December 22, 2010

We've Moved!

It was a long, tedious experience, but we finally did it; we sold our house, packed up all our worldly possessions and headed south 600 miles to take up residence three states away. Moving is a major hassle. Moving and homeschooling was a hassle and a challenge. Moving, homeschooling and updating a blog- well, that just didn't happen.

So here I am, settling into our new home with the holidays right around the corner. We're about to travel north again, back to snow country for the Christmas holiday. I'm looking back over the last couple of months trying to figure out what is worthwhile enough to write about. Mostly we stuck to the essentials- math and language arts with a lot of independent work. Part of me felt guilty that I wasn't spending as much one-on-one time teaching Casia as I had been before the house sold. But on the other hand, this was a pretty drastic change for Casia and she doesn't always handle change well, particularly that which she considers negative. Emotions ran high the last two months and I think having the flexibility to not do school work some afternoons or even days was a good mental health break for her. She was very distracted by the upheaval in her life and wasn't very receptive to learning at the time. 

Since we've arrived, she's started to be more positive about the moving experience; she's still not happy about it, but she's looking for that silver lining. I've found some great resources here in Virginia for homeschooling; in particular, an art school for homeschoolers that meets once a week. Casia is going to be joining an orchestra, a middle school play and taking Irish dancing. She's very excited to start all this in January. She's also anticipating some pretty fun field trips to the aquarium, zoo and the beach! 

Sadly, we had to leave behind Nkuku, the mummified chicken. We had to leave behind a lot of things. After twelve years of living in a 3000+ square foot old farm house, we had accumulated a lot of stuff. We didn't really need all of it and we certainly didn't want to move all of it, so we gave away most of our furniture and many of our toys and clothes.What we couldn't give to friends and family we left out on our country road. It never ceases to amaze me the items that were salvaged from the road side; to be used again instead of ending up in the landfill. We put out old broken dressers, scraps of chip board, old dingy planters and other junk from the basement and garage. The next morning I asked Jacob if he saw all the items that were taken. He replied by telling me what was missing from the curb and mentioned that someone even went into the garbage can and pulled out an old bucket. I asked if it was the bucket with the blue lid and he replied in the affirmative. I asked again, "The bucket with the blue lid," and then added for clarity, "that had the words 'Mummified Chicken' written on it?" And at that we both started laughing. So somewhere, someone out there has adopted our little Nkuku. I hope he's found a good home!

November 11, 2010

Art Experience

My very good friend, Cherilyn, was preparing an art lesson for her children and invited Casia to join them. It was a really fun experience for the kids. Cherilyn covered one of her walls with paper and set four bins, one for each child, with different writing implements (colored pencils, markers, crayons and oil pastel crayons.) Each child took a place in front of a bin and was then blind-folded. Cherilyn then turned on some music and the kids were instructed to draw what they felt.

Here the kids are moving to the music. Cherilyn picked a nice selection of different music genres; jazz, rock, classical, big band, etc.

Two of the kids dove into the experience, moving with the music and creating an expression of how it made them feel.  The other two, well, they're more 'concrete' individuals. Casia is one of them. She spent the time trying to draw a picture with the challenge of the blind fold. To each his own!

It was a great afternoon and Cherilyn followed the activity up with one of her yummy desserts!

November 2, 2010

Election Day

Since today is Election Day, we changed up our normal routine to fit in some basic U.S. government. I found some great, kid accessible information on this site called USA for Kids. We talked about the difference between federal, state and local governments. Casia learned about the different branches of the federal government and their purpose and functions. We also talked about our state and local governments and the positions that are up for election this year. 

Then we followed the lesson up with a field trip to my local polling site. Casia has always accompanied me to the election booth in previous years, even as a toddler, and has always enjoyed pulling the curtain closed, pushing down the levers I indicate and then pulling the curtain open again. Sadly, they've replaced the manual units with high-tech computer voting. I'm sure there are plenty of benefits to the new system, but Casia and I miss the nice *cha-chink* sounds when we pulled the curtain lever.  

October 28, 2010

Chicken Mummification Part 3

Let me start by apologizing for not keeping up this blog more regularly. We are in the process of selling our house right now. We've recently received an offer on it and it looks like we might be moving out of state sometime in the next few months. I will try my best to continue blogging, but I've got a lot on my plate right now.

That being said, I have no idea what I'm going to do with this partially mummified chicken when we move. Casia and I opened him up again about a week ago. He still reeks. 

There was no pool of water in the bag this time, but there was plenty of clumpy salt. It was moist so it's still drawing out the water, but it was actually very difficult to clean the salt off of the chicken. Last time, he was sitting in the water in the bag, so it wiped off easily. This time I was tempted to get the hose to clean him off, but instead settled for just brushing off as much salt as I could (or rather, I made Casia do that dirty work- it builds character).

Once Casia had cleaned off as much salt as possible, I held him open so she could scrape salt out from the cavity. We then weighed Nkuku.  He gained half a pound!

Casia and I discussed reasons why he might actually weigh more this time than last and came up with two possibilities:

1.  The salt that we could not brush off or out of Nkuku is adding the weight. 


2. Our bathroom scale is imprecise. I've known since before this experiment that it's very inaccurate and to tare it I basically slide this dial back and forth until it looks like it's pointing at zero. I highly recommend to anyone wishing to try this themselves to get a decent scale.  

