January 30, 2009

Maria's First Poetry

These poems were written by Maria Age 9

Who? By Maria

Who judges the judge
Who judges wrong
The sentence too weak
The sentence to strong
The trial too quick
The trail too long
Who judges the judge
Who judges wrong

Hidden Beauty by Maria

A diamond in the ruff
A pearl in the bluff
These are hidden beauties
Not as pretty as the soul
But it is good
To have an inside of gold.

Amelia Rose by Maria

Amelia Chelsae Rose
Had no manners
Or so it goes
Thus when her mother said
Amelia Rose don't use your fingers
So in obeying her mother
Amelia Rose she used her toes

January 24, 2009

When the Chaos Hits

My children showed their very generous side this week as we had some friends staying with us so their parents could have a vacation. In addition to our 9, 7 and 5 year old we had a 4 and 2 year old. It was busy but thanks to my children and Serona all chipping in and helping out the days went by quickly and smoothly, as smooth as possible with that many kids between those ages. Maria often read to the younger kids or helped supervise them if I was making lunch, she even pitched in and helped make meals. Ciaran played nearly constantly with the 2 year old who just looked up to him and wanted to do everything with him. He was very patient with him which made me very happy and Sirah played with the other little girl and for her it was great fun as it was like a never ending playdate and sleepover. The little girls played dress up, kitchen, dolls, ponies, lincoln logs, puzzles and anything they could think of. Overall everyone got along very well and it was wonderful to see that serving part in my children. We are back to normal for the time being though I inflamed my back injury and injured my neck while the kids were here so it will be some slow going to my recovery, good thing we are headed back into the -30's, no one will want to go anywhere.

School has been fluid this week as we finish up math books and wait for our new ones to arrive next week. We are planning on finishing up our Astronomy study and slide shows this week so we can move forward with geology. After spending two weeks looking for our missing history text book I have ordered a new copy as I value my sanity more than the cost of the book. In the meantime we are spending our history blocks working on geography, playing a fun online geography game and competing against one another in different regions of the world.

Maria seems to be gaining interest in computer skills wanting to have more and more time online, which is putting our current one functioning computer system to the test, may drive me to figure out how to cannibalize those 5 unusable boxes into at least one functioning kids computer so I can regain the family laptop and decrease the amount of bickering over whose turn it is next.

Ciaran has taken to reading the Great Illustrated classic novels. I remember reading these as a child too, I think they are wonderful introductions to the great classic works, after reading these transitioning to the full unabridged versions seems much less scary to my children. Maria has read nearly all the classics in the illustrated format and now many of them unabridged. Ciaran likes them because the font is large, there are many pictures (typically one whole page picture for every one page of writing) and the stories are actually engaging and interesting. He is currently reading War of the Worlds, recently he read Swiss Family Robinson and the Time Machine, next up is Dr. Doolittle.

Sirah is reading Hop on Pop and excited to be reading a "real book" in her mind. She has finished her handwriting book and we have moved on to skip counting with her now that she has the basics of addition and subtraction down. She also has an envelope she carries with her of her "special words" which are flash cards with words she can sound out on her own to practice reading with. This week she lined up all her animals and dolls and taught them school with her special words. This month for her book club we read Pinocchio outloud, which is a favorite read aloud in our house.

We also finished up The Great Brain as our family read aloud this week. While I love this story and my kids could not wait for more there are some heavier topics and time dated topics that young kids may need help with that is why we choose to read them aloud. I also enjoy watching my kids engage with the story and laugh out loud. The Great Brain is very over the top and there are many teachable moments in them, and now we have some fun family jokes from our reading of this. We did skip a few pages in the last chapter as there was a discussion of a boy trying to help another boy kill himself to put him out of his misery (he has a peg leg). We were able to skip that part without taking much away from the story as what follows those pages is the important part. Still if you are looking for a fun family read aloud you may want to give the Great Brain a try.

We had a few warm days (high 20's, low 30's) where Ciaran and Sirah simply did not want to be in the house, they spent most of their freetime in the yard sledding, having snowball fights and just running around and playing in the snow. Maria was sad she was unable to be outside with her cast, but is happy she will have just a few more weeks of the cast. We had some of her friends over to watch the new Chrissa movie from American girl, she also received the doll as a gift from her grandparents recently. The movie was a great opportunity to discuss topics like bullying, teasing, when and how to get parents involved, and there was even some mention of homeschooling in the film. The girls watching it with me range in age from 9-11, also the ages of the kids in the film and we had some good discussion following the movie. Being homeschooled for most of the time these girls had different experiences than what was in the movie but we were able to talk about things like teasing and what makes a good friend, important topics for girls in that age group.

