Friday, March 26, 2010

Week 26...and our 100th Day of School!

Well, I couldn't keep my own secret. I let the boys know on Monday that we'd celebrate our 100th day of homeschooling on Thursday, and needless to say, they were thrilled. I can't even remember what else we did this week...all the usual subjects...but this report will be all about our day of celebration! (Sadly, we have somehow lost our digital camera so I had to take these with a cell phone...apologies for the quality!)

I had star-shaped Post-Its leftover from another event, so late Wednesday night, I spread those all over the walls of our first floor and labeled them from 1-100 in random order. The boys' first task on Thursday morning, which they began while I was making breakfast, was to work together as a team, find all 100 stars, and place them in the correct order. They had a blast! And although perhaps they didn't figure out the most
efficient way to go about the task, they did split up the work and demonstrated teamwork, which I was happy to see.

And of course, we had to eat something related to the number 100:

We read Psalm 100 during breakfast, a suggestion from another homeschooling mom whose blog had so many great ideas for celebrating the day. After breakfast, the boys finished the finding the 100 Stars, then we started working on our "100th Day of School" book, an idea I also borrowed from aforementioned blog! (Thank goodness for the Internet!) Aidan also got into the action by wanting to work with the older boys at the kitchen table:

Then it was our 100 P.E. Activities--the boys did the following to make 100 total:
  • 10 jumping jacks
  • 10 laps around the first floor
  • 10 stairs
  • 10 push ups
  • 10 baskets in the basketball hoop
  • 10 putts
  • 10 hopping on one foot
  • 10 air punches
  • 10 touching toes
  • 10 jump ropes
Then it was snack time! Of course, we had to have 100 snacks...10 each of the following healthy and nutritious goodies (hahaha....)
  • 10 honey-roasted peanuts
  • 10 Jelly Bellies
  • 10 Goldfish crackers
  • 10 pieces of ginger cookies (broken up because they were big)
  • 10 Pringles
  • 10 raisins
  • 10 Nerds
  • 10 organic chocolate bunny graham crackers
  • 10 mini-marshmallows
  • 10 Fruity Cheerios

After which, we attempted to do a craft with 100 craft sticks. This turned out to be an abysmal failure, which is probably a reflection on my total ineptitude with crafty activities! I wanted to give them the chance to use their imagination and make something together out of the craft sticks and glue--I even brought out a glue gun for the occasion!--but not having enough direction stymied the boys so I just scrapped that idea!

I had all these crazy idea for incorporating the number 100 into lunch, but I ran out of time so that will have to wait for next year. We kept to our normal Quiet Reading Time after lunch, during which I asked the boys if they thought they could read 100 pages total, which they each did, then in the afternoon, the boys had the 100 Blocks and 100 Cars project, which was to count out a total of 100 of each and then build something together. At first they were each taking their own set of blocks and doing something individually, but I intervened to encourage them to build something together. And here is what they came up with:

Harry had the clever idea to use the blocks to make the number "100":

And while they were working on this project, I threw some cupcakes into the oven and our last activity was to decorate 10 cupcakes, each with 10 sprinkles, to celebrate the end of our 100th day! The boys enjoyed this project the best, I think. =)

It's amazing to think that we have actually made it through 100 Days of Homeschooling; I never would have imagined doing so even a year ago! We've had our challenges and our struggles, as I imagine all homeschooling families do, but God has been faithful and an ever-present help. Hopefully by his grace we will make it to another 100 Day Celebration next year!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spring Break! And, Week 25!

Last week was our Spring Break, which actually coincided with my husband's Spring Break for the first time since having school-aged children. This meant that he had the chance to spend LOTS of time with the boys! =) I used the time to work on my book about motherhood and found my new home-away-from-home, the McDonald's closest to our house. I know, it doesn't sound that appealing, but with free Wi-Fi and a lovely, quiet atmosphere between 9 a.m.-12 p.m., it was the perfect place to spend time thinking, reading and writing! (I even managed to avoid the temptation of buying anything unhealthy to eat small feat once they started making french fries and the odor filled the place!)

