Friday, September 28, 2007

Animals and Science

Today we started a new unit from the Behold and See 3 science text. I use it as a very rough outline. We started by identifying all the places we've seen or might see animals. I made a stack of notecards with vocab words such as reptile, amphibian, mammal, herbivore, carnivore, migration, hibernation and many more. Then in turn Grace, Lee and Lou grabbed a card, read the word and told everything they knew about it already. I made mental notes as to which areas we need to focus and what is already part of their knowledge base. I read:

And God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds." (Genesis 1:24)

We named all the animals we could think of and what their baby is called. Bear cubs, swan cygnets, turkey polts, fawn, kitten, etc. I read from two baby animal books we have. Lou really enjoyed this part; Grace and Lee colored, chiming in when I would leave out a word so they could fill in the blank. This ensures they still listen even when their fingers are busy doing something else.

Classification came next. We talked about characteristics one could use to classify animals. Then we practiced research skills. Each of them had a sheet of paper with a line down the middle. One side titled "Animal", the other titled "Food". Grace did 10, Lee 8 and Lou 6. They each thought of animals and wrote them down in the left column. I made a few suggestions so they would have both vertebrates and invertebrates and omnivores, herbivores and carnivores. They were not aware of my sneakiness. Then armed with a pile of library books and our own two animal encyclopedias they went to town searching for each animal and making a list in the right column of what that animal eats. Lou stayed on task with me helping me figure out the first letter of each animal so we could look them up in the index. Lee plugged along reading about every animal, but what was on his list because every new animal in the Echinoderm book was sooooooo cool. Grace was done lickety split; she surprised me with her ability to alphabetize and use the index. Once I showed her how to skim a paragraph looking for key words she was set.
Here they are with books open all around them. Such hard workers. The animal babies book and notecards are peeking out in the bottom left corner.

Next week we'll divide the animals into three groups herbi, carni, omnivore. We'll also get study invertebrates and vertebrates.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Books Around the Clock

Reading takes a vital role in our home education. Whether it be silent reading at 1:00 each afternoon (my favorite time of day), morning read aloud at 8:30 a.m. or our afternoon history and science reading, books are always around us. One of my favorite ways to display books is to pull themed books from the library basket and our bookshelves and place in front of the entertainment center. Usually on the left I have books pertaining to our history studies and on the right, books pertaining to our science studies. I also lean a group of books in the middle for Ray. He grabs a book and says daddy read me and dad scoops him up on his lap and reads in the early hours of each day. The 23rd Psalm illustrated by Michael Hague is his recent favorite. The pictures are so detailed yet so simple. And nature abounds on each page.

Last night was our weekly Family Formation time. Although we were late in celebrating St. Mother Teresa's feast day, the book was a real eye opener. Her complete giving of self and vow of poverty couldn't help but make me take a good long look at my own life. Am I giving more than receiving? Am I overly interested in material things? We used the book, Mother Teresa by Demi as our starting point for discussing her selflessness.

This afternoon I combined our study of Astronomy with History. I read selections from Roman Myths by Geraldine McCaughrean. The Romans really had no sense of morals, which gave us lots to talk about as we read about Apollo (the sun god), Diana (the moon god), Orion (a constellation) and others.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Happy Birthday Grace

Grandma, Subway, Presents, Birthday Cake.......qualifies as a birthday in my book, even if celebrated the day before the real birthday.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Free is such a wonderful thing, especially if it's Kraft food and family magazine. The fall issue is superb, probably the best yet. Today I made the Sour Cream Banana Walnut Cake and it's delish; very moist, tangy cake and very sweet, creamy frosting.

Use this link to subscribe to the FREE quarterly magazine.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Poem for a Windy Day

Next week we'll be starting a new science unit on animal classification. As I pulled animal related books from our bookshelves tonight I ran across one of my favorite poetry books for kids, You Be Good & I'll Be Night by Eve Merriam (looks like it's out of print, so check the library). The kids were already in bed and asleep, but I couldn't resist reading through all the sweet and often times silly poems. This poem fit perfectly for today; we had wind gusts up to 30 miles per hour all day. Tomorrow is expected to be around 12-15 mph and a high of 72; it'll be a perfect almost autumn day. Sunday morning will officially start off the autumn season.

Wind takes the world
and gives it a whoop,
wind gathers leaves
like a giant scoop.

Wind whips sails
and makes them clap,
wind knocks my head
clear out of my cap.

Wind rattles floorboards
and makes them sigh,
but kites take the wind
and fly fly fly.

