Tag Archives: Mudpies to Magnets

Year One in Review (July 2010-July 2011)

Trite as it sounds, I can hardly believe it was a year ago that I sat down at the kitchen table and began teaching Henry how to read, which was the advent of our home schooling. All things considered, we’ve had a wonderful ride on the home schooling roller coaster this year. All of us have learned much!

Perspective is a wonderful thing, really. When I take into consideration the fact that none of my kids knew the sounds the letters in the alphabet make a mere 365 days ago, it is a marvelous feeling of accomplishment to know that today, all four of them can tell me the sound any letter makes. Not only that, but Henry—and Samuel—and even Kate and Becca (if you count the capital letter magnets) can read. A lot can happen in a year.

What began as Henry’s Kindergarten year in July found us adding the start of Samuel’s Kindergarten year in January, and Kate and Becca’s preschool in April. We’ve gone from putting the girls down for afternoon naps and having two hours to quietly work on school to having Mom tutor each child in turn for most of the morning. We’ve gone from two kids with library cards to four kids with library cards…at two different libraries.

So yes, looking back, the feeling of achievement is terrific. Did we accomplish anything in a year? Here’s the list, in brief:

Henry:

  • Completed “Hooked on Phonics,” Kindergarten level
  • Is nearly done with RightStart Math Level A (will finish before we start our next school year in October)
  • Completed Getty-Dubay Italics Handwriting Book A; is making good headway in Book B
  • Completed “Explode the Code” Book 1 and 2; is halfway through Book 3
  • On Lesson 62 (of 231) in “Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading”
  • Completed numerous science and art projects
  • Completed “Hooked on Spanish”
  • Nearly finished our social studies book (“Children Just Like Me”)
  • Memorized three poems and several Articles of Faith
  • Logged HOURS of reading time, including 8 classic read-alouds
  • Began piano lessons

Samuel:

  • Learned his alphabet and the sounds the letters make
  • Read through the first set of BOB books
  • On Lesson 51 (of 231) in “Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading”
  • Completed “Explode the Code” Book 1; is halfway through Book 2
  • Halfway through Getty-Dubay Italics Handwriting Book A
  • Completed “Hooked on Spanish”
  • Completed numerous science and art projects
  • Nearly finished our social studies book (“Children Just Like Me”)
  • Memorized three poems and several Articles of Faith
  • Logged HOURS of reading time, including 8 classic read-alouds
  • Is begging to start math and piano lessons

Kate and Becca:

  • Learned their alphabet and the sounds the letters make
  • Completed a workbook on shapes
  • Completed a few art projects
  • Memorized two poems
  • Logged HOURS of reading time

I’ve learned a few things along the way, as well, no surprise. Mostly, I’ve been pleased to discover that the reasons we gravitated toward the home education option are better in reality than in theory. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed the flexibility home schooling gives us. Flexibility to start and stop as needed. Flexibility to try new curriculae or approaches or even put something away until the time is right for that student. We love being able to do school in the morning or the afternoon as the day requires. We love traveling in the off-season, and schooling during the blasted hot summer. I’ve loved discovering how much I enjoy teaching things to my kids and am excited to keep learning things right along with them. I’ve been surprised at how frequently questions or problems I’ve encountered have taken me to my knees. And I’ve been really grateful for the answers I’m led to. I’m grateful for growth.

All in all, I’ll call our first year a grand success. It’s been a good one. Sign us up for another year!


I knew it wasn’t just me!

In browsing the lovely interwebs for ideas for summertime fun, I stumbled on the ol’ grow a sugar crystal idea. You probably don’t remember, but we attempted this as a science project once. (Scroll to the bottom of the post for the crystal part.) What I failed to record here on the blog was that six weeks later, we still didn’t have crystals, just a two-inch layer of sugar at the top of our cups with sugar solution below that. I dumped the contents down the sink and chalked it up to not having a saturated-enough sugar solution. But I was still curious enough that I tried the experiment again on my own. Still no go. Four weeks and it looked pretty much the same, only this time, it was growing mold, too. In much the same way that making a good chocolate chip cookie eludes me, I figured this was one science project I’d never succeed at.

