Bad Blogger

Hello there!  Sorry to be MIA for so long.  I hereby pledge to start showing up and yapping far more.  I miss it.

I know that one of the problems is that sites like Pinterest have really changed the blogging universe, and it started to slowly change me.  Blogs used to be personal ways to record our days and help each other out, and then they became flashy monetized ways to try to lure people in for ad revenue.

They all started to look like colorful magazine layouts with fantasy families.  They were full of professional looking photos with titles that used 8 fonts to promise life-changing information if I only clicked in and read on.

And I started to feel pretty plain, posting my black and white words with random links and musings, grainy photos and personal accounts of our little life in our messy house.

Okay, and I also just got really busy with life.  Five kids, a few writing gigs and way too much housework will do that to a person, too.  ;)

But no more!  I am pledging (once again) to commence yapping.  Because there are already plenty of flashy blogs that promise to help you teach your kids every president in order over breakfast, and even if hardly anyone else is out there, I still kind of like showing up and talking about our life here.

To start, here’s a super-fast catch-up of 10 things we’ve done lately….

  1. We made violet syrup and violet candy — and even made the violet syrup change colors with chemistry (violets are pH indicators).  How cool is that?!  (And yes, I hope to write it up online soon.)
  2. We signed up for a new CSA and are excited to get our first veggies soon.
  3. We found our first foraged morels and found out why people pay crazy amounts of money for them.
  4. We made slime out of water, food coloring and psyllium husks (hoping to write that up soon, too).
  5. We registered Victoria for her fall classes at Perpich.  Eek!
  6. We played with friends.
  7. We’ve seen handfuls of doctors and specialists to deal with various ailments and injuries.
  8. We’ve done tons of hiking now that the weather is nice again.
  9. We discovered lots of new book series and put together lots of puzzles.
  10. Daryl and the boys are once more taking part in the Wilder Pageant (Daryl is the Doc this year instead of the usual reverend).  The girls are all home with me this year.  It is the bittersweet end of an era for me, with no little girls in braids in the pageant, but I’m happy that my boys will be part of that magic once more.

There have also been the usual talks, puns, walks, photos, art projects and so on.  And the house is still a wreck and it’s still chaos here.

And with that, I should go switch the laundry and find some books to read some little people.

Till tomorrow!  I hope!  :)

Look What We’ve Been Up To….

We took a family vacation to St. Augustine, Florida!

It was Daryl’s first time to ever see the ocean, and our first big family vacation all together — ever!

We rented a very affordable condo on the beach for a week and it was all kinds of heavenly.

We celebrated Victoria’s 16th birthday, Jack’s 11th birthday and Alex’s 7th birthday.

Of course, life had to resume soon after we made the long drive back, and this week has been filled with sick kids, too much laundry, squabbles, cold Minnesota weather, a temperamental washing machine, an epically messy house and a bit of this…

It turns out I’m crazy anemic and need four weeks of IV iron.  It also turns out that my veins are as impossible to stab with a pointy thing as ever.

But all in all, life is good.  Give me access to a real beach once every two or three years and I remember how to breathe again.  :)

I can’t wait to share more, but for now I have laundry to switch and messes to clean and some teenage drama to sort out….

Big Changes in Our Little House

Toria has some big changes coming up.

She is going from this school…..

To this one……….

She’s been accepted into Perpich Center for Arts Education.  She’ll be focusing on media arts (especially photography), though she’ll also have the traditional subjects and can take additional arts.  It’s for grades 11 and 12 and is a public high school in the Twin Cities.

She applied a few months ago and had several steps to get through the approval process, including her application, a personal essay, letters of recommendation, an interview where she had to present approximately 15 photos to the panel, and a photo assignment where she had to take a photograph to capture the meaning of six words like layer, catch, diffuse, corner, etc., plus do an impromptu photo assignment the day of the interview.

The school has a residence hall for outstate students (approximately 30% of the students live too far to commute daily and live in the dorm) so she’ll be staying there.  Luckily, she’s already pretty independent and self-sufficient and we have lots of friends and family in the area.

