Learning Notes Feed

Homeschool Thoughts, Lists & News, etc.

(A bit of a hodgepodge today!)

Happy august 1

Happy August, my friends! It sure is hot and hazy here, but I love how the flowers just glow in the summer sun these days. And everything is so green ... I just love this time of year!

Well, I wanted to pop in quickly this morning to tell you I am *thisclose* to finishing our school reports - I just need to finalize Earlybird's ed. plan for next year. His reports are always a bit tricky because, as a special needs child, my plans must be thorough, but flexible, and his progress is not always so readily apparent. I have to put a lot of thought into what we will learn and how I will teach him these things. And because of his learning style and challenges, my methods are not always as clear-cut as just say, ordering a "Grade X Curriculum." Thankfully he does make progress each year ... I just have to really look back through all we did in each subject to remind myself (reassure myself) how said progress was made and measured.

(For example, this year he listened to audiobooks - something he didn't couldn't do before - and in this way we "read" several classic books together. I couldn't ask him to fill out a quiz or write a report, but I could - when the time was right - ask him questions about what we'd heard that day and to re-tell parts of the story, which I would write down.)

So I'm always looking for ways to "think outside the box" when constructing Earlybird's education, and one resource I have found immensely helpful are these fantastic (and free!) Living Learning Lists from Ed Snapshots. There are some terrific ideas here for experiential learning in all the main subjects! I've pinned these lists and printed them out to keep in my homeschool planner for use all year long ... :)

And speaking of Ed Snapshots ... well, I am just SUPER excited to have been invited to do a podcast with Pam sometime in the near future! (You can read other podcasts here ... so much inspiration!) I will keep you all posted about when mine will be happening ... I'm not sure what-all I can bring to the "podcast table," but I am SO honored to have been asked! I haven't "talked shop" in a while ... :)

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Let's see, what else? I also wanted to mention that so far I am really enjoying my new Day Designer! I will do a post on how I'm using it as soon as I can - I want to get some more "days" under my belt first - but I wanted to mention that if you'd like a peek at how the planner looks, DD offers free downloadable planning pages to try out before purchasing. Mind you, this is an example of a page from a flagship planner - the original Day Designer - not the Blue Sky version I purchased from Target. I'm still working out how the versions differ ... and how to personalize my own planner. More about that soon!

Ok - and here's a final thought for today - over the weekend I had my hair cut, colored and styled and boy does it feel good! (Some of you might have seen my "after shot" on my Facebook page.) And it got me to thinking ... wouldn't it be fun to do a "hair care" post here at the blog? I would love to chat about how we wear our hair, and how we care for it ... on our own at home and at the salon. Especially when we're busy with other things (kids, work, life!) or being careful with our budget. We could even - if people were willing! - share pictures. I will keep that in mind for sometime in my posting future - let me know if you think that would be fun and any other post ideas you might have for me! I'm always open to suggestions. :)

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All righty then ... I will be off now since my kids are clamoring for lunch and I'm the point person when it comes to that situation. For now I will wish you all a good week and hope to see you here again very soon!

Teach quote

(Saw this just before hitting "post" and had to share!)


More Q & A: homeschool planning?

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Continuing on with our Q&A series, a few ladies asked about my homeschool planning methods, so I thought I'd tackle that subject today. :)

From Leah:

How do/did you give your boys their assignments? Did they each have a planner or did you print out assignment sheets? Or, did they just do the "next thing" in the curriculum? How did you keep track of your side of it (read-alouds, projects, etc.) or is that part of that FCS cover sheet?

From Helena:

How/where do you plan out your homeschooling? I don't mean the outside classes you have scheduled, but the lessons you do at home.

From Tanya

Meant to ask you where you keep your home learning plans? Are they in your planner or do you have a specific place where you lay out what subjects you want to study and then specifically how you will study them? 

As you might expect, over the past 15 years of homeschooling, I've used all kinds of methods for managing home lessons - in planning them, assigning them, reviewing them, etc. I've used separate planners (both commercial and homemade) and I've worked the plans into my file folders, and/or my main planner. Each year was a bit different depending on what we were using for curriculum. What I can do here is tell you about what I do now ...

These days, Bookworm is at college and Crackerjack takes several outside-the-home classes (in small groups of homeschool peers). I don't have a hand in those assignments but I am in charge of overseeing his schedule and how he manages his workload. (We also decide together which classes mesh with our goals.) Math, Religion, and Geography/World Events are home-taught. (He is also enrolled in monthly Confirmation prep at our church.)

With Earlybird (who is developmentally delayed), I'm basically designing my own curriculum - using a few workbooks and a wide variety of educational materials. We rely on his interests and simple activities - immersing ourselves in (hopefully) memorable experiences that involve his head, hands and heart. It is child-led learning, but not too unschoolish, for lack of a better word - I need a real plan to work around, but I gave up scheduling assignments firmly a long time ago.

I usually do my lesson planning over the weekend, though I'm trying to work it into my Fridays instead. It would be much more efficient if I could. But whenever I do it, I begin in the dining room where I pretty much take over the whole table, lol. Holidays and Summer aside, it looks like this pretty much all year:

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I know not everyone can - or wants to - use their dining table in this way, but it works for me. I am a visual person so I like to have piles of books that are grouped by theme/lesson. It helps me focus and organize ideas. I keep even more books in nearby tote bags, including my own general "teacher" resources, as well as Crackerjack's books and notebooks ...

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This table displays periodicals and seasonal books ... this is done mostly for me. :)

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I start the planning "process" by first making a hot cup of tea ... moving the cat off my chair ... retrieving a pencil from the toddler ... neatening the table ... and pruning those book piles. Some books go back to the library bag (or storage downstairs), once I've made note of them in our portfolio. Actually, "portfolio" is probably too formal a word for what I'm keeping right now, but at the end of the year I hope it applies!

Next, I open up my planner and fill in our agenda for the week ahead:

What classes/activities/appts. do we have?

What things do we need to turn in or remember to bring?

Are there library holds in or books due?

What days are of note? Will we work them into our home learning?

(This week we have - Grandma Barbara's birthday, National Chocolate Cake Day, St. Thomas Aquinas, National Carnation Day, Days of the Blackbird, St. Brigid's Day, February begins, Parish Breakfast, The Superbowl)

What's the weather looking like this week?

Anything special happening at Church?

I then have Crackerjack sit with me (or he stands beside me, eager to get back to whatever he was doing) while we go over his work for the week. His classes were a bit overwhelming last semester, so he came up with an idea to make himself an assignment board. I thought it was a great idea and left it entirely up to him to create and maintain. He found an old white board downstairs and unearthed a dry erase marker (which we mostly hide because EB does bad things with them) and set this up ...

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I transfer CJ's assignments to my own grid ...

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(As you can see, I didn't retrieve that pencil from the toddler quickly enough!)

 The top side of this sheet is for Crackerjack and the back side (seen below) is for Earlybird. I'd been writing these notes rather randomly, but have decided to keep formal weekly lesson planning in a new section of my journal binder. (One of the reasons I love doing these Q&A posts is it gets me to assess what I'm not doing well!) This is just a trimmed down piece of legal pad paper - I like how the yellow paper stands out.

(I will post more about this new journal section later this week, but here it is pictured below.)

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Also, the index card seen on CJ's  planning page is another "system" I've used from time-to-time: daily task cards. I'm giving it another go to see if I can get us back on a steady track. (The holidays kind of derailed us ...) These cards, as their name implies, are for assigning daily lessons and other tasks ...

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 I have a little plastic basket that fits index cards perfectly and I have one per day per child. Right now, though, I'm just using this system with Crackerjack. Each day Crackerjack gets a card that details what he needs to remember to do - like, put out trash, finalize art project, complete math lesson, fill birdfeeders, pray for a specific intention, etc. We have this neat little photo holder from Disney World and it holds the card of the day perfectly - CJ keeps it next to his computer in the living room. 

Ok, back to the planning ...

I then look through my in-basket, book piles and journal pages for things to record:

Videos watched - lately it's been Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, Liberty's Kids, and Popular Mechanics for Kids.

Magazines read - Skywatch, Highlights, Trains, and The Baker's Catalog.

Books read/chapters listened to - currently we are reading Little House in the Big Woods and we are LOVING it. It's the perfect book to listen to at this time of year.

Any papers done, printed out, drawn/colored ...

Any things EB said or did that demonstrated a new skill or comprehension, independence, his sweet sense of humor, etc. I'm usually jotting those things down in my daily journal.