So after the weigh-in, we bagged him back up with a lot more salt and put him back in the sealed container. Overall, we didn't notice much of a change aside from less water. He's still stinky, still stiff, and his coloring looks like a chicken that's been rubbed with lots of cinnamon. ;) 

October 14, 2010

Time Line

Before I get into all the details about how Casia and I made our time line, I have to give you a bit of a background history on me. Bear with me, there will be a point to all this in the end.

I am notorious in our house as a person who can take the smallest task and turn it into a grand scheme, so complicated and time consuming that it's a miracle if I ever get it finished. I spent two years making just four simple roman shades for our living room. Back before I had kids, I had a delusion that if I could stitch a curtain, then I could make a quilt. I took a quilt making class with a good friend of mine and when the six week session was done, she had the start of a very fine quilt and I still hadn't cut all the pieces, let alone made a single stitch. Why? Well, it was the planning. See I didn't just want to do a simple square patch quilt. I had this idea to do these interwoven triangles which ranged in colors from deep dark yellow to almost white and then others from a pale lavender to a dark purple. The way the triangles would shift colors as the pattern progressed was going to create this beautiful wave like pattern. I mapped it all out on the computer complete with scanned in material that I had already purchased, and then using an eye dropper in adobe, carefully constructed the detailed plan. Now, it turns out, sewing triangles isn't the easiest shape to start with as a beginning quilter. Measuring alone is way more complicated because the seam allowances confuse me. And then there's a lot less leeway if you can't actually stitch a straight line. So in the end I have this beautiful, detailed drawing, about 30-50 small cut triangles and not even a small corner of the quilt fixed together.

Well, so sewing is not really my thing. Then there was the garden! I love gardens. I envy those with green thumbs. I come from a long line of farmers, but I am a death sentence to anything unfortunate enough to put roots down in my yard. I've managed to hang onto a few sturdy houseplants, but if they are those finicky kind that need to be watered every week- forget it. But I didn't know all this years ago when we bought our house. I loved the idea of gardening so much that the two acres looked like a challenge I was excited to tackle. We moved in during the winter so I spent the time drawing detailed plans of the grounds. I had every tree and bush carefully mapped out and made a plan to make a vegetable/herb garden in the back. It was going to be an inspirational English garden type thing, with weaving paths, and a sundial in the middle. I plotted out the entire 12'x30' plot complete with which flowers should be grown by which vegetables to help ward off pests. Plus! I was going to grow all of this from seeds. Within weeks of starting the garden, we had sore backs but I was very excited about all the green growing in it and I had all the hope that this was the start of a wonderful hobby! Sadly, it took me weeks to realize, the only thing I was growing in these carefully arranged beds were weeds. And lots of them. We've since removed all the edging logs and Jacob built the kids a playset over top of it years ago.

So why am I telling all of this to you? Because I think you should be warned before I start to explain the design of our time line. You should know that any plan of mine is probably not the easiest way to go about it, or even the best. It's just MY way to do it. So here it goes.

About a year ago Casia and I made out first time line for a summer project when she wanted to learn some history. I grabbed some old brown craft paper I happened to have lying around and we stretched it out from one side of the house to the other. The first thing I wanted to show her, to give her some context, is how much of the earth's history is human history. So we did a little math and figured out if the length of the whole piece of paper (about 50') was the length of time that the earth has existed, roughly 4.5 billions years, and the earliest Homo sapiens originated around 200,000 years ago, then human history makes up less than 3/100 of an inch. Even the dinosaurs only take up about about 24 inches of the 600 inch time line. This was a real eye-opener for Casia and I think it really put human history into perspective. 

So we never got very far in our previous time line.  It was big and bulky, made from old crinkled craft paper that was hard to write on and I ended up recycling it in one of my many house-cleaning purges. But I loved the idea of a time line. I think they are a great visual way to represent historical events and give kids a feel for how recent or long ago events happened.  So when I decided to homeschool, I knew I was going to resurrect the idea.  I also knew that I wanted it to be big- big enough to span all of human history.  It also had to be more portable, so I had to come up with a way to pull it out, work on it, and then stash it way without ruining it or making a big mess.

In the end I decide to create a scroll for the time line. I bought a 52' roll of white craft paper from Staples for about $5. It measures 30” wide. I bought some 1.5" pvc pipe with end caps for another $5, cut them to just slightly longer than the roll and painted them white with some left-over spray paint to cover the purple writing.  I attached the paper to one of the pvc pipes with tape and then slowly rolled it onto the pipe. When I got near the other end I attached the free end of the roll of paper to the other pvc pipe with tape. For both sides I made a large line and marked it clearly with a "Do Not Roll Past this Point" about a foot in.  I found that starting the rolling was the trickiest part and so I wanted to remind myself (and Casia) not to completely unwind it. In retrospect I should have made the pipes longer and put some sort of wide block at the end between the paper and the end cap because the paper quickly becomes thicker than the end cap and it makes it hard to keep the rolling straight when it doesn't have the edge of the end cap keeping it constrained. Overall this design works and I am able to put a couple of rubber bands around the ends and plop it up and out of the way on top of a book shelf when we're done with it. It's very convenient.

