Frog Watch

Vernal Pool 1Several years ago we discovered vernal pools.  In fact my first ever blog post was about exploring vernal pools and the cover picture for the blog is usually of the boys sitting beside their favorite pool examining larvae.

A person might think we would get tired of studying frogs each spring, but there is a certain happiness to hearing the first spring peepers.  This year we are thrilled to join citizen scientist across the US monitoring local frog populations.

Tadpole 2014Our local zoo, Akron Zoo, is part of Frog Watch USA, a citizen scientist project.  We attended training back in February and received a CD of all the local frog calls.  Thankfully there are only 16 species of frog we need to know by call.  We started out knowing about six of the calls and were able to learn the rest within a few car rides listening to the CD.

IMG_1810Once each month we will be visiting a couple of our favorite frog locations.  After sunset we will listen to the frogs for three minutes and report our findings through the Frog Watch website.

When we started homeschooling, one of our major desires was to “learn more about animals.”  Frog Watch is a great opportunity to learn more about our amphibian friends and contribute to our community.

Community Service Day

If you are ever want to be inspired, you should spend some time hanging out with a FIRST LEGO League (FLL) team.  I’ve written several times about how these kids do an amazing job coming up with solutions to problems.  This year the challenge is Trash Trek.  Our FLL team has spent the last few months learning about trash, recycling and ways we can Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

TrunkChallengeMonday the kids had a day off school and decided to spend it doing community service.  Our first project of the day was to contribute to the reuse portion of the cycle by filling the trunk with clothes and shoes for the Goodwill.  I’m not sure what the donation receiver thought when five boys spilled out of my car.  She was gracious enough to give us a quick tour and we looked around the retail store for several minutes.

CollectingTrashatLakeErieDuring the course of our trash research we were shocked to read how much micro plastic is in Lake Erie.  Since we live near Cleveland, we decided to investigate ourselves.  Getting out on the lake and collecting samples of micro plastics wasn’t practical, so we decided to conduct a beach clean up.

We took a couple of clip boards with survey information by the Great Lakes Alliance, trash bags and gloves, and we headed for the beach.

IMG_2558Probably because of the time of year (mid October) the beach looked pretty clean from a distance.  We found mostly bits of plastic, bottle caps, straws, and a few plastic bottles.  By far the most common items found were cigarette tips and small bits of plastic.  We only stayed about an hour but collected 2.5 kg of trash.

BlueTrashScorpionWe thought it would be fun make art out of our litter finds.  During the summer months we would probably find more litter in the form of bottles and caps that would make better “art”, but the boys really seemed to enjoy figuring out things to construct.  A little spray paint really helped.

TrunkChallengeOverwriteThe LEGO Dragons are extending a “Trunk Challenge” to our friends, family, and readers.  Fill your trunk with donations for your favorite charity.  Donate.  Then post in the comments to let us know you took the challenge.  Issue your own challenge to your friends and family.

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Field Trip: Nina and Pinta

IMG_2511On a bright October morning, we headed to Pittsburgh to visit replicas of the Nina and Pinta.  We tend to enjoy living history exhibits and this display was no exception.IMG_2510

The Columbus Foundation sponsors these ships.  You can find their port schedules and more details about the ships at thenina.com.   We spent about an hour touring the ships and listening to crew.  The crew is all volunteer.  They are out on these ships because they enjoy sailing and history.  They are incredibly knowledgable and entertaining.

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A historical detail we all found interesting was that the ships of the period were coated with black pine tar including the deck.  On a sunny fall morning in Pittsburgh, we were very comfortable even though the decks were a more natural color.  We could only imagine how unbearably hot it would have been sailing these boats in the Caribbean.

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It was incredible to stand on the decks and imagine the decks packed with cargo and crew with livestock down below.  Today the ships sail with about 10 people total in two boats, but in Columbus’s day the crew numbered 20 – 26 per boat.

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Growing up in the midwest I’ve had little experience with sail boats.  Today will forever change my experience when I read about explorers on caravels.  I will have a picture in my mind, not of a vague generic sailboat, but of a hot, crowded, black deck full of people and ropes.  I always imagined that sailors felt a bit lonely against the vastness of the sea.  Today I gained a sense of how the boat could feel crowded and chaotic or perhaps warm and friendly with a sense of companionship.  IMG_2515

My thanks goes out to the people who made this experience possible – both the crew and the dreamers, who thought of the concept and carried it to reality.

