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!

What Schooling Looks Like in Our Home

As I’ve mentioned briefly in the past, we use a unique blend of materials and methods suited to our lifestyle of learning. It is largely literature-based, a little Montessori, a little unschoolish, a little unit-study, a little classics based (Thomas Jefferson/Well-Trained Mind), a little Charlotte Mason… We basically go with the flow.

I encourage the children to ask questions and investigate their natural curiosities. When they express an interest in something, I plan hands-on lessons, activities and excursions to provide avenues for them to explore and learn. We frequently create lapbooks for each of these explorations. Thus far, we’ve created lapbooks for Ancient China, The Iditarod, Song Birds, Ballet, The American Flag, and Maple Sugaring.

Sweetie will frequently ask to do schoolwork and pull down workbooks that we’ve purchased at Barnes & Noble or local teacher supply stores. She generally works through them independently, particularly the math books as this is her strength. When she selects a language arts workbook, she will ask me to sit with her. I’ll read the directions and help her to work through each page. Her phonetic skills are improving and she needs my assistance less and less.

On occasion (and according to the schedule I created to help maintain my sanity), I will ask if they would like to listen to a story. Either from Story of the World, books that relate to our focus in history or science, or an everybody book just for fun. In the evening, after they have brushed their teeth and changed into PJs, I read to them from a chapter book. They are loving Laura Ingalls’ Little House series right now (we’ve read both Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie) – they wanted to read the third, Farmer Boy, but I encouraged them to take a break as I wanted to read My Side of the Mountain.

One of the greatest things about homeschooling is knowing exactly what your children have been exposed to… particularly in books. When things come up as we are out and about, I am able to tie the experience back to a book we have read, helping them to connect the pieces of random information they have collected in their minds. Case in point…. The kids and I were at Safeway the other day and Sweetie picked up a package of tiny flint pieces near the cigarette lighters. “What are these?” she asked.

I replied, “Remember in the book were reading, My Side of the Mountain, Sam uses a piece of flint and steel to start fire. I further explained that these were pieces of flint I assumed to be used to replace the flint worn down inside a lighter. I am not certain, but I postulated that the components within a lighter consist of a tiny piece of flint and a when you move the ball with your thumb, a tiny piece of steel strikes the flint resulting in a spark. This spark in turn ignites the gas and behold, you have flame. When we go camping in a few weeks, I ask my dad to show them how to use flint and steel to start a fire.

I take advantage of every teachable moment that comes along. We lead a weekly nature walk at our local natural history museum. As the kids have become more comfortable with these walks, I have assigned each one a plant that they are responsible for teaching to the visitor. When we come to the Manzanita along the path, we’ll stop and I will turn to Buddy asking him the name of ‘his’ plant. He zealously calls out, “Manzanita!” I’ll then say, “Manzanita is Spanish for….” and I pause as turn back to Buddy. He shouts out again, “Little apples!” The visitors chuckle. His ‘speech’ is short. As he grows and learns more… he’ll be expected to share more.

Sweetie claimed the Ponderosa Pine. When we arrive at the Ponderosa, one of the first things she likes to share is that it smells of Vanilla when you put your nose up close in the crevices of the bark. She also points out that it has 3 long needles in a bundle and that it has very thick bark (she holds up a tree cookie) that protects it from forest fire. As she speaks, I remind her to look at her audience and speak loud enough for everyone to hear her. Public Speaking! She is getting pretty good at it but is still rather quiet.

We’ve recently started listening to audio books while we’re driving about town on errands. We are currently listening to The Last Dragon by Silvana de Mari. Sweetie picked it out at the library – she loves fantasy stuff! 😀 At dinner last night, I asked her to narrate what she could recall from the chapters we’d listened to thus far (Charlotte Mason in action!). It is also a great way to share with DH what we’re reading about… what we’re learning.

The past couple of weeks have been pretty laid back, however. I finished up the required elements for an art class I took (Art for Teachers) to renew my teaching license. I’ve thus been preoccupied and honestly, quite stressed. I spent many hours trying to develop a curriculum that would not only meet the course requirements but would also be usable in our homeschool. This turned out to be a waste of time but I did manage to find and review a number of great lesson plans and art activities.

