Sunday, June 21, 2009

Where Do Your Kids Get Their News?

Heather at Blog, She Wrote mentioned in a post that her children use God's World News as a news magazine. This year, Alex had been using Scholastic News. We might continue with it, but I was wondering what other news magazines there are for young children. (Alex will be in "4th grade".) So, where do your kids get their news?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Backyard Photowalk

While Alex has been lying around sick today, I've went in the backyard for 2 nature photowalks. I usually crop the photos, but then you can't enlarge them. So, today I left them "as is" and hopefully, you can click on them to enlarge - some of them are REALLY neat looking! (UPDATE: I thought if I didn't crop them, you could enlarge them. But, only the photo with the inchworm works. Any ideas why? And ideas of how to fix it? Thanks!)


another inchworm on the black-eyed susan (actually, there is a lite green one on the stem, too)

very cool green spider on the black-eyed susan cone (this looks great enlarged!)

neat looking small moth I identified as a grape leaf skeletonizer on Whats That Bug - if you enlarge it, you can see his fuzzy abdomen and antennae

our first cicada exoskeleton of the year - we just started hearing them in the evenings about a week ago

Massachusetts Authors

While I was practicing the piano yesterday, Alex grabbed a "Which Way USA?" book off the shelf and started working. Of course, I had to join her. We both really enjoy these books which are filled with puzzles AND they teach you about each state - geography, landmarks, history, etc. We got a BUNCH (25?) of these books from Half Price Books several years ago for $1 each. We finished this one yesterday, but I know we'll work on another one today as Alex is SICK! So, we're just lying around right now... she's watching TV and I'm on the computer blogging and researching our next project.

So back to the book... one of the activities was a word search using the last names of famous Massachusetts authors. I was excited that Alex recognized quite a few of them and I was telling her about others. Then, I decided to "test" us and see who we recognized. In case you want to play along, here's the list:

Louisa May Alcott
Anne Bradstreet
William Cullen Bryant
John Cheever
Emily Dickinson
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Benjamin Franklin
William Lloyd Garrison
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Henry James
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Amy Lowell
Herman Melville
Theodore Geisel, aka Dr.Suess
Henry David Thoreau
Phillis Wheatley
John Greenleaf Whittier

Here's Alex's list:
Louisa May Alcott - "Little Women" & "Little Men" (Yeah, Alex!)
Emily Dickinson - poet (Yes!)
Benjamin Franklin - wrote an almanac
Dr. Suess - The Me Book
Phillis Wheatley - she was a slave - wrote poems (I was the most excited that she recognized this lady! She said she learned about her from the Liberty Kids DVDs.)

My list:
Louisa May Alcott -"Little Women", "Little Men"
Anne Bradstreet - not familiar - looked up here - she was a poet in the mid 1600's
William Cullen Bryant - familiar - looked up here - poet & long time editor of New York Evening Post
John Cheever - not familiar - looked up here - novelist, but best known for short stories
Emily Dickinson - poet - wrote "I'm Nobody Who Are You?" - my high school English teacher's favorite poet :-)
Ralph Waldo Emerson - poet - looked up here - I should have remembered him more for his essays & philosophy of Transcendantlism, from the same English teacher
Benjamin Franklin - Poor Richard's Almanac, letters as "Silence Dogood"
William Lloyd Garrison - not familiar - looked up here - best known for radical abolitionist newspaper, "The Liberator"
Nathaniel Hawthorne - "The Scarlet Letter" (read in same English teacher's class) & "The House of Seven Gables" - I mainly remember this from SEEING this house while visiting Massachusetts as a child
Henry James - not familiar - he is primarily known for a series of novels portraying the encounter of America with Europe
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - poet - "The Children's Hour" - I LOVED this poem as a child and memorized it for a presentation - I can even remember the little red book I learned it from
Amy Lowell - not familiar - poet who won Pulitzer Prize for Poetry posthumously
Herman Melville - "Moby Dick" (I should have remembered "Billy Budd", too - we have an audio CD in the car) - I even mentioned "Moby Dick" yesterday!