As I plan for Earlybird, I don't use a subject grid like I do for Crackerjack (though I'm trying to come up with a life skills goal sheet that would be a bit more formal). Rather, I brainstorm miscellaneous ideas for the week ahead ...

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Here's a closer look in case anyone is curious ... :) 

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Then each day I decide what might be a good fit for us (for him). I make sure my book requests are made at the library (it usually only takes a day or two to get them in) and I make note of any materials I need to pick up at the store. (Seems we'll be doing some baking this week!)

(Note, we've just learned a blizzard of "potentially historic" proportions is heading our way for Tuesday. So, first of all, YIKES - but second of all, this would be a perfect opportunity to look at the science of snowstorms and research record snows in New England ... so I've added these notes to my list.)

So it's not all that organized, and there's certainly no guarantee we'll get all of it (or even most of it) done ... but it's been working pretty well for us this year. I just need to remember to sit down periodically and revisit the overall goals I made for the year, and see which areas need attention. For instance, EB listens and comprehends literature quite well - if I have him "trapped" in the van, lol. At home, he's more "free-ranging" so I try to catch his attention when I can. He can be very resistant to seatwork so I struggle between making allowances for what are legitimate issues and pushing him a little ... do I make him get used to it or will it make him hate it even more?

That, however, is probably a post for another time: How do we work with our special needs children at home? How do we make learning enjoyable for children who struggle with rigidity and extreme sensory issues? And still make progress? Idea-sharing would be wonderful!

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Well, ok then - I think I'd best wrap up or I'll never hit "post," lol. I am sure I left a lot unsaid - which seems crazy after this mammoth post, but I could have talked more about planning a year in advance (generally speaking), keeping track of progress (weekly/monthly) and other assessment/review methods ... mind you, just the way I've done it! Not as a "how to" guide by any stretch of the imagination. I may be a "veteran" homeschooler, but I'm still figuring things out as I go along!

Also, before I forget, I wanted to mention two other post ideas that were suggested to me by my friends Shirley Ann and Emma. I have these in queue as well ...

* How do we keep our Sundays special, for our families and ourselves?

* How do we find time and create space in our daily routine for quiet contemplation, personal prayer and spiritual goals?

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Thank you you all so much for joining me today ... I'd love to hear about your lesson planning methods if you'd care to share. If you have a moment, please leave a comment below. :)

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, my friends. If you're in the path of nasty weather - hold tight and stay safe! I'll see you here again very soon ...


A Nutty Little Nature Story

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I was wishing I still had my "nature notes" column up, because Earlybird and I observed the funniest little nature "story" yesterday!

It was a lovely afternoon, golden and breezy - and we were sitting in the learning room, with a couple of windows cracked open. EB was at the computer, and I was reading in my chair, when the sound of rustling leaves caught my attention. I thought it might be an animal of some sort walking by, but every time I looked outside I saw nothing. I did notice some rambunctious blue jays hopping around, so I dismissed the "ruckus" at that.

But, next thing I know, I start hearing little "pops" and "bangs" on the roof and windows. Now I'm kind of freaking out because I truly can't figure out what is making all this noise! I'm thinking perhaps some early Halloween "tricks" were being played on us!

Finally I figured I'd best take a closer look ... so I walked out front and when I looked back at the house I immediately noticed a flurry of movement at the top of the HUGE spruce tree that stands beside our house. The branches were swaying like crazy!

Glinting in the sun, and weaving in and out of the branches, was a bright ball of reddish-brown fur, and a closer inspection revealed this:

Pinecone picker 2

A tiny red squirrel was perched way up high in the tree (and let me tell you, that is one super tall tree!) and making quite a business out of "harvesting" spruce cones! He'd climb onto a branch and nibble at the cone till it fell ...

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... and THAT was what we were hearing!

Cone after cone being dropped from the tree by the squirrel. They'd hit the ground, the roof, the windows ... like little bombs, lol! This went on for over half an hour - such an industrious fellow!

Archie was quite taken with the whole procedure:

Pinecone picker 3

EB and I walked out to the feeder area to take a closer look and we were amazed by how many cones were covering the ground!

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So we'll be watching these next few days to see how many cones disappear and who all is spiriting them off. (One squirrel or more?) We often find cones half-stripped looking like this ...

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And these have been quite nibbled as you can see.

On the diet of red squirrels ...

"His food is far more varied than many suppose and he will eat almost anything eatable; he is a little pirate and enjoys stealing from others with keenest zest. In spring he eats leaf buds and hunts our orchards for apple seeds. In winter he feeds on nuts, buds, and cones; it is marvelous how he will take a cone apart, tearing off the scales and leaving them in a heap while searching for seeds; he is especially fond of the seeds of Norway spruce and hemlock."

(From the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna B. Comstock) 

So Earlybird and I are starting the "squirrels and other rodents" portion of our animal study this week. We already have lots of great "field observation" to report! Throughout November we'll be covering the general topic of hibernation as well.

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Well, my friends, I hope you're all having a good week. I'm almost caught up with Call the Midwife ... made it about halfway through the show last night, and hope to finish up this evening or next. When I do, I'll pop back into Monday's post to catch up with comments. :)

In the meantime, take care of yourselves and your loved ones ... I'll see you here again very soon!



It's File Folder Weekend!

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Well, here's my weekend project ~ going through last year's file folders and preparing the boys' school reports. It's a good day for working inside - it's quite clammy and cool. It's always interesting going back through these folders - so many things I've forgotten, all the different ways I used (and re-designed) the weekly planning sheet that's stapled to the front of each folder. I pull some things to re-file - into storage or a future dated folder - but the bulk of it all I recyle. It always catches me by surprise when we're here at this time of year once again! How is it nearly August again? Already?

Once I've gone through my folders, I'll sift through the work-baskets and school totes, as well as my own monthly calendar. I may even flip back through my blog archives if I think I'm still missing some things. As I "research," I'm taking notes, and when I'm ready to "report," I refer to last year's ed. plans so I can be sure I'm addressing all the points of our initial proposal ...

Phew!

Then I start in on a brand new plan for a brand new year ...

And that's my favorite part!

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So I hope you're all having a nice weekend - wherever you are and whatever your weather - and whatever projects have you busy right now! Thanks, as always for stopping by ... I'll be back here again very soon.

p.s. Update on Dad ~ They're not springing him just yet ... but he's still recovering well. A little more slowly than he'd like I think, but I guess some things you can't rush. Hopefully another day of rest will bring him even greater healing and comfort. Thanks again for the kind thoughts and prayers!


Just another ordinary week ...

Well, Good Monday Morning, my friends. :)

I thought I'd share some notes from my weekly planning page with you today. We've got a busy week ahead: appointments to keep, activities to attend, and a brand new liturgical season to kick off. At home, EB and I will be focusing on a few simple themes - and without even really meaning to, I've made this an "M" week:

Mail

Earlybird will be in charge of getting the mail this week.

We'll observe the many different kinds of things that come in the mail.

We'll say hello to our mail carrier.

We'll read about a mail carrier's job.

We'll prepare things to mail.

(Practice printing. What's our address?)

What do we need in order to mail things?

We'll pay a visit the post office.

(Mail stuff. Buy stamps)

We'll start making St. Patrick's Day cards.

Maple

We'll be "Catching Sweetness" on our Maple Tree board. 

We'll look up the "sugar maple" in field guides.

I'll buy varying grades of syrup for the boys to sample/compare.

I'll bake a Simple Maple Cream Cake.

We'll read books about maple sugaring.

EB and I will make a colorful "maple leaf" sand craft.

We'll visit trees being tapped at a local park.

And we'll all have LOTS of maple syrup on our Fat Tuesday pancakes!

Masks

On Tuesday (aka Fat or Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras) the boys will make masks. Yes, even the older ones - they're good about joining in with EB when I ask. :)

A Mass, A Matinee and Making Sacrifices

We'll receive ashes Wednesday morning and catch a movie in the afternoon. We'll start our Lenten journey and talk about ways to make a sacrifice - giving something up and/or giving of ourselves.

Melting, Measuring & Mud

We're expecting milder temperatures this week, as well as a little rain and a lot of sun, so I predict we'll see lots of melting and maybe even some mud. 

We'll stick a plastic ruler into the snow in our yard and watch more numbers appear.

We'll look for mud on our nature walks - a sure sign of spring!

Mario's Meatballs

Thursday (March 10th) is MARIO day. My boys are big Mario fans, so they'll play Mario Kart (after school work is done of course) and I'll make "Mario's Meatball Subs" for supper. :)

*~*~*~*~*

Just another ordinary week, with much to do - much to accomplish and appreciate. Aren't we blessed to have this time together?

