Friday, September 30, 2005

Still feeling yucky

It's the great conundrum of being sick for me--stay up all night with a stuffy head, or take the meds that keep me up all night without a stuffy head. I opted for the un-stuffed head.

Needless to say, I was feeling pretty ragged out this morning. The perfect day to concentrate on Home Ec!

Katie and Zack discovered all the wonders of the vacuum cleaner today as they cleaned up the living room and dining room. They are really working well together lately and it was nice to hear them come up with their plan, bouncing ideas back and forth. No fighting either. And they did a great job and were extremely proud of themselves.

Next they split up an hour working on the math program. One watched while the other solved the problems. Zack had much more trouble keeping his nose out of Katie's work and kept trying to move her over to do the problem himself, but she wasn't having it.

I'm noticing they are both getting more comfortable asking for help when they don't understand something instead of trying to get it done alone to the point of frustration.

I had them read me some stories to help me feel better and then they spent the rest of the day playing outside and watching the Magic Schoolbus and PBS Kids.

Still sleepy but it looks like I won't lose the whole weekend to this cold but may need to cancel going to the Fairfax Festival tomorrow. That's a bummer. The weather has been terrific as far as I can tell from the bedroom window!

OK, I'm going to load up on the meds and head back to bed.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

I've got a cold in my nose-oh

I've got a cold in my nose. So, since there's no substitute teacher coming in today ;-) we will be taking it easy and mostly reading and story writing.

Well, I really did intend to keep up with this site, but time has been flying! What have we been up to?

4 hours at the Zoo last Thursday. Very nice not to be rushing or elbowing our way in through throngs of people, just had to be sure not to trip over small kids or get in the way of strollers. We found parts of the zoo we had never seen before. Also recorded more butterflies on Katie's chart.

Kate's working on fractions on the math program. Friday she asked for worksheets. We have plenty of them so she was kept very busy with reading comprehension, directions, and adding.

Zack is on geometry (shapes/area) on the math program and much prefers it to worksheets.

I finally bought some paint and will be setting up the easel outside so they can do that without worrying about the mess. Will also use the pre-school trick of adding dish soap to the paint for easy wash out.

Pete and I cleaned out the stuff I had stored in his office and moved it over to the other room off the basement. Next, he's tackling filing and then we'll probably move on to handling his storage needs in the office. During the cleanup I came across a box we haven't unpacked in the last three moves at least. Turns out there was a Barbie dune buggy and camper for Katie and a Troll with a little troll tucked inside for Zack and my old stuffed Tiger lovey I've had since I was about two years old. Tiger! I thought he'd been lost.

As you can see, he has definitely graduated to being Real.

If you don't know how that happens, check this out:

I was off to Dallas for the weekend, where Rita turned out to be a big nothing and I caught this cold. Got back on Monday afternoon. Pete had spent the day with the kids working on books, cleaning up and something else I don't remember.

Tuesday we had unschoolers, some math a rushed trip to Costco, Zack's fencing and we began to send out postcards for the postcard exchange. We've only received one back so far but that's fine because the big map I was expecting to get at Costco wasn't there anymore. Spent yesterday from 10:30-3 in the Smithsonian Natural Science and Am Hist museums. The kids are old enough to go into the Hands on Science room now and we fooled around with electric circuits, measuring the distance tot he moon with lasers, and did a scientist-led experiment to extract DNA which was really cool but the scientist was really boring. Too bad. We also saw lots of different kinds of lava and a giant globe of the tectonic plates.

Katie want to do flowers as her next project, Zack hasn't picked one yet, but I think it may end up being Mummies--he loved the ones at the museum or Greek gods, which he would like Grandpa E to paint on his walls. Zack informs me that Grandpa can paint anything, so it should be no big deal.

So, today I'm feeling yucky and the weather is yucky too. Think we will probably sit down with some worksheets, read lots of books and watch a Magic School bus episode. If they sun peeks out, will also send them out to do some messy stuff like painting or drawing in shaving cream. Messy play, easy cleanup. Nice.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The days go by

Tuesday with the unschoolers again and everyone had great time.