I still read this article, though, just in case there was something I’d missed. The only note-worthy piece of information was the 3 cups sugar to 1 cup water ratio (another vague detail in Mudpies to Magnets). But right below that were some troubleshooting links. Of course I clicked on those! And discovered….HUMIDITY is a project killer! That, and it’s likely that our solution cooled too quickly. Now I know for next time.

Meanwhile, I’m still really glad it wasn’t just me being a doofus and messing up an easy science project. Because I’m sure there will be plenty of other opportunities.


Listen to the Sounds of the Body

As alluded to in my last post, we had a fun science project with Grampa recently. It definitely comes in handy to have a doctor in the family.

The jist of this project was to have the boys trace their body on paper, and to guess which different parts of their bodies would yield some sort of sound when listened to with a stethoscope. Then they got to actually use a stethoscope on the different parts of their bodies to test their hypotheses.

It was amazing for us to discover how noisy our bodies are. Once we all got the hang of learning to use the stethoscope (yes, there is a small learning curve), we laughed and had a lot of fun trying to describe the sounds we heard in our innards. For the most part, the boys were pretty accurate guessers. There were only a couple of body parts that didn’t make any sound when they thought they would.

Thanks to Grampa, for finding time in his busy schedule to spend the evening with us and let us use his high-tech equipment. 😉 It was a fun project.

Nope, no noise in the nose!

Fake recording our data (I asked Henry to pose for the picture but he neglected to take the cap off the marker to make it entirely believable)

NOW we’re talkin’!


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.


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.


Random Ruminations

Ruminations on Reading: Reading is going well. Henry is able to sound out the words in his workbook every day with very few hang-ups. He is always excited to read a story or a book and get a sticker on his progress chart. And he’s always willing to pull his workbook out whenever I ask him if he’s ready for reading. Okay, those were more observations than ruminations. But they set the stage for the ruminations.

I wonder when Henry will start seeing the words he knows how to read in picture books not part of Hooked on Phonics. I wonder when that light will click on for him and he’ll start transferring his skills outside his comfort zone. He’s only been reading, really, for two weeks. I’m not trying to rush this. I just wonder.

I also realized with a start this week that Henry becoming an independent reader means that my days of snuggling on the couch with him, logging hours of reading together, are numbered. Sad thought.

Ruminations on RightStart: We introduced the abacus to the boys this week. They both liked being able to represent quantities in a way other than their fingers or their tally sticks. I asked them to show me “4” on their abacus. Henry selected the right amount and pushed them to the left as a unit. It was exactly the way the textbook wanted him to and I didn’t even say anything to him about it. Yay, #1! Then, I asked him how he knew it was four. He said, pointing to the lone blue bead at the right, “Because there’s only one blue bead left!” That was literally a textbook answer. Yay, #2! I think I did an inner Toyota jump because he’s getting it. So exciting.

This math curriculum is geared for two lessons a week. Sometimes I wonder if I ought to do one more day a week since they both seem to like it so much. But sometimes I think I should just hold back a little and keep from overwhelming them. Fine balance.

Ruminations on Art: Not our best week. I didn’t do a very good job of explaining the scope or what I expected of them. Oh well. It’s okay.

We did Fanny Joly’s “Mr. Fine, Porcupine” (Storybook Art, page 31). The boys think the story is hilarious and it’s one of the most requested reads from this round of library books.

The idea was to finger paint a simple large line drawing of choice (think a drawing of a sheep or a house) before using craft sticks to scratch away paint to create a textured look. Instead, both Sam and Henry opted to recreate a page from the story. Sam did a darn good job of creating Mr. Fine, Porcupine, and Henry chose a page with a town on it. Here’re the finished products:

Please meet Mr. Fine, Porcupine.

This is the town Mr. Fine rides his bike through, a la Henry

So…the ruminations in my head that are art-related are mostly happy thoughts at finding such a great resource to gently guide our creativity. I love that my boys are creating. It’s fun to see them be more excited over a blank piece of paper and a box of markers than a coloring book. It’s fun to see what’s in their little heads—especially the level of detail! I love learning new techniques and love that we’re being exposed to more than just line drawing or painting with watercolors.

