Saturday, October 31, 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Monday, October 26, 2009

Stonehenge, function machines, and cookie math...

For some reason, the dogs found this math lesson particularly interesting. I had no idea they were so fascinated by arrays and division...

Friday, October 23, 2009

This Week at the Super Awesome School

How is it already Friday again? OK, here goes:

Subtraction, bar graphs, pictographs, map skills, states of matter, A Drop of Water by Walter Wick, definite and indefinite articles, spelling, Stonehenge, the legend of Jack-of-the-Lantern, Andy Warhol, bats, cells, friendly letters, monitor lizards, The Witches by Roald Dahl.

For some reason I was thinking that this week was fairly lightweight; maybe we got more done than I realized. As usual, I only see things in terms of what didn't happen, instead of acknowledging what did happen.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Three weeks of recycling

Le cafe des dieux

Someone (I don't want to play the blame game here because I'm guilty) was wiping the kitchen counters and accidentally broke something. This clumsy dolt (me) did one of her (my) trademark spazzy moves and shattered the coffee carafe all over the kitchen floor. And when I say all over, I really mean it. That type of glass tends to shatter into jagged little crystals the size of rice grains. I have swept the floor three times and we're still spotting sparkly little pieces just waiting to embed themselves in our unsuspecting feet.

Anyway, I was really mad at myself--uh, I mean, the person who did it--because it meant going out in the crummy weather to find a replacement carafe for an old coffee maker that probably isn't even made anymore, or looking online and waiting for it to arrive. And then I thought--hmm, where is that cute little French press that we used to have...

Oh my gosh forget the stupid carafe! I'll be making coffee like this from now on! When DadSparklee asked me if there was any way we could just use the French press forever, I said, "ABSOLUTELY!" The coffee is smooth and strong, with none of that weird burned flavor (you know what I mean--when the coffee has been heated in the carafe too long and it's time to just waste it and start over?)

What a lovely way to start a dark, snowy morning! Bring it on, world! Vive le cafe!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Candy is the Sweets of Sweet Magic!

Today at school the kiddos took a review test, and either they are learning and retaining their lessons really well, or I made the test too easy. (Dudeman says it's the former, and I think he's right.) After blazing through their tests, they worked on a new Spelling Workout packet, we read the next chapter of Grammar Island, and we continued working on our bat books.

It's a cold, gray, dreary day here. (Look at the sky in the bat picture--if it tries to snow I'm going to file a complaint.) Anyway, it's just way too depressing to take on subtraction with regrouping today, so after having some nice grilled cheese and turkey sandwiches, we cuddled up and read Halloween books together. You can see that we have a nice collection of books, and even though they are too easy for the kids now, it's a tradition to pull them out and read them every year. The kids were happy to see Boo Who? because it's a book of really terrible Halloween knock-knock jokes. We know all the punchlines, but it doesn't matter--every joke must be read and groaned at! Dude has loved the I Spy series since he was two, and every year he does all the Spooky Mansion riddles, even though he knows where everything is. And there is just something about the Teeny Tiny Ghost--even I love that story!

In the afternoon, we brewed some peppermint tea and pulled out the stationery box. The kids both wrote a letter to their cousin and then they wrote to a couple of friends. We have a fun assortment of Japanese letter sets to use for our letters. They all have wonderfully odd kawaii-cute artwork and strange quotes or random English phrases. Super likes a set with an elephant that says, "Happy Elephant Sour Sour." My favorite shows a mama duck and her ducklings walking by the Eiffel tower and it says, "Think of this as a good time to take a break."

My motto for living!

Monday, October 19, 2009

States of Matter, Bats in the Park

Today we did some experiments to study the states of matter. First we observed an ice cube, which is water in its solid form, in case you didn't know. Then we had a little competition to see who could melt their ice cube the fastest. We put an ice cube in a plastic bag and used any non-electric means to melt it. Dude immediately put his ice cube in his armpit, but he couldn't take it for long! He eventually put it under one of the dogs (who was a bit puzzled but didn't seem to mind.) Super tried holding hers in her hands but when her hands got cold, she popped the ice cube in her mouth! After three minutes, we measured the amount of water. Dude and his partner managed to get 1 teaspoon of liquid water; Super got two teaspoons.

