Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Chronological history is...well...history!

So I began this school year with a great master plan for history.
We would go chronologically, obviously, because it just makes sense to do so, starting with the Ancients this year. We would do a brief study of the early Mesopotamian civilizations, with an in-depth study of Ancient Egypt. Then we would progress through Ancient Greece, Rome, etc, etc.
Well... it hasn't exactly worked out that way. We started off as planned. We got through all the Mesopotamia stuff (a bit dry, I have to say), got sidetracked by dragons, started in on Egypt, then ground to a screeching halt.
Superboy was really beginning to dislike history. (that wasn't in the plan!)
Then came a Lewis and Clark video and the spark is back. But the books I ordered have yet to arrive and that has put us on hold.
We are starting our Advent and Christmas notebook next week and decided to put Lewis and Clark off until New Years anyway, so that's OK.
But get this...
Superboy said in the car the other day that he wants to learn about... "Abraham Lincoln. Right after Greece. Which is after Lewis and Clark." (so much for chronological order!)
"OK", I said. "How about from now on we switch back and forth between World and American history? Would you like that?" (preserving some semblance of a plan, here)
"No, what I'd really like is to just study whatever I want, whenever. Can I do that?"(said with youthful exuberance)
"Sure. That actually sounds like more fun, anyway." (plan? what plan?)
So lately Superboy has been happily filling his timeline with entries for Lewis and Clark, St. Francis of Assisi, the First Thanksgiving, William Shakespeare, and a lot of other really cool stuff. Tomorrow will be Albrect Durer and the next day Benjamin Franklin (they both relate to magic squares, his current math interest).
And history is fun now, by the way.

Monday, November 28, 2005

more fun with math

Today, thanks to The Man Who Counted, we discovered the fun of Magic Squares.
Any way you add them up, horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, you get the same sum. Of course we had to get on the internet to find out more. We found alot!
This one also has some other interesting properties:

Try adding up corners or the 4 center squares. Pretty neat, huh? This one came from a website here:

Here is a nice explanation of them, along with some interesting historical magic squares and variations, including one by Ben Franklin!:
This site also has lots of links to other magic square sites.

Here is an interactive magic square puzzle:

Here you can print up some magic square worksheets to fill in missing numbers:

I think this is enough to keep us busy for awhile!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Finally, my true identity revealed!

"The Fairy Princess
You are youthful, cheery, and exuberant with a
sunny disposition and a mischievous sense of
humor. You are very lively and are
always up for a good bit of fun. You have a deep love of
nature and animals.
Role Model: Titania
You are most likely to: Convert a pumpkin
into a useful mode of transportation. "

What Kind of Princess are You? - Beautiful Artwork (Original Music is BACK!!!)
brought to you by

I took this fun "Quizzila" quiz and I think they really nailed me. ;) Take the quiz yourself and find out what kind of princess you are! Then let me know!

Adam's task

I find myself on a regular basis up very late at night searching endlessly through various homeschooling boards and websites. What am I looking for? Support and encouragement, to be sure, but it is often something else. Why am I constantly reading and re-reading other families homeschooling philosophies? Other people's methods. Definitions of Charlotte Mason homeschooling, Living Books, Real Learning, Unschooling, School-at-home, Relaxed homeschooling, unit studies, lapbooking, notebooking, Classical, Montessori, eclectic homeschooling...yadda yadda yadda.
I think I am on a quest to name what it is we do here in our little corner of the homeschooling jungle. Why? I'm not sure. But I am not the only one. I see it over and over again in the threads I visit. Mothers batting back and forth descriptions of what they do, asking each other "Is this unschooling? Is this what is meant by a unit study?" I think it must be inherent in human nature to want to put a name on things-to define everything in terms of a single label. Adam's task.
Also, I sometimes think if I could just settle on a pre-determined label then it would take away some of the worry and work. If I could just say"Oh, we use the Classical method," then I wouldn't have to do the constant re-evaluation, checking, tweaking, seeking that I do to match my child's interests and talents to our lifestyle of learning. I could just go with what has already been laid down for me. Simple.
Problem is...none of the labels seem to fit. And I am the last one to settle for a poor fit. We are too relaxed to be Charlotte Mason, too structured to be unschoolers. We read living books, but also do some workbooks. We like some classics, but are no where near classical. I try to link things together thematically, but not in an organized unit-study. We do hands on...most of the time. We are often delight-directed, but Mom doesn't give over the reins completely. I guess the label "eclectic" fits us best, but that feels like just a cop-out, defining us as having no real definition. That doesn't feel good to me. After all, I really LIKE what we do. There MUST be a name for it because it is just too good to remain nameless. But it is so very much a part of who my son and I are, I can't imagine it fitting into some generic category. It is who we are, how we learn, the way we live. It is US defined.
I guess I have a label after all... "Us-schooling"

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Pre-Thanksgiving fun

Thanks to a recipe found on the 4reallearning board we made Pumpkin pie scented playdoh and it was a big hit. Jbug, Superboy, Modgirl and I all played happily with it for quite some time.
Here is the recipe:

5 1/2 cups flour
2 cups salt
8 tsp. cream of tartar
3/4 cup oil
1 1/2 oz. pumpkin pie spice
orange food coloring (2 parts yellow, 1 part red)
4 cups water

Mix all ingredients together. Cook and stir over medium heat until all lumps disappear. Knead the dough on a floured surface until smooth. Store in airtight container.
This made enough for all 4 of us to play with together. Looks like real pumpkin pie filling and makes the house smell so good, too.
Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

computers and schools

I recently read an interesting article on computers in schools and their affects on children.