Theodore Geisel/Suess - "Green Eggs & Ham"
Henry David Thoreau - "Walden" - same English teacher! (Oh, and I had her 2 years - 10th & 11th)
Phillis Wheatley - slave/poet
John Greenleaf Whittier- familiar - Quaker poet & a "Fireside Poet" - so now, of course, I want to learn about the Fireside Poets :-)

Overall, I was happy with what we remembered. But, I also realized that we are not learning much poetry or about many poets. So, I hope to fix that this year! We'll start by reading a book about Emily Dickinson I've had on our bookshelf - "The Mouse of Amherst" by Elizabeth Spires. It's about a mouse that lives with Emily Dickinson.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Unplug Your Kids: Slippery

This week's Unplug Your Kids challenge was "SLIPPERY." I had trouble thinking of anything except for slippery soap. I remembered I had bought some Ivory soap quite a while ago as we were studying whales for our Swimming Creatures co-op. We were hoping to use it to make some scrimshaw like the whalers used to do.
When we went to Maui a year and a half ago, Alex and I spent quite a bit of time at a whaling museum. At the museum, we bought some scrimshaw Christmas ornaments (which I couldn't find this Christmas!) Whalers would carve into bone and teeth of whales (and sometimes other body parts) to make beautiful etchings. Well, I read that you can try to do your own "scrimshaw" using Ivory soap.

Ivory has its own site, with patterns, showing you how to carve the soap. We really enjoyed it and it was challenging, but I thought it turned out well. I used one of the patterns while Alex created her own design.

BOOK REVIEW: I've also been meaning to mention a book I read about whaling while in Maui. The book is In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. (He also has a juvenile version titled Revenge of the Whale: The True Story of the Whaleship Essex, which is also available on CD.)

The book tells the amazing story of the whaleship Essex which was attacked by an angry whale. It sunk and the crew did everything they could to survive, even taking the most drastic meaures. In the end, only a few of the crew survive the 90 days at sea. The book is indeed intense and mezmerizing and this true story inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick.

Wildflower Surprises

Several years ago, we planted a lot of wildflower seeds but not much grew. (It could have been that our yard guys were pulling everything up!) So, we were surprised a few weeks ago when we went to this part of the yard (which is usually hidden) and we found a lot of yellow wildflowers! I took some photos and am only just getting around to blogging about them. (Because Alex has some friends over and I've already cleaned the house so I have some 'spare' time!)

There are 2 different kinds of yellow flowers in our new "wildflower garden." One type, above, I've identified as Plains Coreopsis. I think the easiest way to identify these wildflowers is by the edge (margin?) of each petal.

I believe this other type of flower is a Black-eyed Susan. The center is kind of purple and the "eye" is raised quite a bit. Even though I took these photos a few weeks ago, I just looked at them today and was surprised to see...

three inchworms!!! (One is in the center.) I'm going to have to go check tonight and see if I can find more of these. I love inchworms! I've posted about them before, but thought I'd go ahead and repost what I learned about them last April.

Inchworms are a specific type of caterpillar. Like most caterpillars, inchworms have 3 pairs of true legs in the front of their body, but usually only 2 pairs of false legs in back where most caterpillars have 5 pair. They move by drawing their back legs towards their front and then stretching out their body.

Inchworms are also called measuring worms, spanworms, cankerworms, and loopers. They are usually about 1 inch long. They belong to a family called Geometridae or the Geometer moths - "earth measuring." You're probably familiar with the Inchworm song that teaches arithmetic. (See video at the bottom of the page.) We actually sing this song pretty often - sometimes during math.

Update: I went outside and found at least a DOZEN inchworms! We might have to try to raise some. :-)

Henri Matisse & Icarus

Last week, we read Henri Matisse: Drawing with Scissors by Jane O'Connor (part of the Smart About Art series we really enjoy). Then, we spent some time looking at another book at a some of the artwork Matisse included in a book called "Jazz." This is a book of art Matisse made using cutouts. Matisse created this book in his 70's when he was in poor health and couldn't draw or paint easily. He would cut out pieces and then arrange them until he was happy with the result.

