Tag Archives: Education

Trying New Things

I finally got brave enough to jump into some art mediums other than drawing and painting. We’ve recently tackled “It Looked Like Spilt Milk” by  Charles G. Shaw (Storybook Art, page 33) and “Snow on Snow on Snow” by Cheryl Chapman and Synthia Saint James (Storybook Art, page 86).

The kids did a project based on “It Looked Like Spilt Milk” with my parents while we were in Chile. They blobbed some white paint in the middle of blue paper and then folded the paper and opened it back up. Once dry, they looked at their image from different angles to see what it looked like and wrote their impressions on the paper. Such fun.

If Storybook Art hadn’t had this other project to go along with the book, I would have left it alone. But I was really curious to see how this one would work.

You take shaving cream and white glue and mix together. Plop a blob down on a piece of paper and let your kid explore and shape and create. Whatever they come up with will dry puffy.

This was such a sensory activity for the girls and Samuel that they didn’t get past smearing the shaving cream mixture all over their paper and the table. Henry had the only picture that dried puffy.

Here they are:

Kate, loving the feel of pure squishiness


It took Becca a minute or two to fully embrace the experience.

Henry was very deliberate in his creation.

I was a little more skeptical to try “Snow on Snow on Snow” as it was a cut/collage project, but figured that we needed a baseline to determine time between projects such as this. As we read the book together, I tried to draw the kids’ attention to the pictures, asking them how they would create a scene like that, or pointing out that nothing was drawn; the images we were looking at were void of detail and drawn expression.

My takeaway was that my littles are still a little too little for a project like this. They had lots of creative ideas but haven’t developed the fine motor and scissor skills to execute independently. Henry wanted to draw his objects and then cut them out, which was fine. Samuel had a whole story in his head that he dictated to me while instructing me what pieces to cut out of which color papers. The girls also had specific ideas of what they wanted on their snow scenes, but ultimately ended up more interested in the glue sticks (as you will be able to see on Kate’s picture).

Here’s what they came up with:

Here is Kate’s Frosty the Snowman at the bottom of the sledding hill, complete with flecks of goldfish cracker that stuck when she sneezed without covering her mouth. All of the yellow on the green background is dried glue from the glue stick.

Becca and her tutu were pretty proud of the “nummy” (cat), doggie, and baby frolicking in the snow.

Sam liked the idea of the “nummy” and wanted to copy it, although he was insistent on cutting his own tail for the cat. He put glue on the wrong side of the cat so it had to face the opposite direction from where he originally intended it to face. So he changed the story to be that the cat was running away from something scary. Enter the shark. Then he liked the idea of Becca’s baby, so he wanted to have a mother holding a baby. Evidently, they’re not as scared of the shark as the cat is. The snow at the bottom of the picture and the giant snowflakes (big brown and white squares at the top) were Samuel’s original and independent contribution to the project.

Henry was the only one to work independently 100%. I get the house on the snow but am a little unsure of what the red arch is. I was very pleased with his efforts, though.

He did it!

Kindergarten Reading: Complete.

Bring on the first grade reading program!

Ah, life!

I think I was a little over-ambitious this week. I thought it would be fun, given the simplicity (term used loosely) of the projects, to have the girls join us in art and science. Maybe it was fun for them. It wasn’t so much for me. I don’t know how public school teachers do student/teacher ratios of 20:1 or 28:1. Sometimes 4:1 does me in.

Our art project was based on “Harold and the Purple Crayon” by Crockett Johnson  (Storybook Art, page 51). The idea was simple: get a long roll of paper and three or four different marking mediums and draw a long unbroken line. It could be as light or heavy, curvy or straight as we wished.

Bottom line? Fail. The best part of the project was reading the book. One of the kids ended up in time-out because of hitting when someone else drew out of turn and into their line. A short-lived project that went right into the trash.

Ever forging onward, Mom pulled out the science project for the day: “Rampin’ Up” (Mudpies to Magnets, page 51). The idea was to explore planes (not air-) and the effect of a given plane on how far a little toy car could travel. We were supposed to build varying heights on support blocks and find the best angle for helping the car travel the farthest.

Fail #2. Someone ended up in time-out for throwing a car at someone else’s head. The only scientific conclusions arrived at were #1) Mom is mean because she wouldn’t let the kids race every single one of their HotWheels down the ramp, and #2) Becca ruined the ramp because she kept stepping on it.

Some things just aren’t worth trying to patch up.

The Best-loved Bear

“Corduroy” by Don Freeman is one of those childhood classics that I couldn’t wait to share with my kids. I love that they’ve found it as enchanting as I remember it being. So it was no great surprise when all four kiddos wanted in on this art project. (Storybook Art, page 19)

Given that they all started with the same template, I thoroughly enjoyed watching each of them create their own Corduroys, pouring their personalities into each of their creations.

I started by giving them a piece of cardstock (color of their choice, of course) and told them to draw any design they wanted as a background. Then we divvied up the bears I’d created the night before: two cardboard with construction paper overalls and two bears cut from corduroy fabric with fabric overalls. The craft box came out of the cupboard and eyes and buttons found their way onto the papers. They all thought Elmer’s Glue was the greatest. And they were all quite proud of their artistic efforts and all four renderings are on display in our Hall of Fame.

Here’s Kate’s. I love how she felt it necessary to add more “background” right on top of her bear. Also love how Corduroy has one button on his overalls (as per the story) but how he ended up with pierced ears and toe rings, too.

Sam’s. Love how he used a button for the nose but drew in the eyes with marker.

Becca’s. Easily the most fascinated with glue and buttons. But I also love her deliberate markings for the background.

I thought Henry was doing a great job BEFORE he added button arches for the eyebrows. But I understand that eyebrows add character.

This was a really fun project!

Of Masks and Monsters

In honor of Halloween, our art project this week was based on Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are.” Instead of going with the project as outlined, I tweaked one of the variations offered at the bottom of the page. We made Wild Thing masks. The boys had a blast. (Storybook Art, page 59)

Samuel had so much fun he couldn’t stop at one mask and ended up making four.

Henry made two.

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.

The Timing of Life’s Lessons

I’ve spent a lot of the last week engaged in mental conversations with myself. Most of them are made up of defending and refuting homeschooling and my reasons for doing so. I haven’t had any direct confrontations; rather, I’ve heard ghosts of conversations past whisper through my memory and I’ve felt a need to end the conversation better than I did in person.

Through this process, I stumbled on an epiphany and it was simply that regardless of the mode of delivery of an individual’s education, everyone still gets to learn the same life lessons. When those lessons are learned is more dependent on mode of delivery.

For example, by homeschooling my children, they may not be exposed to bullying or dishonest behavior or pornographic material on the playground at recess when they’re six or eight or ten. But guaranteed, they will be exposed to these things at some point in their lives. They may not confront a bully until they join a Boy Scout troop, or encounter cheating, stealing, or lying until they enter the workforce. You just don’t get through life without these lessons because unfortunately, life is full of this stuff.

Conversely, by homeschooling my children, they may be able to develop the ability to think and rationalize and create, and they may do it earlier than their peers. As a product of public education, I don’t feel like I gained these skills until I was halfway through my college education and had some wonderful life experiences outside of the classroom. I’ve always felt a little sorry that my ability to do well in school had more to do with my ability to “play the game” rather than my ability to think things through for myself and arrive at my own conclusion, ready to defend it. I hope homeschooling will provide a place for my kids to develop these skills. And whether or not it does, I am assured that my kids will come to these things in their own time.

I felt better after thinking through this little epiphany. It made the arguments echoing in my head seem more flimsy.