November 1, 2012


This Halloween, Casia wanted to be TARDIS from Doctor Who; her brother dressed as the Doctor. It's amazing what you can do with some cardboard, blue paint and yards upon yards of duct tape. I even managed to fashion a little hat that lights up (though it's not painted blue).

We had a blast trick-o-treating and Casia's costume was a hit. I enjoyed the comments with people thinking she was dressed as a robot, a post office box and even a lighthouse. There were even a few people who actually knew who they were and more than one candy distributor who wanted to snap a picture of the 'cool kids dressed as Doctor Who.'

October 22, 2012

Perpetual State of Catch-Up

Since starting school this year two months ago, Casia has been sick a total of eight days. She's well today after three days off last week for a bad ear infection, and she's ready and eager to jump back in, but we're now two full school weeks behind. Our weeks are essentially four-day weeks because we spend Thursdays at her homeschooling group.

It really shouldn't matter because we're homeschooling, but my New-School-Year resolution was to keep to the schedule. We follow the public school year because of my son, and I really wanted to keep them on the same calendar. I have daily schedules, weekly schedules, monthly schedules and even one grand year-long schedule. I had everything broken down so that I knew exactly how much we would cover and I was determined to get through all the curriculum this year. But since the first week of school, I have felt like we are falling further and further behind..

If there is anything I've learned this past couple of years homeschooling, it's that I have got to stay flexible. Whether it's sick days, impromptu field trips, family emergencies or a need for curriculum change, I have to be ready to ditch what I've got, or at least make modifications, and move on from where I am. I've learned the importance of this, but I never feel satisfied with it.

I often wonder if this is a me factor. Am I unable to allot the proper time for the material to cover? Am I expecting too much? Am I too easily distracted? I think the answer is probably yes to all these, but it makes me wonder: are there other homeschoolers out there that are like me? Or are there some that never run into these hiccups? Casia reassures me that even in public school the teachers didn't always get everything accomplished and projects went unfinished. But it doesn't make me feel less frustrated.

I'm trying to let it go and I've already adjusted our schedule and topics to try to squeeze them in a shorter time, abbreviate what needs to be covered or just eliminating it all together. I just wonder if anyone else struggles with the feeling of being in a perpetual state of catch-up.

October 4, 2012

Potato Battery

Casia did a unit on electricity back in 4th grade, where the kids connected wires to a battery to make a light go on. So when I was looking for an experiment that would compliment our unit on electricity, I was looking for something a little different. What I found was this great video on making batteries from various household items. Here are pictures from Casia's Potato Battery Experiment:

Casia used a copper penny as the cathode and a
galvanized nail as the anode. 

The big expense in this lab was the voltmeter
which I bought at Home Depot for about $40.

Casia playing around with the voltmeter.

Casia testing the voltage of the batteries in series.

Casia explaining to Garrett the difference between
batteries in series and in parallel.
This lab was mostly easy to execute, but we learned a few things along the way. Even after cleaning the penny, we couldn't get nearly the voltage that we could when we used a piece of copper wire instead. It was even more effective when it was curled around and stuck in the potato to increase the surface area contact. We were never able to get enough voltage or amps to light the LED light bulb that we removed from the flashlight. However, with the voltmeter, it was easy to demonstrate the difference between batteries in parallel and batteries in series and how it affects voltage and amps. 

Casia went on to experiment on a couple of lemons I had as well, but we ran out of time to complete all the experiments on the website above. Up next, creating a simple generator...

September 21, 2012

Making Grammar Fun with Doctor Who

Casia is a huge, huge, HUGE 'Doctor Who' fan. Grammar.... not so much. 

We've started a new grammar course by Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, and although it seems to be a good fit, it's not something that gets Casia excited. In fact, she kind of has a grammar-face; a pained look that only crops up on her face when grammar is in her near future. When it comes to a new topic, a worksheet or especially a test, she gets this look on her face.

In an attempt to put a smile there instead, I wrote this week's entire test using 'Doctor Who' quotes. It was a bit more time consuming, but it was so worth it when she started reading the sentences aloud and squealing with delight. Plus, it was fun getting to make up questions that include such things as "bow ties are cool," and "wibbly, wobbly, time-y, wimey stuff."