One woman was collecting stuffed animals for Katrina evacuees just as I had a bag all packed up and ready for Goodwill. Glad they will be of some use. I'm actually supposed to go to Dallas this weekend and am wondering if storm Rita will be changing my plans for me. Will have to keep an eye on the situation there. Though I really want to see my friends, the thought of flying when the weather is so awful is not a pleasant one.

I also asked around about what people are submitting to Fairfax Co. to show proof of advancement for their kids. Everyone agreed that testing was the easiest and safest. I have been stressing out over putting together portfolios. It's been keeping me up some nights. It's really hard to document every little thing and something don't really have a thing to go with them, like long conversations about the Constitution for example.

In any case, it was nice to learn that Fairfax will accept the CAT test, which is fairly painless for kids to take and reasonable to get through the mail. So, even though I will still keep portfolios going for our own purposes, we will likely give the CAT test a try. Now for some good nights' sleep.

Today was mostly taken up by dentist appointments. The kids' teeth look great, I have to go back to fix a loose filling and cracked tooth. Yecch. We tried to go to a train museum in Fairfax and were very disappointed to learn, after sitting in annoying traffic, that they are only open on Sundays. We back tracked and stopped at the Fairfax Museum which is very small but interesting. Funny-- I didn't think the kids were enjoying it much, but when we went to write in journals tonight they each chose to write about the museum. I thought they would focus on the dentist. Interesting.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Greasy Kid Stuff

We made butter today. After a long time at worksheets this morning (and a talk to Zack about making choices about how he spends his time) we were ready for some active learning by doing. Katie and I used the traditional shaking of the babyfood jar method, Zack added a marble into the jar to see if it would speed up the process. It did!

Here are the results (BTW--I don't post pictures of my kids on the internet for all the world to see. If you want to see the full version, and you know us personally, email me and I can send it to you.)


Also loving the multiplication wheels I got at the Scholastic dollar sale. Way more fun than flash cards.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Driving myself crazy

So naturally, since this is the new thing we're doing, I've been talking a lot about homeschooling with friends and family. Everyone is throwing out ideas and opinions--some great, some good and some I'm not interested in. I do very well as I'm having each conversation BUT THEN later, late at night, I lose my mind!

She thinks your crazy, my brain tells me... that one thinks you haven't researched enough...why didn't YOU think of that...maybe you should do it THAT way...on and on and on into the night.

Even the most supportive and benign comment can keep me spinning like a top.

In the morning I'm my normal self again, plugging along getting things done. Just a nut case at night.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Friday already

Well, the week has flown.

Tuesday was our first outing to a HS group, the NOVA Unschoolers. They were having a potluck and book/materials swap for not-back-to-school. I met my goal of dropping off more than I brought back and left with a handful of Magic Schoolbus tapes and assorted other things. Everyone was nice and there were plenty of boys and girls for Kate and Zack to play with. It was also nice to not get that cockeyed look when I said we didn't have a curriculum.

Tuesdays are going to be busy. The unschoolers have a park day in the afternoon, then home to get some work done, Zack has fencing at 5pm and I have something at 7pm. I think this was the night that Pete taught Zack the basics of the ten times tables too.

Wed, we started butterfly and volcano books and the kids labeled pictures (magma, lava, vent and caterpillar, egg, chrysalis, etc) and glued them into the books. Their printing is coming along, spelling, not so much. Went to Ready Readers at the library, we go early to pick out books and then the kids spend about 40 minutes with Miss Ginny for some stories. I'm saddened to learn they have cut this back to every other week :-( however, we'll probably still do library time Wednesday afternoons.

Zack lost his third tooth! One of the big ones on top. He was very excited and immediately put it under his pillow.

Thursday--The tooth fairy came and left 25, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 cents...gee that's a strange amount to leave, maybe you should check she left $1 Wow!