I enjoy spending time with Maria and her friends and getting to know them. This "tween" age group was the one that most scared me as a parent, that I felt would be most challenging. Young babies, toddlers, preschoolers and early elementary have all been fairly natural ages for me, teenagers also come very natural to Serona and I and our favorite ages are generally from around 13-23. It is this in between that has been interesting to me to learn along side them. I think I just had very little interaction with this age group in general so I don't know quite what to expect. So far the friends she has chosen have been great kids and I simply enjoy being around them, I pray that continues and that this age group goes well when my other two are in it as well.

One of the things I have enjoyed as an added benefit of homeschooling is the varied friendships my children develop with both genders and a variety of ages. All of my childrens "best friends" are not their age, they get along with both genders and a variety of age groups. I know as they get older this will change and we are already starting to see some changes in Maria, though she is saddened by the push back she feels from some boys and the teasing she gets from some girls who don't believe her that she is just "friends" and does not "like" the boys she spends time with. These situations have provided us with many teachable moments and we have had great mother/daughter discussions that I believe build the relationship and trust we will need for those future harder mother/daughter heart to hearts.

Clearly I am writing this post at 2am as I am a bit rambling and jumping from topic to topic but at least I am back blogging! May you enjoy a peaceful and blessed weekend.

January 16, 2009

Schooling at the Art Museum

We woke up to windchills in the -40's, and it really does feel that cold, once it hits about -20 you really start to feel a difference. Note I was not always a Minnesotan having lived in New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Oregon and Georgia before moving here, so I can attest to different climates. Despite the temperature and all the frostbite warnings, we decided to head out anyway, that is what a car heater, gloves, hats and coats rated down to -50 are for. I packed a mobile school bag with some school books, sketch books, interesting reading, pencils, crayons, camera and video recorder and we headed out. I decided the art museum would be a good destination today and we were off.

The kids worked on their math books, history and science reading on the drive there, which made for a nice quiet drive except for the occasional question they needed help with. They even tried to help one another when possible as they realized how much I needed to focus on the drive. The quiet was much appreciated as I navigated roads filled with black ice and over confident drivers. I am still amazed that people forget they need to slow down even when it is not snowing as the black ice is more dangerous to drive in and comes up unexpectedly.

Our time at the art museum was great and it made for an interesting school day. Each child picked an area of the museum they wanted to explore and we took time in each area and allowed ourselves to examine whatever peaked our interest. The kids also got lessons in patience as they needed to wait for one another, sometimes spending much more time in an area then they would have chosen. They are fairly well behaved kids so I give them a bit of freedom to explore anywhere I can see them all, which often means they head in 3 different directions and I stand in the center wherever I can maximize my view of all of them. It was a school day so other than the occasional school group there were not many kids in sight, though it was busier than I would have expected given the weather.

We visited all three floors of the Art Institute and spent considerable time in the Greek, Chinese, Indian, African and Native American exhibits. Highlights of the day for them included the Greek marble statues, African masks, Chinese Jade exhibit, the Silk trade route video and exhibits, and comparing the Chinese and Egyptian sarcophagi.

Over the course of the day we alternated between free exploration and me discussing works with them. Sometimes I would ask pointed questions, other times let them just point out what they noticed and explain what they thought the art meant or represented, sometimes we shared how a piece made us feel or what else was going on in history at the time. As part of our day each child needed to choose one artwork or artifact to sketch in their sketchbook. In addition they had to give a narration about an exhibit, artwork or artifact which I recorded on my voice recorder.

The historical links seemed to be very meaningful to Sirah especially in the Greek and Chinese exhibits which we just studied in Story of the World. To see hieroglyphics, sarcophagi and statues of Amenhotep which we just studied was exciting to her. At one point in the China exhibit she was talking to me about the horses being important because they carried the silk on trade routes and about how silk was made, the gentleman standing next to us raised his eyebrow at me and looked amazed. I suppose it is not every day you hear such things from a 5 year old as you walk around the museum.

It reminded me of being at the Body Worlds exhibit with Ciaran last year and getting dirty looks from people (as if they were thinking how could I expose and torture a child in this way) meanwhile it was him who dragged me there (I had no desire to see something this graphic) and he was listening to the extra details on the headset tour he asked me to purchase (not the simple explanation that most normal people would listen to but the very detailed one that I can only imagine medical students are interested in). Sometimes this happens to us and I remind myself to be thankful.