I like that Alexandra made up her own artwork. This is "my" closet and I LOVE the Winnie the Pooh sweater she has hanging up - I really do have a Pooh sweater. :-)

I am not as creative and I did my own version of one of Matisse's pieces in "Jazz" - this one is called Icarus. After viewing Matisse's version of Icarus, we discussed the myth of Icarus & his father, Daedalus. Alex has a "Book of Virtues" video of this story, so we watched it also.

Then, we watched this incredible Lego version of the story. Now, I want to learn how to do some stop motion movies. If anyone has any tips or hints, please let me know!

One Little Tadpole

When we went on a nature walk near a pond 2 weeks ago, we caught 2 tadpoles. One of them didn't survive until morning (I'm not sure why), but the other is doing great! In fact, we saw he had teeny tiny legs yesterday! (This photo is from today -aren't the legs tiny, though?)

My friend Robin at martinzoo just posted about her tadpole habitat so I thought I'd share ours. Alex actually came up with the idea of putting our tadpole in a wine glass, so this is his 'home'! Kind of ritzy, huh? After reading Robin's post, though, I realized we need a place for this little guy to hide. So, we'll probably be revising his home soon. (Oh, and she feeds her tadpoles flake fish food while I've frozen some lettuce and just break tiny pieces of it off. I guess they survive just fine on either!)

Praying Mantises

Alex had received a praying mantis kit for Christmas 2007. I finally got around to ordering the mantis egg case and it arrived about 3 weeks ago. The egg case is supposed to hatch about 2-4 weeks after you receive it. Well, the hatched Saturday and we had 100-200 baby praying mantises!
We wended up releasing them all as they become cannibalistic if they do not get enough food. That would not be a pretty site! I thought it was neat that they were very spread out and seemed to need a ring of "personal space."
Here's Alex holding one. You can see how tiny they were.

And, here's a video. We released them in groups all over our yard, so hopefully we'll be seeing them around sometimes!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Locks of Love

Last week, I had 10 inches of my hair cut off to donate to Locks of Love. Two years ago, I first donated my hair after one of Alex's friends had her hair cut off and donated. So, I share about my donation hoping to inspire others. Locks of Love provides hairpieces to "financially disadvantaged children in the US and Canada under the age of 18 suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis." It takes from 6 to 10 donated pony tails (must be at least 10 inches long) to create one custom hair piece.

And, here's the back of my new look! I thought Alex took some pretty good photos, and I'm enjoying my new look.

Monday, June 15, 2009


The very first post I did was on July 8th, 2005 - almost 4 years ago! That post included the photo above and was about Galloping the Globe (a WONDERFUL curriculum) and Ireland. My sister-in-law and my in-laws were going to Ireland and took these two Flat Friends for Alexandra. They took photos with them and created a scrapbook of Ireland that Alexandra still has.
That trip to Ireland was because my sister-in-law was teaching in Limerick, Ireland for 3 or 4 weeks. Well, she's going back this July and WE ARE GOING WITH HER!!! Yes, Alexandra and I (and other family members) are heading to

We will be gone a total of 2 weeks and will be visiting Limerick (and surround area), Dublin (for a weekend), and going for 4 days to Edinburgh,

This is our first trip out of the US and we are very excited. I've been doing lots of research and we can't wait to see the castles, the land, the wildlife, the museums.... It'll be wonderful! And, of course, I'll be sharing our trip with our blog friends! I can't wait!

Book Review: Parallel Journeys

I recently finished an amazing book called Parallel Journeys by Eleanor Ayer. The book follows the young lives of Helen Waterford and Alfons Heck, who were born near each other in Germany. But, Helen was Jewish and Alfons was Aryan or non-Jewish. Helen ended up in hiding and then in a concentration camp during WWII while Alfons became a high ranking leader in the Hitler Youth. This story tells their amazing stories, side-by-side.