Due to my writing obligations, we didn't go anywhere for the break, but DH did take the boys to a fun mini-golf outing...

...then later in the week, we visited a local farm to see maple sugaring in action as has been described in the Laura Ingalls Wilder books we've been reading this year. Sadly, the temperature was not cold enough to get the sap to run, but the boys had fun pretending to tap trees nonetheless!

The visitor's center also had a life-size model of a cow, complete with a rubber udder filled with water for kids to try their hand at milking (sorry for the poor picture quality below!):

The boys had a blast visiting all the animals at the farm, including some newly-born baby lambs...

One of my sons took the photo below. We all found it pretty hilarious. Guess these sheep were not in the mood to socialize with us!

We also saw horses, a chicken coop, and a number of cows. This one shocked Harry with the size of its tongue!

The farm also maintains an 1890s-era farmhouse, so we enjoyed the tour; we were only allowed to take a photo of the kitchen, with its stove and the bathtub hung on the wall. It was a great day at the farm!

As for school this past week....I think our highlight was doing our science activity of making water molecules. First we made some out of grapes:

(Dobby prefers to just eat the materials!)

Then we made a whole glassful out of marshmallows and the boys gave their dad the "water" when he came home:

As for other aspects of school, I've continued my more relaxed attitude this week, not worrying if we haven't completed everything as I have before. So we have fallen a little behind in our Classical Writing Primer, for example. I've decided that there is no reason we can't continue into the summer anything we didn't finish in the school year. But I also feel like we've made up for it by emphasizing math more of late; Harry started Singapore 2A but we've also continued working on word problems from 1B to give him more practice in that area. In the end, it doesn't really matter that he can add and subtract if he doesn't know when to use which operation! The word problems really help with understanding how to apply the operations so we keep working through those.

I've also learned that I know very little about phonics. I have no idea how I learned how to read; I was an early reader and probably learned mostly by sight, which is how Harry learned to read, largely on his own before kindergarten. (I'm a little concerned that this will all catch up to him with his spelling and that we'll soon have to do some remedial phonics work with him, too!) I've been more deliberate with Ron, using Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading and as a result I've discovered all kinds of phonetic rules I never knew before. We're a little more than halfway through and things are getting confusing even for me--i.e, sometimes -ow sounds like "ow!" and sometimes it sounds like "oh!" Sometimes I wonder if Ron is able to keep all this straight as I barely can myself! I think we'll be starting to build in more review of the different possible sounds soon. This makes me wonder, how exactly do they teach reaching in the public schools?

Lastly, one of the states we covered this week was Iowa, Harry's birthstate nearly 8 years ago! Here we are just before our move away from Iowa, in front of the hospital where he was born. And the next shot is basically what we saw all around us for miles on end. One day we'll have to take him back there to see it all in person for himself. The town he was born was so small that they announced every baby birth over the radio, and as we were one of the very few Asians there, random strangers would easily spot us and know exactly who Harry was. Life in a small town!

Next week...we celebrate our 100th day of school! I need to start gathering ideas to make it fun. Technically, we've done more than 100 days including co-op days, but to keep it simple I've just counted M-Th days so we've reached this point later in the school year than others. I haven't told the boys yet so shhhhhh.....let's keep it a secret from them! =)

(P.S. I forgot to mention that we've been enjoying this live online feed of a nesting barn owl named Molly...she has been incubating 5 eggs this past months and one hatched today! Fun to check out to see all kinds of animal behavior, including the amazing way owls consume rodents and their unique mating calls and rituals!)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Weeks 23 and 24--Tweaking, Here and There...

So much for my grand plans to update the blog each week! Last week, the whole family was hit by a virus, one strong enough to get all five of us. Usually one of us can manage to stay healthy, but not this time. We took it easy, had one complete sick day, and just chugged along where we could. If Harry had still been in school, I probably would have had him go if he didn't have a fever, but at home, we could just take our time and he could nap if he needed to, a flexibility I'm sure he enjoyed.