Although I am not certain I agree with everything the author writes, he does make some very good points. The one that I agree most with is that it is detrimental to a child's development to substitute computer experiences for real life.
"Structured learning certainly has its place. But if it crowds out direct,
unmediated engagement with the world, it undercuts a child's education. Children
learn the fragility of flowers by touching their petals. They learn to cooperate
by organizing their own games. The computer cannot simulate the physical and
emotional nuances of resolving a dispute during kickball, or the creativity of
inventing new rhymes to the rhythm of jumping rope. These full-bodied, often
deeply heartfelt experiences educate not just the intellect but also the soul of
the child"

When a child misses out on a real outdoor experience in favor of a "virtual field trip," the child is denied the opportunity to experience the world with all his senses, to soak it in though his pores, so to speak. It isn't real and does not promote the kind of emotional attachment or, as Rachel Carson calls it, the "sense of wonder" about the natural world.

"these projects—the steady diet of virtual trips to the Antarctic, virtual
climbs to the summit of Mount Everest, and trips into cyber-orbit that represent
one technological high after another—generate only vicarious thrills. The
student doesn't actually soar above the Earth, doesn't trek across icy terrain,
doesn't climb a mountain. Increasingly, she isn't even allowed to climb to the
top of the jungle gym."

This is also an arguement for what homeschoolers call "Real learning." Using the world as our classroom and experiencing directly as much as we can. Life itself is a learning process and sitting in front a screen (or in a classroom, for that matter) is just a poor, poor substitute.
The same goes for human interaction. Email and IM are great, but no substitute for direct human contact. I'd rather see my 16 yo daughter on the phone all evening than IMing. At least there is the human voice, where emotions can be expressed. Anyone who has ever been "flamed" when a messageboard post has been misinterpreted knows how hard it is to convey feelings via the electronically written word.
I'm not saying that the computer doesn't have it's place in education. I use it a bit in our homeschool. It is great for those of us who have limited library access-for quickly finding info and pictures. It allows us to follow our children's leads instantly, rather than waiting for a trip to the library, or an Amazon shipment. But we all know how much richer an experience is a good living book, a walk in the woods, or a conversation with a human being. Those are the sources we go to when we REALLY want to know something WELL. In comparison, despite the wealth of information available on the internet, computers are so superficial. They promote a "cut-and paste" understanding of a topic, denying the need to seek out additional sources for greater depth of understanding. In short, they are no substitute for real life, and real learning.
In fact, I really need to turn of my computer and get on with life now.

Monday, November 21, 2005


It has really hit home to me lately how much this homeschool experience depends on me and my attitudes. If I am enthusiastic and energetic we have a good school day. If I am cranky or distracted, or otherwise out of sorts, you can count on very little getting done, school-wise. It is like Superboy is a mirror of my own attitudes from day to day. I recently hurt my back right in the middle of the most rockin' school week we've ever had. My attitude plummeted and so did Superboy's right along with it. Now, maybe it shouldn't be this way, and maybe my kiddos should be more self-motivated, but in our reality, this is how it works.
Sometimes this is frustrating, but I guess I need to just accept that this is where we are, at least for now.
It reminds me of the writing stage that we are in. In Julie Bogart's book "The Writer's Jungle" she describes a stage of writing called the "partnership" writing stage. In this stage the child needs alot of support, not being quite ready to branch out on his own, yet. The goal is to build confidence in order to reach the stage called "Faltering Ownership" in which the child takes more responsibility for the writing product. Once I realized that Superboy still needed to be in the partnership writing phase, our entire writing experience became much more positive. Superboy truly enjoys writing now and his confidence grows in leaps and bounds. It is about time to move into faltering ownership and we are naturally making that transition as he is ready.
I think we are also in the "Partnership" stage of motivation in general as well. Hopefully, soon we can move into "faltering ownership" so that Superboy can have more of his very own good and bad days, regardless of what Mom is feeling.
Lets hope they are mostly good.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

just too cute

We had a little bit of a cold snap creep in today. As I went out the door to feed the horses, JBug grabbed my fleece jacket for me, but couldn't resist putting the soft lining against her face. "Oooooh!" she said. "It's all warm and tickle and softy!"
Yep. That's why it's my favorite jacket.

And we're off!