After we changed solid water to its liquid state, we studied the effects of heat on water. How do you prove that water molecules are moving all the time? Drop in food coloring and watch it spread, of course. How do you prove that hot water molecules are moving faster than cold water molecules? Drop food coloring into a glass of cold water and a glass of hot water and compare.

Finally, we tried an experiment with water vapor. We turned on the tea kettle, and once it was good and steaming, we held a saucepan full of ice cubes over the steam. After a few seconds, the steam changed back into liquid water. We recorded our observations, then talked about the effects of adding heat to other solids: chocolate, cheese, ice cream, and a candle all turn to liquid when heated.

After our math lesson and lunch, we headed to the playground down the street and sat on a blanket and read The Halloween Book of Facts and Fun by Wendie Old. We talked about the origins of Halloween, and how the Celtic Samhain (SAW-win) traditions became first Romanized and then Christianized. We worked on our bat craft and bat books, but we all agree that bats are not a good Halloween symbol because they really aren't scary. They are very helpful to people because they eat insects and spread fruit tree seeds.

The kids took some time to play on the playground, look at leaves and other stuff through the magnifying glass, and collect some pretty leaves. We found symmetrical and asymmetrical leaves and traced them. While we were sitting in the park enjoying the breeze and looking at clouds, Dude said, "It's a good thing we're not in school today. We can decide if we want to work outside anytime we want!"

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hush, hush, eye to eye

So, after that lovely fall walk, we made up for lost calories by visiting the local fairly-decent burger shop. One of their gimmicks is that they always play 80's music. (You know you're getting old when the music of your youth becomes ambiance music.) Anyway, I learned a few things on Friday:

1. Journey is still AWESOME.
2. The lyrics to "Too Shy, Shy" are really, really stupid. How did I not notice that when I was 16?
3. I just can't eat onion rings anymore. Urp.

Today's plans: making a cute bat craft and spending more time outside. Kids, there will be time for Wii when it's 18 degrees and the ground is covered in two feet of snow.

P.S. I wanted to post a photo here of my first love, Steve Perry, but I couldn't find any public photos of the guy. If you have never experienced the awesome dreaminess of his tight jeans and 80's hairstyle, you'll have to visit one of his many fan sites, like:

or his Wikipedia entry:

Friday, October 16, 2009

A beautiful fall day

Since it was such a beautiful fall day, I printed out some leaf coloring sheets for the kids to color. NOT!

This Week at the Super Awesome School

Factor trees, multiplication houses, measuring to the nearest 1/4 inch, Catal Huyuk, mysteries of the Celts, Name That Element, subjective and objective pronouns, adjectives, spelling practice, character comparisons, How to Eat Fried Worms, Smarter Than Squirrels, CinderEdna, Look What Came from France. I'm tired and that's as much as I can remember.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Book Recommendation

I've been reading Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense by David Guterson. The author is an English teacher at a public high school who, along with his wife, homeschooled their four children. Even though it was written back in the early nineties, most of the points he makes still ring true today. (Sadly, his criticisms of the public schools in the nineties haven't changed in the nearly two decades since the book was written.) We took our kids out of good schools--award-winning, high-testing schools--because we felt they needed one-on-one instruction and a more authentic learning experience. Most people can't imagine why parents would make such a radical change, but Guterson makes the case clearly and concisely:

As a public-school teacher and a homeschooling parent, I find myself moving between two worlds almost on a daily basis. School is the world of the fixed curriculum, and inert body of knowledge and skills to be disseminated on a fixed schedule...Thus the schedule of the day and year is made routine, because no other timetable of learning lends itself to an institution of such unwieldy proportions, and content is tailored to a sense of what the group needs rather than the individual. Creativity is limited by the sheer size of the student population and by the individual teacher's resolute commitment to meet the needs of the many...