Alfons Heck later regreted the life he had lead. He felt that because of their age, millions of German youth had been brainwashed by Adolf Hitler. Millions of these Hitler Youth died fighting for their beloved Fuhrer. In his later life, Alfons became a journalist and wrote about his experiences as a Hitler Youth leader. Helen Waterford read one of his articles and contacted him and they eventually joined forces and spoke about their experiences at high schools and other settings.

I found the quote by Alfons Heck at the beginning of chapter 1 to be incredibly powerful:

Unlike our elders, we children of the 1930's had never known a Germany without Nazis. From our very first year in the Volksschule or elementary school, we received daily doses of Nazism. These we swallowed as naturally as our morning milk. Never did we question what our teachers said. We simply believed whatever was crammed into us. And never for a moment did we doubt how fortunate we were to live in a country with such a promising future.

I did not have Alexandra read this book, but I will one day. It is a powerful story showing both sides of this horrible time in our history. Especially in light of last week's events at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC, I found the very last quote of the book very powerful, too. It is actually on the wall of the Hall of Remembrance at this museum (which includes some of Helen's story):

Only guard yourself and guard your soul carefully,
lest you forget the things your eyes saw,
and lest these things depart your heart all the days of your life.
And you shall make them known to your children
and your children's children.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Baroque Music

This week's free unit at CurrClick is an ebook called The Baroque Era: Art, Architecture and Music by Intellege Unit Studies. I downloaded it and I'm really impressed! We are on summer break, but I plan on seeing if Alexandra would like to do this study just for fun! (I also think their Great Lakes study looks WONDERFUL!)
As I've mentioned before, I'm taking piano lessons this year as an early advanced student playing classical music. I am currently learning my second Bach piece, Invention #14. This piece (and my other piece) includes a fugue. (And, it is amaing to me that Bach wrote these pieces for his children to SIGHT READ! They are HARD!!!)
Bach was famous for his fugues which are basically like rounds where different parts start a melody and then another part copies it. (Kind of like Row, Row, Row Your Boat) I'm doing 2 part fugues which are really pretty difficult but Bach also did 3 part and 4 part fugues. (Maybe even 5 part? I'll have to find out.)
I found this site by Capistrano School that explains fugues very well. They also cover the 3 composers covered in the free unit study: Vivaldi, Bach, and Handel. (The other piece I'm currently working on is by Handel! I love Baroque music and get to play on my piano teacher's keyboard using the harpsicord sound - it's amazing! Her other keyboard is a grand piano which I love as well.)
Besides the composers, the study also covers art and architecture. I would really love to dive into this study this summer as it doesn't fit very well with our "ancient" focus for next year!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Outdoor Hour Challenge: Chickadees & Woodpeckers

We are so excited to be doing Barb's Outdoor Hour Challenges again! This week, she listed several black & white birds as the challenge. Of the 4 listed, we have 2 kinds that visit our backyard: chickadess
& woodpeckers (red-bellied & downy).

We started by reading about both types of birds in The Handbook of Nature Study. The most interesting part to us was learning about the woodpecker's tongue. The woodpecker will drill a small hole into a tree to get to a grub or larva. The hole is so small, the woodpecker cannot open his beak to grab the larva. But, God has designed his tongue with tiny hooks that he can poke into the grub to spear it and draw it out of the hole. Wow!

Another interesting thing about a woodpecker's tongue is that it is very long (sometimes three times the bill length). And, there are tiny bones in the woodpecker's tongue that help the tongue to stretch out. (There are great photos and explanations at this Hilton Pond site.)

We also enjoyed reading about how woodpeckers will find a tree (or another object) which they really enjoy the resonance and will return to it again and again. We have had red-bellied woodpeckers come to the top of our fireplace again and again over the past few years to drill on our metal! It is very loud in the house, but they must love it. :-)

(Photos from top to bottom: red-bellied woodpecker in our yard; female downy in our yard; red-headed woodpecker taken during a nature walk)

Unplug Your Kids: Homemade

Our last day of school was Thursday and we started our day by doing our Unplug Your Kids Challenge for the week: Homemade. I called my mom and got her recipe for whole wheat pancakes - a healthier alternative to regular pancakes! And, they're yummy!