Off to the farmers market and then the National Archives which has been re-done recently with lower display cases, a movie theatre and an exhibit on the public vaults and what info they really keep there. The kids were less than interested mainly because you can't really see the writing on the docs all that well and when you can see it, it's so scrolling that they can't read it. I pointed out B Franklin, T Jefferson and G Washington's signatures and that seemed to impress. Also hit the main points of the Constitution again and 3 branches of gov't. The vault was very good and the kids were much more interested in that. Should have let them do that first, like they wanted to intead of try to ram the important educational agenda I had in mind down their throats. Are we learning yet....

Home and time to separate Kate and Zack for a while, so reading in their rooms. Then Katie was off to dance and Zack watched a volcano movie we checked out of the library.

Today was about cleaning up and getting more organized downstairs. Fairly successful. I also had the kids sort their own laundry and they helped with the grocery shopping. I explained why it's actually less expensive to buy two small jars of Skippy instead of one large jar of Jif, etc.

Home to read the great books I got from Scholastic's dollar sale. Also got some multiplication wheels, which look more fun that the addition/subtraction flash cards they've been using. So, clean up, laundry, outside time, journals, reading, math program, a study of physics ala hotwheels tracks and the PTA/Civic Association picnic and I am pooped.

Socialization--geeze, we've got plenty and we haven't even started scouts yet!

That's a full week at homeschool. Not too bad. Still winging it but generally moving along. My main concern is trying to decide what sort of "proof of progress" to supply the district with at the end of the year. Hard to determine what exactly they will want out of a portfolio. I have to decide by January, so will begin to ask around and find out what others are doing.

Hope the skies are bright in your part of the world. Looks like lazy Katrina will visit us tomorrow. Nice of her to wait until after the picnic.

Monday, September 12, 2005

A special kind of word...

It took Zack forever to get dressed this morning, for Katie to pick up Barbies downstairs and for me to make any decision about what we should be doing today.

The only thing we got done this morning was to talk about the branches of government and the parts of the Constitution, which were highlighted in the kids section of the Sunday newspaper this week. Sept 17 is Constitution Day and there's a community picnic to celebrate, so I thought they should at least know a bit about what it is.

Eventually, we got to work around 3pm with some nouns and verbs. They have been itching to get at the window markers (thanks grandma!) so I had them write as many persons, places and things they could think of on the diningroom window and then some action words on another smaller window.

We had fun and it's clear they basically know what we're talking about but need to work on spelling BIG time. Schoolhouse Rock pays off! (I also can recite the preamble because of those Saturday ditties--and now you can too, if this link works:

Zack and I then spent about an hour playing SET, a game where you have to pick sets that have 4 aspects in common or different. You really have to see it to get it. Great for Zack to take in each aspect one at a time instead of trying to grasp all the info at once. Also works on what makes a set etc. for math.

Meanwhile, Katie played the 2nd grade math program and finished the telling time section pretty quickly. I'm noticing she does much better if I'm not right next to her, she second guesses herself and asks me for the answers all the time. I originally thought she just didn't understand how to do the problems, but it turns out that she does fine if there's no one to check in with. Interesting.

I'm also concerned that Katie is still writing her b,p and ds backwards and that she can't tell the difference BTW 60 and 06. We all need to get our eyes checked, so I'll mention this when we do.

Katie had to assure her friend Mai that we hadn't moved away and that she could still come over to play, so hopefully that will materialize soon.

Tomorrow we're off to our first homeschool event, Park Day with the NOVA Unschoolers. It's their Not Back To School potluck and book swap and I'm crossing my fingers that there will be some kids Kate and Zack's age and that I connect with a few of the parents too.

Will keep you posted.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The volcano

Here's the volcano!
Well, leaving Kate and Zack to their own devices has paid off in the creation of their first volcano. Not only did they learn about sculpting, volcano structure and the geometry of cone shapes, they also learned important lessons in negotiating, working as a team and coming up with a plan before acting. Nice!

The volcano was dry enough to set off tonight and it was underwhelming at first. I think the powder that came with the kit was a bit old. The baking soda/dish soap/vinegar combo was much more impressive.