And this:

Mastery learning has, too, a pair of fatally flawed premises: that children learn best when the world is deconstructed into endless small components, and that method is ascendant over content (so the uniform subject matter of the workbooks is never called into question). Teachers who commit themselves to the concept and employ it in their classroom see very little transference of learning from the system's workbooks and progressive tests to the student's larger frame of reference.

In other words, if kids do an endless progression of worksheets about perimeter and area, they learn how to do worksheets about perimeter and area. But then ask them to figure out how much carpet they would need to cover the floor in their own bedrooms, and they are at a loss.

But what about socialization?

What, you're not satisfied with scouts, soccer, horseback riding, acting and piano classes, taking a dog to the vet, buying something from a shop clerk, asking the librarian for help, playing with friends and cousins, going to restaurants, and participating in a homeschooler's co-op? And is spending time with family not a social experience? Do we really have to close our kids up in a classroom with 25 other kids the same age for 7 hours a day (while admonishing them NOT to socialize) in order to teach them how to get along with others?

Guterson has this to say:

Homeschooled siblings must live and learn with one another, and the intensity and meaning of their relationship, its daily depth and fragility, become the standard for future relationships. Without the chaotic background of hundreds of peers that ultimately distorts the social lives of school students, allowing carelessness and cruelty to creep in, homeschoolers are able to nurture the health of a few intimate and important connections. Like all children they develop friendships with others of like minds--with other homeschoolers, private schoolers, public schoolers, cousins, siblings--and while these friendships are apt to be fraught with many of the same difficulties and tribulations we find among schoolchildren, they are also not troubled by school's social web, its cliques, rumors, and relentless gossip, its shifting alliances and expedient betrayals, which all produce dark complications. They have the potential to be whole in the sense that at the center of their universe lie not primarily their age peers but instead the communities in which they live and the families from which they spring.

He addresses one of the things that I found so troubling about school:

Yet peer obsessiveness and the clique mentality are the natural responses of children to mass schooling, which in essence removes adults from their lives or rather puts them there at a ratio of one to thirty and in an authoritarian role not entirely conducive to the forming of meaningful relationships... Homeschoolers, generally speaking, are not only less vulnerable to peer pressure than their public-school counterparts but less peer obsessed and thus better able to enter into vital relationships with adults.

I have met so many children who are either intimidated by adults or who ignore them, as if they aren't relevant in a child's world. Have you ever greeted a child in a social situation and observed their reaction? Do they shy away and seem unable to carry on a conversation with an adult? Or do they provide a quick answer and then move on as quickly as possible? How many kids do you know who can have a meaningful, enthusiastic, natural conversation with a grownup? In the artificial world of the classroom, it's no wonder kids learn to ignore or fear adults and look to their peers for imitable behavior. I want my children to be able to move freely in the entire community, which includes people of all ages.

OK, so they are socialized. But how are your kids going to make it in this tough world if they haven't been bullied or exposed to harsh discipline? And how will they adjust to the drudgery of adult work if they haven't experienced the drudgery of middle school math or high school history?

This question always makes me so sad. Is the "school of hard knocks" the only way to prepare kids for life as adults?

Another great quote from David Guterson:

To acclimate students to misery under the rubric that doing so prepares them for life is a cynical notion--and a horrifying one. Rather, in shaping the academic experiences of our young we should recall that they are individuals who, with no help from our institutions--but because life simply is what it is--will learn by osmosis of the injustice of the adult world they will one day both define and inhabit.

Thank you, Mr. Guterson for an excellent book.

Friday, October 9, 2009

This Week at the Super Awesome School

Lots of progress in the core subjects, except writing. I'm concerned that we're not doing enough there, which would be fine with the kiddos since they both dislike it. Well, too bad! Next week we'll focus more on that.

This week, the kids did excellent presentations on atoms. They practiced in front of us and then did them for their grandparents. It was interesting to compare their styles. Dude wanted to do a straightforward introduction to atoms and their components. Super chose an element (Boron) and wrote from the perspective of that particular atom. Cool! A++ for both!