Ruminations on Science: My biggest concern in this area is that I need to practice with different settings on my camera. I need to learn how to take better pictures. I know what I want different compositions to look like in my head; I just haven’t figured out how to make them happen. Not even school-related. For the boys, anyway. Just realizing that if I’m going to document our journey, I’d like to figure out how to capture better shots than blurry stills or flash-washed close-ups.

But our science experiment this week was tops. We tackled “Shine Your Pennies” (Mudpies to Magnets, page 99). I was messing around with the camera more this day, so my explanation of our experiment will be peppered with pictures.

The set-up was pretty basic: four bowls, varied combinations of salt, vinegar, and water.

(Yay! I figured out the macro setting!) 3 of the 4 bowls required 5 mL of salt. Thank heaven for medicine cups. I had no idea how I was going to measure 5 mL!

Our first bowl had vinegar only; our second, salt only; our third, salt and vinegar; and our fourth, salt and water.

We placed one dirty penny in each bowl and made observations after five, ten, and fifteen minutes. The most pronounced changes were observable at the five minute mark.

The penny in the vinegar didn’t get shiny but it put off a lot of bubble chains from the penny to the surface of the vinegar.

Hmm…nothing’s happening…

Ooo! Can you see it getting shiny?

The boys thought this one was cool. Maybe a teensie bit more than the shiny one.

After we recorded our observations and the boys made their notations in their science journals, I let them go crazy trying to shine the rest of their pennies. It made for a fun project.

Ruminations on Spanish and Social Studies: I’m kind of bored, not going to lie. I’m pretty sure we’ll be through both the yellow and red levels of Spanish by Christmas. Then what? Who knows.

I think if I cared more about our approach to Social Studies this year, then I could make it more fun with menu plans and supplemental library books. Maybe when I find my groove again in the menu planning arena. Hmm. Something to think about.


Ups and Downs

Week Two of our homeschooling adventure started out kind of bumpy but we had a slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am finish!

Phonics (Henry): We kept plugging away at the flashcards. I struggled all week with the dilemma of starting him on reading without being 100% confident with all 26 beginning letter sounds vs. making sure he could nail them. He just didn’t seem to be “getting it” and I didn’t want him to be frustrated.

I finally pulled the yellow workbook out of the box, along with some accompanying books, and explained to Henry that once he knew all of the sounds the letters make, we could start doing some of these different things. I think having a vision helped. He immediately began making up little games to help him through the flashcards (trying to beat the lady by saying the sound first) and within two more days, was nailing all but two letters. From there, it was easy to drill him on those two throughout the day as he played or while we were driving.

By Friday (July 30th), he was ready for the first story in the workbook. We spent double the time we normally take for phonics because he wanted to get to the story so badly.

The excitement that accompanies the success of reading something independently is immeasurable. Henry was over-the-moon excited and wanted to read to anybody who was willing to listen. Lucky for him, Daddy came home from work early this day, so he was able to read to Dad. He also was lucky enough to see Grammy and Grampa, so they were also an attentive audience for a labored rendition of “Fat Cat, Fat Rat.”

What an accomplishment! We are on our way.

Math: July 29th was one of my happiest days this year. It was the day the UPS man rang my doorbell and dropped a package on my doorstep that had our RightStart Math curriculum in it. Oh, my laws. It was seriously like Christmas for me. The kids and I tore into the box and started playing with all of the manipulatives. The girls loved the abacuses (abacai?) and would daintily move the beads from one end to the other, chanting, “One, doo, one, doo.” I could hardly wait for everyone to get into bed so I could curl up on the couch and read the teacher’s manual. Giddy would describe it. I kept ooing and aahhing over the way math concepts are presented and figuring out how it all fits into the big picture. I loved how each lesson is brief and extremely well organized and easy to teach from. I loved wondering why we were doing certain things (i.e., teaching the poem “One, Two, Buckle my Shoe”) and then discovering the reason a few lessons down the road (ultimately teaches kids to count by twos). I was fascinated by all of the introductions to geometry. This is just a way cool program. I was 13 lessons into it before Joe peeled my fingers off the manual and pointed me in the direction of the bedroom to get ready for bed.