Would you like more book reviews, curriculum picks, etc.  Check out the books archive.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Survival Food

According to Wal-Mart(paragraph 14), PopTarts are the number one food purchased in crisis. When hurricane Katrina hit, they sent semi loads of PopTarts to area Wal-Marts. However, as much as we all love PopTarts around here (cinnamon and brown sugar), I'm not talkin' 'bout prepackaged survival food, no no. Around here it's the kind one can find in the woods.

Lee has been fascinated by the idea of banking a supply of food or knowledge to have in his little fort by the water. He has a beautiful mud flat with a nice tree canopy along the water's edge. Friends, siblings and parents are taken to this area as frequently as he can convince them to go. But as of late, it's not enough to just sit on the log enjoying the occasional swan sighting or fish swirl. He's ready to take it a step further. He's ready to spend some serious time in the fort, long enough he might actually get hungry. So he pulled out the Peterson Guide to Edible Plants and is honing his research skills. My knowledge has increased 10 fold as well, due to all the narration he's providing me. The goal was to find foods with the salad fork, meaning part of the plant can be eaten raw. Today Lee (and I) tried the fleshy part of a rose hip, which was a little bitter. Cattail rootstock is bland with an odd texture. Raw potato was eaten to identify with the term starchy flavor. Plans are underway for next spring already. I guess we'll be frying fiddleheads and candying rose petals. In the end, Lee was a little disappointed; the flavors weren't all that palatable and he wondered aloud if this information will ever help him? Will he really need to know this sometime? I had a brief discussion about knowledge and that he might not ever be in a survival situation (although you really never know), but knowledge always leads to a better understanding of the world. And that understanding might just be what keeps him out of potential survival situations.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Two Things I'm Loving

Anne Pellowski's book series - I came across this series in the 4th grade recommended reading list at Real Learning. What a treat! Originally I checked out the four book series from the library for Grace to read, but after perusing the first book I knew I had to read this one aloud for me as well as the other kids. For starters the first book takes place around 1876. I absolutely love pioneer stories; if it weren't for the lack of proper medical care I would be content to live that life. Then it takes place in Wisconsin and is based on a real Polish family; growing up in a Polish town in Wisconsin I can relate to the Oszewski's and Jazgewski's and Pellowski's, well in name anyway. I actually have Peplinski and Kurszewski cousins. Large families are near and dear to my heart and after a brief read through of a couple chapters I note the family is Catholic. What a treasure of a book. Just half way through the first of four books I dare say I like this series better than the Little House series. Here's why - I can relate to the Pellowski family. Ma Ingalls in gentle, soft spoken, kind hearted; I am not. Ma Ingalls has all girls; I have two boys and two girls. The Pellowski family is full of boys and girls, 5 boys and 3 girls to be exact and according to the family tree it appears Mother will be having two more boys. The mix makes for great stories my kids can relate to. The teasing by the boys of the girls is just one of them. Mother Pellowski is stern yet loving. She is not afraid to reprimand the children when the work is not getting done; that's me, rules, work before play, serious, blunt. I love this first book. See the sidebar under Morning Read Aloud for a link to the first in the series.

Jack Johnson - Have you heard of this music artist? I received this CD for my birthday back in June and was told you'll feel like you're on vacation while listening. I turned it on as background music, but didn't pay much attention. With four kids the music has to be pretty loud to hear it over all their chatter. Now months later, I pulled it out again to listen while walking around the marsh. I try to fit in a walk a few days a week in the afternoon and use Grace's portable CD player to listen to music up close. This guy is awesome. The lyrics are fun, inspirational, thought provoking. The guitar playing is better than anything I've heard in a long time. I set the CD in the van for DH to listen to the other day. I figured he'd listen to a couple songs and swap it out for Nickelback or something along those lines. He came home and said the CD was so good he forgot where he was going and what he was doing. Truly, he went to Fleet Farm with the kids so I could have an evening to sew and came home with nothing on the list. No canning jar lids, no burlap bags, no 60 watt lightbulbs. Just licorice and furnace filters. We've often talked about how angry I feel after listening to some of his music and I can't believe he can listen to that and still want to be alive. With this CD we both agree that you can have nothing but good feelings while listening. Topping it all off, the kids love the CD as well. It's not often that 6 people can agree on what CD to play in the van. And did you see Curious George? Did you like the music? Every song is a Jack Johnson original.

The Love of Crayons

in the van and coloring, as usual

Lee: Mom, who invented crayons?

Me: I don't know.

Lee: Well, whoever it was did a really good thing.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Snack Time Wisdom

Lou: I suppose I can't sit here eating this lollipop all day......I better have some protein, too.