Field Trip: Goodwill Industries

IMG_2430I may have mentioned the FIRST LEGO League Challenge this year is Trash Trek.  The kids are learning about trash and recycling.  My special thanks go out to the mom who put together a field trip to a Goodwill processing center.

There were about 15 boys on the trip and our hosts graciously provided donuts and juice while the kids sat in spinny chairs around a conference table.  The kids really appreciated being treated in such a grown up manner.

Our hosts told us about the circle of Goodwill.  It starts with donations that are sorted and sold in the retail stores.  The money raised in the stores is used to provide job training and help to people in our community, who need a bit of help getting back on their feet due to challenges they are facing.  Once people are employed they are likely to donate items to Goodwill and the cycle continues.   Making donations helps us by giving us a place to take items we don’t need anymore.  People who are on a limited budget, committed to living a non-consumer lifestyle, or want to save money are helped by purchasing used goods at a low price.  People who need job training and other services are helped by the programs offered by the Goodwill.

IMG_2427We visited the area where goods are sorted when they come to the store.  There are about 150 different 501(c)3s operating under the Goodwill name so different regions have different requirements on what they accept.  The site we visited does accept clothes that are worn out and those are placed in bales and sold to other industries.   It can be helpful if you label clothes as such when you bring them in.   They also have salvage options for other items.

The site we visited has an electronics recycling program.  They refurbish computers and sell them to qualifying families for $85 for desktops and $125 for laptops.  They also work on and recycle printers, tvs, and other electronics.  The process they use for wiping hard drives is a 7 time overwrite.  You might imagine with a group of fifteen 9-13 year olds, there are a few tinkerers in the group, so we found out that this program accepts electronics even if you have dissected them or if they are missing a power cord.

After the tour we decided it would be great to send out a challenge to FLL teams to do a donation drive.  We are still in the planning stages, but our team is shooting for October 17th.  We are planning to take clothes and electronics.  I recently went shoe shopping and as soon as I came home I put the shoes I was replacing in a donation bag.  I even managed to get rid of more shoes than I bought!  Please let us know if you are inspired to do the same.  We would love to collect pictures from across the country of donations!

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Vacation Learning: Glacier National Park

DSC_5622We are coming off a fabulous week.  After several months in the planning stage we finally took our trip to Glacier National Park.

IMG_1939As the time for our trip got closer and closer we had to consider alternate plans due to wildfires in the park and surrounding area.  While the fires were no longer burning in the park, the air quality was extremely poor due to nearby fires.  We decided to hope the rain in the forecast would materialize and stick to our plan.  Flying in on Saturday,  the mountains were covered in smoke and we could even see some areas smoldering.  It was a very sobering to see the enormity of the wildfires.

Lake McDonald Smoky vs. clearOur first day the air had a campfire quality to it.  Thankfully for everyone, rains moved in and the air cleared.   The above pictures show the difference in air quality between Saturday (8/29) and Tuesday (9/1).

Hidden Lake Trail BoardwalkI absolutely love visiting the mountains.  Pictures and documentaries can never give you anything close to the full experience.  The vastness of it all is so impossible to capture.

High Ropes CollageWhile we spent most of our time in the park we did take a day to do “fun touristy stuff”.  I put that in quotes because my family considers a high ropes course fun.   A long time ago I heard a psychologist say, “Shared adversity strengthens relationships.”  I decided to view the high ropes course as a chance to strengthen my relationship with my family – although I’m not sure it counts if they aren’t facing adversity.  I happen to think it is a positive thing for the kids to see me get outside of my comfort zone and do things I’m not particularly good at. The ropes course had 4 levels of difficulty and the course rules said no one under 13 on the most difficult level so the boys and I did levels 1-3.  The beginner courses were actually somewhat fun.  E did the level 3 course with his dad and they had a good time.  C and I found the level 3 course more challenging.  We would have taken the chicken exit, if one had been offered, instead we ended up feeling proud of ourselves for completing the  course.

Swiftcurrent Lake Many Glacier HotelOne day we hiked around Swiftcurrent Lake.  The Many Glacier Hotel is located along the shore and there are beautiful vistas all around the lake.   As we were hiking back the tour boat went past.   It was our first day hiking at altitude and while we faired okay for the hike we did, it was obvious the much longer hike I wanted to do wasn’t going to happen when combined with the car trip to get to the east side of the park.