We spent 4 hours in the museum straight over lunchtime without a single complaint or request for food. I must admit my amazement, I kept thinking soon they are going to tire of this but they never did. Maria's cast started to hurt her and we decided to leave and head home.

If you have never taken young kids to the art museum I encourage you to do so, it is very interesting to visit with them. My kids notice details I would have overlooked and have such interesting views on what art means and how it makes them feel I am truly blessed by their views each time I go. For a long time I was nervous about taking young children to the art institute though we often go to all the other museums. The art museum just seems such a quiet place with little for them to do or interact with so it made me nervous. Yet they adapt well and realize they need to be quieter, just like when we are in a library, they are amazed at certain things and bored by others. I find my kids enjoy things like masks, statues, weapons, artifacts and even china, furniture and room displays, it is the paintings that typically bore them. When we enter the 1700's or so they lose interest and want to move rapidly through the rooms pausing rarely, but bring them back to the ancients and they could spend half a day in a single room looking at how different things were. I love having them explain to me what they notice first about a subject and then to explain their thoughts and emotions about what they are looking at, I find I walk away looking at things differently. The art institute also provides many teachable moments and great links to show the relationship between history, art and culture. We have been going several times a year now for the past few years and while I do not believe they have ever asked to go to the art museum the way they will the science or history museum they always want to stay and explore and walk away having had a great day.

On a side note I find it useful to park far away from the museum as the walk there and back is a good way to let off steam for young kids before and after. Even today in very cold weather we parked two blocks away and the memory of Ciaran barreling out of the door as if his body was saying "I am free!" made me smile. He immediately started running down the sidewalk and I did not stop him, typically I would. He carefully moved out of the way (still at a good speed) from a woman coming up the walk way, she looked and me and I smiled and said "Pardon him, he was just inside for 4 hours and needs to release some energy!" She smiled weakly at me and I wonder what was going through her head as I watched him run up the sidewalk and thought I am just fine with him running now. I could not possibly have asked for better behavior and attention in the museum and he is outside now he should burn his energy, I just wish I had his energy to burn!

On the car ride back they read from their current books and Maria colored on her portable desk. All in all I must say it was a great day and by the time we got home from our day it was 3 degrees above zero, which felt warm to us! It was nice to get outside of the house we have been in for nearly the whole week. Now for a lovely 3 day weekend and rumor has it we will reach the 30's next week, I think ice skating, snowboarding and sledding will make their return.

January 15, 2009

The Creativity of Sub Zero Weather

We had another great day, sometimes I think the colder it is outside the better school week we have. We are too cold to go anywhere and outdoor exercise is challenging which makes my mind work more creatively to keep everyone getting along and stimulated.

I started the day with history which is always a good subject for us, it has almost universally been my kids favorite subject through the years. We use Story of the World and really enjoy the story, the map work, the activities and even the coloring sheets. Today we were learning about the Assyrian empire. The kids did narrations which I record and save on the computer, they reenacted the fighting strategy of the Assyrians first against each other and then against me. They engineered and built a mobile siege tower out of k'nex and wooden blocks. They had to figure out how to build a wheel base that would support the blocks and allow them to create a battering ram. They used baskets (for shields like the Assyrians) and buckets and created a reenactment of the Assyrian strategy for destroying a walled city. They built up walls of dirt (pretended on this point I am not crazy) in front of their city wall (built with more wooden blocks) and drove their functioning mobile tower to the city walls and up the hill to use the battering ram to knock down the wall and overtake the city and its king (Maria happily played that role). I used a video recorder to keep a record of their reenactment which of course made them ham it up even more. We finished the lesson with me reading more about the fall of the Assyrian empire while they finished a coloring sheet and map work.

Book work was next, nothing really exciting or interesting to report here though Sirah has been into making up stories about pictures, coloring the pictures, copying the story she narrates to me and then making them into little mini books, todays was the story of a heart. The older kids also worked on their science presentations, today's topics were black holes and constellations.

A much needed PE break after lunch and the remainder of book work. PE is challenging in dangerous windchill weather. The kids are begging to go outside and sled and play in the snow (normally sufficient) but not possible today even I have standards and -13 with wind chills in the negative 30's is a line I am not willing to cross. So it was stair climbing circuit training: 10 times up and down our split level staircase 16 steps, then 10 pushups, 10 jumping jacks, 10 sit ups or crunches, back to the staircase, repeat. Maria was excused on account of a broken arm which Ciaran thought was unfair, she did opt to walk the stairs on her own later when they were finished.