Dear friends, we had some very sad news recently. Back in December I mentioned a friend of Bookworm's who'd been stricken suddenly with a brain tumor. Tragically - unbelievably - this wonderful boy passed away last week. Please, if you would, remember Anthony in your prayers?

*♱*

So it may be just another week, but it's extraordinary in every way that matters.

Every new week is a gift, every day we have with our children a blessing. We must remember to cherish it all, every moment ...

*~*~*~*~*

Thank you as always, for stopping by. I wish you all a lovely day ~ and I hope to see you again very soon.


~*Halloween Week Happenings*~

Monday, October 27, 2008

Housekeeping: clean bedrooms, change bedding, laundry

Dinner: turkey meatloaf, maple-roasted acorn squash, rice pilaf

Learning: math, vocabulary, spelling, history, religion

Activities: a visit with Gram after supper

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Housekeeping: clean upstairs bathroom, clean living room, laundry

Dinner: smorgasboard night (aka leftovers! J)

Learning: math, vocabulary, spelling, history, science

Activities: Earlybird’s therapy, Library stop

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Housekeeping: clean kitchen, start grocery list

Dinner: whole-wheat spaghetti and meatballs, salad, crusty bread

Learning: math, vocabulary, spelling, history, religion (tea)

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Housekeeping: clean dining room & family room, finalize weekend lists

Dinner: squash soup, grilled cheese & tomato sandwiches, garlic-rosemary homefries

Learning: math, vocabulary, spelling, history, science

Activities: orthodontist appointment, market stop

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Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Housekeeping: Clear and organize learning spaces, neaten for the weekend.

Dinner: homemade mac & cheese, kielbasa, roasted autumn veggies, pumpernickel bread

Learning: A day off from formal lessons!

Activities: (See below!)

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~ Other Holiday & Seasonal Notes ~

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Bill takes a vacation day on October 31st every year, so we can spend Halloween together as a family. We always take the boys to the town farm to pick out pumpkins, and then to a favorite bakery for “gingerbread” muffins. We take the muffins and coffee with us as we walk around a lake and visit a local cemetery (there are graves from colonial times here).

Back at home we carve our jack o’lanterns (out on the deck to minimize the mess) and spend time cleaning up the yard – raking, clearing spent growth, etc. We might even have a little chiminea fire if the day is not too warm. (The forecast right now is sunny and near 70.) Back inside, we'll pop in a holiday classic, pop up some popcorn and roast some seeds. I start mulling a pot of cider in the late afternoon so the house smells wonderful by the time the sun sets. Just before supper, the boys will don their costumes (Anakin Skywalker, a Clone Trooper and a Pirate this year) and we'll take them over to Mum and Dad's so the boys can trick or treat Nana, Papa and Damee. Later on, after supper, our friends will arrive – as well as our beloved Uncle Matt – and Bill and the boys will head out for tricks or treats, while I stay home to answer the door.

When the gang returns we’ll sip our hot spiced cider, nibble cookies and trade candy till the eyelids start to droop and the doorbell stops ringing. Then it will be time to snuff the candles and say our goodnights, and Halloween will be over till next year.

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At our weekly tea (of which we’ve been neglectful lately) I plan to serve pumpkin muffins and Halloween Cocoa ~ basically a Mexican hot chocolate (dark and spicy) with special Halloween marshmallows the boys picked out. Over tea, we'll choose saints to study this year.

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Make soul cakes (follow recipe in Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions).

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Decorate mantel with tealights, marigolds and photographs of loved ones who have passed away.

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Fall Back one hour (Daylight Savings Time ends).

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Attend a Saints Day parade at church.

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Make up book basket for November.

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Serve Mexican for Sunday's supper.

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Clear off and re-do bulletin board for November; set up Grateful Tree.

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Well, that should keep us busy for a while ... good thing there are seven days in a week! I'll check back in again soon, but in the meantime, I hope you all enjoy a lovely last week of October. :)


Day 1 ~ and we're off!

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I'm happy to report it was a good first day. :)

Though I like to think that we're learning all the time, we do take the summer off from formal lessons. And by formal lessons I mean things like reading assignments, map work, penmanship practice, etc. In the summer, it's all about informal learning. Ideally, we spend our time relaxing, reading and exploring the casual interests that may pop up - like where do bats sleep, what's in a tidepool and how do fireworks work? But it's all child-led, and if all they want to do on a given day in July is sit and read a comic book, then so be it.

Come September, though it's back to the grindstone - erm, I mean, worktable. ;)

And above you see our new worktable. It's just an unfinished trestle table we've had in storage for years (orginally purchased as a craft table for me). Bill hauled it upstairs and placed it in our living room, just beneath the sunny front window. This is a quieter, out of the way kind of spot where the older two boys can work while Earlybird and I hang out in the family room/learning room/kitchen area.

And I'd say we got off to a good start yesterday. The older boys each worked on a math lesson before we headed out to EB's therapy. On the drive to and from therapy, we listened to classical music and looked for signs of fall (color in the foliage, busy squirrels, leaves in the road). At stop signs we listened to the loud buzzing of insects along the roadsides. While waiting at therapy, we read and reviewed the first chapter of our history curriculum, and I shared some news from the morning paper - an article about the effects of Hurricane Gustav, and a short piece on the approaching TS Hanna.

When we returned home we had lunch, and then it was on to vocabulary and spelling for Crackerjack, while Bookworm finished up his algebra assignment. Next it was on to science. I had BW read a two-page spread in his science book and then jot down important information (dates, definitions) for his science notebook. Crackerjack is reading a Magic School Bus chapter book called Amazing Magnetism. I've read ahead and, with a pencil, lightly circled terms for him to define. After he finished the chapter, he looked up each circled term in his science dictionary and wrote them out on a sheet of loose-leaf paper. This will get filed in his science notebook. Bookworm moved on to mapwork and outlining for history and then settled down the hall to read The Jungle Book, his first reading assignment of the year. When he finished his definitions, CJ complained his hand was going to fall off (lol) so we put off his mapwork till today and he was excused to go relax with his current read, Kenny and the Dragon. :)

With EB, it's all about balance - working on something for a few minutes, then letting him take a break to absorb and relax. His autism/ADD makes it diffucult for him to sit down and focus for too long, so we learn little bits, in short spurts through the day. We made a big blue paper B and filled it in with bug stickers. We blew up a blue balloon and lo and behold there was a big black B on its side! We pretended to be bugs (how do they move, what do they sound like). We practiced spreading peanut butter on crackers for snack. We took pictures with EB's therapists for a "Who I Love" photo album. We counted the number of cups it took to fill the birdfeeders and we found blue and red feathers for the nature table. We practiced with magnetic letters, spelling out B-words and the names of the planets.

I tried to write all of it down as the day went, but I'm still honing my record-keeping skills. And this morning I need to correct yesterday's math before setting out today's lessons ... so, in other words, I'd better be going!

Before I go though, I want to thank you all for the warm welcome back! It's going to take me a while to adjust to the autumn routine - lessons, activities, housework and blogging when I can. Busy, busy, busy ... but in a good way. :)

Have a great Wednesday, my friends!

(P.S. I feel I should point out that that is a Bionicle - aka Lego - dangling from the top of the window. His rocket launcher apparently gets just the right "Force and Motion" from this angle; in other words, the projectiles make it clear across the room. All in the name of good science, right?)


My Ed. Planning Weekend (Part 1) ~

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It's Sunday night here and I've wrapped up the ed. planning for the weekend. I got a fair amount done - two year-end reports finished and two new educational plans somewhat roughed out. I'll have a third ed. plan to do before all is said and done; this year I have three children over the age of 6 for whom to report. (Yikes, how did that happen?!)

I still have some time to finish this all up - the school department wants my "stuff" by July 25th. Technically, they only need the reports by then; the ed. plans could wait till August 1st - but I really like to send it all in at once. For one thing, the fewer times the school system hears from me the better (out of sight, out of mind), and for another, I might as well get it all done in one shot. After all, I got "clearance" for this and next weekend (Bill takes the kids, I take the reports) and it's less than likely I'll be able to swing so much "free" time anytime soon.

I do really love this time of year, though - it's such a part of the midsummer rhythm to immerse myself in books and folders and notes and catalogs. It always seems so overwhelming at first, but as soon as I get started it all comes back to me. Before I know it, I'm typing away and dreaming up new learning routines for the new year ...