Ingredients for my mom's Wheat Pancakes (we halved the ingredients as we were only cooking for two):
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • 4 tbsp oil
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt

You mix the dry ingredients separate from the wet ingredients and then mix together.

(By the way, I thought my camera was broke this morning or I would have took more photos. It turned out I'd hit a button and finally got everything working OK. Whew!)

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Last Day of School: Pond Experience

Today, we went on a nature walk for our last day of school. We went pretty early so it wouldnt' be too hot. And, we had a great day! We were using information I'd read in the new NaturExplorers unit, Peaceful Ponds. Again, I really recommend these studies! There is SO much information in them!

We packed some plastic test tubes and a white plastic cup so we could scoop water from the pond. We also packed some bread to feed the ducks, geese, and nutria. And, we packed our cameras, a bug box, and a magnifying lens. I wish we would have packed binoculars!

Our first stop was to feed the usual animals. We were really surprised when a bunch of turtle started swimming over for some pieces of bread! We've fed at this pond many times and never had any turtles come to eat! There were 12-15 of them! If you'll notice the turtle near the middle of the photo, we accidentally had thrown a piece of bread on his back. The nutria which is coming towards him in the photo, ate the bread right off his back!

Another huge surprise was this great egret who came, too! My best guess was that he has figured out fish come to eat the bread so he's hoping for a meal, too. I didn't see him eat anything, but he was wading around just feet from us.

I just liked seeing the egret's toes in this photo.

We found 2 of these NEAT caterpillars. I put this one in our bug box for a few minutes to get a better view. I'm a little afraid to pick up caterpillars as I don't know which ones can sting. So, I picked it up safely with this box. I loved his long, white hairs.

We found this tiny toad in the mud around the pond. I've actually never seen the pond SO shallow. So, a lot of the ground which is usually underwater was "dry" - well, actually it was VERY muddy. I should have had boots on!

While in this area, we scooped several cups of water. We caught some fast-swimming insects which I still haven't identified. And, we caught 2 tadpoles which we brought home. I'm planning on returning the insects tomorrow, and I haven't decided about the tadpoles. Right now, we're feeding them frozen lettuce. We would need to get more pond water if we were to keep them. Or, does someone with more experience have some ideas?
We looked for tracks in the mud and were surprised to see some adult human barefoot prints. Ew! Squishy mud! :-) Anyway, we did find these tracks which I believe are from the nutria.

This was too funny. We came to a area that had 4 pine trees. I challenged Alex to see who could find the first bug. Within seconds, I found this dragonfly... a PLASTIC dragonfly stuck fairly high in a tree! Now, why do you suppose it is there? (I don't have a clue.)

I LOVED these white balls on this tree. They're about the size of a sweetgum. Unfortunately, the mosquitos were biting around here, so this was a quick stop.

And, as we finished our trip around the pond, we came across some of the nutria's dens. They make their homes under some of the trees along the banks. You can actually see quite aways down there!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Summer Learning Fun

We have 2 more days of school left. :-) We don't do any formal school during summer, but I still want to do some fun projects.

Last summer, we participated in Unplug Your Kids and I plan on doing it as often as possible this summer. Each week, there is a theme and you create some kind of project based on that theme. For example, this week's theme is: HOMEMADE. It's supposed to be a "surprise" but I'm thinking about making homemade noodles like my mom makes. Or, some kind of homemade food that we've never tried before.

I also plan on doing Barb's Outdoor Hour Challenges like we used to do. This week's challenge is to study woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches or towhees. We see the first two in our yard fairly often, so we'll pick one of those.

And, we'd like to start doing the Think! challenges again, also. We were enjoying these, but we just got too busy I guess. I think the "new" challenge will be up in a day or 2 and I'll wait for it.

So, those are 3 weekly activities we will do when we aren't on the road. I think we're going to have a great summer!

Oh, and if you know of any other weekly challenges, let me know! I'd really like one about cooking with kids - something like a weekly recipe to try.
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