She’ll be about 3 hours from us and I imagine we’ll be doing a lot more driving to the Cities.  She informed me tonight that there’s a Trader Joe’s up there too.  She knows what will lure me to the big city.  ;)

I am very proud of her for getting accepted and very excited for her.  The school seems like a perfect fit for her.  She’s already toured it and talked to many of the current students and teachers, plus some who attended in the past.  She is in love with it and they offer lots of opportunities we couldn’t provide, plus it’s the kind of environment she thrives in — full of diverse, artistic people who are excited about learning and growing.  And she really is a big city girl, despite her small town roots.

We have a lot to prep to get her ready to head out in August.  In the meantime, I’m enjoying the last of my time homeschooling 5 children.

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” ~Anatole France

“Continuity gives us roots; change gives us branches, letting us stretch and grow and reach new heights.” ~Pauline R. Kezer

Kill Kancer

Last January, Victoria got a chance to take part in a PSA for a new organization that’s working to educate young people about cancer.  They were taping in the Twin Cities that night and wanted to know if she could come then (we’re 3 hours away) and take part as a young cancer survivor.  She and Daryl jumped in the car and made it up there in time.  She had a fantastic experience taking part (though she told me she wished she had time to grab makeup!).  :)

The PSA is now finished and the organization’s website is going live soon.  I think it’s an amazing work, and would say that even if my girl wasn’t in it.

She happened to have turquoise hair that month, so she’s easy to spot.  ;)

I am so proud of Victoria.  For so many reasons.

Yay for all the young people who are beating cancer, and please take unusual symptoms seriously.  If your doctor blows them off and you don’t think it’s “nothing” then go see another doctor.  Three different doctors told Toria that her cancer was nothing to worry about.  Thank goodness we decided to remove it anyway, that the surgeon was able to remove it all and we ultimately ended up with a surgeon and oncologist who takes good care of her.

Cancer is a word, not a sentence. ~John Diamond

Female Philosopher Unit Study

Image from this wonderful sounding class: http://www.women-philosophy.org/portfolio/university-of-paderborn-erasmus-mundus-history-of-women-philosophers/

 

After reading what this dingbat said about the lack of even one great female philosopher in history (he said that he could only recall one important female philosopher, “and she was not a significant thinker in the estimation of historians of philosophy.”), I decided it would be nice to do a unit study of famous (and not so famous) female philosophers with the kids.

Here’s a list of some to start, courtesy of Wikipedia:

A list of women philosophers ordered alphabetically by surname:

I figure we can combine copywork with history and philosophy, filling a journal with bios and some printed photos and quotes.  My goal is to work on it with the kids over the summer.  Even if we don’t make it through the entire list, the kids will be better educated on the subject than Mr. Murray.

 

Genetic Profiles of Dog Breeds

Here’s a neat look at genetics from a different standpoint, by looking at the DNA of 85 dog breeds.  Click on the image to view it full size.

Found via Pinterest.  Source:  Human Genome Research Institute, NIH

What I Learned the First Dozen Years of Homeschooling

 

Okay, there is no way I am really summing up twelve years of homeschooling in one blog post. :)

It just occurred to me today that I’ve been officially doing this for 12+ years, since we decided to homeschool for Victoria’s preschool years and then kindergarten and so on, and she’s now in 10th grade.  Counting two years of preschool, that would make this her 13th year of homeschool.

Add in an eighth grader, a fifth grader, a first grader and a toddler, and that’s an awful lot of homeschooling.

No wonder I get a little burned out once in a while.  ;)

I honestly have no idea what big lessons I’ve learned along the way, now with five kids of all ages.

But I think the biggies for us would be…

  • Kids learn best when it’s fun.
  • Kids learn best when they feel control over what they’re learning and how.
  • Homeschooling isn’t fun for anybody if you don’t keep it fun for kids and parents.  And yes, it can be fun for parents too.
  • Your homeschooling should fit your personality, and your children’s.  If you love schedules and deadlines and following directions, you’ll thrive using “boxed” curricula.  If that’s not how you roll, don’t try to make that your homeschooling MO.  Likewise, don’t try to make your kids homeschool in ways that fit your learning style and preferences and not theirs.
  • Everything is easier when it’s hands-on or there’s a pile of fun books to expand the learning.
  • Learning opportunities are everywhere.
  • Games are invaluable as educational tools.  All types.
  • It’s okay to hang around in your pajamas and play unschoolers for a while even if you’re not unschoolers.  “A while” can be however long you need.
  • Never underestimate how much your kids can learn just through copious trips to the library and huge piles of books.
  • Scope and sequence lists are for suckers.  Teach each subject until it’s fully mastered to your satisfaction and your child’s need, at whatever pace that takes, in whatever order works for your kid.
  • There are excellent free educational materials out there for every grade and subject.  Sometimes you just need to look a little bit to find them.
  • There are also more and more free educational materials that are not excellent and have ulterior motives.  From free history curricula that teach political agendas to free nutritional curricula that are paid for by GMO companies, there are lots of organizations working to buy off your family with a free poster and some lesson plans.  They are not worth it.
  • Your enthusiasm will set the tone for everybody else’s.
  • Sometimes the best way to teach a difficult subject is to step back from it for a while and do something else.  Nine times out of ten, it won’t be as difficult a subject next time.
  • If you homeschool, you have even more of a moral obligation to provide your kids with things to fuel their passions.  That means you consider it an educational expense to buy cool science materials or zoo memberships or art supplies or legos (I recommend thrift stores for those or you’ll need to start selling body parts).
  • Life is too short to stick to the lesson plan.