September 18, 2012

Newspapers, Past and Present

At the start of the school morning, while I'm trying to get Garrett onto the bus and off to school, Casia likes to read the news and send me links to articles she would like to discuss over 'Second Breakfast'. Being part Hobbit, after breakfasting with her brother at 7am, she likes to join me and breakfast again at 8am. This morning she sent me a link to a CNN article about the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day in U.S. war history.

This was a very serendipitous article and although I wasn't surprised that it caught Casia's attention, (we are in the midst of studying the Civil War) I was pleasantly surprised by the timing. Sure, CNN posted it today because it's the actual anniversary, but for me, it's also the day that I had planned a history lesson with just this topic and involving a newspaper.

We started history this afternoon by watching the third episode in Ken Burn's The Civil War. The Battle of Antietam, as well as the Emancipation Proclamation was covered in this episode. The movie included many of the photographs by Alexander Gardner showing images, some of them very disturbing, from before and during the battle, as well as the aftermath. In conjunction with the Ken Burn's series, PBS has some classroom activities that it provides: The Civil War Classroom Materials. I ran across this a couple months ago while planning this years curriculum and even though I have to adjust it for a classroom of one, I still thought it had a lot of cool and exciting activities I could incorporate. 

Casia is using Gardner's picture, "Confederate Dead Along Hagerstown Pike". After analyzing the photo (there are more available on the National Park Service website), filling out the worksheet, and a discussion of the battle, Casia is now writing a newspaper article about the Battle of Antietam. Her assignment is to be a journalist from either a Northern or Southern newspaper and she has been given the photo and she has to write a story to go long with it. 

I love how this assignment combines video, primary source analysis, writing, a bit of creativity, and corresponds fortuitously with a current event (anniversary celebration). She's pretty excited about it, as excited as she ever gets about writing assignments, and I'm looking forward to see what she produces! 

September 14, 2012

Confidence Boost

I've recently noticed a negative attitude from Casia regarding math. She's been grumpily heading to the computer at math time and groans about doing it most of the allotted time. In the past, she always loved math and would list it among her strengths, but today Casia actually told me that she thought she wasn't good at math. I was stunned. How could a ten year old child taking Algebra II with Trigonometry NOT know that she's good at math? 

After trying to reassure her, reason with her and questioning her, her father and I came to the conclusion that the source of the problem was that she isn't able to get the answer quickly and can't do it all in her head. For a kid that has always prided herself on being fast at mental math, she feels disappointed in herself.

Since starting homeschooling, I've struggled getting Casia to write down her math. Even when she does put pencil to paper, she doesn't adhere to standard formats and she skips so many steps (because she does them in her head) so when she enters the answer into the computer and it's wrong, she can't find her own mistake; I can't find it either. She calls me to take a look and I'll ask her to explain what she did and the concept is there; she knows HOW to do it, but somewhere in the process she makes a mistake and to her, that means she isn't good at math. In algebra, it's so easy to drop a negative sign, drop a term or any number of little mistakes that make a huge differ in the final answer. I've shown her time and time again how to proceed, step by step, but it's something she fights me on constantly. I've been trying to show her that even though it's a little slower to do it this way the first time she tries a problem, it will usually result in a correct answer and she won't have to sit there getting more and more frustrated. I don't think I've convinced her.

As a student, I did well in math and even took Calculus for science majors in college (though admittedly, I don't remember most of it) but I always learned how to do the required problems and never really cared about the why. Casia is a why-kid. Usually, if I can't answer her, I direct her to her father, whose math understanding far exceeds my own. They see math the same way. Sometimes they will discuss advanced math concepts and honestly, I usually start to tune out. When Jacob asks Casia to answer questions, she almost always get there faster than I can figure them out. 

I guess I can see how hard it must be for her to have to slow down the thought process and write each step when in her mind I think it goes by leaps and bounds. But even Jacob has explained to her that when doing these types of problems, he uses paper and pencil, too. I really wish that she didn't see this as a failing. I hope that as she moves on, she will regain her self-confidence and her love of math.

