Monthly Archives: September 2010

Spanish Progress

We completed the Yellow Level of our Hooked on Spanish program this week. That means that we’ll likely be done with the Red Level before Christmas!


Then what?

I wasn’t really expecting full fluency at the end of 24 Spanish lessons. But I also wasn’t expecting to fly through said 24 lessons as quickly as we have. Note to self: start researching other Spanish curricula.

What have we accomplished in 12 lessons?

We’ve learned “Hello” and “Good-bye,” can count to ten, learned our colors and shapes, and know how to say how old we are.

I guess the best measure of retention is illustrated by the fact that the kids only shout “Adios, adios!” as Daddy leaves for work. Or that Henry will start counting something and self-correct and start over in Spanish. Or that they still ask Daddy what the Spanish Word of the Day is. So it’s all good.

I’m actually looking forward to the things we’ll learn in the Red Level. Then maybe we’ll have to move to a Spanish-speaking country and immerse ourselves in language there.

Art for the Faint of Heart

I love art and am certainly a proponent of the fine arts as part of an education. But I have had a really hard time wanting to work on any art projects with the boys lately.

I’m not sure what it is. I’ve been making honest efforts. I’ve checked out several books from the library that were on my list of projects to tackle in Storybook Art. But I just wasn’t feeling it.

We finally had a break-through last week and we might back back in the groove again. Thankfully.

Here are some of the projects we’ve done in the last little while.

From “Have You Seen Birds?” (Storybook Art, page 108):

I highly recommend checking this book out from the library if it’s not in your budget to purchase. Wow! Barbara Reid does an amazing job with modeling clay. All three of us were enthralled with her illustrations as well as the breadth of the varieties of birds she portrays in her book. Our favorite was the owl, who looks like he’ll fly right off the page into your living room. The details are incredible.

I knew the boys would enjoy working with modeling clay (I was right) and I wasn’t a bit surprised when their Pressed Clay Illustration project had a bird theme (the book was really that good).

Then we hit a slump. The best I could come up with was folding newspaper boats ala Curious George because the instructions were part of the story (not a Storybook Art-approved project). Not one of our finer moments.

But then we rallied and had some fun with “Drummer Hoff.” I remember loving this book as a kid. Going back for a first read-through as an adult, I couldn’t figure out what it was I loved about it way back then. It’s kind of a dumb storyline with a weird ending. But after reading it to the kids several times a day for the past two weeks, I’m in love again, and I think it’s all about the illustrations.

We had a blast imitating Ed Emberley’s illustration style for our weekly project.

Henry drew a pirate ship approaching an island.

And included the all-important underwater prison cage.

Samuel opted for a literal interpretation of Drummer Hoff to get warmed up:

(Drummer Hoff is in brown at the right; the guy in the blue is Sergeant Chowder with the peg leg; and the yellow guys are two of the other characters. He messed up with one of them and was so upset over it that he drew a blue line through it to “kill” him. I love the chain that Private Parriage used to lower the carriage. And I’m not entirely sure if the purple blob is the shot, the carriage, or the barrel.)

But then he came around and let me “help” him draw a shark and was very focused on coloring in the panes. He did a great job and this is a current obsession of his—coloring something all the same color and doing his best to stay in the lines.

This week, we opted for creating an illustration using a “sidebar” technique, copying illustrator Jan Brett. If you’ve never heard of her, RUN to the library or bookstore. She is my new favorite. We have absolutely loved everything we’ve read of hers.

The main portion of the page is the jist of the story, and then in the sidebars, she tells a sub-story or two through illustration. It is simply enchanting.

Henry and Sam had a great time creating their own stories. We took our piece of drawing paper and folded two sidebars on the edges. I wish the boys had chosen different mediums to create their pictures because they were really great. Sam drew an alien and some alien wars in the sidebars…with a peach-colored marker. Henry also had an alien theme…in pencil. Here are the pictures I took but they aren’t the easiest to see. Perhaps the best part was listening to them narrate as they drew. Either that, or listening to how the story changes every time I ask them to tell me about it.

The big alien is in the middle, a blue alien covered in green is the right sidebar, and a small alien in a bubble is in the left sidebar.

I don’t know why, but the facial expression on this alien cracks me up!

Henry’s six-handed alien was the hero of his story.

Here’s the antagonist on the right sidebar, guns blazing.

In the left sidebar, we have a pile of alien eggs with one freshly hatched alien child. Henry assured me that by the time he reaches alien adulthood, he’ll have all six hands just like his dad.

Here’s hoping we can stay in our groove!

Scientists in the House…

If you’ve seen “Sid the Science Kid” on PBS, you’ll get the title.

My boys love science. I love that they love it. I love that Henry dreams up science projects to do almost every waking moment. It’s so much fun to feel like the world is our oyster and we can discover as much as we want to whenever we want to.

We’ve had some fun experiments as of late.

One night, Henry wanted to take one of his Lego concoctions in the form of a boat into the bathtub with him. Dad said, “No.” So Henry hit Mom up with the request, only he billed it as a “science project.” I conceded to the idea of playing “Will it Float” for science, but with the condition it had to be during our school time, not bath time. Henry was cool with that.