So I thought I'd share my system with you all, if you'd like. I know planning is a very personalized kind of thing, so this might not be at all helpful to you, but I also know I love reading about how other people plan. :)

The first thing I did was to clean up my workspace. As I've shown you all before (in countless posts, lol), I usually like to work in the kitchen/dining room, the hub of our home - but when I really need to work, I really need to be out of the line of my kids' vision. ;) So I spent Friday afternoon spiffing up the desk in our bedroom. I never use it - it basically just holds books and my sewing basket and other odd things like the ironing and gift wrapping supplies - but I can't seem to give it up. (Much to Bill's annoyance, lol.)

The next thing I did was to gather all the materials I'd need:

  • the file crate folders from last (academic) year
  • the month-at-a-glance calendar from last (academic) year
  • our "school" totes - still stuffed with academic (and non-academic) paraphernalia
  • my in-baskets (similarly stuffed)

Then I printed out last year's ed. plans so I could honestly address what I said we would do - and embellish with comments about what we actually did do ...

As I went through all the file folders (etc.) I jotted down notes on the ed. plans themselves - textbooks we switched to, field trips and other projects that supplemented each area of learning. By the time I got through everything, I had remembered as much as I could and my fingers were itching for the keyboard. (Quick note ~ it always helps when I do a mid-year review of those ed. plans - roundabouts January. Then I can readjust things -schedules, resources - if I see if we're getting too far off-track. In this way there are no surprises come July, i.e. Ack, I said we'd learn Latin?!)

I next pulled up the 06-07 year-end reports and saved them as brand new documents, changing the dates and grade levels. Then I rewrote each section (math, language arts, history, science, etc.) describing the work that each child did this past academic year. Working off my notes it was quite easy to flesh out a three-page report for each child.

But of course I needed to edit (and edit!), and several hours (and drafts) later, I finally had those two reports finalized!

And boy, did that feel good. :)

I still have the book lists to do - I always attach a partial list of books the boys read each year. That will mean working off last year's lists (to be sure I don't duplicate any titles) and combing through the bookshelves - and grilling the boys - to refresh our collective memory!

So next weekend I'll sit down to finalize the ed. plans for the new year ~ one each for my 4th grader, my 8th grader and my brand new little kindergartener! I'll post more about all that sometime soon. :)

But for now, I'm off. I hope you all have a great week - looks to be a super-busy one around here - but I'll be back in touch just as soon as I can!


Aquarium School in April

Oh my goodness, this feels good - sitting down in the warm house, sipping a cup of hot tea - after a long and wet trek in and out of Boston! We've just got in from Aquarium School, and let me tell you - it's really blowing out there! I don't even have my usual Boston skyline shot to share - it was just too wet and cold to take the picture!

This month's Aquarium School theme was lobsters. We touched upon lobsters earlier in the year when we talked about the perils of overfishing. This time we talked about the Lobster Lab at the Aquarium where they literally grow thousands of lobsters "from scratch."

I took a whole bunch of pictures, but let me start with an early lunch with our friends. The Aquarium has a neat cafeteria, and here's our gang tucking in ...

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After lunch we mosied over to the classroom. (Actually, dashed more like.)

In Crackerjack's class, the kids began with a sizing and coloring activity. They had to use a special tool to measure if their lobster (picture) was legal size; once they found one that was neither too big or too small (and had no eggs) they were allowed to bring it back to the table to color. These are the guidelines fisherman must use when trapping lobsters.

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Here is Crackerjack with his friend Kurt coloring their lobsters: Mr. Rainbow Lobster and Rainbow Lobster, Jr. :)

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(CJ would like to talk about his new hat for a moment: "My hat protected my hair from the rain and it feels good on my head.")

The woman who runs the Lobster Lab brought in a variety of juvenile lobsters to show the kids. These here, housed in yogurt cups, are (top to bottom) 1, 2, 3 and 4 weeks old:

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At this size they are considered larvae or plankton. A female lobster can have up to 100,000 eggs at a time and only TWO of those eggs will become adult lobsters!

And these larger specimens are (clockwise from lower left) 3, 4 and 5 years old:

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As the lobsters grow larger they must be kept in separate containers because, unfortunately, lobsters tend to be cannabalistic! (Note the blue color of the lobster on the right. We learned that lobsters have different colored shells due to genetics and diet.)

Here is a molted exoskeleton of a spiny lobster:

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Lobsters molt their exoskeletons as they grow. As adults, this only happens once a year or perhaps every two years. And by the way, the lobsters found here in the northeast are called American lobsters. They can't exist in waters further south than New York. In warmer waters, you would find an entirely different breed (a Spiny or Rock lobster).

The rest of the class time was filled with a lengthy but interesting slide show. This was the last picture I took before digging out my knitting. :)

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Interesting things we learned today (by the boys):

~ Horseshoe crabs are not actually crabs or even crustaceans. They are more closely related to spiders.

~ It takes about seven years for a lobster to grow to a legal eating size.

~ Lobsters are decapods, which means they have 10 legs.

~ The American lobster has two claws, one for pulling apart the meat so they can swallow it and the other for crushing their food.

~ Lobsters in supermarket tanks have bands on their claws so they won't eat each other.

~ If you like lobster bisque you are most likely eating the meat of a spiny lobster, not a northern lobster.

~ There is such a thing as shell disease and the lobster's shell gets all ugly looking. In captivity it doesn't get very bad, but in the wild it can cause the lobster to die.

~ The oldest lobster in the aquarium is 43 years old; in the wild they might grow to be 100 years old!

We have two more classes to go and we will be done with Aquarium School for the year. It's been a great experience for my boys. As for me, it's been great to get my feet wet getting them in and out of Boston on my own. (I'm usually a ninny when it comes to city driving.) I anticipate as they get older, we'll be taking advantage more often of Boston and all it has to offer a young scholar. :)

Well, as always I thank you for stopping by and sharing in our day. I hope you all had a good Monday, and I'll see you all again sometime soon. :)


November Home Learning Plans

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Happily, November brings a quieter schedule for us, a time when we can get back on track in both the home-learning and home-keeping departments. I've been asked how I get "so much done" in a given week, but the truth is lately - I haven't! Our schedule through the early fall has been hectic to say the least, and now that we're home more again, I see I have lots of catching up to do around here!

I do feel that being at home - as opposed to always being out and about - is a key factor in how much one can get done in a given week with regards to the lessons, the housekeeping and the homey little projects and crafts. I am always working on that balance for my family - home enough to be productive and rested; out enough to remain connected and refreshed.

I know a while back I promised a peek at my schedules. Things have been so unusual lately, I've hesitated to post them (they seemed like wish lists, lol) but I think I am getting back to a routine now. I'll finish tweaking them and then post them here soon. For now, here's a look at my home learning notes for the month of November.

Math: Now that Earlybird's OT schedule has loosened up, our math mornings can get back on track. I aim to start the boys Saxon lessons by 8:30 a.m. We've dragged our feet on our math journals, but we're back at them this week. For inspiration, I am ordering Algebra to Go: A Mathematics Handbook for Bookworm (he loved Math at Hand), and for the younger two, I'll make up a math basket of good reads like Millions to Measure and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. I'll have the boys keep an allowance record inside the cover of their math journals, too. This should get them opening those books at least once a week! Fridays look to be a good day for math journaling.

Language Arts: Daily lessons, directly after math. I've made some changes here. We're staying with the Spellers we chose for this year (and completing one lesson a week). I just started Bookworm on Wordsmith after a recommendation by a good friend. Crackerjack has started Easy Grammar Grades 3 and 4 which I used with Bookworm several years ago. After the holidays we will begin Latin. Assigned reading: The Golden Goblet and Island of the Blue Dolphins (Bookworm); I'll begin reading aloud The Chronicles of Narnia with Crackerjack and closer to December we'll read Bunnicula Meets Edgar Allen Crow for Book Group. After that we'll begin listening to A Christmas Carol on audiotape (we're seeing the play next month).

History: It's back to Story of the World for us! I attempted to wing it this year with ancient history - cobbling together living literature, history encyclopedias and Uncle Josh's Outline Maps to name a few resources, but it was just too much work. I missed SOTW, and so did the boys, so we're back on board. We already had it on the shelf from years ago when Bookworm first studied ancient history, but I ordered the audiotapes as a supplement. I will require Bookworm to do more supplemental reading and outlining this time around. Our Homeschool Games Day this month is all about history and geography games; the boys want to bring this Mythical Beasts Groovey Tube game. :)

Science: My main goal with chemistry is to do one experiment a week. For right now I'm using the Janice Van Cleave book, but I'm thinking the boys will find a chemistry kit under the Christmas tree this year! (If you can recommend any good ones, I'm all ears!) Bookworm is taking a homeschool chemistry class at MIT later this month. Our Aquarium School experience has been wonderful; this month the boys will study sharks and talk with a research scientist. They will also dissect a dogfish during class. (!)   

