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

Sharing at:

Weekly Wrap-Up WUH

Summer Reading for Tween Boys

As I write this my boys are in the 4th to 6th grade range.  Mostly these are fiction books they’ve read during the past year through a combination of reading, immersion reading on the kindle, and audio books.  If you have a child with dyslexia I highly recommend the immersion reading feature on the kindle. The combination of audio with highlighted text is excellent.  It really does open up a world of books that are of interest but might otherwise not be read.

Redwall  We will probably spend most of our summer immersed in this series.  My kids are action, adventure, fantasy genre fans.  While it might seem that books about mice are meant for younger children, these books are meant for those moving into the middle school years.  The villains are indeed quite evil and merciless.  The good mice do suffer and mourn.  Yet over all the story is hopeful and triumphant.  The reading level of the series trends around 6th to 7th grade.

The Chronicles of Prydain Even though the books were published back in the late 60’s, I never read them as a child.  What an excellent find!  The second in the series was a Newbery Honor winner and the fifth won the Newbery Medal.  The stories have a lot of adventure and humor.   My favorite part was how the characters grew and developed over the course of the series. The writing is very action focused and the stories move quickly.

The reading levels of the books vary from 5.5 – 6.6 and they vary between 4 to 6.5 hours in length according to the audio book.  The narration of the audio books is one of my absolute favorites.

Comparisons are frequently made between Chronicles of Prydain and Lord of the Rings.  Given that these are rated easier on reading level and much shorter in length they could be great books to read prior to Lord of the Rings.  Personally I liked this series much better than Lord of the Rings, and the boys say it is too close to decide.

The Hobbit The boys loved the Hobbit.  They found the story fun and interesting.  I’m not a Tolkien fan.  I’ve tried multiple times, but I get very bogged down.  I purchased the kindle and audible versions of both the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings.  I’m glad I did, because I’m quite sure these will be revisited by the boys.

The Fellowship of the Ring – Again they really enjoyed the entire trilogy.  The reading levels on the books are 8.1-9 and the books are lengthy, so we made use of the immersion reading feature on the kindle.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians series  –  The boys loved this series.  The books are full of action and very accessible.  Rick Riordan does a great job of writing high interest low reading level books perfect for kids with dyslexia (Reading level for this series is 3.3 – 4.7).  My son was appreciative of Percy Jackson being a struggling student with ADHD and dyslexia.  This series really sparked an interest in all things Greek.

The Heroes of Olympus  The Greek demigods of the Percy Jackson series discover their Roman counterparts in The Heroes of Olympus series.   The series has lots of action which was greatly enjoyed by the boys at my house. 3.7-5

While the Percy Jackson books are certainly popular and not what some would consider literature, I appreciate them.  They sparked a learning path at my house that took us from Percy Jackson to reading Greek Mythology to learning more about Greek and Roman history.  Along the way we learned about Archimedes, the Collisium, the history of Christianity,  and methods of warfare in Ancient and Medieval times.  Right now we are working on a catapult project that includes building a trebaucht and recording data about its use.

The Chronicles of Narnia It’s been a while since we’ve read Chronicles of Narnia yet these still come up in discussions  as we compare and contrast themes and discuss magical / mythical beings. 

I Survived seriesThe reading level for this series is around the 4th grade range.  Each story is about a young boy surviving a tragic historical event such as the Battle of Gettysburg, the sinking of the Titanic, or the San Francisco earthquake.

Harry Potter series  As I’ve been asking parents what their kids are reading,  Harry Potter keeps cropping up.  Many parents say they read them with their kids a few years ago, and now their sons are picking them up to read on their own.  So perhaps these are ripe for strewing about the house, even if you’ve already done them as read alouds.

Books in Waiting:

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch– I read this last year but for some reason didn’t share it with the boys.  It’s an excellent tale of a boy who faces many hardships on his journey to manhood.  His spirit of perseverance was just amazing.

Johnny Tremain A Newbery winner from 1944, this book is the story of a 14 year old boy caught up in the American Revolution.

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?

Weekly Wrap-Up WUH

A Weekly Wrapup

DSC_5252Mother Nature has given us a taste of spring and then yanked it back.