Our neolithic bread turned out better than everyone expected. Since we don't happen to have a stone grinding bowl, we used a food processor and coffee grinder for our wheat and barley grains. We didn't have any animal fat lying around, either (except for the canine variety lying in front of the fireplace) so we greased the pizza stone with olive oil. The pasty brown dough looked a bit...unappetizing, but it baked into something similar to a Wheatsworth cracker. It was actually pretty good with a little honey drizzled on top.

We made character posters to illustrate the four types of sentence. Mr. Answer speaks in declarative sentences, The Bandit speaks in exclamations, Mr. Mystery asks only questions, and King Command says everything imperatively! The kiddos really enjoyed this project. I got it from a book called Awesome Hands-On Activities for Teaching Grammar. The title says it all!

This will be our first time to try an Intellego unit study, and so far we have enjoyed it. We're doing Globetrotting With Cinderella. So far we have read and discussed the French version of the Cinderella story and learned a bit about France.

We completed our smelly science experiment. The mild acid (vinegar) caused a chemical change by eating away at the calcium (egg shells.) The eggs were really interesting--the brown ones lost a lot of their color, and all of them were soft, sort of like reptile eggs. It was really cool, I'm glad we did it, and I'm glad it's now out of the house.

I feel very confident that the kids are learning a lot, and more importantly, we are all enjoying our family time together. We had a fun week!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Joshua fit the battle of Halloween

October is a great time to study Jericho, the oldest known village in the world. When loved ones died, their families buried the bodies in the floors of their homes until they were nice and rotten. Then, they'd unearth them, clean out the yucky stuff, and reconstruct their faces using plaster and seashells.

(Dad wants me to make it clear that these are plastic Halloween decorations--you didn't think they were real, did you?)

Dad has put together a great history curriculum, using library books, a lot of our own books, and some cool websites. The Story of the World is only a basic outline, but most of the best and most interesting details are ignored or glossed over. The Horrible History series leaves in the gory details, and we always try to find a You Wouldn't Want to Be... book to fit the current topic.

Of course it rained the day we decided to mix up plaster of Paris, so we couldn't do this project outside. Not sure my kitchen floor will ever recover, but it was worth it!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

This Week at the Super Awesome School

Another fun week at the Super Awesome School! Where do I begin?

In math, we discussed place value to the hundred millions. We pretended we had A LOT of money and wrote checks for some really weird purchases. Did some goofy story problems involving dogs and Stinky Liver Treats. We did a lot of multiplication review, both on paper and out loud (and I do mean LOUD.)

Science was all about atoms! I love the Classic Science curriculum (downloadable from Since Dudeman requested chemistry, we started with that chapter. We also love Discovery Streaming (available by subscription.) We read a lot of science books (real books, not textbooks) together, and did one really gross but cool experiment, which is documented below. Also made models of atoms, played games on and just for fun, looked at a buncha stuff under the microscope.

Language arts was eclectic, as it should be. We practiced spelling words, reviewed parts of speech, worked on handwriting, did some proofreading, and discussed telling sentences, commanding sentences, and questioning sentences. If you're my age, you may remember these as declarative sentences, imperative sentences, and interrogative sentences. Oh, and we read some great books: My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, Bad to the Bone by Lucy Nolan, The First Dog by Jan Brett, and others that I can't think of at the moment!

History was the coolest of all. The agricultural revolution, domestication of animals, and the huge changes in how people lived that brought about the rise of great civilizations. Dad piled a bunch of blankets and pillows on the floor and pulled out a ton of great books (real, not text.) The kids loved working on The Mystery of the Ice Man (a.k.a. Otzi.) The game Dad invented was fun and we all learned a lot They finished the week by choosing their favorite domesticated animal and telling why it was beneficial to humans.

At some point, piano songs were practiced, pictures were drawn, Bendaroos turned into birds and other things, dogs got fed and played with, the Ken Burns series was watched, and life was good here at Big-Mountain-Snow-Not-On-Top-Yet.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Eeeew, gross!

A demonstration of physical and chemical properties of matter. Bonus: the kitchen smells like eggs and vinegar for three days.