So then she joined us in eating caramel apple slices dipped in salted peanuts. Yum! And yes, Kraft caramels have 2 grams of protein per serving of 5 caramels. Brain food?!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A Few Words on Kids Clothes

Years ago when Lee was about 5, dressing him to go anywhere was a nightmare. Nothing fit right, the waistband was too rough, the tag was biting me, the toe seams in the socks were bulky - you get the picture. Church mornings were awful. His drawers were full of clothes and he had nothing to wear (funny, I think I've said that before). Clothes would get pulled out, tried on and never put away. At the end of the day (or week), dirty clothes were mixed with the clean, never worn clothes and I didn't know what was what, so it all went to the wash, making more work for me. I had two problems: one was lack of comfortable clothes and two was too many clothes making more work for me. I solved the problem by having Lee try on EVERY item in his closet and drawers. If it wasn't comfortable it was given away, even if it was just too cute or in great shape. With that step I eliminated over half of his wardrobe. Now with the leftover comfy clothes we divided them into three piles: play clothes, town clothes and church clothes. Absolutely nothing overlaps. Play clothes are put on every morning and can be worn for trapping, painting, rollerblading, gardening and no matter how stained they get it doesn't matter. Town clothes include the basic decent clothing suitable to wear shopping, to the park, out to eat, anywhere public. Church clothes are dressy clothes allowed for church, weddings, Christmas dinners. Once everything was placed in a pile it was easy to see what type of clothing was needed. Since I do laundry nearly everyday, sorting this way kept the number of items manageable. He only needed one pair of church pants and two shirts. This may sound extreme, but it worked well and has been working perfectly for 3 1/2 years now. When it's time to go to town he puts on town clothes and when we return he puts on his play clothes again. This has lessened the laundry as well because play clothes can be worn at home until they are seriously dirty and often times town clothes can be worn again as well. Church mornings were a breeze because the clothing situation was predictable - same pants as last week (he chose these pants from the store), choice of two shirts.

Why hadn't I thought to use this system with the girls clothes as well? It just hit me two weeks ago that something needed to change. Every time Lou needed clothes to match we were at a loss. The drawers were overfull, but nothing matched and just about everything was stained. She tended to wear her favorites for everyday and they ended up getting paint or stain or fudgesicle drips on them. And I haven't had any luck getting those stains out. So one day while all the kids were watching an afternoon movie, I headed into the girls room with a couple of boxes. I cleared their drawers and taped labels to them: Church, Play, Town. Now we use the same system and it's working like a dream. I've eliminated nearly half of their wardrobe making laundering so much easier on me and putting away so much easier on them. Again it's so easy to see where the need is, I don't come away from The Mom Shop with too many town clothes and not enough church clothes. And one last comment about clothes; I do not separate by season. In the play drawer are all seasons of clothes, something only comes out when they truly outgrow it.

For some this may be extreme. It's hard to let go of a perfectly good pastel pink turtleneck; it might match a jumper someday. But it's harder to control the clothing mess that two girls can make in one day. Few choices make decision making very simple; simplicity, something I'm always searching for.

Play Clothes
2 pants
3 shorts
2 long sleeve shirts
3 t-shirts

Town Clothes
2 pants
3 shorts
2 long sleeve shirts
3 t-shirts

Church Clothes
1 dress pants (2 for boys)
2 long sleeve blouses
2 short sleeve tops
3 winter dresses
3 summer dresses

Friday, September 14, 2007

Good Questions

We are finishing up an Astronomy unit - we started it last May with hopes of endless summer stargazing, well it gets dark just too darn late for me to want to stargaze with my kids in the summer. I'm tired, they're tired and too many tired people in the dark just isn't any fun. We did start off this school year with a great campfire and nighttime walk, a couple of weeks ago. We located a few constellations and Polaris. The darkness was extreme so we had a perfect view of the Milky Way. And now every Thursday and Friday when we do science, talk of that night sneak into our lessons. Today was such a good conversation day and so many fun questions came up, I have to get them down on paper.

1. How big is the Arizona Crater?
2. Where would you end up if you just kept going into outerspace?
3. Why are shooting stars called shooting stars if they're really meteors?
4. Why are meteors called meteors if they're really rock and metal chunks?
5. With Legos I can build a Mars Rover. Do you think NASA copied Legos when they designed the real Mars Rover robot?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Cake and Milk for Mary

We celebrated (a bit late) the Nativity of Mary today with cake and milk for our 10 a.m. snack. Grace made the cake last night, too late to frost. Today she diligently worked on Math so she would have time to frost the cake before snack time. So together Grace and Lou frosted and sprinkled, cut and served, a beautiful and yummy cake.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Fall is Approaching

Many things signal the beginning of fall. Warm days and chilly nights. Fewer hummingbirds. Geese formations in the sky. Ripening pumpkins and yellowing cornstalks. Here at our home so many other things signal the beginning of fall. The faint scent of skunk essence in my basement. Rubber hip boots lining up in the porch. Cranberry leaves on the rug. The gentle sound of thwop, thwop, thwop as three family members practice shooting their bows off the patio. We are cranberry farmers, fur trappers and deer hunters. Fall is an exciting time of year. It means early morning trapline checks and middle of the night frost watch (for DH). Drawing straws for the bowhunting order and then waiting and wondering if dad and child saw any deer.

