Thursday, October 28, 2010

Day 49

Map labeling and coloring is finished!

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee. 

Maple leaf. 


And I'm officially out of Canadian references.

The Great Lakes were recognized.

Mexico was officially proclaimed our southern border.

All systems are go for Monday and the start of our 50 states scrapbook and map!

In other news, while the big kids were at PE doing this:

Coral attended the Mommy and Me class conveniently located within the same park complex. She kicks like her mommy (poor child) and I swear I had nothing to do with the zigzags-meets-stripes outfit.

She also decorated a Halloween treat bag. She was very serious about how the leaves and letters were arranged. And that the little bag of Halloween cookies and pretzels in the bag were hers and she wasn't sharing.

And Hobie was just happy to be along for the ride.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Day 46

Unschooling : whoda thunk it.

We've always been the sit-down-and-plow-through-workbooks types of homeschoolers; it's what you learn in school, it's what public school kids do, and it's what's easy to go and purchase. But you know what? The kids enjoy it about as much as watching paint dry. What purpose does homeschooling serve if the kids are fighting every minute of it, and we all wake up dreading the day ahead?

Unschooling in its simplest form is recognizing that kids are learning all of the time. Not just 8-3, not just from a textbook, but ALL of the time. The concept of "school" is completely backwards - the only lesson truly being taught to children is that learning is a task that must be gotten through before the rest of the day can be enjoyed. That's not a lesson I want my kids learning! Thus, we are embarking upon some new adventures in our lives. I don't know if I'll ever have the guts to completely unschool, but I expect we will become unschoolers at least 60% of the time. 

For example, we bought a globe at a yard sale on Saturday and the kids have not stopped looking at it and asking questions. 

This week, while I take some time to sort through our workbook curriculum to pull out what I feel is truly important and necessary, we are starting our first new unschooling project. I started by hand-drawing a six-foot-wide map of the United States on a giant piece of paper and tacking it up on our school room wall. Then I outlined the major bodies of water and the kids colored them in. Tomorrow they will be outlining the states in black marker, and labeling the oceans and lakes. Then, the fun starts.

We are creating a 50 states scrapbook with fun facts about each state, in the order of which the states were added to the union. The kids will be exchanging postcards with homeschoolers from other states in the hopes of obtaining a postcard for each state, and I also sent away for tourism guides from the first five states on our list. As the kids create the scrapbook, they will color in the corresponding state on our big wall map, labeling it and naming its capital, and drawing something grown/produced in that state. We also plan to collect the fifty state quarters. 

In this one state project, both kids are learning geography, history, writing skills, art, computer skills, and how to research topics. And they are having a blast! I look forward to incorporating this type of unit study into most if not all of our subjects, and replacing many of our boring black and white workbook pages with meaningful, memorable activities.

And lots of raids on the book closet.

Day 45

Fieldtripalicious! We spent last Friday at Rock Springs, a park and natural spring north of Orlando and home to swimming, nature trails, and a playground. It's what Floridians do in "fall" when it's still 95 degrees out and everyone everywhere else is complaining of raking leaves and impending snowfall.

We were all ready to go the night before, lunches packed and pumpkins purchased for our homeschool group's annual fall festival. The plan was to meet all the other families at the springs Friday morning for a day of activities, swimming, and pumpkin decorating. The voicemail I discovered at 9:30 that night let us know that the whole event had been cancelled due to a death in the primary organizer's family. Our kids were already in bed, dreaming of the fun day ahead, and we couldn't break their hearts. We offered them the choice of continuing with our day as planned - minus all of their friends *sigh* - or a trip to the beach or zoo. It was a unanimous decision to try the springs, since we hadn't been in four years. The car was packed and off we went!

The place was empty. In addition to enjoying the water, including a trip down the spring in inner tubes (yes, even me), we spent a lot of time on the trails. Imagine our surprise when a family of mule deer watched us from the fringe of the woods, just a few feet from the trail. There were also nosey squirrels, several raccoons, many bird species, lots of fish, and a (99% certain) pile of bear poop directly in our path. Thankfully we did NOT encounter any alligators, in spite of the warning signs!