This has been an excellent week so far! Lotsa language arts day went very well. Superboy worked on his story for a long time, using my editorial suggestions as a springboard to making major improvements. He also wrote a letter to his penpal (Josh: the answer is dragon).
I won't bore you with the details of everything we did, but suffice it to say that the day was filled to the brim with very positive learning vibes.
Today started off with a plan of being more low key. After two highly intense days I figured we could use some lighter fare. After morning barn chores we did science, some math, then as a treat we did a Sudoku puzzle I printed from an excellent website. We have just recently discovered these excellent logic puzzles and are really enjoying them.
Anyway, I try to do a DVD on wednesdays (What in the World History day) that relates to our World History studies, but we've gotten a bit burnt out on the Ancients, so I decided to go ahead and put on a National Geographic about Lewis and Clark I had been saving back for a rainy day... it was a HUGE hit! JBug loved the scenery, and Superboy has decided that we are ready to leave Egypt behind and hit the Lewis and Clark trail right now! Woo hoo! I was hoping that's what would happen! He is so excited about it! He went right away to the internet to find out more. He wants to make a L and C notebook and already has a list of many things he wants to add to it. His enthusiasm is great to see.
So I guess it's off to the library tomorrow to hunt for books on Lewis and Clark! (Barb, I will look for the book you mentioned on your blog!)
Gosh, I love homeschooling!

Monday, November 14, 2005

A final push before the holidays

Superboy and I sat down and had a conversation about the remainder of the year. We both realize that we have been a bit slack lately, and, although some quality learning has been happening, we are not happy with the quantity of our recent accomplishments. Much of this has been due to the arrival of our horses, and all the work that has entailed, but now that things with them have settled into a little routine, we can re-focus our energies toward school.
So, with 5 weeks until the Christmas holidays, we are going full steam ahead.
We got an incredible amount of work done today!
Monday is "mostly math" day, so Superboy did a workbook page of addition problems with regrouping, we read a chapter of The Man Who Counted, we figured out 5 or 6 more numbers in our ongoing Four-fours problem (see below), read the "D" entry in G is for Googol, did an activity set of the TOPS math kit "Get a Grip," did some Egyptian math problems from previously mentioned website, cut and assembled a 3D scarab beetle, colored some Egyptian jewelry, read a chapter of Tales from Ancient Egypt, listened to a chapter of "Story of the World" on CD, and started a new science unit- a TOPS kit called "Green Thumbs: Radishes".
That's on top of our barn chores and shopping for last minute science supplies (try finding radish seeds this time of year!)
Superboy had a great attitude and really enjoyed his work. He got so excited when we found the new numbers for the Four fours- heck, we BOTH were jumping around and cheering!
I said to him "Wow! We really got alot of math done today!"
His reply: "Yea, that's 'cause it was fun math!"
Let's see if tuesday "lotsa language arts" can hold the same level of enthusiasm tomorrow!

A little explanation of the Four fours: We read in The Man Who Counted that you can make ANY number by using exactly four fours. (ex: 44-44=0, 44/44=1, etc) so we decided to test it out ourselves. We made a chart of numbers 1-100 and are trying to make them all, whenever we feel like doing it. Each time either of us makes one, Superboy writes how it was made on the chart. He is learning some pretty advanced functions this way, for example, factorials, roots, and powers, etc. and having a blast doing it. We've been working on and off for about a month and only have 9 numbers left! Today he was so excited to figure out 85 all by himself. Here is how he did it:
(4! + .4)/.4 +4!=85
Pretty cool, huh?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A Truly Useful Resource

I am the last one to want to clutter up my inbox with alot of mail, but I wanted to share a resource which I have found really useful. It is a yahoo group called ClickSchooling.
What happens is you sign up for it-free and easy- and every day you get an email with an educational website recommendation-often several related sites. There are themes for each day, like monday will always be a math site, then there is a day for lang. arts, science, history, art, etc. Friday is always a virtual field trip. They are usually for multiple age groups and so far have always been useful and interesting. I've gotten so many neat ideas and activities through this group, more than I would have run across just surfing on my own. I don't use it as much as I used to now that we have dial-up (the agony!!!) so computer time is less efficient, but I have used it ALOT. For example, the Egyptian math site I wrote about came from this group.
Check it out if you get a chance.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

I am always on the lookout for ways to make math fun and meaningful. Though we do some boring workbook stuff on occasion, Superboy and I take great joy in finding an excuse to pitch the workbook for a day or more.
Well, we have been delving into Ancient Egypt for history, so imagine my pleasure at coming across (thanks to my "clickschooling" yahoo group) this website: Egyptian mathematics
What a wonderful distraction! Superboy has totally enjoyed doing the math problems on the site. I printed them up for him, along with the Egyptian numbers table, and he is joyfully doing division, multiplication, etc. He is determined to work his way through all the problems, and is quite proud that they are listed "for 12-16 year olds" when he is only 10. What an ego boost! Imagine a 10 year-old boy actually thanking his mom for "letting him" do math!
There is other stuff on the website that we have not got to yet. In fact, Superboy hasn't even seen the site-he is doing all this off the pages I printed up!
So if you need a diversion from the norm, give Egyptian math a try.