DSC_5668The next day we took a chance to rest and just enjoy Lake McDonald.  Even though the winds were blowing well in excess of 20 mph most of the time the boys still enjoyed playing at the edge of the water.

Lake McDonaldWe drove around the lake to Apgar Village and it was apparent why this vantage point is such an iconic representation of Glacier Park.  It is very near the west entrance, within a few yards of a parking lot, and stunningly beautiful.

DSC_5761Once we were acclimated to the climate and understood how we needed to prepare for hikes, we decided to explore a section of the Highline Trial from Logan Pass.  When my husband mentioned the trail passed above Going to the Sun Road and a chain was provided as a handhold along the narrow passage,  I nearly refused to go.  Fortunately I knew it was probably our best chance to see a pika. Pikas are adorable little creatures that only live high in the mountains.  All summer long they gather plant materials and dry them in little hay piles.  They are lagamorphs, like rabbits and hares, and they happen to be C’s favorite animal.

IMG_2014That’s me inching my way along the Highline Trail.  See the road down below?  Thankfully that part of the trail was reasonably short.

Hidden Lake Glacier National ParkWe kept our hike along the Highline trail to a couple of hours so we could have a quick lunch in the car then hike the Hidden Lake trail on the other side of the Logan Pass.  It was a steep climb up boardwalk stairs but the views of Hidden Lake were truly gorgeous.

DSC_5798We all had a good laugh when a ground squirrel ran right up to E.  While entertaining it was a reminder that people do feed them, which is detrimental to their survival as the small creatures sometimes fail to store food for winter.

DSC_5861Another day we hiked to Avalanche Lake.  The highlight of the day was seeing a bear at the shore of the lake.

Chipmunk feeding on berriesWe also saw loads of chipmunks along the trail.

IMG_2047Our rental cabin was very comfortable and homey.  The owners live next door and their Labrador would come over and play with the boys every night.  Our last night, Jake, the rental dog, stopped their game of fetch to tree a black bear!  Quite a memory!

Bighorn sheepTips for traveling to Glacier:

I was making our reservations about nine months in advance so I wasn’t able to piece together a cohesive in park stay and opted for a cabin outside the park.  Most of the available lodging outside the park is on the west side which makes for a LONG drive to the Many Glacier and Two Medicine areas.  I wish I had been able to split our stay between the east and west sides of the park.  On the other had it was very nice to have a large cabin outside the park.

We opted for a fall trip due to scheduling, which made it easier to determine glacier versus seasonal snow, but we didn’t have views of snow capped mountains.

Good outdoor clothes that layer are a must.

Hope you enjoyed all the pictures!

(Special thanks to my husband who does almost all the photography when we are on vacation.)

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Summer “School”

Have you ever watched a group of interest led homeschoolers when they are asked if they are on summer vacation?  They look so confused.  Yes, no, sort of, does it matter?

We are on summer “schedule”.  We’re learning and reading and having fun.  The only thing really different about summer schedule is grammar lessons are completely set aside and we take time to enjoy the company of friends who only have summers off.  We also take advantage of good weather and summer camp opportunities.

So what have we being doing with our summer freedom?

Water BirthdayWe hosted a birthday party.  I love having older kids who are capable of planning and executing a large part of the party.  E designed his own invitations and the boys planned out what games they wanted to play.  Mostly it was just about water guns, water balloons, and jumping on the trampoline.  We also pulled out the “rocket launcher” which is a device that sends 2 liter bottles 30 feet in the air.  The boys all had a great time.  Boys don’t require fancy decorations, they just want to play.

We attended the Unschoolers Waterpark Gathering (UWG).  One of the things my kids missed when we switched to homeschool was having Field Day.  UWG is sort of like a Field Week.  The organizers do a terrific job creating fun events like Glow in the Dark Capture the Flag,  Nerf Guns Wars, and Minecraft Fun Shops.  The Skill Toys Fun Shop was really cool.  There were demos of unicycles and jumping stilts, as well as lessons in juggling and lessons with juggling sticks and diabolo juggling yoyos. One afternoon there was a Kids’ Marketplace.  The kids were encouraged to bring items to sell, no outside vendors.   My boys sold some old Star Wars toys and purchased toy bows and arrows and jousting sticks made from duct tape, pool noodles, and pvc.  The creativity on display at the Marketplace was amazing!  There are some very talented young artists out there.   The night of the talent show we saw some amazing performances.  There were discussion panels for parents.  Mostly I enjoyed hanging out with the other parents.  The thing that made the biggest impression on me during the week was how much trust existed between parents and kids.  It is hard to describe, but it was so enjoyable to be around a group of parents and kids who are confident about who they are.