Nature Study: We will focus on the concept of earth's winter sleep (nature slowing down, the animals hibernating, the light fading). I would love to set up a terrarium with the boys and I've been scouting out resources online and in magazines to do just that. We have our Nature Study Club meeting mid-month and we'll be watching for the Full Beaver Moon just after Thanksgiving.

Habit: Washing hands often and thoroughly. (Two rounds of Happy Birthday!)

Family Value: Compassion

Crafts & Activities: Lots to do in the next two months with so many holidays and feast days coming up! I'm going to try not to over-do it, but here are my general ideas:

  • election day cake - there's a history to it!
  • yarn crafts: fingerknitting and branch weaving
  • window stars (Bookworm loves making these; I've ordered windows-full this year!)
  • lanterns for Martinmas
  • corn husk folk
  • homemade pretzels
  • clothing donations
  • a terrarium (probably after Thanksgiving)

Religion: We are completing our parish CCD program at home, and I'm assigning Mondays as the day to work on those lessons. This is the first year we've done this - last year we attended classes at our church and all the years previous (save for Bookworm's First Communion year) we did our own thing. Since I must report in to our DRE in January, we'd best get cracking. ;) We'll continue to sit down on Thursday afternoons for our weekly teatime, reading from the coming Sunday's Magnifikid and discussing the gospel and any saints of the week. Coming up we will celebrate Martinmas (a few days before his actual feast date as it falls on a Sunday this year). We'll also bake St. Elizabeth breads just like we did last year, and make up a set of homemade donation envelopes for the Bread & Roses collection box at church. And by the end of the month we'll be gearing up for Advent, of course!

Thanks for stopping by, and have a great day, everyone! Don't forget to send me your submissions for The Loveliness of Handmade Gifts Fair by tonight! :)


Monday Recap: Ashes, Squid and Clay

An eclectic day of learning, to be sure! :)

First of all, did you know it's International Take a Child Outside Week? My goal is to take the boys outside once every day this week - though tomorrow looks to top 90 degrees, and Thursday promises rain! Yesterday was a cinch though ~ gloriously sunny and warm. We headed out right after breakfast, eschewing pencils and paper for burnt logs and bugs.

First the log:

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Remember a while back we had a bonfire to say goodbye to summer? Well, we checked on the ruins and found it an utterly fascinating mess. Loved the smell, not the residue so much. The blackened log had an almost iridescent quality to it, reminding us of crow feathers. Bookworm observed the texture of the charred wood to be like meringue cookies. :)

A stick of ashy wood makes a fine crayon, though, almost like an oil pastel:

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Next we watched a spider in the sun for some time. We thought his shadow was cool, but not so much the debris of death he left all over his expansive web. Sure a spider's got to eat, but we were pretty repulsed by the hollowed out wooly bear caterpillar (not shown in the picture).

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Circle of life stuff, right in our own backyard.

Next we collected leaves to do rubbings. EB opted to freehand a few planets.

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And Bookworm made several colorful panels for his science notebook.

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While we were looking at the galls on this leaf, this handsome dragonfly stopped by.

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Higher up in the canopy, we spotted some strange fungus growing on the underside of the oak leaves. No idea what this is, but it can't be good. (See all the holes?)

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We spied a lot of spider webs, a big dead green grasshopper, songbirds aplenty, and a pale fluttering white moth moving through the piney woods like a fairy or maybe a ghost (depending on who was telling the story, lol).

Inside, we watched a bit of a Discovery Channel show called Giant Squid Caught on Camera. My boys have a thing for large scary sea monsters like the kraken and giant squid. I found this neat online lesson plan about sea creatures, and this book might be worth checking out. I've also placed this on request at our library.

So next we dug out an old ocean-themed floor puzzle - something that appealed to all grade levels.

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As you can see, like most puzzles in this house, it's missing a couple of key pieces (belonging to the whale and the squid it's attacking). It was still cool to look over. Did you know that we (meaning People) know more about Mars than we do our own ocean?

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At lunchtime, we ate a pile of homegrown raspberries. Our bushes are nearing the end of their season, and we are trying to savor every last berry. This also happens to be Massachusetts Harvest Week, a week when schools across the state will serve local foods to their students. Well, this is right up our alley, so my students will participate!

Yesterday we ate our own (very) locally grown berries, tonight we'll enjoy produce from our local farmstand, and tomorrow we'll take a trip to the town farm. We'll also investigate what foods are grown locally here in our home state. I printed out a seasonal schedule so we can talk about eating with the seasons and why it's important to support our local farmers.

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Shortly after lunch, Earlybird headed down the hall for his nap, and we worked on a project for history. We are currently studying Ancient Mesopotamia, and the invention of writing. To make our own writing tablets, we formed a bit of pottery-colored Sculpey into flat shapes and then the boys used sharp pencils to make their own cuneiform script.

Crackerjack really got into it:

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And here they are, set to bake:

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For follow up, I'm going to show the boys this site today, and have them copy their ancient names in their notebooks.

Well, it was a good day - lots of learning inside and out. Today we'll start off with math and spelling and later this afternoon, we'll kick off our state capital study (with flag-adorned cupcakes, of course). I have some Johnny Appleseed books to read, too (tomorrow being his birthday) and a little apple activity for Earlybird.

The weather report predicts we'll hit 90 degrees today, so I'll have to "take my kids outside" early before it gets just too plain hot. New England is fickle in any season, but it always seems especially fall.

Well, I hope you've enjoyed this peek at our Monday - but Tuesday's here now, so I'm off to get things rolling. Have a good one, my friends!


Our First Day of Aquarium School!

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As homeschoolers, we are blessed to live within driving distance of Boston. There are so many resources available to us - historic sites, museums, theater, national parks etc. I like to think that as my boys get older we will tap into the city's attractions more and more.

Tops among places to see (with families and tourists alike) is the New England Aquarium, pictured above. Shamefully we have not been in years (not since Crackerjack was in a stroller!) but this year will change all that! We have signed up for Aquarium School, a series of classes offered exclusively to homeschoolers, and it just kicked off today!

So, you know me, you're not going to get a quick synopsis here, lol. No, I took lots of pictures, and as a parent volunteer I've got the inside skinny to share. :)

First, the picture below shows my two older boys on our way in to class (Earlybird stayed home with Nana). They don't look too thrilled, but honestly they were! I think we were all a little nervous though. We didn't know what to expect, and of course, for me, there was the whole "getting into Boston thing," lol. Happily, we did know two other families (best friends of ours) who would be there, and spotting those familiar faces took the edge off considerably.

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There are two classes held at the same time - one for 6-8 year olds and one for 9-12 year olds. Both cover the same content, but obviously at age-appropriate levels.

Here is Crackerjack with his friends, Kurt and Abby. They are working on the first activity together - inventing their own invertebrates.

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Crackerjack's creature, the one in the in the middle, was called a "Tom" Jellyfish and those pipe cleaners were really poisonous stingers! In the background is Kurt's "Thunderfish" and in the foreground is Abby's (decidely gentler and friendlier) "Bunnyfish."

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Our next activity was really neat - each table received a touch-tank filled with tidepool animals for the kids to explore! Crackerjack was fascinated, but a bit squeamish to pick the creatures up. I'm sure that will change as the classes go along. ;)

Here are two starfish and a spider crab just beneath:

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There were also fiddler and hermit crabs, snails, scallops, mussels and sea urchins. Very, very cool.

The last part of our class was spent inside the Aquarium itself. What an amazing place!

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Our first stop was the Salt Marsh tank and the kids all worked on a scavenger hunt list: "find an animal that has a shell," and "find and draw an animal that has spines."

CJ chose a snail and an urchin, respectively.

Before leaving the area, we took a minute to marvel at some larger ocean specimens. In the center of the Aquarium is a giant ocean tank that reaches from the bottom floor all the way to the top. At each level you can look inside at the myriad coral reef creatures who call the tank home. (You can watch the live webcam here.)

The kids were utterly transfixed: 

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We saw a couple of sharks:

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And a manta ray:

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And check out this giant sea turtle! We thought he was a rock!

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Walking up to the third floor we passed through a hallway with cool glow-in-the dark lighting, but the giant whale skeleton suspended above us was really something to see! 

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Our next stop was the "Edge of the Sea, the large tidepool exhibit. Here's our friend Abby sharing her observations with me:

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The children were allowed to pick up any creature they wished, but they had to be gentle, and they were asked to hold the animals under water.