September 7, 2012

Slow Start

I'm sitting here, drinking tea, and feeling lousy. We are four days into the new school year and Casia and I are on our second sick day. I don't know if it's because we're sending Garrett back to school and he's bringing more than just his homework, or if after months of a lax schedule, we are allergic to the rigidity of the school day, but this isn't the first time we've started the school year with a couple of days feeling under the weather. I'm looking forward to the weekend, but I am a little disappointed that we'll be starting out next week behind, especially since for two whole days I managed to stay on schedule. 

September 4, 2012

First Day Back

We had a marvelously relaxing summer and today was our first day back. Garrett hopped on the bus and headed off to second grade at the local public school and Casia started her first day of seventh grade back in the house. 

Garrett and Casia with our dog, Moo.

The kids pose for their annual 'First Day of School' photo. 
Garrett, ready for 2nd grade.

Casia, starting 7th grade.

It's our third year homeschooling, so I was feeling pretty confident starting out this year. But still, getting back into the swing of things after only a minimum amount of work accomplished over the summer, you never know how things will go. Overall, I was happy with how smoothly today went. We had a schedule and we almost stuck to it!

I wanted to make sure the year started on a good note, so I included a science lab to make it fun. Casia and I waited until Garrett was home from school because he loves science and didn't want to miss it. Casia is studying waves this week, and I found some great resources online. I found this idea in a video on the National Stem Centre on how to make a wave and decided to recreate it. It was really easy, required only a few supplies and the kids were able to do most of it themselves. They really had a blast with it.

The first thing we did was gather all the supplies. I used cool, blue Hawaiian-looking duct tape, roughly 20 wooden kabobs, a couple of clamps and some Swedish fish. I also needed scissors, a ruler and two hand towels, but I didn't realize until after I'd taken the photo below.

I used the towels to protect the backs of the chairs as I clamped the piece of duct tape.

Once it had enough tension, the kids placed the kabobs three inches apart. I then helped them put a second piece of duct tape on the top to keep the kabobs in place.

They finished it off by putting a Swedish fish on each end of all the kabobs.

Then the kids took turns lifting up an end and starting a wave. Casia went first.

Then Garrett....

We played with the wave for a while. After which, I asked the kids several questions about the wave including:
  • How does the wave move?
  • How do the fish move?
  • How do you change the amplitude?
  • How do you change the frequency? 
  • How do you change the speed?
In the end, they got to eat all the gummy fish and had a lot of fun!

June 13, 2012

End of the School Year

Even though I homeschool Casia year around and we start the school year in September, there is still this sense in June that it's the end of the school year. Partly this is because Garrett is finishing up his 1st grade year in public school and his last day of school is tomorrow. In addition, the state requires testing and I have to send in the results next month. However, we are also planning on taking a break for a couple of weeks at the end of the month to unwind, travel, and play, so I need to get the testing done earlier to make sure I have plenty of time to get it in. So this week, Casia took a standardized test, not unlike many of her public school counterparts. We've also been finishing up units she has been working on in all her subjects so that we're at a good stopping point, which means more tests these last two weeks. I'm also planning on issuing her her first official homeschool report card so she can show off the straight A's she's been working so hard for, and earn her Nook. It definitely feels like the end of the year. 

After our break, we will resume homeschooling but it will be scaled back to just about three hours a day, most weekdays. This summer, Garrett wants in on it, so I'll be making some lesson plans for him over my break. I think I like it this way. Getting to experience the excitement of the ending school year, with days of swimming and fun in the sun in front of us, with the benefit of a leisurely pace over the summer months to kind of keep us on a regular schedule and keep the kids challenged. Then, when September rolls around, we get all the fun of back-to-school shopping and the start of a new year.

June 7, 2012

Philadelphia Trip: Day 2

On our second day in Philadelphia we decided to go to the Philadelphia Museum of Art instead trying to catch the historic places we missed the previous day. Out in front of the museum we saw the Rocky statue and Emily and I posed with him. Casia refused. She said, "He's a boxer. I don't like boxing." I tried to convince her that he's not just a boxer, he's an American classic, the underdog. I even tried to bribe her by telling her I'd let her watch the movie if she'd pose with me, but no dice.  