GoldfinchThis past weekend was absolutely beautiful.  We went for a family bike ride on some new single track.  It was a fairly short course yet very challenging.  E crashed into a tree, but was able to ride out.  (I don’t think I would have fared any better if I had tried to ride that bit.) We are all greatly anticipating our favorite familiar trails drying out enough to ride.  In the meantime it’s mostly paved stuff.  Last week we headed out at about 7 pm for a ride on the towpath and finished in the dark using our new lights.

We finished the Chronicles of Prydain series.  I highly recommend these books.  There are five books in all, but they are fairly short.  The narration on the audio CDs is phenomenal.  We had great discussions comparing elements of the Chronicles with elements of Lord of the Rings.  Since both have roots in Welsh mythology, we have several books on hold at the library to learn more about the original stories.  According to Scholastic the reading levels vary from 5.5-6.5.

We have a more exciting week coming up with a field trip to the engineering department of a nearby university, a visit to a science center, and a trip to the orchestra.

A Morning in the Sugar Bush

IMG_1756

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.

IMG_1810

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.

IMG_1790

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.

 

 

Engineers Week – Part 1

Engineers WeekMy favorite tradition in our homeschool is celebrating Engineers Week.  Last year we tried celebrating a different type of engineering each day.  This year we decided to focus on one project.

Over the years I’ve found weapons are a great avenue for my boys to learn about history.  The evolution of technology and weapons is helpful for placing events in chronological order.  It’s amazing how intertwined technological advancements are with military conquest.  Sometimes armies are just better at utilizing new technologies, but quite frequently research is funded solely for military purposes.

I thought you might be interested to see part of our learning path for this semester.  I mapped out the paths that were relevant to our current project.  It’s purposefully a bit messy to illustrate the non-linear nature of interest led learning.

Catapult Map.001

Given our current interest in ancient history, we decided our project should have something to do with onagers or ballista. (Trust me before having boys I had no idea what the difference was between a trebaucht and catapult.  I certainly would not have been able to correctly describe a ballista or onager.)   A search of the library system lead me to The Art of Catapults.  I placed a hold but we weren’t able to pick it up until Tuesday.  That left us a bit short on planning and build time during our official Engineers Week.  No big deal we will just continue into next week.

The boys were so impressed with The Art of Catapults we ordered our own copy of the book within a few hours.  We decided to make a model sized wooden ballista for C and a pair of large PVC “Stone Thrower” catapults to launch water balloons at each other.

Catapult Parts

Wednesday we did the shopping which was a good experience for the boys.  They found all the pieces and loaded the carts.  They also loaded the car while I questioned my sanity.

I purchased a special PVC pipe cutting tool, which I managed to destroy it in just two cuts.  Then we used a saw.  The boys were somewhat helpful with the hacksaw, but it was taking forever.  My husband came home and hooked us up with his reciprocating saw.  Yeah, power tools for mom!  The cuts went much quicker on day two and we got about halfway finished cutting and dry fitting.

I’m hoping we will have things completed in a few days and enough warm weather to do some enjoyable testing.  I’ll keep you posted on how this project comes along.

Sharing at:

Weekly Wrap-Up WUH

Homeschool Gratitude

I heart homeschoolThis was one of my “I LOVE homeschool” weeks.  We all have our times of vulnerability, but for every time like that there are so many others when I say, “YES!  I love my job and there is no place else I want to be at this point in our journey.”

What made it such a great week?

Individualized Learning – This is what we are all hoping for when we start homeschooling.  Unfortunately sometimes I get caught up in comparing what we are doing to traditional school.  This week I was really able to appreciate the unique characteristics of our environment and how those elements support learning and growth.

Science Olympiad Team – Several months ago one of the moms in a Facebook group asked if anyone would be interested in putting together a Science Olympiad team.  I’m so thankful for all the work she did.  I’m also thankful for the awesome mom who volunteered to coach Aerodynamics and Simple Machines.  Over the course of the last couple of months the boys learned so much. More importantly we made new friends who enjoy science and engineering and just as much as we do.