We visited a new dojo and Sweetie is very excited to begin her training in Taekwondo. On Saturday, we saw Kung Fu Panda as a family and of course, she loved it (DH too)! We’ve both been singing the theme song all week! We have even had a few discussions over the week about the secret of the Dragon Master… that everything you need is within you, you only need to believe in yourself.

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.

Book of Centuries ~ CM Carnival

One of the most intriguing components of Charlotte Mason’s approach to learning is the Book of Centuries. Essentially it is a timeline kept in a notebook, a growing resource that a child adds to continually. The original description was literally one page of writing selected events and one sketching page per century. It may include essays, booklists and sketches, as well as dates, names, and events.

When we started homeschooling in August, this was one of the first things I set up and started using. Though I don’t know how long I’ll continue to homeschool (my hope is at least through 8th grade), the Book of Centuries is one component that I know we will continue to use through adulthood. It is just such a great idea! I wish I had had one when I was growing up.
The first thing we did (once the notebook/binder was put together) was to add photos of ourselves, as DH and I were both born in the 1970s and the kiddos were born in 2002 and 2005. We also put a photo of DH and I at our wedding (1995) and one of the kids and I dressed in our period costumes (1880).

Whenever we read or watch something that applies ~ Art Study (Renoir, Degas, etc.); Emperor Qin (the first emperor of China); Marco Polo & Genghis Khan; Helen Keller (we attended the play, “The Miracle Worker”); Serum Run and the 1st Iditarod ~ we add the date, a brief description and a photo (sometimes from the internet, sometimes copied from a book, other times hand-drawn).

It is such a great learning tool because it provides a visual of what was happening in the past and connects subjects that are typically taught independent of one another. For example, on the page 1800 – 1899, we’ve already included Renoir (fine arts/France), Helen Keller (Eastern USA) and ourselves as living history volunteers (Western USA). It makes the past come to life – puts it all into perspective in regards to what was happening throughout the world at any given time.

We are, of course, just beginning, so there are many, many blank pages, but as we progress, I know it will become more and more useful. It will be fun to compare the writing she has done this year in comparison to what she will be doing 10 years from now.

Though there are many different styles and pre-made timeline books one can purchase, I chose to create a simple one in a 3-ring binder with tabs for easier navigation. We can expand it if the need arises later. If you would like a simple one of your own, follow this link to download a free Book of Centuries document that labels each two-page spread with a date (in hundred-year increments) from 4000 B.C. to A.D. 2099, and follow the easy steps below to create your own.

Our Approach to Learning

Hello. I am the mother to two energetic children and wife to an incredibly supportive husband. I have always loved watching the kiddos learn and grow as we experience life together. So much so, that in the fall of 2007, we began our homeschooling journey. I am having a blast homeschooling Sweetie (5) and Buddy (almost 3) in beautiful Central Oregon.

I am a National Board Certified Teacher and taught for 6 years in a public school (4 years as a middle level science specialist and 2 years in a self-contained 5th grade). 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, as we have just begun 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.

In our homeschool, we have a nature-centered “curriculum” and use a unique blend of materials and methods suited to our lifestyle of learning. We take our cues from the rhythm of nature and the children’s many and varied interests. We read a lot! As well as do lap/notebooking and many craft projects. We also enjoy photography, scrapbooking, cooking and traveling. We enjoy sports and participate in a variety of athletic endeavors (Taekwondo, dance, running, kayaking, swimming, etc.) depending on the season and what is happening in life.

Our approach to education is largely based on the classics with a heavy emphasis on reading and writing. It is structured around the trivium which comprises 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.

It is largely literature-based, a little Montessori, a little unschoolish, a little unit-study, a little Thomas Jefferson, a little Charlotte Mason, but mostly just us! We call is us-schooling and it suits us just fine. We hope that you’ll join us on our journey. Feel free to join in on discussions, share your experiences or simply wish us well