At the homefront, it's time to warm up the home. A few garlands of fall colored leaves, steaming hot soup and chili for lunch, spicy cinnamon bread and pumpkin pie, homemade cranberry sauce. Good lighting for the long evenings ahead and cozy blankets for staying warm. And of course, lots of hot chocolate.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Catholic Mosaic Evening

For the past two years we've used the Family Formation (Catholic Catechism) program through Church of St. Paul in Ham Lake, MN. After one year of CCD with Grace, we chose not send our children any longer. The class meeting time, lack of consistent teachers (one would burn out after 2 months and then the kids would get a new teacher and this cycle would keep going) and incredible amounts of weekly worksheets forced us to search out another way of teaching catechism. I wanted to send my kids to CCD. I looked forward to eventually having 1 hour and 15 minutes a week free to run errands by myself while someone else took the leading role as teacher. However, as a newly converted Catholic, I found myself spearheading the idea of teaching CCD to our children at home. At first DH was a little insecure with this idea, but after helping Grace with yet another 20 worksheets for the week and talking to another family who was using the Family Formation program at home already, he decided that he was totally committed to making this, at home CCD, work.

As a family we register in July for the coming school year. We send in our check and they send out the materials on a monthly basis. All needed supplies are included and just about every word is referenced to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Last year, after DH's neck surgery we had a hard time getting back on track with Family Formation, so I was left with lessons for February through May, incomplete. Instead of skipping those lessons, which are based on the Liturgical year, I chose not to order this year's lessons and do Catholic Mosaic first semester and then pick up with the Family Formation lessons in February. Catholic Mosaic isn't necessarily catechism, but wonderful lessons on character.

Last night we did our first CM lesson based on the book, Sister Anne's Hands. I wrote out the vocabulary words on sticky notes and as DH read the story, we all listened for the words. If we heard one we got up and grabbed the sticky note. At the end, whoever had a vocab word gave the definition to the rest of us. I had all the supplies ready for the hands art project and as DH helped the littles with tracing, I started a discussion using the questions in the manual. At 9:00 p.m. Lee was still coloring and outlining his hands drawing. Here it is, just lovely.

Dad wowed everyone with his ability to crack his nose, then taught the kids how to do the trick. We ended with a yummy Fun Size Butterfinger.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Back to Homeschool

Yesterday was the 1st day of school in our area, but not at our home. We actually started our school schedule back on August 20. I thought it a good idea since we tend to vacation more in the late fall and winter than most. Starting early allowed for easing into the school routine. I wrote out a daily schedule and decided to start off with the first two subjects of the day for the first week. Week two we upped it to 4 subjects and then yesterday we started in with the full day. Just for an example, here is our Monday schedule.


8:30 a.m. - Listen to read aloud

9:00 a.m. - Saxon Math 5/4

10:00 a.m. - Catholic Heritage Curricula Spelling and snack

10:30 a.m. - Copywork (alternate weeks with keyboarding and cursive writing)

11:00 a.m. - Map Skills

11:30 a.m. - chores

12:00 p.m. - Lunch

12:30 p.m. - free time

1:00 p.m. - Silent Reading

1:30 p.m. - History; Story of the World: Ancient History

2:00 p.m. - free time for personal interests


8:30 a.m. - Listen to read aloud

9:00 a.m. - Catholic Heritage Curricula Spelling and snack

9:30 a.m. - Primary Language Lessons

10:00 a.m. - Saxon Math 5/4

11:00 a.m. - Map Skills

11:30 a.m. - chores

12:00 p.m. - Lunch

12:30 p.m. - free time

1:00 p.m. - Silent Reading

1:30 p.m. - History; Story of the World: Ancient History

2:00 p.m. - free time for personal interests


8:30 a.m. - Listen to read aloud

9:00 a.m. - Copywork

9:30 a.m. - Bob Books

10:00 a.m. - Chores and snack

10:30 a.m. - Puzzles/Games/Playtime

11:00 a.m. - Math for your 1st and 2nd grader

11:30 a.m. - Playtime w/Ray (swing or sandpile or play with Diamond)