Staples does sell narrower rolls, and a nice single line time is certainly sufficient and could very well be the best way to go about it. BUT, what if instead of just tracking events across a single time line, we track different types of events. Casia and I got to talking as we were planning this. We came up with two different ideas. The first was that we could track events as they happened and separate them geographically as they happened on continents. This sounded appealing at first, but then as I thought about it, early on, there would be some big open areas on some lines and really crowded areas on the other. Plus, other than seeing some shifts over time, I'm not sure we gain much seeing it all down geographically. But what if we divided up the events based on the nature of the event. We could have technology and science separate from art and literature. We could give important people their own line and the have wars and conflicts on another. In the end,the latter is what we decided to do.

Casia was very big on the idea color coding, so when we drew out the lines we put a black line down the center for the main date line and then color coded for the other topics. In addition, she liked the idea of keeping track of general geographic areas and decided to color code those as well.  

In this picture, the top line is for science and technology. Since we are studying Ancient Egypt, Casia has written down the building of the pyramids. She color coded it orange for Africa and wrote the information on the Science & Technology line. The vertical lines are orange as well and connect the technology to the main date line at the corresponding correct date. She also has the major periods in Egyptian history marked in orange just above the main date line (Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, etc.).

Casia drawing lines and dates on her time line.

First Entry on the time line.


 Marking the major periods in Egyptian history.

It's been a slow process making our time line. Everything has taken longer than I had anticipated; from creating the scroll, to putting down the main line and dates (not to mention the four other lines!), to figuring out where each entry should go and what color it needs to be. I think we've added some unnecessary complications to it. But, with that said, I'm pretty happy with how it's turned out. I'm hoping as we cover more history and fill up more of the time line, we'll see the benefit of having it set up the way we do.  

October 3, 2010

Picture Day

This past week, my son, Garrett, had Picture Day at school. It made Casia just a little sad that she wouldn't be getting her Picture Day this year, too. Now anyone that knows me, knows that I take about a zillion pictures my kids, but the idea of standing in line and waiting for a two minute photo-shoot with varying results (we've had years with barely-there-smiles, hair-all-out-of-whack, and one where the eyes weren't closed- but they weren't completely open either), still made Casia nostalgic and she felt like she was missing out. So I promised her that I would take both her and her brother out this weekend to a scenic location for their own personal photo-shoot. It was chilly and extremely windy, but the sun managed to peak out a little and we had a lot of fun at a local beach.  

Here are the results of today's 'Homeschooling Picture Day':

October 1, 2010

Art Museum

Today we took our second field trip and  I've decided it's my favorite part of homeschooling. We went to the art museum because I remembered from years past that they had this great Egyptian section with a mummy and some really cool hands-on activities for the kids, including make your own hieroglyphs. 

Casia points out all the figures painted on the sarcophagus
and explains who they represent.
Unfortunately, the exhibit as I remember it, has changed. Looking back, it might have previously been a special exhibit up only for a limited time. I remember entering a tomb-like room by walking past two Anubis statues. Now they have the Egyptian artifacts in the same small room with the Greek and Roman antiquities. Gone are the make your own hieroglyphs and the collection is quite a bit smaller than I remember it. But they still have the mummy and sarcophagus and some other interesting relics, including canopic jars, a relief from a burial chamber's wall, jewelry and shabtis. Casia enjoyed looking at the sarcophagus and identifying the figures painted on its side. 

They also had this computer terminal that gave a brief Egyptian history and explained some of the mythology. Casia had fun playing the games. The room was very dark and the lights were not turned on in the sarcophagus exhibit. We could still make out all the details on it, but it was harder to get good pictures because I couldn't use a flash.

After visiting the Egyptian room, we then toured the rest of the museum. It had been more than a year since Casia and I had been there. Our favorite exhibit is the impressionist paintings. We both really like Monet and they have two on display at this museum. On our way out we checked out the gift shop. I almost never buy anything at gift shops, but I couldn't resist when I saw a "make Your Own Papyrus" kit. It's one of the activities that I have been planning but I've been struggling to figure out what to use since papyrus doesn't grow around our parts. I had heard that you could use parts of the cattail plant, which grows around here. I just hadn't gotten around to picking some and experimenting. When I saw the papyrus being sold for $7, I decided to save myself the trouble and probably a lot of frustration. Casia bought herself a hieroglyph stencil ruler. She wants to use it in an art project involving Nkuku (her mummified chicken) and his sarcophagus. 

All in all, it was a wonderful afternoon and I look forward to planning our next field trip.

September 29, 2010

Time Management

I have serious time management issues. I think I always have. When I was in high school, I had an AP History teacher, I'll call him Mr. H., and I remembering receiving a lecture from him about this very topic. 