Okay, that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the things I learned the first dozen years, but those are some big ones to come to mind.

Any you’d add?

10 Fun Ways to Learn Today

It’s been a while since I posted one of these so I thought it would be fun to do another.  Here are some fun ways to work in all sorts of subjects with a bit of fun…

  1. Spit ball geography: Get a big world map and play a different game with it every day this week.  For today, try launching spit balls at countries that other people call out!  Here’s how to make spitballs, or you could also use a dart gun.
  2. Balloon challenges: There are all different variations to try with this one.  Blow up a balloon and bop it with family members as you take turns calling out math problems.  Kids have to answer before they bop it back up in the air, and everybody works as a team to try to keep it from hitting the ground.  Or take turns calling out items in a group (for instance, elements from the periodic table, states, words that start with M….).
  3. Sistine Chapel Art: Lots of folks have done this classic art idea.  Tape coloring pages of the Sistine Chapel on the underside of your table and let the kids color them on their backs as Michaelangelo did.  Here are coloring pages to print out if they want to use those (or they can create their own masterpieces) and here’s information on how Michaelangelo created the Sistine Chapel.
  4. Lego homeschooling: Here is a compilation of all sorts of Lego lesson plans, from Lego chemical reactions (complete with printables) from MIT to a Lego balloon-powered car to plans for building the Nile River from Legos to a subscription to the free Lego Magazine and more.
  5. DIY flash cards: Give the kids index cards and art supplies to make some really fun flashcards to teach any math facts they have trouble remembering.
  6. Famous person Who Am I: Gather the kids and put a sign on each one’s back with a famous person written on it.  Have them go around the room asking questions to figure out who they are.  You can use historic figures, artists, authors, you name it.  You can also use elements for older kids (Am I a gas?  Am I poisonous?).
  7. Make an educational video: Challenge the kids to give a 2 minute report on any subject they want to research and record it as a video.  If they like, they can use fun editing apps to add text and music.  If they get excited about the project, you can even start a family blog with a new video every week.
  8. Use window markers to do math problems: Enough said.  :)
  9. Photography Challenges: Let the kids use a digital camera and agree on some fun challenges such as taking a picture of something for each letter of the alphabet, 3 kinds of clouds, each state of matter, etc.
  10. Do the purple cabbage pH experiment: This is one of our all time favorite science experiments.  Even I have fun mixing and matching to make the cabbage water turn colors (and even turn it back!).

Anna is off in Arizona visiting one of her best friends, so I have one less child to occupy and educate for the week.  Now I’m off to find some Lego fun to play with Jack, and then I have a small girl who’d like to “eed yots of books!,” a boy who’d like to play a phonics game, a teen who wants to do some poetry exercises and a house that could use several hundred hours of cleaning (let’s be honest, it’ll be lucky to get one!).   :)

February’s Plan: Try it Out, Use it Up!

You know how I love to have themes this time of year.  Well, I’ve decided on the theme for Feburary… Try it out, use it up!

We have so many things we’ve accumulated that we still haven’t used, done and tried…

  • Board games
  • Science kits
  • Art supplies
  • Recipes
  • Pinterest ideas
  • Exotic foods
  • Craft kits
  • Books…

So every day of February, I plan to do/try/make/read/use up at least one thing that we previously were leaving to sit unused…

I want to use up the urad dahl beans that I got from the Middle Eastern store in NY and the canned jackfruit that is supposed to be the world’s best shredded chicken substitute for vegetarians and the apple pie filling that we canned last September…

I want to try out the science kit we picked up at a garage sale and have sitting in the front porch closet and the box of soil we received to sift for fossils from a university project and the laminating machine I’ve never even taken out of the box…

I want to make at least a dozen recipes that are dog-eared in cookbooks and still  haven’t tried.