Although we missed spending a day with other kids, I think we probably got the chance to experience a whole lot more of what the park is truly about than we ever would have if we'd joined up with a gaggle of kids. There's something to be said for doing things on your own.

And stopping at Rita's Italian Ice on the trip home!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Day 43

Some days, I wonder.

Other days, I find it easier to just smile and nod.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Day 41

Today, we reached a childhood rite of passage : the vinegar and baking soda volcano. Ahhh, second grade science, how we love thee. I'm not sure there's a science project out there that's easier for the amount of excitement you get out of it. Does it ever get old?

Here was our clay volcano, ready for action (Bigger would have been better, but that was all the clay we had in the house. What can I say?)

Coral waited with excitement (or confusion? Probably the latter; she had no idea what was about to happen!) as Ibis poured in the vinegar.

The whole family watched in amazement as the volcano erupted all over the newspaper.

Our volcanic aftermath - my condolences to the Orlando Magic. You served us well.

If you've never made one of these, it's super easy! Make a clay cone, seal it to a clay base, plop down on some newspapers. Add 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon dish soap, and a few drops red food coloring. Then pour in 1/4 cup of vinegar (white or apple cider) and voila! Instant bubbly ooze.

In other news, I made cinnamon rolls again today to take to tomorrow's M.O.M.S. meeting. My house smells so good!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Day 40

We woke, we schooled, we vegetated, the end.

No, not really. I had to break it to the kids this morning that the ice skating rink's refrigeration unit wasn't working so they had to shut down for the day.  Ahem.  *wink wink*

Instead, I was roped into promising a picnic at a park we hadn't visited in awhile, which was mercifully close to home. So we got through schoolwork, including four pages of double-digit adding for Ibis (may the Lord have mercy) and a cute art project involving the handprints of each kid and a bat body drawn on construction paper. We now have a cute bat handprint family hanging in our window, ready to greet trick-or-treaters!

And then, the park. It was an uncannily gorgeous day for Florida in October, clear and crisp with a hint of a breeze. I'm not getting used to it, mind you; I know it'll be mid-90s as soon as I start enjoying this weather. I know better by now. The kids ate lunch, practiced being monkeys on the playground, and then we took a walk on the neighboring nature trail. It's a great trail but a little scary - it's the sort of place one might go hunting for baby alligators and water moccasins. And find them. But that's another thing you learn in Florida : alligators and water moccasins are everywhere.

We made it through our adventures unscathed, ready to brave another day.

As a side note, where did this child come from? Blue eyes? Blonde hair? Freckles?

And then there's another one just like her. How do these things happen??

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Day 39

Ahhh, day thirty-nine, a day we will remember. A day of long car rides, homeschool PE, a Target fiasco, family trees, and the schoolwork that never seemed to end.

It amazes me how an hour of PE can equal four hours of us being away from home.

And how $4 worth of PE can really cost $4 + $1 in bottled waters from home + $8 in snacks + $10 in gas. But they sure are cute.

The morning started innocently enough; we were all up by 7:30, ready for breakfast and the day ahead. The ride over to PE was manageable : no one cried, no one forgot their shoes or underwear. We made our destination a bit early which gave everyone a chance to go nuts on the playground. The big kids had their PE session while the pre-school set ran amok on the swings and slides, and the baby ate Cheerios and finally succumbed to the allure of breastmilk.

And then, we headed over to SuperTarget (think Super Wal-Mart) with our mission in mind : find a beanbag chair and ivory fleece blanket for newborn photography props for an upcoming session. I had each kid repeat the mantra,

"We are not here to look at toys. We are not here to buy toys." (Repeat it with me)

"We are here to buy a beanbag chair and blanket, and then if we're all good, we can get a snack at the Target cafe." I made sure each and every little person with me knew the agenda. I was feeling as prepared as a woman outnumbered times three can possibly feel.

First, we attacked the automatic doors. My three-year-old, with three-year-old- logic and unbeknownst to the rest of us, stayed behind, trying with all her might to close the door that had just opened for her. Her little voice cried out, "Mommy, I can't get the door to shut!" At this point the door looked like it had been run into by something heavy, and it was no longer closing. Only nine or ten people waiting at the Target please-hire-me computers saw the whole debacle. RIP automatic closing door.