I remember it vividly. We were assigned an essay to practice for the AP exam and this particular one was due on a Monday. However, he had a grading schedule that stated that essays handed in on Tuesday would be deducted one point, and those handed in on Wednesday would be deducted two points. After that, you just got a zero. Well, I was a procrastinator, I'll admit it, and I had a lot going on that week and decided I'd have time to do the essay Wednesday and just hand it in late. So Wednesday came and I started the essay in homeroom, worked on it in between classes and a little during orchestra and was able to finish it off on my walk to history class; nothing like getting it done under the wire. When I handed it to Mr. H. he just looked at me, astonished, and ask, "What is this?" That's when I told him it was my essay. Shocked that I was handing it in late, he told me it had been due Monday. When I explained that his grading policy stated it could be handed in late with a point reduction, he told me that it may say that, but he's never had a student hand it in late. He began to lecture me in front of the whole class about how I really need to work on my 'time management' skills so that this never happens again. He was thoroughly disappointed in me. I on the other hand now possessed a new phrase that I could use to describe why I'm often late, frequently disorganized and always feel like deadlines are looming; I've got poor time management skills.

Skip ahead a couple of decades and I'm still suffering from the same malady. It may be a personality defect or perhaps I take on more in my schedule than I should; I really don't know why I have always had this problem, but it is definitely affecting the homeschooling.

I've mentioned before that I really like having a schedule. I love when I get all organized and feel on top of things. But sadly, it just never lasts very long. I developed this detailed schedule on the inner workings of our day and have now gotten to the point where I have stopped even referring to it. After breakfast I just say, "Time for Language Arts!" We do that until we're done, and then we move onto math. We do that until Casia needs a break or I have to get Garrett ready for school. After that, I never know what's going to happen. I do make a weekly plan for each subject the week before, and we usually get a lot of it covered. But I am also prone to being distracted and I'm starting to think Casia is taking advantage of this.

Today she got me talking about Baby Boomers and we ended up having an in-depth conversation on that topic when she was supposed to be working on an essay. Well, she hates writing, and I think she got on this tangent on purpose to stall, because when I said, "Hey, you're supposed to be working on that essay," she smiled a little and said, "Oh, yeah!" 

We also spent close to an hour in search of a missing over-due library book. I've seriously checked any place it could possibly be: under couch cushions, behind book shelves, under beds, the back seat of the car. It's disappeared. I don't know how this happened since I have two a designated library book bins; one for 'not read' and one for 'read'. They are easily accessible and the rule is just one book out per person at a time. Well, nobody, including me, follows this rule and books are infrequently placed back in the return bin by their reader. Instead, on library day, I have to look up online which books are due and we make a mad scramble to find them. The bins were supposed to make it easier, but apparently my disorganization and time management issues are a family affliction.  

September 28, 2010

Math Woes

The title is misleading.  We're not having problems with the math itself, just figuring out where to go from here.  

Last year, Casia finished the first year of a two-year program with her school. She was bused to the middle school with roughly 20 other kids; mostly 5th graders, but a couple of other 4th graders as well. The program was designed for kids advanced in math to complete 6th grade and half of 7th grade while in 5th grade and then finish the rest of 7th and all of 8th in 6th grade when they move to the middle school. So she was roughly halfway through 7th grade math at the end of the year.

I spent the summer looking at different curricula and figuring out which style would be best suited to Casia's needs. I decided to try Singapore Math. They recommend for U.S. students to do the level below the last grade level completed and I gave her the assessment. Both indicated starting at the 6th grade level. I purchased the textbook, workbook and the teacher's guide. 

The pros: It was pretty inexpensive. It cost about $45 for curriculum designed for half a year. I also like the the heavy emphasis on word problems. And there are NO multiple choice question- ever. Multiple choice tests for Casia are not a good way to judge what she knows. She is an extremely good test taker and often manages to figure out the correct answer even on material with which she is unfamiliar. Much to her dismay, I avoid them like the plague.  

The cons: It is a little tricky for me to figure out where the teacher's manual corresponds to the textbook and the workbook. They do have things labeled in bold in the manual, but you still have to search through the text.  It may very well have been my deficient instruction reading skills, but it usually took me a couple minutes to pin point where they match up. It wasn't a big deal; just thought I'd mention it. The other problem is the pace. Again, I'm not sure that this is a shortcoming with Singapore. It is more likely just something we will continually be dealing with in regards Casia's schooling. 

Casia completed the whole half-year instruction in three weeks. Now what?

I was looking into ordering the next few books, through 7 and maybe even 8, but when I looked at what they encompass it looks like a lot of review. I know that part of the reason we moved so quickly is that there were a couple of sections that involved review and we blazed through those. But even with the material that was new or that had been introduced before but never mastered, Casia still picked it up quickly. With one-on-one instruction we were able to zip through the sections covering multiple topics in a sitting. We spent no more than about 45-60 minutes a day doing math, some days we spent even less. And that includes the homework from the workbook that I assigned her.  

I decided to look at what comes next. I looked at what Singapore has for Algebra and they recommend this book: Algebra by Gefland and Shen. They were out of stock with it and Amazon had a cheaper price. Plus I like to read all the reviews that Amazon has. I've ordered the book and think we're going to just dive into Algebra. I am thinking of also going back to a program Casia used to love called ALEKS. It's an online math course that lets you move at your own pace. I might combine the two having Casia review areas that she hasn't mastered and also move on to Algebra. I think she's ready and if I'm wrong, well, we'll figure it out from there. This is one of those times when I feel like I'm navigating unchartered waters. It's a little scary starting my 8 year-old on Algebra. Considering the pace she is moving at, it is also terrifying when I realize it is only a matter of a few years at most until she is ready for a college level math class. Yikes! I just can't even fathom that right now.