IMG_1952We made our yearly summer trip to visit family.  My niece recently visited the now closed Missouri State Penitentiary and wanted to share the experience with her cousins.  My mom’s husband spent many years working maintenance at the prison and my husband’s cousin and her mom were guards there.  It was an interesting and sobering experience.  We did some landscaping for my mom, attended a high school graduation party for my nephew, and spent a day playing with cousins at the waterpark.  Waterpark day was chilly.  It ended up warming up in the afternoon, but we had the place pretty much to ourselves.

Airport and Blue Rock Station

Field Trips

We visited Blue Rock Station which is a homestead dedicated to environmentally friendly living.  Several building techniques are employed in the outbuildings while the main house is an earth-ship design constructed from recycled tires.  It was a great lesson in sustainability.

Cleveland Hopkins Airport – We visited the Fire Department.  It was interesting to see the specialized firetrucks and meet the bomb sniffing dog.  We also visited the operations tower.  We were a little disappointed we didn’t get to visit baggage sorting but such is life.

Pottery Collage

We took some pottery lessons and would like to add more of those to our fall schedule.  The boys also did an archery camp.  It was a big hit and we are hoping to find a way to work some more bow time into our schedule.

In our “free time” we’ve had time to visit with friends, go swimming, play in creeks, and play computer games.  Our car time has been consumed with listening to the Eragon series.

While I’m excited about all the good stuff fall will bring, I’m glad we took time to relax and enjoy summer.

 

Weekly Wrap-up – Finishing the Year

WildflowersLast Friday we went on a wildflower hike with our science club. It was a nice hike, looking at flowers and chatting with friends.  We all had lunch together at the park amidst more chatting and playing.  It was one of the first really beautiful days to be outside which made it even more special.  I really appreciate this group of kids and parents.

While not exactly related to homeschool, E had his first Boy Scout camping trip over the weekend.  The weather was perfect for camping and he had a great time. While E was off at camp, C requested a trip with mom and dad to the art museum.  Sunday E returned from the camping trip and worked at the scout pasta dinner.

Water Balloon Catapult

This week was a finishing week.  We finished our standardized testing for the year.  E also finished his grammar book.  While we were finishing things, we also finished our first catapult and we’ve had a great time firing off water balloons.

IMG_1870We’ve essentially switched over to our summer schedule which typically means an hour or two of reading, math, and/or writing followed by time outside.  We were extra fortunate this week to have the chance to meet up with friends to take a short hike, wade in a creek, and play in a clay deposit.

Have you switched over to a summer schedule yet?  Is there much difference between your summer schedule and other times of year?

ON THE BOOKSHELF:

The Once and Future King (audio)

Nature’s Children: Snow Leopards

ON THE MENU

Salmon Filets with Corn on the Cob- I prefer to avoid the crowds on Mother’s Day and grill at home

Pulled Pork Sliders

Garden Veggie Soup

Stir Fry

Tikka Masala with Tofu and Chickpea

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Weekly Wrap-up – FABulous field trips and other creative pursuits

FIELD TRIP!!  Field trips are one of my absolute favorite things about homeschooling.  Field trips, individualized learning, treating kids with respect, building projects, time in nature – they are all my favorite things.

Last Friday we went to University of Pittsburgh to check out their Human Engineering Research Laboratories.  They work with the Veterans’ Administration to develop better assistive devises like wheelchairs, prosthetics, and orthotics.   It was great career exposure for the kids.  The combination of engineering with making a real difference in other people’s lives is a very appealing concept.

It just so happened there was also a place across the street called TechShop.  They were offering tours so we stopped in along with some friends who were also on the aforementioned HERL tour.  What a cool place!  It’s a FAB Lab on steroids.  They have the typical laser cutter/engravers, 3D printers, vinyl cutters and wood shop, but they also have a water jet cutter, a powder coat paint booth, welding, and CNC machines.  They also have a great textile station with embroidery and screen printing and a computer workshop area.   Check out the website and take a tour if you happen to live near one.