Instead of writing out subject by subject what we did, which is a little more tedious and probably not very interesting to read, I'll just hit the highlights of the past two weeks:

Grace: Not a topic to study, per se, but something I feel like I've learned the hard way this year is to give more grace both to the kids and to myself in this homeschooling journey. Sometimes I feel compelled to just push push push to get things done, instead of enjoying one of the prime benefits of homeschooling, which is its flexibility. I guess that part of me worries that if we don't push to get our objectives done for the day, we'll fall behind, and that is certainly a possibility if we completely slack off. Other times I feel I've been too hard on the boys and not encouraging enough. In those moments, I tend to wonder, "would a real public school teacher be better for them????"

So, this week I have been thinking about how to inject more joy and grace into our homeschooling life. Today, everyone woke up grumpy due to middle-of-the-night nosebleeds for two of the boys; no one was in a good mood this morning! But the sun was out and it was a balmy (for Chicagoland) 40-ish degree day. I decided that after morning music practice and math, we'd have an extended outdoor recess together and then just do science experiments in the afternoon. Let's just say this decision was a hit with the boys. They had a chance to bask in some sun and slide in the muddy piles around our house from all the melting snow:

Harry later said that "this was the best day I've ever had!" Well, maybe it was an exaggeration, but it's definitely making me think more about how I can increase the fun factor in our homeschooling life. Something to dwell on further in the future!

Math: One thing I learned after our Singapore Math assessment last post is that I really need to build in more review of the concepts for Harry. I've been doing math fact drills several times a week, but what he really needed was more problems to practice concepts such as double-digit addition and subtraction. So last week and this week, that is what we've been doing. I've tried to let go of comparing what he is doing with other kids, either other homeschoolers or his peers in public school, and instead just take the time we need to reach a point in which Harry really demonstrates mastery of the concept. Today, he scored 17/18 on his work in addition and subtraction within 100, which was a great score for him and I was really happy with his progress.

Science: I wouldn't say that science comes completely naturally to me (this from the woman who was pre-med and spend half her college academic life in a laboratory of some sort or another), so sometimes when time is tight I will gloss over those activities. But today, I decided we would have fun with our assigned experiments in Science in the Kitchen and Science in Air. The kids had a blast with discovering how big their lung capacity was by blowing air into a bottle full of water as seen here...

(The amount of air in the bottle represents their lung capacity!)

We also had fun testing different substances to see if they were acidic or not. When you pour boiling water onto red cabbage leaves, the liquid becomes a lovely shade of purple:

Then, if you put something acidic into the liquid, it changes the color to a pinkish-purple. We tested out a number of substances--lemon juice, milk, salt, sugar, vinegar--but the two most interesting ones were Coke Zero...

And, perhaps best of all, kimchi (which is the national side dish of Korea...pickled/fermented, spicy cabbage, which sounds unappealing but which most Koreans cannot live without!) Anyway, it was clearly acidic, as Harry expresses below:

Future questions...Looking ahead, I'm realizing that it's already time to start thinking about the coming fall! Ron wants to do kindergarten at home, so it looks like I may be dealing with two different curricula for him and for Harry, which is a little daunting. I'm not sure what to do about Latin for Harry...I'm not sure if we should continue with Classical Writing or switch to something like Institute for Excellence in Writing...I wonder, I wonder, I wonder! Well, experienced homeschoolers say that it takes a good three years to hit one's stride when it comes to these kinds of decisions and routines. I guess it's all right for me to experiment for another year! =)

Spring break for us next week, DH gets the boys and I get to research and write, so I'll post again in a couple of weeks. Thanks for visiting!

(P.S. On another note, there was a fascinating article in the New York Times yesterday on the topic of building better teachers. One of the main people profiled in the article was Doug Lemov, someone I knew in high school, who I haven't heard anything about in 20+ years! I'm glad to see he is doing something so valuable and interesting with his life. He has a book coming out soon called Teach Like a Champion, and I got in touch with him via Facebook to see whether he thought the book would have content applicable for homeschooling parents. He says that a good portion of the content is more about classroom management in largely urban school settings, but that the academic content is definitely relevant to homeschoolers. Check it out!)