September 27, 2010

Chicken Mummification Part 2 (a.k.a. Nkuku Part Ew!)

It was finally time to pull Nkuku (see "Chicken Mummification") out of the garage and see what is happening in the mummification process. Casia was very excited but I was a little apprehensive and not sure what would be waiting for us. I'd been in the garage a few times, and detected no foul stench wafting over from his corner, so I was sort of hopeful that this wouldn't be a painful olfactory experience.

An excited Casia in her rubber gloves.
It was a beautiful fall day, which was lucky because this was definitely an outdoor activity. We spread some newspaper out and gathered our supplies: scale, rubber gloves, garbage bag, salt, spice mixture and replacement bags. Then we brought out Nkuku. Casia began her observations even before she opened the air-tight bucket. She sniffed and detected no odor. Then she open the lid. Carefully, she eased her nose towards the bucket until she had her head right over it and still, she gave it the thumbs up for no malodorous whiff. So with great anticipation she heaved the heavy bag from the container and placed it on the newspaper. 

This is Casia giving the 'thumbs-up' indicating it doesn't stink. Unfortunately, the gloves are a few sizes too big for her to make that gesture.

"It's all sloshy!" she declared. And so it was. I could see the vast amount of liquid pooled at the bottom of the bag, filling several inches. She set it down and I immediately realized I needed to add another tool to our list of supplies. We needed scissors. There was no way I was going to try to open the knotted end of that bag with so much liquid inside. So after I ran to get some scissors, I had Casia cut open the bag. When she got to the third bag, she threw her head to the side to try and take in a fresh breath of air. "It smells!" she yelled as she cringed away from the chicken.  

There are about four inches of liquid in the bag.

Now I've take my share of biology and anatomy classes and have had the opportunity to dissect frogs, a cat, a pig's alimentary canal and various other animals and animal parts, and I can honestly say, the smell emanating from Nkuku was not the worst I'd ever breathed, but it was still pretty stinky! 

Casia pulled the chicken from the bags and laid him on the newspaper and we threw out the bags with the liquid. She then proceeded to wipe off as much salt and residue as she could. She was able to get rid of most of it. I had to pry open his back end because she didn't have the strength and his body was very rigid. Casia then stuck her hand inside and wiped out the salt. When he was as clean as we could get him, we weighed him on the scale and found that he weighed about 4.5 lbs; down from 6 lbs. at our last weighing. 

Cleaning the salt from Nkuku. He was a little stiff and a lot stinky.

We then placed Nkuku into the new grocery-sized bag and I pried him open so Casia could dump a 15 oz. can of salt into him. She poured a second container around him in the bag. Then I pushed as much air out of the bag as possible and knotted the bag closed. I placed it inside another bag, tied it, and repeated.  Nkuku was now ready to re-enter his temporary resting place in the air-tight bucket.  

It has been a smelly project so far, but not as bad as I had expected; although, I might add, it was worse than Casia had expected. We will pull him out again in a couple more weeks to check on the his progress in this mummification experiment.

September 21, 2010

Field Trip

Today we took our first field trip and Casia was very excited! We went to a favorite local park with wooded trails and bridges spanning streams. There Casia collected various samples of flora and fauna. She's learning about taxonomy in science and she is planning on making a display of her specimens.

Casia with her binoculars. We didn't see many birds; just geese, crows and woodpeckers. We heard a couple others that we couldn't identify. Casia was delighted to spy two  nests in trees.

Casia's big find of the day: an earthworm. 
She named him Wriggles.

Casia collected water samples from the streams. We'll take a look under the microscope later to see what interesting things we can identify.

Casia with her goody bags. She collected numerous leaves, moses, ferns, flowers and fungi specimens.

Casia chasing a dragonfly. 
She never caught up to it.

We had a beautiful afternoon learning and laughing together!

September 20, 2010


Monday is geography day. Since we are covering ancient Egypt, I felt it fitting that we cover the geography of Egypt.  I considered printing out a map of Egypt and having Casia learn all the major geographic features like the Nile, Cairo, the Sahara Desert, etc., but then I thought about how dry an activity that is; just looking a map and trying to remember what's on it. Instead, I decided to give Casia a blank map. I told her to put whatever she thinks is important on it and that she's expected to learn whatever she has labeled. I did hesitate with this decision; what if she doesn't put much of anything on it?  But I have confidence in her desire to learn and decided this was an excellent chance to give her some freedom in her curriculum. I handed her a globe, an atlas and a few books on Egypt that include maps. She really took the activity seriously and included neighboring countries, and all the major cities we've read about in our history books.  

Casia's map of Egypt

After completing her map, I set her up on the computer with a website that is great for learning geography. Since the year long plan for history is to cover all the early civilizations and each continent will be represented at some point, I plan to have her learn all the countries on each continent as we study different civilizations (excepting Antarctica). Now before I get flamed for be a pushy parent, because it does indeed sounds like a lot to learn all the countries, let me explain a few things. First off, Casia loves geography and is into the whole idea. Secondly, I don't expect complete mastery. I just want her to have a general knowledge of where in the world any particular country is located. If we're reading a story about a boy in Peru, I'd like her to know that it's in South America and then be able to find it on a map.  