They had the Van Gogh exhibit while we were there, 
but we weren't able to get tickets for it and once I saw the line 
waiting to get into the exhibit I was glad.

Seriously, the pool was ankle deep,
and yet you know that if there was a sign for it,
it's because someone has tried it before. 

The facade of the museum was gorgeous. Casia and I enjoyed taking pictures of the building.

View of Philadelphia from the museum entrance.
 My favorite part about the Philadelphia Museum of Art was the decor of the exhibit rooms. They were decorated from the country and time period of the art that was displayed there. I have been to many very nice art museums in NYC, Chicago, etc., but this was the reason why Philly's is my favorite.

Japanese Art

They had a very interesting video demonstrating a traditional tea ceremony.

16th century French Art (decorated like Louis XVI's palace)

16th century English art (Tudor style room)

Early 20th century New York Penthouse

Casia asked me why they had tooth brush holders in an art museum.
That gave me a good laugh.

Emily was a good sport and posed for me with a lot of the statues.

I love Monet, so I took pictures of some of his paintings that I saw.

This was Casia's expression when she saw this painting,
 followed by her question, "Why would anyone want to paint a
 bunch of naked boys playing in a stream?"

May 16, 2012

Philadelphia Trip, Day 1

It's been about a month since my last post and we've been busy!

A couple of weeks ago, Casia and I spent two days in Philadelphia visiting historic and cultural attractions. We had our first 'girls' road trip and stayed with my cousin, Emily, who lives outside the city.

As preparation for the trip, I had Casia research historic sites she wanted to view and I also gave her some maps and internet access and had her plan the route. She did an excellent job with both aspects and I got to pat myself on the back for turning a tedious task on my part into an important life-skills lesson for Casia.

Since we had recently finished our history unit on the American Revolution, Philadelphia was the perfect locale. We started off in Independence Center, where we got our tickets to the must-see attractions and then wandered over to take a quick look at the Liberty Bell. 

Casia taking pictures of the Liberty Bell

Me and Casia in front of the Liberty Bell

Casia and Emily in front of Independence Hall.
We ended up back here later for our tour.

Casia making friends.

Casia really wanted to visit the Graff House, the location where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. I learned only after our return home that the original building, built in 1775, had been torn down but a replica was built two hundred years later on the same spot. From the outside, it looked like a centuries-old residence; inside, it looked as though it were designed by someone under the influence of a mind altering drug. Aside from the two upstairs rooms, that you could view through plexiglass, designed to look as Thomas Jefferson's rooms might have looked during his stay two hundred years earlier, the rest of the was house a tragic disappointment. It had a room with giant multi-colored blocks, some covered in mirrors, a stairwell that looked like it belonged in a parking garage, a small auditorium and a very modern, curvy display room. There was cement were there should have been antique character and it was a travesty that the preservation of such a historical location was done so poorly. Fortunately, this was the only disappointment of the trip.

A recreation of the room where Thomas Jefferson 
wrote the Declaration of Independence.

A very unusual room with big blocks and lots of mirrors.

Casia had also discovered that Philly has a Polish-American museum, and even though it wasn't relevant to the history course, we decided that we would make a little time in our schedule for it. Since Emily is on the Polish side of my family, she was as excited about it as we were. It was a cute little place that sold some Polish souvenirs and had displays recounting the lives of famous Poles throughout history, aspects of Polish history to make one proud and little-know facts to fascinate. Before leaving, Casia got a pin with both the American and Polish flags on it.

Afterward, we had a great lunch at a little restaurant that served panini. Casia had her first panini and now she's hooked!

Casia and Emily in front of the Polish American museum.

The best part of the trip came when we took the tours of the Bishop White and Todd houses. It was a very small tour group, just one extra person along with us. We had a great guide who not only really knew his stuff, his enthusiasm was contagious. When it had started, the first question Casia asked our guide was whether or not we would get to see upstairs. She was so excited when he answered in the affirmative and then she explained that in Colonial Willimsburg, so many of the buidlings didn't allow the tours to view the upstairs. 

