Learning by Cooking

This mom is feeling extremely pampered today.  E is working on his cooking merit badge.  Today was the day he prepared ALL the meals for the family!  Every single meal AND he did ALL the dishes!!!

Tortilla Soup BrightThe cooking merit badge experience has been great.  The boys have learned their caloric and nutritional needs and developed three days worth of meal plans that satisfy those requirements.  It was nice to see E develop an appreciation for how well balanced some of his favorite meals are.  He has always liked tortilla soup, but now that he knows how many requirements it fulfills he seems to like it even more.

I like the shopping trips we do for scouts.  I don’t do a very good job of including the boys in that aspect of things, so it’s really been good taking E shopping with a budget.

IMG_0212Beyond the merit badge, scouting is really helping E gain confidence and independence.   It’s a great reminder for me that I need to hang back and let the kids contribute more.  It’s a huge help when we are packing lunches and the kids make their own sandwiches. Sometimes I think, “Wait, why am I doing this?  This kid knows how to pack for a weekend outdoors, cook over an open fire, and use a backpacking stove.”

Cooking doesn’t have to be all about meals.  Sometimes it’s still fun to bust out our metric cookie recipes and make a batch of cookies using our best kitchen lab skills.

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.

Learning with Pottery

C's 2016 Winter PotteryOur learning plan this year  included taking pottery classes.  Last summer we found a groupon for a 2 part pottery class and the boys absolutely loved the process and the artist / instructor.

Finding the right classes and mentors for an interest led course of study sometimes involves a little bit more than signing up for existing classes.  In this case it wasn’t particularly hard, just approaching the studio owner and asking for a quote to take a 6 week class.  We quickly worked out an agreement and things were set for the boys and I to learn to do pottery on our own.

C at WheelOur class was designed so we could become independent in the studio.  We learned how to work the clay to get all the air bubbles out.  Next up was learning the wheel.

Green PotteryEach week we trimmed our pieces from the previous week.  We spent much of our time the next to last week learning to add handles where desired.

E Pottery Winter 2016The final week we glazed all our pieces.  Then it was just a matter of waiting. As Monty Python fans the boys thought making chalices was very cool.

There are so many lessons in learning to do pottery.  Obviously there are technical skills to learn – how to work the clay, how to use the wheel, how to shape things on the wheel.  The soft skills of pottery are really valuable – having patience and dealing with setbacks and disappointment.  Pottery teaches you that “stuff” happens – you can mess things up just when its going perfect, pieces are sometimes dropped and break, pieces can explode in the kiln, the glazing may not turn out the way you envisioned.  It’s disappointing but you just have to start over again.

My Winter Pottery CreationsI particularly liked taking pottery outside a “school” setting.  When I was in school, art was always very limited when it came to materials and time.   In our studio classes we had more freedom to explore and create than I ever had in school.  Also we weren’t worried about a grade.  If something “failed” it was just a learning experience.

What interest led projects have been the most fun for your kids?  How do you display your kids creative pieces?

Learning with Catapults

Catapults from kitsMy boys love catapults.  Whether we are learning about early methods of warfare, watching Pumpkin Chunking’, or flinging marshmallows at each other – catapults are a constant source of engineering wonder.  Over the years the boys have built multiple catapults from kits as well as from scratch.

This year they were able to compete together in a Science Olympiad event called Ready, Aim, Fire!

IMG_0069The competition requires building a catapult of dimensions less than 65 cm x 65 cm x 65 cm powered only by a falling counterweight.  At the competition teams are given counterweights of 1 kg and 2 kg that are used to launch projectiles of 20-40g and 40-60g respectively.  Before the competition teams are expected to launch projectiles of various masses and record data.  The team prepares plots that are used to show where various projectile masses are expected to land.  On the day of competition the catapults are impounded.  After all devices are impounded, the judges announce the masses of the two projectiles that will be used that day.  Teams use their prepared graphs to determine how far they think their catapult will throw the projectiles and then tell the judges where they would like their target set in 0.5 m increments.