That being said, Casia is not content with that level of understanding. Today, after only about 30 minutes on the computer she went from knowing only those countries located on her 'Egypt Map' to being able to be given any country on the continent of Africa and being able to drop it onto the map with only rivers and coastlines as her guides (level 4 on the website).  It was pretty impressive. She says she'd also like to learn the capitals, so maybe that will be next Monday.  

If you've got a child that is interested in geography, I highly recommend this site.  In second grade, Casia used it to learn all the states and their capitals. They have other activities as well, like math, chemistry (you can learn the periodic table!) and language arts. 

September 17, 2010

Sick Day - Already?!

It's Friday and the end of the first full week of school; or it would have been, if we hadn't already needed a sick day. I feel like we haven't hit our groove yet and I'm trying not to get discouraged. Last week our school district started back on Wednesday and we mimicked their schedule with just three days of school. This week, we were going strong Monday and Tuesday, until Casia came down with a virus. She took a sick day Wednesday and just did some reading on the couch. She was better by that evening, but then I was sick. On Thursday, I lightened the academic load to just math and language arts and then took Casia to a gym class at the local Y that afternoon.

In addition to the adjusted work load this week due to illness, emotions have been running a little high. I've been coming off of medication for some poison ivy I incurred a couple of weeks ago and it has been affecting my sleep and making me a little irritable (okay, maybe a bit more than that). For Casia, the transition to homeschooling was easy over the summer. She loves all the projects and doesn't even complain too much about the writing assignments. The academic pluses were an easy sell, but now that she knows everyone is at school and she's not; now that the reality of homeschooling has sunk in, I think it's upset her more than she thought it would. I know it will just take some time and it's only been a week, but the cumulation of frustrations from my end and disappointment from hers has been creating some tension.  

We've both been a bit snippy this week and neither one has been showing much patience. When it comes to the school work, Casia has been doing everything I ask with a fairly positive attitude. However, she has had some focus issues; staying on task and not becoming distracted with her surroundings. This I expected and anticipate will take a few more weeks to really settle into a routine. It's the rest of time: meals, errands, bedtimes; these are the times when she becomes emotionally volatile and I become exasperated.

I'm trying not to put too much pressure on us. It shouldn't really matter that we haven't been able to follow the schedule for even one day. It's not a catastrophe just because we haven't covered as much material as I'd planned. I'm sure she hasn't fallen behind. Even if she'd started back to public school this year, there would be an adjustment period getting back into the swing of things. I know she's learning and that's what is important. I know we're figuring out this homeschooling lifestyle together and it's not going to go smoothly all the time, or work perfectly any of the time. I know my expectations have been ambitious and I need to give us some room to get the feel for how it will work. It's just sometimes hard to see around the corner. But I'm confident we'll bounce back after a restful weekend. To quote a favorite childhood author:

"Tomorrow is always fresh with no mistakes in it." 
                                                                     ~ L. M. Montgomery 

September 14, 2010

Look-Out Perch

I've only been at this a short time, but I'm already finding some unexpected perks to homeschooling. Today it was Casia climbing into her magnolia tree to do some reading; just for a change of scenery. Notice, she still hasn't made it out of her pajamas and it was well past lunch.

Reading from 'Look-Out Perch', a favorite spot in her magnolia tree.

When I'm listening to Casia explain that Imhotep's design in the Step Pyramid symbolized the pharaoh's ascent to heaven, sometimes it's easy to forget that she's only eight years old. And like many kids her age, she gets the wiggles and squirmies. We've recently been having lots of fun finding ways for her to expel those fidgety sensations.  It's reassuring to know that she has the freedom to run a lap around the house, stretch into splits, take a quick swinging break or even go climb a tree. After which, she returns to lessons refreshed and focused and ready to discover.

September 13, 2010

Chicken Mummification

One of the most alluring aspects of the ancient Egyptian society that Casia and I have been studying is the mummification process. It played such an integral part in their religion and culture and is so fascinating, I kept wishing I could work the topic in through more than just some books and videos. Then I stumbled upon the term 'chicken mummification' while online. Intrigued by the thought of making a science project out of mummification, I googled 'chicken mummification' and found literally pages of sites with recipes and how-to's. By this point in her study of Egypt, Casia had watched four engrossing videos that included the history and process of mummification, early archeological digs, and scientific examinations including x-rays, CAT scans and DNA testing of various mummies. She has also read many of the books we pulled from the library on the subject. I've listed the movies and my three favorite books at the bottom of this post.

Now while Jacob thinks I'm a bit nutty to be doing this, Casia couldn't be more excited. So we purchased the smallest roasting chicken I could find (unfortunately it was over 6lbs - I would highly recommend a smaller one!) At first I was going to insist that Casia do all the work, but when she couldn't maneuver the giant bird in the sink on her own, I settled for her removing all the insides and spraying it clean. I then pulled it out, patted it dry and plopped it on the counter. Casia spent about ten minutes examining it. I told her to use all her senses but taste! It turns out hearing wasn't so useful either. We then discussed what a hypothesis is and I asked her to form one about the mummification process. Casia replied that she knows that the salt pulls water out of the body to dry it out and turn it into a mummy. So I asked her what kind of question she could ask about the process and how she could go about testing it. She thought about it and decided that if the salt is pulling the water out of the chicken, we should be able to weigh the chicken and see that it's getting lighter. So she decided that in addition to touching, smelling, and looking at the chicken, she wanted to weigh it as well. So I grabbed the bathroom scales and we plopped the big bird on it.   