Geography Club – Another mom put together a Geography Club for homeschoolers.  Once a month we gather for the kids to do presentations and enjoy a potluck lunch.  Each month has a theme like desserts, rivers,  or countries on the equator and each family group presents on a different area.  The kids range in age from 4 year old helpers to 13 year olds.  The presentation can be anything the kids want,  so there are skits, power points, presentation boards and games.  It’s a very supportive environment, perfect for increasing the kids comfort with public speaking.

Testing – Lately my social media feed has been full of PARCC testing / common core backlash.   Out of curiosity, I took the practice English and Math tests my oldest would take if he were in public school.  To sum it up in one word – tedious.  I could see it being frustrating for some kids and exceedingly tedious for others.  Given – most standardized tests share those characteristics, but these really seemed to take it to a new level.  It may sound selfish, but I’m so thankful we aren’t part of the public school system and forced to take these.  When we started homeschooling our dyslexic son, it was so we could focus on doing the things that would truly be helpful for him instead of wasting time and energy fighting for the things he needed.  We also wanted to focus on learning instead of constant assessing.  I really feel a lot of empathy for the parents and teachers who are working to improve the system.  Most parents want more time to be spent on learning activities that are truly beneficial to the kids.

Milestones – Those learning to read days can be exhausting, especially with dyslexia, but they make certain moments so completely precious.  This week my son picked up a book he was interested in and read independently.  This isn’t the first time, but these moments really warm a homeschool mom’s heart.  His love of reading is intact!!

Achievements – I keep a spreadsheet of “school” hours for the entire school year.  This week we completed the 900 hours mandated in our homeschool notification.  It’s very freeing.  We still have some math and grammar to complete before the end of the year and there are lots of other projects on our “to do” list, but knowing our hours are complete feels good.  Beyond checking the box, it felt good to look at the mix of hours and think of all the things we get to do with our time.  There are so many valuable learning experiences outside the scope of traditional school.   I’m not sure how many hours we will have by the end of May, but I am confident we’ve spent plenty of hours on “core” subjects while fueling our interests with experiences and hands on learning opportunities.

Flexible schedules – The weather has been brutally cold here lately.  This week we had a few breaks where things were a little warmer and the kids were able to go outside and enjoy the sunshine.  We even went skiing one morning!  We still logged 30 hours of school.  I know some people act concerned when homeschoolers are out having fun while other kids are in school, but it is actually good preparation for white collar and independent work situations.  The work is always there.  You have to find ways to schedule your time to accomplish your goals, but make sure life isn’t completely taken over by work.  This is one of the major adjustments students have to make in college.  They’ve never had the ability to schedule their own time and it can be a difficult skill to learn.  I’m glad we are getting practice now.

Meaningful volunteer opportunities – I enjoy that homeschooling gives me the time and flexibility to work on projects that are meaningful to me.  I’ve gotten involved in a group that is supporting the growth of FIRST LEGO League in our area.  It’s great to be able to contribute to increasing STEM learning.

We started this homeschool journey four years ago as an experiment.  Every year things change a little.  We find more and more experiences we enjoy and groups that fit us well.  Things are always changing, but each year I grow more and more thankful that we took the path less travelled.

 

 

 

Mousetrap Car : Elementary Science Olympiad

This year our homeschool group put together a Science Olympiad team for the first time.  We were competing in the 4th to 6th grade division.

Our task was to design a car power completely by a mousetrap that would go EXACTLY 10 meters.  Every mm short OR long of 10 m would result in points.  Teams also gave a time estimate for completing a run.  Points were given for the difference between predicted time and actual time.  Keeping the centerline of the track between the wheels was worth a -20 point bonus.  The goal was to have the LEAST number of points.

IMG_1658The boys came up with an original design that works quite well.  The chaise is made entirely of LEGO Technic pieces.  The drive wheels are CD’s with LEGO pieces taped to them to allow for attachment to the axles.  Balloons increase the friction on the cds to prevent spinning. The final design uses florist wire to attach the mousetrap to the chaise.  A K’nex rod is taped to mousetrap as an extension rod.  The final design used the wheels shown, but without the tires.