Launch scores (LS) are determined using the formula:

LS = TD – 3A +B

where TD is the target distance requested by the kids, A is the distance from where the projectile makes first impact to the center of the target and B is a bonus for hitting the target.  B = 0.15 x TD if the projectile hits the target and 0.30 x TD if the projectile stays in the target.   All distances are in meters.

Points are also awarded for graphing. (Up to 12 points).

This was a great project for the boys.  They handled much of the build themselves.  I helped out with a few of the cuts and my husband taught the boys to use the drill press.  My husband handled the original “basket” build with the boys making modifications later.

E recently had lessons in geometry and basic trigonometry, so he was able to use his knowledge of sin and cos to make the throw arm its maximum length while maintaining the optimum ratio of counterweight arm length to projectile arm length.   We also taught C the methods he was using.  It was a rather complex calculation so we set up a spreadsheet to do some iterations (side lesson on radians vs. angles was necessary).

The boys previous build experience came in very handy.  From the beginning they understood a trebuchet design would be best design for distance.  They also understood the importance of release angles and were quite keen at recognizing when the release angle was off and doing things to improve it.

Testing the trebuchet took quite a bit of time as they chose to make improvements to the basket and sling which required re-collecting all the data points they already had.  They used a spreadsheet to organize their data and select the trend line.

All their hard work paid off when they were able to make accurate predictions the day of the competition.  They were able to hit the target on the 1 kg launch and come very close on their 2 kg launch (the ball landed just a bit to the right).

Boys with TrebuchetIt was a very exciting day for them.  They were thrilled to take home first place medals and they are already looking forward to competing in the middle school division next year.

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Happy New Year!

2015 started out looking like it was going to be a same old same old sort of year.  I really didn’t have big expectations for the year, but it turned out GREAT!

IMG_1658We found a homeschool tribe!   It all started with a post inviting homeschoolers to join a Science Olympiad team.  The events were fun and the boys enjoyed working with their team mates.  The day of the Olympiad all the kids were together in our homeroom and I’m pretty sure that is where the idea for Science Club spawned.  Science Club has been great for both moms and kids.  It’s a twice per month meet up for a class or field trip.  In addition to the official events, we’ve met other families we can call to go for a hike when the weather is beautiful or share a trip to the zoo or science.

ScoutsBoy Scouts – I hate to admit this now, but I was really hoping E would give up the Scout thing at the end of Cub Scouts.  Turns out Boy Scouts is a much different experience that is expanding his circle of friends, increasing his independence and helping him learn new and useful skills (like cooking and meal planning for eight people).   The whole family has made new friends through the scout group and it’s helped us be more connected to our community.

Canton Brew Daft Dudes – This one doesn’t involve the kids.  Last January a friend of ours mentioned that he and a friend were putting together a group whose purpose was to visit all the craft breweries in our area.  I discovered I enjoy tasting different beers.  It’s fun to just taste and appreciate the flavor instead of having a whole glass of the same thing. But it isn’t the beer tasting that makes this group so great, it’s the people.  It’s sort of like college, in that the group includes a delightful mix of backgrounds, interests, jobs and talents with the added bonus of a variety of ages.

C on Mountain BikeNew mountain bike trails – When we moved here the kids were small and it was hard for me to get any time on the trails.  Last year they started hitting some off road trails with us and it’s been so much fun – aside from a half hour where one of the kids got lost and a tail bone injury this year.  A few months ago they discovered an RC track at one of the places we ride so now trips over there include biking and RC cars.   This year one of our favorite places to ride nearly doubled the amount of trail available and two parks near us added brand new trails.  My husband has gotten more involved in the local mountain bike scene and made new friends doing trail building events and such.

C on Ropes CourseLearning new skills – I never feel as alive as when I’m learning something new.  2015 was full of new experiences for all of us.  We learned to ski / snow board, shoot bows, and use the pottery wheel.  We did some high ropes adventure courses that really stretched me in particular.  The boys did swim lessons for the first time in a long time and enjoyed them.