IMG_1835After lunch we headed over to the Carnegie Science Center.  It was such a short visit we only had time for the sports area, the traveling H2O exhibit and the shuttle lift.

IMG_1847This week we had the opportunity to attend a Cleveland Orchestra Education Concert.  The orchestra does a great job selecting the music for these concerts.  This one started with the Imperial March from Star Wars then moved on to classical composers like Vivaldi and Bach.  They also did a couple of American Jazz pieces before concluding with a part of the E.T. score.  The boys are really so so about going to the orchestra, but I just adore the chance to hear the orchestra perform.  I also love the architecture of Severance Hall.

After the performance we had lunch with friends and went through the “swords and knights” exhibit at the art museum.  We also went through the modern art section which is always fun.  The art museum is free which makes it easy to just pop in for a few minutes.  After the art museum we headed over to the Natural History Museum for about an hour before heading home so we could get ready for swim lessons.

Going on field trips means lots of time in the car so we listened to the first book of the Redwall series by Brian Jacques.  The story was very action packed and exciting.  If it had been a print edition, I would say it was a real page turner.  We listened to several hours of the story on Saturday and Sunday as well.  We will certainly be listening to more of the Redwall series during car trips this summer.

IMG_1857We had some good weather this week, which allowed us to work on our catapults.  They are almost complete, but on hold again while E is away on a camping trip this weekend.

Having the chance to visit so many creative spaces this week has been really invigorating.  I’m really looking forward to working on some creative projects this summer.

What fun projects are you planning for summer?

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A Morning in the Sugar Bush

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Even though the calendar indicated spring, ice still floated on the river.  Although a few days had been warmer this particular morning was cold and brisk.   The weather was right for maple sap to flow, below freezing at night and into the 40s or 50s during the day.IMG_1760

Our guide led us through the sugar bush, pointing out maple trees that were suitable for tapping.  Since this particular area is set up for educational purposes there were a variety of collection types – wooden buckets, metal buckets with lids, plastic bags, and tubing systems were all represented.IMG_1764

The tour focused on the history of maple sugaring from Native Americans through present day, so they also showed various methods used for concentrating the sap into syrup.  IMG_1766

E had a chance to demonstrate how children used yokes to balance the buckets of sap.  I can only imagine what hard work it would have been to collect enough sap to make syrup.  It takes roughly 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of syrup and I’m sure any farm children working in the sugar bushes wanted to make sure every drop was turned into either syrup or sugar. IMG_1768

 

The kettle over the fire has been replaced by a more modern evaporator system, but finding the exact consistency seems to remain an art.

One of the talking points I found interesting was that maple sugar was a “free trade” sort of product at one time.  The cane sugars exported from the Caribbean almost always used slave labor, therefore maple sugar was the preferred sweetener of abolitionists.

Even though we’ve been on this sort of tour before it had been a few years.  Too often we think that because we’ve done something once it isn’t worth doing again, but I frequently find the kids are processing things on a new level or at least challenging themselves to remember their past experience.

Special thanks to the Cleveland Metroparks and Rocky River Reservation for offering this tour and to NEST Homeschool group for organizing our group outing.

 

Real Spring

IMG_1795We were walking in the woods last week when we heard them, spring peepers and wood frogs.  It’s one of the most beautiful sounds on earth.  When the peepers and wood frogs emerge and sing their mating calls, a person can’t help but feel the hope and renewal of spring.

IMG_1803As we were walking my son said, “There should be two first days of spring.  The equinox and the day the peepers come out.”

It doesn’t look like much.  The trees are still bare.  Only the earliest plants are pushing their way up through the soil.  BUT the air is warming up.

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Many of the local park services are hosting night hike visits to vernal pools.  During night hours the spring peepers can be absolutely deafening.  It’s amazing to me that a creature barely larger than my thumbnail can emit such piercing call.  For just a few days the yellow spotted salamanders come above ground to mate in the pools before heading back to their holes for another year.

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We found this super cool fossil next to a creek the other day.  The shell filled with mud and sand that solidified.  It’s amazing the things we find and the deep learning that takes place when we have time to just explore.