Reading and free time during which they created an elaborate Ponyville play set which kept them busy for a long time and they built K'nex including creative wands that control whatever word you whisper into them (snow, dog, etc) that lasted until I whispered their names into one with a big stack of laundry nearby suddenly the wands were broken :) Maria chose to work on her book and play a geography game on the computer. She was very proud of the fact that she could beat both Serona and I at labeling the countries of the Middle East, she labeled 17 countries in 44 seconds with no mistakes, Serona and I each missed 3 and took more time. Try it yourself.

Now I have 6 loads of laundry to fold. I do know it is easier if I do it as it comes out of the dryer but I never seem to get to it, atleast it is all clean. Ciaran and Sirah are making brownies and Maria ran off to hide and read lest she be put to work folding laundry. Another great day, this is why I never stress in December when we are not schooling as much because I know January and February are wonderful months for getting stuff done.

January 14, 2009

Living the Good Life

I am very spoiled and I can admit it. I am so blessed with a good life that I thank God and my family for it each day. Today was one of those days when I was acutely aware of how very blessed I am. We woke up to -20 degree weather but I was hot under all my blankets in a well heated home. I rolled back over and snuggled up to Serona until the second alarm went off and he got up, then Sirah came down and joined me in bed where we chatted and snuggled for a bit. I went upstairs to find my other two children up and in good moods as I had freshly baked scones waiting for them (that I baked at midnight last night when I could not sleep). We all enjoyed breakfast and prayed with Serona before he headed off to work. As I watched my husband get into the car and head off in subzero weather I was so thankful that he does that every day for us, even though he does not love his job he goes every day to provide such a good life for our family.

The kids and I gradually got out of PJ's and picked up the house a bit before we started school. We have house cleaners come in and do all the heavy cleaning for me twice a month and today was the day. I thought about how blessed I am when I was downstairs listening to Sirah read to me while someone else was upstairs cleaning our home for us. The kids and I had a great school day and Ciaran was even excited to read his new book Coraline and he sat on the chair nearby and read for over a half hour without any complaint. Maria made a video about mythical and magical creatures, her first attempt at a video based assignment and it turned out fantastic, and she had fun while she did it. Sirah wrote a story about whales and was very proud of her first attempt at reading Dr. Suess Hop on Pop.

After school the kids had some quiet time and I caught up on bills and news for a half hour until our groceries were delivered. Another moment when I knew I was spoiled. This morning I decided we really needed groceries, we were completely out of fruit, soy milk and bread, true essentials in our home. It was -20 degrees outside and Serona had our car (we are a one car family) so I was thinking we were stuck when I remembered one of the stores provides same day delivery for online grocery orders, 4 hours after I ordered the groceries from the comfort of my couch someone arrived to deliver me all my groceries and I never stepped foot outside in the cold.

I spent some time playing "my little pony" with Sirah on the floor of her bedroom, we celebrated the ponies Christmas, held a concert, had a gymnastic contest and watched the ponies ice skate, have a concert and make new friends. While we were doing this Ciaran was playing Shaun White on Wii and Maria was finishing reading her new Chrissa books. Then we played a few hands of the card game Blink that we all enjoy while dinner (stuffed shells) was cooking. Sirah and Ciaran and I made dinner together and enjoyed playing the game while we waited. The kids practiced their bible memory verses for church tonight and we enjoyed dinner.

Serona came home after a hard day at work, he quickly ate dinner and got ready to head back out less than a half hour after he arrived home to get the kids to church. I realized how great of a man he is to be willing to do that for us. To be able to not have to go to an office every day to work is such an amazing gift, to be able to homeschool my kids is a blessing and privilege I treasure, to have someone come in and clean my home and deliver my groceries while I stay in the comfort of my home reading good books to my kids, well that is a treasure that goes beyond anything I could ever ask for and why I say I am spoiled and blessed beyond what I could have ever dreamed of.

Homeschool dads (or moms who work outside the home) do so very much to make this lifestyle possible for all the rest of the family and they hardly ever get the credit that the stay at home educator does, yet without them nothing would be possible. I am truly thankful for Serona and very aware that it is his willingness to go to work every day and his hard work that makes this special lifestyle all possible. Thank you Serona for all you do for us!

I am also very aware of the hand of God in our lives and how His blessing on us makes this all not only possible but wonderful. By God's grace I am able to stay home full time with my children, educate them and just be with them. Not only do I have that privilege but I have been granted other blessings to make that a bit easier. To often this past year I have focused on the negative, the difficulties of living and home educating with chronic pain and a traveling husband, the time demands of three young children and being together all the time. Yet these very things are such amazing gifts and blessings that make my lifestyle and all its gifts possible. I am truly thankful to my Lord and to Serona and my kids for giving me the privilege of living the good life I do.