We enjoyed the tour through the Todd house and learned that Mrs. Todd, after becoming a widow, caught the eye James Madison. They married and she eventually became the famous First Lady, Dolly Madison. The house had a lot of the charm and character you would expect in a 300 year-old house. But it paled in comparison to the next house on the tour, the Bishop White House.

Garden behind the Todd House

Casia in front of the Todd House

Kitchen in the Todd House

Bedroom int he Todd House

Kitchen in the Todd House

In the Bishop White House, not only did we tour the first and second floors, but we got to go up to the third floor, where the children would have slept. Because of the small group size, and I believe because of Casia's enthusiasm, the guide decided to also include the attic in the tour. It isn't normally shown to the public and it's not furnished, but it has an amazing view of the city from up there. It was huge, with high ceilings even on the 4th floor. And he showed us the stairs to yet another attic. They were too treacherous, however, for us to venture up, so Casia had to content herself with just peeking up there.

As we decended the stairs, the guide announced that we still had a little more time, would we be as interested in seeing the basement as we were the attic? Would we ever! So down to the basement we went. There we saw a second kitchen, though much smaller, a wine cellar of ginormous proportions and the trap door to yet another basement. It was also unnavigable, but we got to peer down the hole to where they used to keep the ice for the old-time ice box.

Bishop White House

Casia at the front door of the Bishop White House

Foyer and Hallway of the Bishop White House



Casia in the Bishop White House Kitchen

Indoor Privy
(Casia wasn't very excited  about posing for this picture)

Emily in the Library
(She was checking out the book selection) 

When Bishop White died, his loving family had a portrait painted of his library as he had left
 it and since the house and  his belongings remained in the family for so many generations,
they were able to recreate his study with historical accuracy. 

Casia in a third story bedroom.
Even on the third floor the ceilings were at least 9 feet high.

Bedroom on Third Floor

Casia looking out a fourth floor window.

Casia picked this one as her bedroom.

One of Bishop White's grandchildren carved their initials and
the date into the fourth floor window frame.
It reads "W. W. Bronson 1834".

Stairs leading up to the 5th floor attic.

Emily and Casia taking pictures of the wine cellar.

Casia in the basement.

Door to the second basement. Here they would keep the ice to store food.

Basement kitchen.
Fire extinguisher not authentic. ;)

Casia with the awesome tour guide.

Another highlight of the trip was a tour of Independence Hall. It was thrilling to be in the same room where our nation was created. At the desks they had quills and inks, pipes, books and even a cane similar to what the Founding Fathers might have used. We got to see Washington's chair with the carved rising sun.

Clock Tower of Independence Hall

Emily and Casia by Independence Hall

Emily and Casia

Before the tour of Independence Hall, we started in this room with a
painting depicting the historical signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Court House in Independence Hall.

Independence Hall

Quills on a table in Independence Hall

Me and Casia in Independence Hall

Beautiful Staircase in Independence Hall

Casia in front of the statue of George Washington

Casia found Elfreth's Alley on a map and so we ended our visit of the city with a trip down the alley. It was tucked away and could easily have been missed if we hadn't been searching for it. It looked just like a little side street of very old homes on a cobble stone street. But when we got to the end it kept going and as we followed it around we ended up in a quaint, hidden garden. It was lovely.

Sign signaling to us that we had reached Elfreth's Alley

Casia in Elfreth's Alley

Elfreth's Alley

Casia and Emily in a little garden spot at the end of Elfreth's Alley

Emily tapping on the wall (as in Diagon Alley)

Casia knocking at the door of Betsy Ross's House.
It was too late to catch a tour,
so she settled for a posed picture outside.

Casia and I had a wonderful trip- thanks, Emily! After hitting all the great historical sites, we decided to order some Thai take-out and rent the movie National Treasure. While watching the movie, whenever we would see one of the locations we had been to that day, we'd shout out, "Hey, we were there!"