By the time science time rolled around, he and Samuel had built SIX Lego boats for science. So we filled up a little dishwashing tub, gave each of the boats a name, and made predictions about whether or not they would float.

Surprisingly, only 3 of the 6 Lego boats floated. As the sinkers would hit the bottom of the tub, Henry nailed the reason for the fails: “Oh, I used too many bricks on that one side,” or “That’s because I left a hole in the bottom.” I was impressed. Our experiment led us to the conclusion that buoyancy has more to do with construction than the materials.

I think half of the fun of doing some of these science projects is hyping them up. We did “The Dunking Raisins” (Mudpies to Magnets, pg. 92) which was a definite “WOW” project. We talked a little bit about acids and bases and before I let the boys discover what happens when you mix the two together, I had them don eye protection (their goggles from the free Home Depot workshops). Of course, their curiosity was in peak form.

The project has you add vinegar (acid) to water, and then put a couple of raisins in before adding baking soda (base). So Wow #1 was the “ka-plosion” when the soda hit the vinegar/water mixture, and Wow #2 was watching the effect of the carbon dioxide on the raisins. You could see all of these little bubbles forming on the surface of the raisin, and when the raisin had enough bubbles, it would rise and sink and rise and sink. It was pretty cool. But Wow #1 won out and we had to do the “ka-plosions” four times before they were ready to clean up and record their observations.

I wonder if real scientists get excited about ka-plosions and making them happen again and again. I think I would.

(Sorry for these terrible photos. I didn’t take the time to mess with the settings on my camera. Ugh.)

We did have some trial and error before we could get this experiment to work correctly, though. In the book, it simply says, “Fill a large clear container with water.” A few sentences later, it tells you to add a couple of scoops of baking soda, but that “measurements need not be exact.” Suffice it to say, we got better results using 8 oz. of water in a juice glass than we did with a gallon of water in a large clear container. I did make a note in the margin for when we do this experiment again.

Today, we started an experiment that will take some time to reach fruition: growing sugar crystals (“Grow a Rock,” Mudpies to Magnets, pg. 100). At the mention of crystals, both boys practically started hyperventilating. One of their favorite Lego series, the Power Miners, are in a never-ending struggle against the Rock Monsters over the valuable crystals deep in the center of the earth. So when the boys heard they would be able to make their very own crystals, there was great joy and rejoicing. Again, fun to hype the project up!

They were very patient to stir and add sugar and stir and add sugar before we created a saturated solution suitable for continuing the experiment. We did have quite the sugar mess on the table but they executed the experiment independently, which was awesome. Now we wait for 8 oz. of water to evaporate. Any guesses on how long that will take? Stay tuned.

Hidden Lessons in Math

I’ve always loved Charlotte Mason’s term “Twaddle.” This is a word she coined to describe children’s literature that has been dumbed down to the point of boredom for both parent and child.

Who knew that “twaddle” had crept into the math world? 1 + 1 = 2, counting to 10…seems basic, but I will contend, having delved into RightStart, that math in general has been dumbed down.

When we started the RightStart Curriculum, I never in a million years thought that my kids would be getting simultaneous lessons in vocabulary right alongside number concepts. And not just any vocabulary. Mul-ti-syl-lab-ic. It makes me smile.

For example:

Parallel and Perpendicular. Henry and Samuel can demonstrate parallel and perpendicular planes with their arms, can find various examples of either kind of line or plane in any given room, and yes, can even say the words. That may be the best part. I think it comes out sounding like “Perpen-dicca-ler.”

Most kids can identify and say correctly “square” and “rectangle.” But how about “quadrilateral?” We’ve spent some time over the past two weeks learning the differences and similarities between the three. I am pretty impressed that my 5-year old and nearly 4-year old know that a square is both a rectangle and a quadrilateral, as well as what a quadrilateral looks like that isn’t a square or a rectangle.

Perpendicular. Quadrilateral. They roll off the tongue. So fun to say.

I really think I would have liked math if I had had it presented to me like this.

I generally don’t think to pull out the camera for any of our studies other than science and art, but I have taken a few during some math classes as of late. Here we are today, working on our squares/rectangles/quadrilaterals on our geoboards:

A few weeks ago, we got to “Build the Stairs” on our abacuses, meaning the boys entered one bead on the first wire, two on the second, three on the third, and so on. Nothing that required great skill, but it was fun for them to do something different with the abacus besides basic math.

[Their abacuses are facing them, so their 1 is in the bottom right corner as you look at it.]

All said and done, two months into RightStart and I really feel like I made a good decision on math curriculum. We have only had one—ONE!—worksheet in the two months, and yet, the boys can do any addition/subtraction problem from 1-10 showing the numbers on their fingers, with their tally sticks, saying it out loud, or on their abacus. They can mentally group 5’s and have learned some memory tricks for the second 5 (6-7-8-9-10). They’ve delved into geometry. Done plenty of sorting, comparing, and matching.

I’ll take it.