Enjoy your life and its many blessings today

Jumping Back In

We are back into the swing of school. History seems to be the current favorite subject around here, Ciaran and Sirah have been into reenacting the battles of Story of the World as we read them. Maria just asked for a biography on Abe Lincoln for her pleasure reading????? We learned about purple dye from snails and now the kids want to make dye and dye things, we won't use snails don't worry. Tomorrow we are building a tower siege out of Legos and maybe making some fake stained glass. History is always good to bring their interest back into school and get over the drudgery of fractions and division and the general unhappiness that comes with a return to writing instruments. Sirah does not enjoy her crafting time being interrupted and Maria has been so used to all her free time reading that I am finding using those habits to ease back into school has been useful.

We have been rounding things out with field trips and activities. The Physics Circus was also a big hit this week as they learned about and watched all the fun things Physics can do. This was my fourth year in a row but the kids still seem to enjoy it and this was the first year that Sirah seemed interested and to really get a lot out of it. We are doing an Art Adventure program through the Minneapolis Institute of Art that is very interesting and the kids seem to get a lot out of this program each year.

Unfortunately winter sports are on hold after a burst of activity between Christmas and New Years ended with a broken arm for Maria while she was ice skating. Sirah was very excited to learn how to ice skate for the first time and Ciaran and Serona hit the slopes and took snowboarding lessons. The broken arm has limited ice skating, skiing, sledding and even swimming (indoors) opportunities for a few weeks. Maria had just joined an area swim team and is sad for the hiatus but we will resume once she has the all clear from the doctors. In the interim the bright blue cast and her new doll (Chrissa a MN swimmer) from her grandparents will have to assuage her. Besides who really wants to be outside in negative 18 degree weather?

We are finishing up our Astronomy unit study from the fall and the kids are getting their final presentations ready. This year I had them each do a slideshow presentation on all they learned about Astronomy incorporating pictures, writing notes, videos and anything else they wanted. We used Google Docs to pull it all together and they will present it as their final project. Then we begin our studies in Geology which will probably focus on gems and other pretty rocks if I was to guess, though they may want to explore caves some more too. Another big slide show project, a rock collection and some video documentaries will be on tap for next semester.

Soon we will pick our next Arboretum project too I am thinking this year we will study the life cycle of an apple tree. We visit the arboretum and record our visits and the plants progress with video, camera, sound recordings, sketches and notes and put it together at the end of the year to show the plants life cycle over the course of a year. Since I have nothing near a green thumb I figure we might as well put our membership to good use and rely on the experts to do all the hard work.

Maria is working on some secret writing project she will not let anyone see. She is writing a book complete with illustrations she is sketching, she works on it for a half hour every day and I still have no idea what it is about or when it will be done. I am not going to mess with a good thing, I figure it worked for Christopher Paolini and Nancy Yi Fan and it is a great project and all her idea, who is going to say no to that?

Sirah is learning to read and I am very happy with her progress though she is not. She wants to be able to read "real books" as she tells me. She is working through her Primary Phonics and Bob books at a good rate and has graduated to reading the words in her head before saying them out loud. She reads us a page of a Fancy Nancy reader every night before bed because she wants to read a real book. She is part of a book club (I am reading the books to her) and is the youngest but seems to enjoy being with them and the books we are reading. She can be found crafting hands in paint, glue, scissors, anything she can get her hands on for any possible free moment she has. Thankfully we have a craft table and carpet I could care less about underneath.

Ciaran is working steady on reading, he is still in search of books he will actually enjoy reading as he tells me he still hates reading, even though he knows it will not get him out of it. He devoured the Star Wars Boba Fett series and has been searching for something captivating since. Recently he started reading the Great Illustrated Classic series and he read two this week so I am hopeful! He still wishes playing Wii or Snowboarding was a school subject. His favorite subject is science with math in a close second, anything that requires writing comes in at the bottom, even below reading. Still I woke up this morning to him making me coffee and oatmeal, he even used the coffee pot, he is growing up so fast and is such a sweet boy!

Those are the highlights of the past few weeks as we reenter our homeschooling world after a nice long vacation, complete with Serona home for 2 weeks, wonderful! January is always a very full school month for us as it is just too cold to want to be outside. Think I am a whiner, come live in -18 weather BEFORE the windchill and see how quickly you decide sitting inside with some hot chocolate and a copy of The Great Brain (our current family read aloud) or even a 2 and a half hour game of Monopoly (how we started our day today) are better options!