The morning was spent at church. I worked in the nursery, Pete and the kids went to service. It was the annual water service and we always promise we'll remember to get water everywhere we go and every year we forget and have to take "virtual water" to represent all the places we've been. So in that spirit, when Katie was handed the microphone to tell where her water was from she proudly announced "it's from the sink at home!" much to the enjoyment of the congregation. September 11 and those in the gulf coast states were also remembered. (

After church we went to a nature center with friends and were treated to a nature walk with the naturalist on-duty. Katie touched a mole king snake, we all ate pears right off a tree and leaves off a shrub that tasted lemony. We also saw a LOT of poison ivy and are hoping that none of us got any. I was even pointed in the right direction to name the weed-that-eats-everything in the garden--Crown Vetch. Sadly, the main info I gained is that it's practically impossible to eradicate. Boo!

Time for the bedtime routine. Catch you later.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Holding my tongue

It is so hard to keep my mouth shut and have them figure out the answers for themselves! Right now they're trying to build a volcano and need to form a cone out of wadded up newspaper. They were fighting over how to get it done and I had to send them outside to talk over their plans so I could keep myself out of it. Ten minutes later they had a plan and are working nicely downstairs.

When I was doing my research I kept hearing over and over again that it will be much easier on me if I just trust them to figure things out. Nice, but HARD TO DO!!!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The First Day

Well, not really, but this was the first official day. We've actually been working on a couple of projects since August, but I never told the kids that it was "school."

Katie's unit project is butterflies and so far we have ID'ed a butterfly we found in NC at the beach, observed many in our butterfly bush and checked out and printed a book of commonly seen butterflies at the National Zoo with the intention of keeping a log we can chart in some way later. We also visited a butterfly exhibit a the Science Museum in Boston--real live butterflies and a chart we could use to ID them.

Zack's project is volcanoes. He has a volcano-building kit he got for his b-day, that we will probably crack open tomorrow. So far, he's seen live pictures of Mt. St. Helens, looked on the globe for some, read a book on volcanoes and seen pictures of a volcano in Africa that has the only flow of a certain kind in the world.

Ever notice that once you put your attention to a thing, it suddenly pops up all over the place? Who knew there'd be a special exhibit at the Science Museum or that Nat Geo mag would have a spread on a special volcano?

So, today--

After morning ablutions, clean up and breakfast, we headed off to the farmers market to learn to pick out fresh fruit and veggies and about counting change.

There was a playground and trails at the park that hosts the market so we went over to check it out. Zack hooked up with some boys and Katie chased them all over the place threatening to spread girl cooties. On the way out we tried a short trail where Katie and Zack tried to climb up a tree via a vine. It was harder than it looks in the Tarzan movies. The trail went by a wetland area so we took a look a the water lilies and noticed that there was actually a frog on almost every one. We talked about why the lily pads didn't sink, why cat tails get so fuzzy and the value wetlands have to local ecology and how they would have helped New Orleans if their wet lands hadn't been developed for building.

We also read on a sign about how wet lands help filter water and also talked about how trees need the CO2 we produce and we need the Oxygen they produce.

Home for lunch (leftovers from King Street Blues-yum) and Katie and I went downstairs to clean up the craft area so we could decorate the puppet she made last week. Zack decided to look over the Smithsonian kids' site about plate tectonics and volcanoes.
Katie made a lovely puppet:

We then did some lego building, here's Zack's Dr. Octopus blaster:

We ended the "official" school day with math. I gave the kids a choice of flash cards, a computer game or worksheets. Katie went for the flash cards, which she used with buttons from my mom's old button box (have found a million uses for these!) and Zack started in on the 2nd/3rd grade Reader Rabbit math program where he tried to make enough change to get someone out of a trap.

Katie started dance lessons today and due to a mix up of her age, ended up at a class that was really too young for her, so she stayed for the next class, which she will take from here on out.

Home for dinner, basement clean up and the night time routine and I'm about to head up to read a few more chapters of Around the World in 80 Days. Where did the day go?!

Hope your day was full too.