Highline TrailLastly we had an amazing vacation this year.  We went to Glacier National Park.  It was all very beautiful, but the length of the hikes and the height of the hikes sometimes propelled me out of my comfort zone.  That’s me in the pink coat way above my comfort zone.

I’m not sure what 2016 has in store for us, but I’m hopeful it will be just as great as 2015!

 

 

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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Learning Plan 2015

Learning Plans GraphicWe started back to school last week and most of the sign ups for activities are done, so it’s time to share our plan for the coming year.

We operate with an interest led approach, but that doesn’t mean we wake up with a completely open schedule every morning.   Making our schedule for the year / semester is  a collaborative process.  As classes and opportunities open up we decide together if we think they will be worth our time.   Sometimes I see an opportunity and ask about interest.  Sometimes the boys ask for resources to study a particular topic and still other times they ask me to set up classes with a tutor or mentor.  Since the boys are close in age and have similar interests they usually select the same activities.

Pottery WheelThis summer I found a groupon for pottery classes.  Sculpting with clay has always been a favorite activity at our house so we thought giving pottery a spin would be fun.  The groupon class was great!  The boys asked if I would contact the instructor to make pottery part of our fall schedule.  They had so much fun during their class that all of three of us are taking a class in the fall.

IMG_2404After reading the Chronicles of Prydain and the Eragon series, as well as studying ancient and medieval warfare, the boys were super interested in archery.  This summer they went to  archery camp.  It was right on target for their age and interests, so we added archery to our fall schedule.   The timing of the class is great, because it should hit as we are finishing up soccer and before ski season starts.

IMG_0057Zoo classes have been part of our schedule for the last two years and the boys still enjoy them.  When we started homeschooling five years ago one of our objectives was to “learn more about animals.”   This year for the first time we actually got into the classes we wanted at the Natural History Museum.  They just had their first class and seemed to enjoy the classroom part of it.  They learned about lungs in different animals.  I had no idea how different bird respiration is.  My favorite part of these classes is how engaged the instructors are in their topics.

C’s writing project is making up his own book of mythological creatures.  So far he has created a map and some creatures.  I’m thrilled that he’s engaged with a writing project.  He has a friend who’s made her own Book of Dragons from the How to Train Your Dragon series and I think he was inspired by her.

C is using Singapore Math 5A this semester and E is working through Challenge Math.  Challenge Math is intended as enrichment math so it covers a broad grade range.  E finds it engaging most of the time and it has so far been a great review with a focus on the thought processes of math.

We will also be working with Growing with Grammar.  The boys typically do the review at the end of the chapter and then cover lessons as needed and do some of the review activities in the chapter.

We will study avalanches and glaciers as well as cells and biology.  Typically we check out books from the library and use online resources for our desired science topics.

Plastic Bottle GreenhouseOur FIRST LEGO League (FLL) project topic this year is Trash Trek.  We will be learning a ton about trash, recycling, and pollution.  We have a field trip to the Goodwill Processing Center coming up next week. This summer we visited a homestead dedicated to sustainable living, where they had a greenhouse made from 2 liter bottles.   You can follow our Pinterest board of Trash Trek research.  I’m super excited, as well as a bit trepidatious.  As we learn more I will be obligated to make changes in our daily life – more recycling, more reusing, more reducing.  I’m ready to be pushed out of my comfort zone, but it might be …uncomfortable.  Of course FLL also involves a robot aspect, so that is on the agenda as well.

Egypt and Egyptian mythology are currently topics of interest as we are reading the Kane Chronicles.   The boys are also giving a presentation on Greek Mythology next month for Geography Club.  Geography Club serves as a monthly public speaking opportunity.

One of the frequent comments we get from parents who don’t homeschool is that they  would have a hard time getting their kids to do their schoolwork.  I assure them it’s nothing like doing the homework battle every day.  I have “buy in” from my kids, because they are helping create the schedule.  Even when we use a workbook, they have input. The way we do school is like having an adventure where we get to learn more about the world.

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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.