12:00 p.m. - Lunch

12:30 p.m. - free time

1:00 p.m. - Look at picture books or early readers

1:30 p.m. - Listen to history

2:00 p.m. - Practice piano

2:30 p.m. - free time for personal interests

Ray and Mom

8:30 a.m. - Read aloud to all

9:00 a.m. - Planning (lessons, menus, grocery lists, activities, calendar)

9:30 a.m. - Reading with Lou

10:00 a.m. - Kitchen work and chores

10:30 a.m. - Set puzzles with Ray or read nursery rhymes or set him up with audiobooks

11:00 a.m. - Math with Lou

11:30 a.m. - Prepare lunch

12:00 p.m. - Lunch

12:30 p.m. - free time/clean up

1:00 p.m. - put Ray down for nap and silent reading for me

1:30 p.m. - History with all

2:00 p.m. - Piano with Lou

2:30 p.m. - free time - walk/sew/cook/garden/clean/fill bird feeders/etc

Each day is a little different, but you get the idea of the flow of the day. I've found that trying to do math with everyone together or spelling with everyone together doesn't work for my family. Each person needs something just a little bit different and they end up bickering over silly little things like the table shaking because one person writes harder than the other or one person gets done first and that's not fair because they're older and their work should take longer. You get the picture. Having them cross paths is perfect. They get to interact, but have enough space to not bother one another. Often times one child will be at the dining table, one will be back on the futon, one will be playing on the living room floor and yet another doing their work in the porch. With lots of different learning areas everyone can find a place comfortable for them. We do History and Science together always and read alouds in the morning, too. I keep our Monday through Friday schedules on a clipboard and place it on the kitchen table, that way it can be referred to by all to know what's next. One more bit about our schedule. I schedule in 1/2 hour increments. Let's say Lee is doing his spelling and it only takes him 15 minutes, he is free to move on to the next subject or play for 15 minutes. This gives them some incentive to work diligently and control over how their day will go. I've found they will always opt for moving right along, rather than take a timeout to play. However, if I am telling them what's next, all they do is beg for play time. I'd much rather put the time into compiling a well working schedule than listening to the whining and complaining that comes along with unplanned days.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Homemade Doughnuts

Last week we started reading through the Robert McCloskey books. I actually checked out a treasury from the library, even though we own ...Ducklings and Blueberries... The idea of reading through all his books came from the Real Learning booklist. What fun we've had. Last week we read The Doughnuts from Homer Price. And tell me how we could read that story without positively needing to make homemade doughnuts. I was thinking about it throughout the entire story and then sprung it on the kids at the end. The "hoorays" and "awesomes" were loud and clear. Out came the yeast and hot milk, flour and sugar. The recipe is from my sister-in-law and chances are my dear mother-in-law made these when the kids were young.

Raised Doughnuts

2 cups scalded milk
1 cup water, lukewarm
2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup shortening, melted
2 eggs, beaten
2 pkg. dry yeast
7-9 cups flour

Mix as usual for yeast bread. Let rise for 1 1/2 hours. Punch down, let rise for a half hour. Roll out 1/3" thick. Cut with doughnut cutter. Let rise for a half hour. Fry in deep fat at 350 degrees. Drain on paper bags. Place in container with granulated sugar and shake. I make up 3 small paper bags with white sugar, cinnamon sugar and powdered sugar. Then shake when warm, but not hot.

Grace makes up the paper bags of sugar while I fry doughnuts.

I like to use an electric fry pan because temperature can be easily regulated.

A blurry picture of the first of many homemade doughnuts made that day. Taking into account the warm doughnuts eaten we came up with a total of 117 ring doughnuts and holes made. Some went into the freezer and were brought out after church last week. All the rest were eaten almost immediately because doughnuts are best eaten fresh.

Monday, September 3, 2007

When It's Your Birthday...

Your mom and sister will decorate while your still asleep.

Mom will make cupcakes while you go for a bike ride.

Your brother will work on fixing your broken bike chain for an hour, without complaining.

You'll be treated to a beautiful hair-do and adorned with a crown. Thanks to big sis!
And then you'll play with horses as if the world has come to a complete stop just for you (which it has)Then you'll curtsy for us any time we require you to talk to us, you being the princess and all.
Sweet little Lou, we are all so blessed and honored to treat you to a great birthday.

Too Close For Comfort

There's something intensely cool about the possibility of a bear track sighting, but when it happens you might wish it a little farther from your back door than this. Just 20 short yards away from our back door we sighted bear tracks. One lone bear traveling through, but he made quite a line of tracks.
Front Paw Print

Hind Paw Print