I want to try at least 10 homeschool ideas that I have pinned on various boards.

I want to use up a ton of art supplies!

I want to actually finish any history book we’ve ever purchased as a read-aloud.  :)

And so on.

I’ll report back as I go.  Wish me luck!

 

Making Math Easy

Math has been quite an adventure for us over the years.  There are a lot of things I learned along the way with the older kids that made it easier with the younger ones.

Here’s what works for us for all the kids’ various ages for math….

Making math fun and accessible: From when the kids are toddlers, I try to keep lots and lots of hands-on math gadgets and tools around for them to play with.  This includes everything from adding machines (the clicking noise just adds to the allure!) to thermometers to stopwatches to playing cards.  Here’s my list of 50 awesome household objects that will help kids love to play with math and numbers.

Teaching numbers and math through life and play in the early years: When our kids are young, we use books, money, cooking, games, counting and such to help them master math and numbers easily.  See Easy ways to teach numbers, counting and math for lots more ideas.

Khan Academy: If you haven’t been to KA lately, go check it out again.  It’s even better than the original, with all sorts of tools to help kids and parents make the most of it.  With Jack (10), Anna (14) and Toria (15), I just ask them to log some time every day at Khan Academy.  They can pick and choose from their own dashboards and do mastery challenges, learn new topics or hop around however they like.  KA sends me a summary each week of what they’re all doing, and I always tell them which kid logged the most time in math.  I’m not about to pass up a chance to play on their natural sense of competition with each other.  ;)

Finding alternative ways of doing math: My kids really love learning better ways to do math, and there are a surprising number of really good methods out there that we find far easier than traditional methods.  For example, I stumbled upon a site about short division years ago and Anna became such a fan that to this day she asks me to give her division problems to do for fun.  (See Short division makes math easy for how to do it yourself.)  My kids also loved playing with Russian peasant multiplication to multiply big numbers before they learned their math facts.  Vedic math is another example.  We got some really fun and simple math shortcuts from the PDF book here:  Teach kids how to make math faster and easier with Vedic math (free PDF book!)


Making it fun and hands-on: For things like learning math facts, my kids aren’t big on sitting and using flashcards or doing rote memorization drills for hours.  We have way better luck with things like math games, counting stars and multiplication tricks.  See 22 Fun ways to help kids learn their math facts for lots of fun ways to help kids with that sort of thing.

Math games and activities: We use tons of hands-on games and computer games to help the kids gain math skills.  Math Live is an example and I have lots of other games and activities pinned here.  We also talk about math and make up really zany math problems like the ones here: Mad math! (yes, we helped our kids figure out how many Minnesota Vikings would fit in a swimming pool):)

Free online textbooks and thrift store textbooks: I love the variety of good quality teaching materials that are out there these days, and we use them for the older kids when needed.  We’ve used this intro geometry book and CK-Foundation flexbooks and tutorials, plus we’ve also used college textbooks we picked up for two or three dollars from thrift stores.  Those are especially fun because the kids can highlight, draw, alter and otherwise mark them up to help retain the information.

Life: This is the biggest way we teach math around here.  The kids use it to cook, garden, plan projects, budget their money, play games, figure out how many days are left till their birthdays, and so on.

I’ve also learned not to sweat the core standards or typical math timeline. We have mostly unschooled math all along with all of our kids, and not one of them has ever tested below grade level in math.  I learned the hard way that if I tried to follow the traditional school path of math instruction (first you learn this, then this, then memorize these and these, then move on to this…) that kids can get hopelessly stuck because of one small area and can incorrectly assume that they’re bad in math.  Don’t stop introducing new math concepts because one area hasn’t stuck yet. For instance, if they don’t know their multiplication tables, stick a chart up on the wall and keep going.  And if one area of math is no fun right now, switch to something different like geometry or graphing. The more kids learn to love math, the easier all of it will come.

It turns out math is way easier than I thought, once I learned to ignore how everybody else does it.  :)  

See also…