After Casia completed her examination of our subject, I placed it in a gallon sized zip-lock bag. I held the chicken upright while she poured an entire 26 oz. can of salt into the center cavity. She then sprinkled some cinnamon and baking soda on the outside of the chicken. I'd heard it could help with the smell and she felt it brought more authenticity to the process since the priests used spices during mummification in ancient Egypt. Casia then opened another salt container and proceeded to pour the entire contents into the bag around the outside of the poultry. Unfortunately, it was at this point that I realized that the chicken was in fact too big for the bag.  So with some difficulty, I pulled it out and used a small grocery bag instead. I knotted the bag at the top after pushing out as much air as possible and then repeated with an additional grocery bag.  Then I placed it inside a bucket with a tight sealing lid.  And there he sits. Waiting.  

Casia preparing the chicken for mummification.

Close-up of the chicken covered in cinnamon, baking soda and a LOT of salt.  This was after I discovered it was too big for the bag.

Casia has since named him Nkuku, which is Egyptian for rooster. And yes, I did explain that roasting chickens are really hens, but she's decided HE will be Pharoah Nkuku and when the mummification process is complete, she plans on wrapping him in linen and adorning his sarcophagus with all the finery due a royal chicken. I'm not sure, but I think she plans to bury him in the backyard.  

To go along with the science experiment, I assigned Casia the task of of doing a write up. This was a new concept for her but I think she did a great job! She was told to include a hypothesis, procedure and measurements and observations. This is what she came up with:

We have about a week left in wait time and then we'll haul ol' Nkuku out of the garage and see how he's doing.  At that time, we'll clean out all the salt, re-examine him and then repack him in salt for a couple more weeks.  I'll report back on our progress!

Movies on Mummies:

  • A Nova production, "The Mummy Who Would Be King"
  • National Geographic, "King Tut's Final Secret"
  • Time-Life Video. "Egypt: Quest for Immortality"
  • Discovery Channel, "Nefertiti Resurrected"

Books that I would recommend on the subject:
  • DK Eyewitness Books, Mummy (This has great photographs, very brief coverage of variety of mummy topics including bog mummies, the Iceman, animal mummies and mummies from around the world.)
  • Mummies Made in Egypt, by Aliki (This book gives a very brief but detailed description of the mummification process with a lot of illustrations; great for younger kids- very accessible.)
  • Mummies, Tombs and Treasure: Secrets of Ancient Egypt by Lila Perl (This book is written in a narrative form so it flows more easily than the DK book.  It has a lot of general information about Egyptian history, cultural, mythology and of course, mummies.)

September 8, 2010

Official First Day

Today is the "official" back-to-school day in our district. I've been working in a bit of homeschooling here and there over the summer, but today is the day it begins, officially.

I have spent the last couple of weeks planning and tweaking the schedules for the start of the school year. There are three schedules: mine, Casia's and Garrett's. Everyone has their schedule posted so they can see what they should be doing at any 15 minute interval of the day. I have to have a plan or I feel lost.

So my day begins ahead of the kids so I can get a quick shower in and some household chores started.  Afterwards, a hot breakfast and then at promptly 8am, Casia's schooling begins. It's language arts instruction followed by math while Garrett finds ways to amuse himself (namely playing outside). Then Casia has some independent work while I spend some quality one-on-one time with Garrett reading or playing a game. Both the kids get a break to play outside while I finish a few household chores and start lunch. After lunch, I get Garrett on the bus and I have a few minutes to catch up on paper work and prep for the afternoon while Casia practices her musical instruments. Depending on the day we focus on either social studies or science while Garrett is at school. The after school schedule is different every day of the week with a gym class at the Y for Casia on one day, drum lessons for Garrett on another, rock climbing for Casia on yet another or time specifically set aside to play and have social outings.There's also one afternoon set aside just to run errands. Evenings are pretty straight  forward with Girl Scouts one night and the rest of the week is a quiet dinner at home followed by relaxing family time. Sounds great, huh?

If only it ran that well today. In fact, it didn't run that way at all today. It ran, that's for sure, it ran really quickly, but it looked a lot more like this....

I overslept! Then there was an overnight accident from my son which created unexpected laundry and an extra person to shower. By the time I got downstairs, it was already 8am. After feeding the kids, making Jacob's lunch, a speedy clean-up and grabbing a quick bite to eat myself, I was running about 45 minutes behind, but there was one just one more thing I just had to do before we got started.  

A tradition I have done each year on the first day of school is to take a picture of Casia standing in front of the magnolia tree in our yard. We planted that tree when Casia was born to commemorate the occasion. We have since dubbed the magnolia "Casia's Tree".  We have a maple that we planted at our wedding eleven years ago and another was planted when Garrett was born. His is a sycamore.  And because I know this transition to homeschooling after four years of public school is a little tough on Casia, I wanted to try to keep some of the same traditions. I wanted today to still have that important feel for her. So I asked her if I could take her picture. She was eager, as I'd expected, but she wanted to still stay in her pjs.  It was one of the perks I used to help sell the homeschooling idea over the summer. Sure, I say, as we head out the door. But instead of the tired old pose with the backpack waiting for the bus in front of the tree, she climbs on up and poses from up high. "It's not like I'm waiting for the bus," she cries with a bit of glee. That's the attitude, Casia!