THE GOOD NEWS:

This mousetrap car was quite capable of going more than 10 m.

THE BAD NEWS:

After a lot of trials on different flooring surfaces the boys thought they had the right distance figured out.  For some reason their results at the competition didn’t match what they had the day before.

NOTES:

Adjustments to the pull string length seemed the most reliable way of adjusting the travel distance.  A shorter pull string traveled shorter distances.

We tried a braking system, but our design was hard to set and tangled too easily.

I was really pleased that the boys came up with a design that was completely original.  It made the project a lot more fun and interesting.

Using LEGO pieces limited the axle length.  A larger width would have made it easier to earn the centerline bonus, but their design did earn the centerline bonus on one of its two runs.

Almost all the cars at the competition used the same design,  a rectangle of basswood with four cd wheels and threaded axles.  They used a longer extension arm that was pinned down when the mousetrap was set.  The result was they could leave the string attached to the axle and self brake.

Keeping our Sanity in the Cold – A Weekly Wrap-up

How does a homeschool family keep their sanity during the harsh snow filled days of winter?  Read on to find out what we’ve been doing to stave off the winter blues!

It’s been COLD.  Bitterly cold.  Freeze the snot in your nose while you take out the trash cold.  Locally we’ve set records for the coldest temperature on a particular date.  Today the high was 19 F and it felt like a break.

So what’s a homeschooling family to do with all this cold weather?  Lots of school work apparently.  This is our highest monthly total school hours for this year.  The boys have been book worms this month really upping their hours.  That doesn’t mean we’ve just stayed home and done school work though.

Winter hike - Creek and Snow

We still went for a hike this week.  We followed coyote tracks through the woods which was pretty cool. We also found an intersection with deer tracks.  E is participating in the “What Went By Event” in the Upper Elementary Science Olympiad, so we’ve been taking every opportunity to find animal tracks in the snow.  The squirrels have been kind enough to leave tracks on the back porch, while a bunny regularly leaves prints as he hops down our sidewalk.

IMG_1709

It’s important to get exercise too.  As a treat we took the boys to a mountain bike park.  It was fun to be back on our bikes even though it was -2 F outside.  It’s nice to go late in the evening, because there aren’t many other customers making it possible to really ride your own pace without worry.

E handfeeding birds

One of the local nature centers encourages hand feeding birds.  E was amazingly patient and stood still for about half an hour in the cold.  He was rewarded with birds coming to his hands 30 times.  It was such a delight to watch his expressions.

C wind testing house constructions

Our local science center is hosting Mythbusters: The Explosive Exhibition.  It’s a fun traveling exhibit.  There was a house of brick, wood, straw test station that the boys enjoyed.  The exhibit also had tons of other fun stuff.  The final section included building sleds, boats, and parachutes using duct tape.  Of course after our visit the boys used up all the duct tape in the house and we had to buy more.  E made a rather impressive boat out of popsicle sticks and duct tape.

Over the last two weeks we’ve also gone to a community theatre production, visited the Jewish Heritage Museum, gone to a professional theatre production, attended zoo class, and met with our Science Olympiad partners.  Soccer and scouts were on the list too.

I don’t like our schedule to get too crowded and despite the long list of activities it has all felt very manageable.  This year I think we are finally managing to get the right amount of physical activity including outside time.  It also helps that the kids are getting older and have stronger immune systems (or maybe we’ve just been lucky this winter).

I almost forgot.  E’s FLL team did a segment on the local news along with three other teams from the area.  E’s team in purple is in two of the segments.  A special thanks to the building custodian who came in on a snow day to make sure the building was open for the kids.

On the bookshelf:  Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan

In the kitchen: Pulled pork sliders (although we do a lot of vegetarian dishes, during the winter we all crave meat), Spinach enchiladas, Seared Chicken Breast with Balsamic Grapes, Sautéed Spinach, and Nutty Bulgur (this is a “food bag” from my husband’s work, they do all the prep work and I just cook and assemble. Yeah!)

Hope you are having a great week!  What are you doing to stave off the winter blues?

Sharing at:

Weekly Wrap-Up WUH   Mary_CollageFriday