The baby slept through the whole ordeal, passed out and drooling on my shirt from his perch in the Ergo. Things were going well until we had to pass the toy aisles in our quest for the home furnishings department. Darn you Target and your Siren song of toys all along the end caps of each aisle we had to pass! The big kids resisted temptation, but number three, age three, didn't make it through. She started whining, "I want to look at the toys!!! Let's go down the girl aisle!! I want to see the toys! Let's go see the toys! Mommy, I want to buy a toy!!!"

The whine got louder and louder as we paraded past girls' clothing and reached our housewares destination. And of course, they had but one lonely beanbag chair left in the store, and it was filthy. I don't use dirt words casually; a fine coating of dust doesn't bother me. When I say it was filthy, I mean filthy. Like someone ran it over about ten times with a shopping cart, bought it and took it out to the parking lot, and let a gorilla roll around with it in a pile of garbage while eating nachos. And then they decided pink wasn't the right color so they returned it for a blue one and Target just stuck it back on the shelf. Truly filthy.

No, I did not buy it. It was there, we were there, it was in my hands, the very last beanbag chair, and I didn't buy it. Even I, keeper of four sticky, sweaty, dirty children, have my standards.

Somehow, number three picked up on my angst, my beanbag turmoil, and decided that this was the prime time to have a meltdown. This is my quiet child, my sweet and obedient child, the baby who was sweet and easy and then never uttered so much as a loud word during her twos. We could always count on this one to be the rock in our crazy chaos.

But not today.

She made a break for the toys. I grasped for a little hand, and she started screaming. A nosy lady popped around the corner and started lecturing me on 19 Kids and Counting and how the older kids should keep my three-year-old in line. We kept walking. I had the baby strapped to me in the Ergo, sound asleep, and was thus rendered unable to scoop her up and carry her from the store. Instead, we had to make the walk of shame from the far back corner of the store all the way out, screaming, furious child being half-dragged by the arm in my wake. Real parent of the year material.

We parked ourselves on the side of the building and had a discussion on behavior and why we had to leave the store. A final chance was offered for her to change her behavior and act like a civilized little person. Amazingly, we were able to retrace our steps and collect our shopping cart, giving a wide berth around the toy department, only to find that Target was also out of the blanket we wanted. Of course they were.

Nevertheless, as promised we went to the Target Cafe and I purchased everyone their own popcorn and soda. Not familiar with the Target Cafe, I was not prepared for the sheer size of the popcorns. Imagine a paper lunch sack; now multiply that by four and add in four medium sodas. I had a baby strapped to me, two giant, overflowing bags of popcorn in one arm, a soda in the other, and three kids trailing me with their own burdens. I had to entrust a three-year-old with a full cup of bright-red fruit punch (what was I thinking?) as we walked across the front of the entire store to reach the side where we had parked. Then Ibis yells out as we're preparing to leave the store, "Mommy, your shoelace is untied!" I'm pretty sure only three or four employees turned to gape. Of course it was.

Getting in to the car was, I'm sure, quite a sight. We made it home to the tune of the baby screaming from the backseat as I chanted some colorful words under my breath, stuck in traffic. Thank you, tourists, but Disney World is the other way, and the speed limit is 55 mph!

Four hours sometimes seems like a lifetime.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

10 months old on 10.10.10

Little man was 10 months old on 10.10.10. Not too many babies can claim that!

He's getting harder to photograph. Next month I'm going to have to be sneaky and figure out a way to get him sitting still!

He's also growing a bit of hair. It is, of course, super blonde. Nothing at all like my dark brown hair. And of course he has big, bright blue eyes, also nothing at all like mine. I know these kids came out of me, but I'm just not sure I believe in genetics anymore!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Day 35

You know what's awesome about school Fridays? Knowing that the week's lessons are complete, and the only thing standing between us and a finished week is art. Now, we pursue the arts during the week in conjunction with science (journal entries) and social studies (projects), but Friday is nice because we all work together in one big happy grade on a single project. Of course we achieve different levels of success - a three-year-old can only do so much while an almost ten-year-old has a lot different perspective on things - but it's nice to tie our week together and try something fun.