Needless to say, we had our first math lesson the next day.

Both Sam and Henry did a great job. It was a pretty basic lesson but they were able to do everything I asked them to. It will be interesting to watch the two boys as we go along. Henry will have to overcome the crutch of counting where Sam won’t, but he’ll also have a year’s cognitive maturity advantage.

Really excited for math. Really.

Social Studies: We read about Mohammed (Egypt) (Children Just Like Me, pg. 36) this week. Still no reaction, good or bad. The boys were eager to cuddle up to me and read, so maybe I’ll take that as a good sign.

Spanish: Sam only wanted to do one lesson this week and Henry three, so I let them run with it. It wasn’t really a big deal since they were learning how to count from 1 to 10 in Spanish. Samuel struggled with the number recognition, and then having to translate that number into Spanish was a little much for him. Another reason why I think RightStart will be a good fit for him. He doesn’t need to worry about number recognition right now.

Art: This week we read Leo Lionni’s Fish is Fish (Storybook Art, pg. 53) and our art project was one that mimicked the illustrator’s style. The book is done with crayon rubbings on various textures for the background, with the drawings cut out and placed on the background.

The boys decided they wanted to make a space scene, so we spread various textures on the kitchen table (crumpled tinfoil laid flat, cardstock with holes cut out of it, cardboard, sandpaper, etc.) and used different blues, purples, and blacks to create outer space. Then they went to work drawing pictures on construction paper. We traced a bowl so we could make a planet. Henry made a space man with a jet pack and a rocket ship. Sam made (and cut out himself) an asteroid. Once they were done drawing and cutting, they pasted their scene together. Henry grabbed the hole punch and added a border of “stars” as a finishing touch. They were quite pleased with their efforts.

Here’s some detail on Henry’s space man (with jet pack):

The thing I think I really love about Storybook Art is that we can do these projects every year and every time the things we create will be different. That could especially be fun to compare year over year as the kids get older and more competent in different areas.

Science: We explored the world of bubbles this week (Mudpies to Magnets, “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles,” pg. 96). This was more an observation project than one to walk through the scientific process with.

I filled plastic cups about an inch with bubble solution and stuck a straw in each one. And then we spent the next 20 minutes blowing. Blowing hard, blowing soft, blowing fast, blowing slow, moving our straws…it was a very enjoyable discovery process. We observed how bubbles pick up colors based on how much light was in the room. We had fun experimenting with lots of bubbles (think bubble trail on the table) and big, big bubbles. It was a definite hit and one I may use with Sam’s preschool group this year.

Again, I loved watching how the boys interpreted their experience with their drawings:

Love Henry’s bubble chain with flecks of color in each one.

And I love Sam’s variety of bubble colors and sizes.

Overall, another successful week. We are really having a blast!


The Beginning that Wasn’t

Henry started Kindergarten this week without any fanfare, fuss, or hype. We just sat down at the kitchen table and started doing it. And it was awesome.

I had originally wanted to wait until my math curriculum arrived to ‘officially’ start school, wanted to take a First Day of School photo, wanted to make it more of a big deal overall. But the moment was right, and I had promised Henry while we were on vacation that I would teach him how to read when we got home. So we dove in.

Thinking about it, it just felt right. I’ve been anticipating this phase of life since before Henry was even born. Since I knew I wanted to be an integral part of my children’s education, we’ve just kind of always been homeschooling. So it turned out that fanfare wasn’t really needed.