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Here we saw starfish, crabs of all kinds, (including horseshoe crabs, a recent fascination for us), mussels and sea urchins. The kids continued their scavenger hunt looking for things that "had sticky feet," things that "used camouflage," things that "could climb out of the tank," and an "animal with a long tail."

Crackerjack got right down to work:

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Everything was so touchable, but the jellyfish were kept, naturally, under glass:

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Lion's mane jellies - these pictures don't do them an iota of justice.

So tomorrow the boys will write about their experience in their science notebooks, and I'll print some of these pictures out for them to add, too. I am really thrilled to be participating in such an amazing educational experience, right alongside my boys. But the best part is, they loved it too, and you should hear them talking their Daddy's ear off right now! :)

Have a great night, everyone!


Science this Week: All Fired Up!

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In the other gardens,

And all up the vale,

From the autumn bonfires,

See the smoke trail!

This is a busy week coming up for us, particularly science-wise. We'll begin our homeschool classes at the New England Aquarium and we'll have our first Nature Study Group meeting! But this afternoon we kicked off our study of chemistry with a bonfire, a first step in an exploration of the elements.

Last week we began reading our main science resource, It's Elementary: How Chemistry Rocks Our World. I am so pleased with this book - it is just the right blend of exciting presentation and solid information. We read about "Greek Geeks," and how Empedocles was the first great thinker to come up with the idea of everything being divided into four elements. He used a burning log as an example: the ash is earth, the liquid sap is water, smoke represents air and heat, the fire.

I thought it would be fun to burn a log in our chiminea and then record our observations of the process. This kind of project is decidedly a Daddy-kind of activity, so I waited for the weekend to begin. :)

What follows are the pictures we took of our process, which will end up in our science notebooks. (We are also toying with the idea of keeping a family science blog in addition to notebooks.)

I also read this encouraging passage in From Nature Stories to Natural Science: A Holistic Approach to Science for Families (a Waldorf-inspired science book):

"Fire is always the starting point for the Seventh Grade chemistry, and the place to start would be with a lovely big bonfire in your yard (assuming that is possible for you). Watch how it burns, how it smokes, the colors and qualities of the flame. These observations should be drawn and written up for the Good Book. The next morning examine the undisturbed bonfire site and and note the patterns of ash and charred wood. Record."

So this week we'll begin our notebooks, with drawings and narrations from our bonfire (pictures, too). I will also have the boys write down information we glean from It's Elementary! - dates, names and definitions. Any experiments we do will go in as well, recorded in both words and pictures.

So without further ado, here are pictures from our afternoon bonfire:

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Daddy began with kindling and a few wooden blocks.

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A harvestman residing inside the chiminea made a narrow escape!

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The fire wasn't catching so we added newspaper, and opened the lid to let in air.

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The view from above.

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Now we were cookin'!

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My fellas all gathered around the "bonfire."

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After a while things were really blazing (see top picture) so we decided to wrap things up with a bit of help from the hose.

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Inside, in our learning corner, I displayed our wooden nesting elements and opened our book to the page we are working on.

Here's that page close up:

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The book is very colorful and child-friendly (mother-friendly, too!).

And, it just so happened this weekend we turned our fireplace back on. I'm going to have Bill talk with the boys about how this (gas) fire is different from the (wood) fire we burned outside today.

More notebook material. ;)

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Sing a song of seasons,

Something bright in all!

Flowers in the summer,

Fires in the fall!

(Robert Louis Stevenson)


Back to (Home)school Supplies

"Don't you just love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address."

I've never even been to New York City, let alone in the fall, but I love this quote from one of my all-time favorite movies, one I seem compelled to watch at this time every year. (Do you recognize the movie? Take a guess!) I especially love the opening scenes in all their fall splendor, as the two main characters rhapsodize about things like coffee, Scotch tape and number two pencils ~ a few of my favorite things.

School supplies - no matter how old we get, no matter how far away from Apple_2academia we grow - will always seem an integral part of this time of year. Goldenrod and golden pencils. Crisp morning air and crisp packs of college-ruled paper. A landscape that comes alive in every shade of the crayon box. And let's not forget the traditional apple for teacher!

And so fittingly, this Monday, Kim is hosting the Loveliness of Back to School. I must confess, I've really been looking forward to this fair ever since the summer schedule was first announced several weeks ago. I wrote it down in my calendar and as I did I thought: when we get to that day in late August I will be in my happy zone - books will be strewn all about, curriculum orders will be on their way, fall schedules will be coming together, and my lesson planner will be open once again ...

Last month I posted about our plans for the new year; now it's time to talk "shop!"

The back-to-school supplies list for a home-learning family is bound to be different from the ordinary sheet of suggestions one might find at the local Staples superstore. And yet there's going to be overlap, too. What follows, then, is my list as it has shaped up so far. It's really more of a checklist than a shopping list as most of these items we already own. I like seeing the whole list at a glance, though, because it helps me envision possible storage strategies.

As home learners, we are, obviously, home a lot, and yet we also find ourselves out-and- about quite often, too. (Some weeks it feels like we're doing more carschooling than homeschooling, lol.) So I include in my list lots of home comforts and essentials of general family living. It all adds up in our book. :)

  • a work bag for each child
  • backpacks (for out-and-about)
  • a lesson planner for me
  • weekly work binders, one each for the older two
  • a dedicated workspace and comfortable seating (chair pads, maybe?)
  • bins/baskets or buckets for tablework supplies
  • crayons
  • colored pencils
  • a watercolor paint set
  • no. 2 pencils (the more the merrier!)
  • pens
  • rulers
  • glue (school glue, glue sticks, craft glue)
  • tape (masking, Scotch)
  • stapler
  • scissors (kids, adult, pinking)
  • a hole punch
  • stamps
  • writing paper and envelopes
  • loose leaf paper
  • graph paper
  • copy paper for the printer
  • ink cartridges for the printer
  • drawing paper
  • construction paper
  • watercolor paper
  • homemade play dough (and tools)
  • homemade finger paints
  • smocks
  • a clothesline for displaying artwork
  • magnetic clips for the fridge
  • a bulletin board and thumbtacks
  • rubber bands
  • paper clips
  • brads
  • a dictionary and thesaurus
  • a globe
  • a world atlas
  • wall maps (US and world)
  • seasonal window clings (fun for the kids, and ok, me)
  • a large family calendar
  • a classroom clock
  • a timer and/or stopwatch
  • stickers (of all kinds)
  • rubber stamps (alphabet and other)
  • cookie cutters
  • a children's cookbook
  • woolen felt
  • yarn
  • cotton string
  • a sewing kit
  • nature journals
  • magnifying glasses
  • a pair of binoculars
  • field guides
  • a science encyclopedia
  • multiple birdfeeders
  • nature puppets
  • an outdoor thermometer
  • a rain guage
  • a microscope
  • a telescope
  • a tape/CD player/radio
  • CD/tape storage
  • musical instrument(s) and songbooks
  • subscriptions to educational magazines
  • a subscription to a local newspaper
  • library cards
  • museum membership(s)
  • local audubon membership
  • maps of our local area and nearest big city
  • a computer
  • educational software
  • chore lists for each family member
  • allowance agreements ;)
  • cleaning tools
  • environmental- (and child-) friendly cleaners
  • beeswax polish for tables, shelves and chairs
  • hand sanitizing wipes
  • a first aid kit (for home and car)
  • a family Bible
  • a prayer corner
  • tealights
  • holy cards
  • a missal
  • a camera
  • (it goes without saying) BOOKS!
  • bookshelves
  • book nooks and reading baskets
  • a learning/book display area
  • multivitamins
  • a weekly menu plan
  • healthy, help-yourself snacks
  • portable snack containers/baggies
  • thermal travel mugs for hot drinks on cold car rides
  • warm autumn bedding
  • new pajamas and slippers
  • sneakers/comfortable shoes
  • rain and snow gear

Whew, my husband near about fell over when I read him that list! I was quick to remind him (and all my dear readers, too) that this list is comprised mostly of things we already own. I will still be making my annual trek to purchase a few new supplies - because nothing beats a fresh package of construction paper or a shiny new box of Crayolas ...

Except maybe that bouquet of newly sharpened pencils. That would be pretty neat. ;)


Our Day ~ a Recap

First of all, I'm sorry to say, there will be no pictures with this post because (sob) my camera has just bitten the dust. I'm in a state of shock - or perhaps withdrawal, lol - and I'm trying not to look out the windows for fear I might see something I desperately want to photograph.

