased all 4 volumes of The Story of the World along with the accompanying activity guides. This years focus is on The Ancients. We will also use History Pockets Ancient Civilizations and copywork from History Scribe and/or Smooth Stones Academy.
  • Library: We go to the library once a week to check out books related to our current studies in science and history. The kids also check out a few books ‘just for fun’. There are comfy giant bears to cuddle upon to read. There is also a quiet study area that we’ll take advantage of between activities so that we can avoid going home and going back out again.

County Fair

As is tradition, we attended the county fair on opening day (convenient with our schedule – particularly this year). The kiddos and I arrived about an hour before DH and had just enough time to walk through the animal exhibits before he met up with us after work. Buddy was most intrigued by a woman sheering a sheep. Sweetie was enamored by the rabbits and even asked one of the 4-H members if she could pet her bunny. I love bunnies myself, and hope that when the kids are older and members of 4-H themselves, that DH will allow them to have a bunny.
When DH joined us, we walked amongst the commercial booths for a few minutes before buying tickets for the rides. Fortunately, the kiddos are young and are thereby terrified of the ‘big rides’… the ‘kiddie rides’ seem much safer to me anyway! The kids enjoyed 7 rides a piece and we then decided to get a bite for dinner. I made the mistake of getting just enough cash for dinner – there wasn’t enough to buy an elephant ear or snow cones – but then again, perhaps that was a good thing? We then walked through the 4-H and Open Class Exhibits. Last year, Sweetie had entered a few things in the Kids Corner and she was encouraged to do so again this year. This year she had 7 projects: Scrapbook Page (Best Friends, sorry no picture), Apple Butter, Crocheted Item (washcloth), Nature Craft (insect collection), Paper Mache (Egyptian Canopic Jar), Watercolor (Horntail Caterpillar), and Pastel Drawing (Egyptian Pyramids). She did very well! All blue ribbons except the scrapbook page which received a white ribbon and the insect collection that received a green (at her age level, there is no category for entomology and her collection wasn’t really considered a ‘craft’).
Buddy also had one entry this year. A pastel drawing that he told me was a storm. We thereby titled it, Eye of the Storm. He also won a blue ribbon – though he was the only entrant in Pastels for his age division. Sweetie was the only entrant for Crocheted Item and Food Preserves – Jellies as well. We have noticed a significant decline in the number of handcraft entrants each year (photography is the only category that has seen an increase in entrants). I recall from when I was in 4-H, there were racks of clothing items and other entries. Now, there are only a few. This makes winning easy but takes away from the spirit of competition.

As homeschoolers, the county fair is a great opportunity to showcase our work and get an opportunity to see and be inspired by the work of others. I wish, though, that more people would take advantage of the learning opportunity.

Wildlife Safari :: Field Trip

I have very fond memories of visiting the Wildlife Safari when I was a little girl. I was thereby very excited to share the experience with my own children. We arrived Friday just before 11 a.m. and proceeded to drive through the park. Immediately, animals were visible all around us. Though we were able to see all the animals relatively well (the cheetahs were the only exception), most were not very active due to the heat.
Preceeding our visit, I attempted to contact the education department to inquire about possible pre-visit activities and field booklets they may provide for school children. Unfortunately, no one returned my calls. I thereby had to create our own activity books. Sweetie was focused and worked diligently on completing the pages – she even collected data to help us to answer the question, “How often do elephants interact?” Two sample pages from her field research notes are shown below. If you are interested in seeing the complete booklet, it is available as a free download at Homeschool Launch. I’d be more than happy to share.Buddy, on the other hand, was focused on another objective, “When we go to Grandma and Papa’s? I’m ready to go now. How much longer? It’s been a long time.” He makes me laugh! Whenever we go anywhere, he is very anxious and filled with excitement and anticipation. No sooner do we arrive and he is ready to depart for the next adventure.
Throughout the park, they allow you to have your windows rolled down to take photographs. The only area that this is restricted is in the bear habitat. They even have a guy on patrol watching for would be violators! As I am taking photos from the passenger window, DH rationalizes that it must be okay to roll the windows down since the bears are playing with one another some distance away. As he does so, the patrol guy announces over the loud speaker, “Keep your windows rolled up in the bear habitat!”
Busted! I think DH felt a little silly for breaking the rules… we quickly moved on to the next area.
Sweetie enjoyed the safari as much as I predicted she would. She spent most of the evening drawing pictures of the animals that she had observed. I was a little disappointed with the facilities. The park was opened in 1973 and it is very obvious that the buildings and structures are dated. I was surprised that there were limited number of ‘Ranger Talks’ and opportunities to learn more. We basically observed the animals from a distance, nothing more. No signage. No talks. No docents or volunteers anywhere!
It is unfortunate that the region doesn’t have a stronger economic base with which to support their endeavors with fund raising and private donations. Gives me things to mull over and discuss with my Roots & Shoots group in the near future.

On a related note, we are going to be focusing on vertebrate animals in our science studies over the next couple of months. I generally start with inverts… but since we had an opportunity to go on safari, I figured it was a good kick-off.

Othello & The Hobart Shakespearans

Last week, DH and I attended a Shakespeare play in Ashland as part of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It has become an annual tradition, this being our 3rd year. In past years, we’ve seen A Winter’s Tale and Romeo & Juliet (the best production thus far). This year, I selected Othello.

As we had won a silent auction package at a Chamber function earlier in the year, our seats were good (Section A Row S). However, we were in the balcony and it was difficult to hear the actors. I don’t know if this was solely due to our seats or if the actors were not as audible as they have been in the past.

Othello is performed on the Elizabethan stage open to the air, my favorite. Last year, we attended the preface to learn more about the story, themes and characters of Romeo & Juliet. This year, we didn’t have the luxury of time. I wish we had, however, as I was less familiar with the story of Othello than I was of Romeo & Juliet.

In the playbill, the director writes, “The thing that makes Othello so very modern – and so frightening – is the way it takes us on a journey into madness. It is deeply psychological before the invention of psychology. Iago is a mesmerizing guide on this journey…” Dan Donohue, who plays Iago, is great! He is my favorite actor in the company.

Preforming in the courtyard, prior to seating, were The Hobart Shakespeareans, a group of students from Los Angeles. Inspired by their performance, I bought the book Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire by Rafe Esquith. It is a fast read and is certainly inspiring!

After reading the reviews on Amazon, however, I agree that Rafe has a rather large ego. One of the biggest advantages he has over the typical public school is that he teaches in a year-round school and though it is an inner-city school, many of his students have previously been identified as ‘gifted’. Additionally, there is a big difference between the children of new immigrants seeking to make a new life for themselves and the children of impoverished families who have lived in American housing projects for generations, have little faith left in the system and are often unmotivated as students and parents.

The book is a fast read and provides several suggestions for fun games and challenging educational activities in all subject areas. Though I had hoped for more practical information on how to teach Shakespeare and integrate baseball into the curriculum, I was intrigued by the diversity of the projects he undertakes in Room 56. I would recommend this book to teachers both in the classroom and in the home.

Barb inquired about the production in a comment she left earlier; “I would love to hear about Othello. We were actually thinking about going to the Festival this year but couldn’t decide on which play to see. We thought Othello might be too dark for the kids.”

To answer her question, I think that older children would do well with the psychology of Othello. Many of the Hobart Shakespeareans were in the theater also enjoying Othello. If your children have been exposed to Shakespeare and are familiar with the stories – they’ll enjoy Othello.