We’re using Hooked on Phonics as our Phonics and Reading curriculum; will be usingRightStart Math once I get around to ordering it; Mudpies to Magnets (Williams, Rockwell, Sherwood) for Science;Storybook Art (Kohl, Potter) for Art; Children Just Like Me (Kindersley) for Social Studies; and Hooked on Spanishfor Spanish. Phonics will be 4x/week; Math, 2x (more if the boys request it); and science, art, social studies, and Spanish 1x each/week. I’m also shooting for 30 minutes of reading with the kids each day as a minimum. We generally hover around 50. I also want to start some daily memorization work but haven’t added that yet. I’m thinking the Articles of Faith will be a good place to start.

We use the girls’ nap time for school time. That gives us between an hour and a half and two hours to work on things that need a little quiet and concentration. So far it’s working out well. Neither Henry nor Samuel has complained about the cut in their play time…so far.

Since Samuel is around and interested, he’s participating in the once a week subjects. Both he and Henry will work on math together in tandem this year. And of course the daily story time applies to all. But Henry is the only one working through the phonics and reading course.

Phew. There’s the background.

Our first week of school had a golden glow around it. We had so much fun!

Henry began his foray into reading by working through a stack of phonics flashcards so he could master the sounds each letter makes. He worked on flashcards for four days. I wasn’t sure about the whole flashcard thing in general, but in my heart knew it would be the fastest way to get him reading. I guess he liked it okay, because the one day I tried to work with him on vowel sounds, he said, “Mom, I just want to do my cards with the lady” (on the HOP CD). We spent one day doing an upper-lowercase matching game in addition to the flashcards.

Hooked on Spanish is one of the boys’ favorites and I think it’s because it’s a CD-ROM program, requiring use of the computer. Yes, my boys are 5 and nearly 4 and neither have had any hands-on experience with using a computer until now. They have enjoyed learning to use the touch pad mouse and learning to navigate around their program. They had so much fun they requested two days of Spanish this week.

For science, we did an experiment I had read about on a blog somewhere. We created four different sizes of ice cubes using a medicine dropper (4 mL, 3 mL, 2 mL, and 1 mL) and then color coded the ice cubes before freezing them (4 = green, 3 = blue, 2 = red, 1 = yellow). We wanted to see how long it would take the ice cubes to melt on the sidewalk. Henry hypothesized that the yellow ones would melt before the green ones because they were smaller. He was right. 🙂

I had the boys draw in their science journals about the experiment. I loved how they both chose to use the colors we had picked for the ice cubes, and how they used different sizes to depict the ice cubes melting. They haven’t shown any real interest in drawing and I haven’t really guided them at all in that area, so to see them expressing their thoughts and observations with markers was exciting to me.

For social studies, we read about Esta from Tanzania (Children Just Like Me, pages 42-43). I don’t think it had any real impact on them, although they were able to pick out Africa on a global map.

Art was my favorite this week. May I recommend—HIGHLY—Storybook Art? It is a must have for any household with small children. This book highlights 100 different children’s picture books and then creates a corresponding art project for each book. The idea is that you read a book from the list with your child (what’s not to love about that?) and then you do an art project either based on the idea of the book or based on the technique the illustrator used to create it. We picked up a few titles this summer at Half Price Books knowing we would be doing these projects; the rest I think we’ll check out from the library.

This week’s book was Elmer, by David McKee. It’s a darling little story about an elephant who’s just a little bit different. He’s patchwork in a field of grays. Literally. One day he decides to be different so he finds a way to cover his patchwork and turn himself gray like the other elephants. He plays a trick on them and they think it’s so funny that they declare that day to be Elmer’s Day and celebrate it once a year by turning themselves patchwork while Elmer turns himself gray and then they have a parade.

I cut out a bunch of elephants and divided them into patches with a Sharpie. To make our patchwork elephants, we experimented with the different outcomes household objects produce when dipped or rolled in paint. Legos were a clear hit while pinecones were not. The potato masher yielded some cool results while string did not. Samuel decided to finger paint his third elephant and finger painted the entire elephant the same color. I like to think he was making his own Elmer. Once the elephants dried, I cut them out and pasted them on a long sheet of paper so we had our own patchwork elephant parade.

That sums up our first week. I don’t know that I’ll go into this much detail with subsequent weeks but I had a lot to process as I got going.