Strangely, it's been a day for things breaking:

  • The phone charger isn't working.
  • The vacuum cleaner hose has split open.
  • The kitchen faucet hose is unable to retract; it's lying like some slain silver snake in the sink basin.
  • Ants have built a nest in the air conditioner. (Actually that's a long standing battle, but it bears mentioning here.)

Well, enough of all that. I thought instead of focusing on the negatives (ahem, any longer) I would write a bit about what we did today. Because it was a great day, all in all, and really, all that matters is that my family is healthy and there's a roof over our collective heads. The rest of it will all shake out in the end.

So, our day ...

  • Began around 5:00 a.m. which is considered sleeping in if you are Earlybird or one of his parents. Coffee was brewed and the Globe arrived. By 6:30 all the boys were up and about. I ran out to fill the birdfeeders before Bill left for work (trying hard not to notice any neat bugs or new blossoms).
  • After breakfast (waffles), Earlybird and I got down on the floor and talked about the trains in a book. He's especially impressed by the Santa Fe right now.
  • I kept a close eye on Midget, our diabetic cat who was quite ill last night. He seems OK today.
  • I lit a candle and prayed for some special intentions.
  • I debated over my hair appointment today - keep it long or cut it short? No one had advice; no one seemed moved to vote one way or another. That's what you get for having all boys, lol.
  • By 9(ish) we were onto math. Bookworm (who has decidedly different feelings for arithmetic than does his mother) was positively giddy. ("Graph paper? ALL RIGHT!") Crackerjack worked on the concept of a quarter to and a quarter past.
  • Earlybird was given an entire bucket of Backyardigans 3-D foam stickers to peel and arrange on several sheets of paper. What possessed me to give him the entire bucket of 400 stickers at one time I cannot say.
  • On to spelling - CJ had a page left in this week's lesson; BW had already finished his. So he was given a Globe article to read and write about in his journal.
  • CJ read the last chapter in Dinosaurs before Dark and then wrote a few sentences about the book in his journal.
  • EB drew letters with colored pencils in his notebook.
  • While the boys worked I finally had a bit of time to close down PBSkids.org and check my email, log on to 4Real, etc.
  • Unloaded the dishwasher and started a banana bread. EB helped.
  • Washed the edges of the kitchen floor (flour dust, sugar crystals and mashed banana). Caught and released a small spider.
  • Washed the last cup of coffee off the kitchen window screens (thank you, Earlybird) using the faucet hose to spray directly through the open windows onto the deck. Seemed like a good idea at the time, until the hose got stuck and wouldn't go back in. Warned everyone not to use the kitchen sink because it would spray all over if they did.
  • Changed laundry.
  • Read aloud another chapter of The Hardy Boys.
  • Talked about Saint Anthony, whose feast day it was.
  • Spent 10 minutes observing the feeders; BW wrote about the rose-breasted grosbeak and CJ drew what he saw.
  • BW read Taggerung his latest Redwall selection.
  • CJ drew Pokemon characters.
  • Earlybird and I watched the banana breads baking and practiced middle consonants. Then we watched the rain for a while, opened the window and smelled the rain. We next walked into the kitchen and talked about how good the breads smelled.
  • Breads out, lunch ready. I read the new Heart and Mind magazine - made a note to return to the architecture unit study for closer inspection.
  • Changed laundry and jumped in shower for five minutes.
  • Mum arrived to babysit. Made coffee and left her with the boys. Got stuck in traffic and was five minutes late to hairdresser's.
  • Decided on a shorter do for the summer.
  • Arrived home; Mum and older boys watching Matilda, Earlybird asleep.
  • After mum left, watched Jewel of the Earth, a Nova special about dinosaur DNA.
  • Boys practiced a new game they made up - missile tag.
  • Tidied up house, started supper (leftovers)
  • Bill home, suppertime!

Well, that's all for today (as best I can remember!). Tomorrow's Thursday which around here means Tea and a Craft! :)


By George, it was St. George!

His feast day, I mean! Though I will be the first to admit, our day did not come off exactly as planned. It was just too balmy a day ~ we were completely distracted!! And tea - hot English tea? Not when the temps. soared to 85 degrees!

Yes, this summer-like weather has us all knocked for a loop! Not that I'm complaining, mind you. It was just a bit of, ahem, a challenge keeping our focus on lessons with a warm gusty wind blowing through the house, the birds singing like crazy and flying past the windows with nesting material in their beaks. But! We did do a few things, and I'd like to share them with you.

Stgeorge1

Above is pictured our St. George display. In the background we have books on England, dragons and our Catholic Mosaic book of the week, St. George and the Dragon. Also, on the far right is the wooden framed picture of a St. George holy card. Bookworm made one like this for St. Thomas Aquinas (his patron) and CJ will paint this one in a similar way (red, I'm sure). We didn't get around to finishing this project.

Some coloring pages are taped up on the window (again, partly finished). The boys worked on these (taken from this coloring book) as I read aloud. We didn't get to the narrations or copywork, but we did answer the CM discussion questions, and as always, thoroughly enjoyed the story, as well as a brief debate on the possible "science" of dragons.

On the tabletop we have our dragon's cave in which is posed a dragon and knight, locked in fierce battle. To the right you see some British specialties for the tea we've postponed till Thursday and a floating red rose candle. The rose is England's national flower and one of the symbols connected with St. George. It's hard to tell in this shot, but the table is set with a white cloth and we have a red ribbon set down, making a cross in the middle - just like the Red Cross Knight's flag. A silk red rose lent a nice touch, too. (I got the idea for this table setting in A Book of Feasts and Seasons by Joanna Bogle.)

And in the foreground, as you might have guessed, is the slain dragon, along with the mighty (cardboard) sword. We thought we had him taken care of last fall, when CJ, dressed as St. George, posed with his conquest:

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The boys were going to stage a reenactment, but it was far too hot for costumes!

As for teatime? Well, I did partake, just a bit. After Bill got home and took all the boys outside for a while, I sat down for a spell and relaxed. Flowers, tea, "biscuits," a wonderful read ~ and I had my own little British moment.

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I have to mention, the tea I sipped was not actually British, but a new variety I found at the natural foods store: Vanilla Rose Decaf. With a touch of sugar and a splash of milk, it was delicious and soothing. (I think it would be great iced!) And the candle? Also found at that same store, it's scent ~ "Hope" ~ is a combination of ... vanilla and rose! I had it lit by the breezy window as the boys played outside. Just lovely.

Well, another warm day is dawning here. We'll take advantage of it before a cool rainy period moves in later in the week. Today we'll be working on math, langauge arts and science (volcanoes) and we'll take a tour of the yard for a bit of nature study. Also, later this afternoon CJ and I will be making his First Holy Cummunion banner at CCD. We'll take pictures, of course (once my batteries recharge)!

Well, my friends, have a beautiful day. Take time to smell those new flowers and open your windows wide to the sunshine and fresh air!


Back to the Learning Board!

It's been a while since I've had the weekly lessons board up and running! At long last it feels like we're back on track.

Earthstudy5

As you can probably tell, we're studying the earth this week. I must point out a few other things, beginning in the upper lefthand corner:

  • Porcupines - we're just kind of interested in them right now. Fisher cats are making a splash in the local headlines and they are the only predator that can successfully hunt the porcupine. We realized how little we know about porcupines (I'm not sure we want to know about fishers) so we dug up some information - from Big Backyard magazine and The Beginning Naturalist, to start.
  • An invitation to a friend's birthday party.
  • A coloring page of Henry V and his sword (our history topic this week).
  • Some photocopied bits and pieces from various history resources (in addition to Henry V, we also are reading about Joan of Arc).
  • Magic School Bus Inside the Earth, the picture book (we also have the CD-ROM somewhere around here).
  • My grandmother's pie crust recipe (kind of a long story involved here, something to do with Earth Day - more on that later).
  • The map with the stars is a project I "borrowed" from Suzanne. The stars show all the 4Real children who are making their First Holy Communion this spring! Isn't it a lovely idea for these children to pray for one another as their big days approach? CJ was so happy to apply each and every star, and it was a great geography lesson to boot!
    • If you have a child making FHC soon and would like to leave his or her name and home state in my comments, please do and we will add you to our map - and our prayers!
  • Finally the Earth book we're using - DK Eye Wonder: Earth, in conjunction with a science encyclopedia for meatier info., and a chart of the earth's layers.
  • Oh! And there's our Earth Day reminder, smack dab in the middle of the board. (It's this Sunday, by the way.)

A few more pictures from today:

Earthstudy1

Coloring and labeling cut-away earth diagrams. The apple was for illustration - and morning snack. :) (That's Koala Krisp in the mugs in case you were wondering.)