This week, the sun helped us with our creations.

The kids cut out symmetrical shapes of black paper, and laid them on top of colored paper before baking out in the sun. Since we're in Florida, this didn't take long! Unfortunately it was pretty windy so we also had to weigh the papers down with rocks; we got some extra shadows on our finished artworks, but such is nature!

After the sun did its thing, we did our thing and continued the symmetrical pattern around the sun print and across the papers. Alexei definitely got the most understanding of symmetry out of this lesson, but it was a fun experiment for all!

Also a good reminder as to why sunscreen is important!

Tomorrow, we kick back and ponder the merits of Christopher Columbus. And buy groceries at Wal-Mart.  Which is probably about as nerve-wracking as a trip across the ocean in the Santa Maria, only we know exactly where we're headed.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Day 34

Yesterday the day dawned brightly, majestically.

Or so I'm told. I was still clinging to my pillows, passed out with babe in arms after a very long night.
I never claimed to be a morning person.

In reality we all got up, crammed breakfast down our throats, threw all of our junk into the car, and sped off to our first session of homeschool PE. The big kids cried over having to wear sneakers and socks instead of flip flops, but after a 45-minute drive we made our destination.

We were active with a PE group in the past, and had a really great experience with it. Unfortunately our town shut down all of its programs last year, and for a long time I resisted attending this new group. Forty-five minutes in a car with four kids, one of whom is a frequently-screaming infant, is not really my idea of fun. But, I promised a new adventurous me, and here I am!

This is the elementary school hour; I believe we had 22 kids in attendance today.

The kids prepare for stretching and running laps (better them than me!)

Playing some sort of game.

Ground Quidditch? I have no idea. They ran around like nuts and had fun.

Coral enjoyed the big playground with other younger siblings.

Hobie was all smiles on the swings.

After PE, we invaded the recreation complex and I signed both kids up for the rest of the session. We will be making this trip for at least the next four weeks, and I suspect my Thursdays are set forever. But if they enjoy it and can take something positive home from it, it will be worth the drive.

And I will pack lots of Coke and Tylenol for me.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Day 33

Today, instead of slogging through hours of schoolwork, we baked brownies.

Actually, we did the schoolwork too. The brownies came along later when my Internet was nowhere to be found (thank you yet again, Comcast, we are so glad you monopolize our neighborhood). I don't bake brownies from a box. I love my box-mix-using friends dearly, truly, but I'm sorry - brownies need love.

And over half a pound of chocolate crammed in a 9" x 13" pan.

This was several years, houses, and pant sizes ago. Baking brownies is educational.

Here's what you need to make these.

4 oz unsweetened baking chocolate
2/3 c shortening
2 c sugar
4 eggs
1 1/4 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 heaping cup chocolate chips (semi-sweet, milk, dark : pick your poison)

Preheat the oven to 350˚ and grease a 9" x 13" pan. On stovetop, melt chocolate and shortening. Stir in sugar and eggs. Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in chocolate chips. Spread evenly in pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.

3 oz unsweetened baking chocolate
3 tablespoons shortening
2 c powdered sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 c milk

On stovetop, melt chocolate and shortening. Stir in remaining ingredients until smooth. Spread over warm brownies. Try to wait until they cool before you eat them.

A couple of brownie words of wisdom for you:

1. Always use a glass pan (ovenproof, of course).
2. When in doubt, underbake. I know this flies in the face of every salmonella-mongering mother out there, but there's a little-known secret about brownies : they continue to bake after they leave the oven. Trust me.
3. Frosting is a must, don't listen to the man in your life telling you that, "they'd be just fine without frosting." Pshh. And take the three minutes to make it instead of opening up a can of that brown goop that passes for "chocolate frosting." Don't do it, man!

Okay, so that was a few and not a couple of tips. But the friends and family in my life who have had my brownies know that you can never take these things too seriously. Your friends and family will thank you.

Tomorrow, homeschool PE. Someone has to work off all those brownies.