Heading back in, it was already almost 9am. I asked Casia to grab her notebook and meet me in the kitchen (her preferred homeschooling location) and ran to get my stuff from my office. Came back to the kitchen and Casia was no where to be found. Ah, I hear the kids in the family room, so I head over there. They're playing a game together, which always makes me smile, but sadly, I've got a schedule to keep! Sorry kiddos, Casia needs to get started but I promise them there will be some together playtime before lunch. Casia trots off to get her stuff and I hear the washer stop in the laundry room, so I run to switch the load really quickly. As I'm doing this, Garrett shows up with a Superhero picture from the game he's playing with the name Punisher on it. He wants to know if he's a good guy or bad guy. No idea!  But I promise to check it out before the morning is through. I hop back into the kitchen and there's still no Casia. I find her in the dining room around the corner, where her homeschooling stuff is stored on bookshelves, only she's not pulling out the school stuff, she's distracted with Legos. Casia- focus!  School stuff, then meet in the kitchen in 3 minutes. Garrett calls out to me. He's pulled his ginormous superhero book off the shelf and wants me to read the part about the Punisher. So I read it to him and it turns out Punisher is a vigilante, kind of good but kind of bad, hope that clears it up, Garrett.

Back to Casia. Finally, we're starting. Casia writes out her quote for the day. Then I give her a spelling pretest. It's a short week so I made a short list. During the week she has to write a sentence for each word she missed on the pretest. On Friday she will be tested on the whole list. Then the grammar lesson. We reviewed nouns; types of nouns and pronouns.  I gave her a paragraph in which she had to underline all the nouns and circle the pronouns. Next up- math!

Last time we did math it was a unit ending test. She's working on algebra with ratios, proportions and fractions. We went over the couple of problems she got wrong on the test. I taught her a new way to approach the algebra problems and she she picked it up effortlessly, so tomorrow we can move onto percentages.

We were starting to hit some smooth sailing at this point.  Garrett was amusing himself nicely outside while I had instruction time with Casia. I felt like we covered some, if not all of the material I wanted to cover in math and language arts.  At this point I stopped to take a deep breathe and relaxed.  With morning lessons over, I sent Casia out to play with Garrett, skyped Jacob to fill in him a little, and then started making lunch.  We had a nice lunch of sandwiches and fresh fruit and talked all about Garrett's upcoming first day. Casia gave him lots of advice, like 'don't brag' and make sure you sit in the first two seats behind the bus driver. I told him to remember to ask the other kids their name and have fun!

After lunch, things started to get a little hectic again. Garrett managed to come in from outside dirty and is always a messy eater, so there was an outfit change with a lot of washing before school. There is a bus sign he's supposed to wear and I hadn't emptied the pictures off my memory card. Those were just a couple of the several last minute things I ran around remembering before we made it out the door. Then it was a mini-photo shoot of Garrett on his first day of Kindergarten!

Garrett in front of his Sycamore Tree.

Garrett is animately cheering for the bus to show up.

Casia is sharing in her brother's excitement.  

So we wait, and wait, and wait a little more. The buses always run slowly the first day of school because of all the crazy parents like me who just have to get a picture of their little one climbing those big first steps of independence onto the bus. This is what Garrett has been waiting for, all summer long. Not school so much, but that first thrilling bus ride. The anticipation was killing him; us really, it was so infectious. Then, from around the corner I hear it! It's here, I shout. With camera posed, and last minute instructions about how to turn and wave as he steps into the bus...  

Wooosh!  The bus blows right past the driveway.  Wrong bus? Maybe? Hopefully? Nope. I catch the number on the side as it zooms by.  That was it. I run after it, with camera in hand, free arm waving wildly. It slows... a little... but then picks up speed again. It's gone and I turn back to the house and there's Garrett.  The tears were streaming down his sad little face.  From ecstasy to utter devastation in less than a minute.

In the aftermath, I was eventually able to calm him down.  A quick face wash to clean away the tears, a little pep talk and we were ready for the drive to school.  The kids played on the playground while we waited for the buses to arrive. When they did, we introduced ourselves to the driver and she was nice enough to let Garrett climb aboard for a quick picture and I once again had my smiley, happy sunshine all ready for his big first day.  

So that was my morning and it held a valuable lesson for me. The unexpected will happen. We will run late.  We may not get everything done that we'd planned. But it's all good. I slowed our pace that afternoon. Casia practiced her violin and then her trumpet. We did a shortened history lesson on ancient Egypt and Casia read and then climbed some more trees. Later, she and I had a great time baking some oatmeal raisin cookies to surprise Garrett with when he got home from school.  As we were bonding during the mixing and measuring, Casia leaned into me and said, "Mom, I love being able to help you make the cookies. It's even better than being surprised by them when I came home from school."  I knew then that even with the delays and disappointments, this has been a very successful "official" first day.