Earthstudy2

A favorite picture book, timely for this study and this week. The apple peels were brought directly to our compost bucket beneath the sink. (We'll talk more about compost and soil later in the week.)

Earthstudy3

To make the earth chart, I cut up strips of construction paper (with a little help from my friend there) and then the boys helped me arrange them in the appropriate order:

Earthstudy6

As you can see, the earth's layers are represented by varying colors. They are surrounded by pale blue atmosphere and, further out, by starry black space.

So now that the board's all set, it's on with the work! Have a great night, everyone. See you in the a.m. - or sometime roundabouts. :)


Spring Learning at Home

When I tried to think of a title for this post, I kept coming back to the phrase spring learning. It sounds kind of silly, but actually to us it makes sense. One of the great advantages of home education is immersing ourselves in the day - the natural day. If it's sunny or rainy or perhaps that gray and mellow kind of day, we feel it. It is part of our day and it becomes very much part of our learning. I am so glad for that for my children. I love it that they watch goldfinches while they work on sentence structure and listen to bird song during math. I can only imagine that the fresh air coming in through the windows does their expanding brains a world of good. It certainly does mine.

Here's a snippet of our spring learning today. :)

Note #1: We got a bit of a late start. EB found himself in a rather messy situation so a morning bath was in order. The older two kept themselves busy while I oversaw EB's bath and then threw in a small laundry. While EB bathed we played with the small plastic animal collection. We sorted out the animals that would live in water, and practiced saying their names. 

Roundabouts 9:30 we were back on track:

Math

  • The boys completed their lessons while munching on Honey-Nut-O's and listening to the birds in the woods.

Spelling

  • Catholic Spellers A and E - check.

Grammar

  • Language of God A - check
  • Lessons in Writing Sentences Book 1 - check
  • Spent some time admiring the bright yellow goldfinches just outside the window (see photo below).

Note #2: EB threw up, and that confirmed it; he has a stomach bug. Got it all cleaned up (him too) and readied his bed for a nap. Postponed the backyard nature study until after he was asleep.

History

  • SOTW2: The End of the World (The Plague)
    • mapwork - check
    • wheel of transmission - check

Note #3: Took a break to look all over this site recommended by Theresa. Printed out the light saber cross section to show Daddy. Mail came: Bookworm's Cobblestone (D-Day issue) and a Disney Movie Club offer that the boys pored over while I made lunch:

  • Whole wheat pb&j's, chopped dates and salted peanuts, cheddar crackers, lemonade and sugar-free pumpkin pie for dessert

Nature Study

  • We took a nature walk around the yard. (See photos below.) We were looking for signs of change. It was bright and windy, still pretty cool. A nice fresh early spring day.

Religion

  • Read "Jesus Enters Jerusalem" in Children's Bible; discussed Palm Sunday.

Science

  • Read Our Wet World while CJ sorted plastic animals by water habitat. Tomorrow we will make a poster of aquatic ecosystems.
  • Also read "Foods from the Sea" in this book and brainstormed what to serve this Friday for our Home Fish Fry (we'll miss our parish Fish Fry - long story - so we're doing one at home):
    • clam chowder
    • scallops
    • fish sticks
    • onion rings
    • french fries

We finished up by 1:30 and now the boys are watching Zoboomafoo (you bet I count it as science!). The red squirrel is under the feeders right now, and two beautiful mourning doves are nestled in the sunny grass nearby. The wind is howling all around the house and the sun is splashing across the floor. I just love these early spring days (can you tell?). :)

And last but not least, here are our photos from today's nature walk:

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Tiny crocus shoots pushing up towards the light.

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The goldfinches are getting so bright!

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Couldn't resist posting one more finch picture.

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A forsythia bud shows promise ...

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As do the very tips of this large tree.

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We'll have to look up this fungi in our field guide.

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The river out back. Wish I had sound to go with it! 


8:07 p.m.

Tonight. On the dot. And not a moment too soon!

SPRING will be here! Perhaps in name only for now, but still ... Spring will be here!

So, would someone kindly tell Winter to scram, because apparently he didn't get the memo:

March_woods

The Riverwood, March 2007

Now, most calendars will tell you tomorrow is the first day of spring, but for those of us seemingly locked in Winter Land, every minute counts.

Spring begins precisely, at 8:07 tonight. At that very moment, our kitchen timer will ring and we will pause in our bedtime routine to smile and shout Happy Spring! We'll go to bed knowing tomorrow it can - and will - only get warmer, lighter and greener ... 

Since Tuesdays here in the Riverwood School are science and nature study days, here are a few things we'll explore today ...Why_the_sun_rises_4

~ We will read about why, and how, we have seasons:

~ We'll do a little bird study. We'll start by reading this interesting article I found online. Next, we'll read our weekly chapter from The Beginning Naturalist. This week's subject is redpolls. We get plenty of, what I believe to be, purple finches, but I noticed this line in the book:

"The only bird that a beginning birder might confuse with a redpoll is the male purple finch. The purple finch, however, is bigger and has more red coloring."

We're not exactly beginning birders, but redpolls are not so familiar to me. So today we will keep a careful eye out the classroom windows, watching the feeders for these red-headed birds. I am fairly sure the birds we see are indeed finches, but we will observe more closely and see if perhaps there might be a repoll in the mix.

~ We will read the astronomy note from today's Boston Globe: "Look west after sunset for the thin crescent moon and, to its upper left, brilliant Venus. Remember how they look, and compare with the view tomorrow." Very curious ... we'll do just that.

~ In another week or so, we will enjoy an Early Spring Scavenger Hunt. (We need time to melt down and dry out a bit first.) I got this list from a wonderful nature resource called Let Nature Be the Teacher:

  • signs of nest building
  • buds
  • a spring flower
  • three shades of green
  • a fresh smell
  • mud
  • a new bird sound
  • an early spring insect
  • a fiddlehead (young fern)

If you do this hunt, let me know ~ I am planning another Field Day very soon. Details - and a button - by week's end! :)

By the way, if you happen to live near a Dunkin' Donuts, it is worth noting that all day tomorrow (the first full day of spring), they are offering free iced coffee! (One per customer, I believe. Thanks to my friend, Tara, for the tip!) We probably won't make it over to D&D, but I think I will brew a cup of iced decaf. at home and relish the very coolness of it! After all, it will get up to a balmy 39 degrees tomorrow, lol!

BUT! It will reach 65 on Friday, so truly, there is hope in sight. This New England weather is so wacky, you can't help but love it ... right???

Have a great day, everyone, and Happy Spring!!!


Cricket in Times Square: Chapter One

Next month it will be my turn to lead the discussion for Crackerjack's Book Group (ages 7-Cricket10). I could choose any book I wished, and, after a quick head-to-head with CJ, whose only request was that the book have to do with mice, I chose Cricket in Times Square.

The meeting is on April 5th, so I have about three weeks to read the book with CJ and prepare an hour's worth of discussion and activities. I'm hoping to organize a lively presentation so I'm taking lots of notes as I go. :)

I know many folks have read this book with their children - multiple times, even! - but somehow we here at By Sun & Candlelight have missed this classic all these homeschooling years! What I plan to do is to post CJ's narration and my notes after we finish each chapter (or so). I will be using these posts to help me craft the discussion for the larger group next month.

And so we begin!

*Chapter One: Tucker*

Summary: (Crackerjack's narration)

"In this chapter, a young boy called Mario has a newspaper stand in a subway station in New York City. Mario is hoping to get money for his father by selling newspapers. He hopes to sell them to the New Yorkers who ride the subway. The sales are going badly.

There is a mouse named Tucker who lives in an old sewer pipe a couple of feet away from Mario's newsstand. He collects paper. He is in his hole and he is watching Mario because he likes him. Tucker hears a wierd noise that he's never heard before, even though he's heard many things."

Discussion Questions:

  • What did you think about Mario's parents leaving him alone at the newsstand?
  • Have you ever visited a newsstand?
  • Have you ever been to NYC?
  • Have you ever ridden on a subway?
  • What did Paul do to help Mario? Why do you think he did that?

Snack:

  • Lorna Doone shortbread cookies
    • "Tucker finished the last few crumbs of a cookie he was eating - a Lorna Doone shortbread he had found earlier in the evening - and licked off his whiskers."

*General Ideas*

Possible Field trip:

  • Visit a newsstand to purchase a paper, preferably one in a subway station or in a city area.
  • Ride a subway train!

More discussion/activity:

  • Tucker had a cozy nest in a drain pipe. What would make a nest cozy for you?
  • Where is Times Square? Find New York City on a map.

Books:

Links: