Monday, March 31, 2008

under the sea

Today the kids' Museum Explorers class (part of their Monday Homeschool Classes) was about sea creatures -- hermit crabs, sea anemones, sea stars, coral, sea snails, sea urchins, lantern fish, and sea horses. J created the sea horse on the left, Zoo Boy the one on the right.

J (in gray) and Zoo Boy (in red) investigate a selection of sea stars. They also got to handle pieces of coral, a dried sea horse, and live hermit crabs.

Ms. Nikki has the class's undivided attention as she shows them treasures from the museum's collections.

The class does an observation of Hermit Crab behavior. (There are two crabs in the center of this circle -- a little hard to see.) The kids note on their record sheets whenever the crabs move, hide, or touch something. These crabs were movers -- most of the recorded observations were of motion.

Ms. Nikki reads from the book "Mr. Seahorse" while the kids work on their sea horse artwork.

On the way home, Zoo Boy was muttering to himself, and I caught segments of the dialog. "...Then the male octopus reaches out with his giant tentacle..." and "...when the dolphin surfaces, it takes a deep breath, then dives to the ocean depths...", all in a very dramatic-sounding documentary type voice. I listened for awhile, and heard J ask him "What's all that from?" Zoo Boy answered, very matter-of-fact,"from my new movie, 'Discovering Sea Creatures" (a movie that exists only in his head -- at least at this point). More proof for my long-standing theory that Zoo Boy is going to grow up to be the next Jacques Cousteau.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

spring vacation

I am playing a bit of catch-up at this point, so be sure to look behind this post for two others I just posted this evening!

Our precariously teetering use of curriculum materials last week came to a grinding halt this week, and by Tuesday night I realized that I would do best just to call this a vacation week and start anew next week. It was the only logical choice to be made, given the way the week was turning out.

In the meantime, there's just no stopping the learning from happening! Here the kids (center top of photo) are participating in creating animal habitats in their Museum Explorers class on Monday.

And here are the habitats they created! Zoo Boy's is on the bottom left, J's is on the bottom right. They used a combination of animal stamps and paints to create a habitat for the animals they chose. My favorite part about J's creation is the hand print (hard to see, but it's in the upper left corner of his painting). He was sitting there contemplating his page and what he already had on it, when he reached out and used his hand like a stamp to add himself to the habitat. Pretty cool stroke of creativity!

Zoo Boy had double creativity-duty that day, making this bunny bag in his Monday Munchkins class.

Tuesday we had to cut our usual rhythms short due to my having a dental appointment. My dentist is in the town I grew up in, so I dropped the kids with my parents and headed off for my cleaning. Unfortunately, they found a problem that had to be dealt with ASAP, so we wound up having an impromptu pajama party at my parent's house (didn't make sense to drive all the way home that evening just to turn around and drive all the way back up there the next morning), and didn't get home until mid-afternoon on Wednesday. Talk about a way to kill a week's plans! By then I had long since abandoned any attempt at curriculum, which served us well come Thursday, as I had a lunch meeting with a friend (at a McDonalds with a playland so that the kids could play while we visited), which would have messed up any attempt at "school" that day anyway.

On Friday, we headed out to the children's museum for Zoo Boy's uber-cute class called Spoonfuls of Sugar, then caught up with some homeschooling pals at yet another McDonald's playland, after which we drifted over to a bookstore for some fun and reading.

Winding up our week, J and I had a date with those same homeschooling friends at the Springfield Museums, where we took in a planetarium show (here's J in front of the star ball in the planetarium) and checked out a really cool art museum.

Family Story Time went on as usual, and we read Floss, by Kim Lewis; Spring: An Alphabet Acrostic, by Steven Schnur, illustrated by Leslie Evans; and The Story of the Root Children, by Sibylle von Olfers (a very appropriate follow-up to last week's selection, Mother Earth and Her Children).

Next week: One more week of Raven and River Adventure Circle (which I promise I will FINALLY blog about!). I'm already putting the finishing touches on our next adventure circle, which will be Five Little Ducks.

art museum

On Saturday I took J for a "Mom and Me" day to the Springfield Museums. We wandered about the Science Museum a bit with some homeschooling friends we met there, and then we all attended a Planetarium Show about the beginnings of life on Earth, and the possibility of life on other planets. But the really cool part of the day was checking out another museum on the same grounds -- the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum. J really enjoyed exploring the Hall of Sculptures, which had quite a few reproductions of famous works of art.

The best part of this museum is the Art Discovery Hall. This brightly painted hallway is filled with activity stations exploring Eastern art activities. We spent the bulk of our time at the museum there, and we are sure to return with Zoo Boy as well, as I'm sure he'd love to spend some time in there, too.

J works on an origami project, making a crane. They had step-by-step directions, but it was VERY complicated, and he needed quite a bit of help from me. In the end, our crane looked a lot like a lame duck....

He also discovered a scavenger hunt based on this exhibit, the Wall of Symbols. They also offered prizes (small folding fans) for kids that complete the scavenger hunt, but he wasn't even interested in a prize, he just loves doing scavenger hunts, and had no problem filling out his entire sheet, with an occassional bit of help from me.

J searches the hall for items from the scavenger hunt. Meanwhile, I read up on the Chinese Zodiac, and discovered that J was born in the Year of the Dragon, and Zoo Boy was born in the Year of the Goat (Ram, Sheep, there seems to be some confusion about exactly which animal it is!!).

While J and I were exploring museums, Zoo Boy and The Map Man had their own adventures. Next Saturday, we'll swap, and Zoo Boy and I will have our own special adventure while J hangs with The Man. While we hate to miss out on family time all together, we're finding it's beneficial for the boys to have some time with each of us on their own, and some time on their own in general.

a spoonful of sugar

Playing a little catch-up with my blog -- so much fun stuff has been happening this past week, and I'm having trouble finding time to post about it all!

On Friday Zoo Boy (towards the right side of the group, looking intently at what the teacher is showing them) participated in an adorable museum program entitled "Spoonfuls of Sugar", which was a series of activities based on Mary Poppins. They did sidewalk paintings, rode imaginary carousel horses, pretended they were chimney sweeps, had a tea party on the ceiling, and, of course, flew a kite. Zoo Boy had a BLAST!

I caught what glimpses I could of the class through the classroom door. Here the kids are on the stage doing some sort of game with blocks and paper shapes. (Zoo Boy is towards the back end of the line, with a navy and gray shirt on.)

The class flies their "kite", a parachute (Zoo Boy in the back towards the right side of the pic.) The Boy couldn't wait to tell J and me the details of class, and showed us the bird and chalk drawing he made. All 3 of us left the museum singing "Let's Go Fly A Kite" to the smiles of the museum staff.

While Zoo Boy was in class, J occupied himself with reading. Meanwhile I got some curriculum planning done. I'm thinking I might use time that Zoo Boy is occupied with classes a bit more productively with J. When J is in class, Zoo Boy is content to hook up with other kids in the museum and play. J is just enough older than the little kids that are running about to feel that his time is better spent reading. There's so much stuff in the Enki curriculum that I'd love to do with him but that Zoo Boy isn't ready for yet, I'm thinking that I might be able to take advantage of Zoo Boy's enthusiasm for classes to involve J in projects and activities of his own.

J and I did get to attend a live animal program. And since we were the only people in attendance, J got to pick which animal he wanted to meet. He selected the ball python. So he got a personal lesson in the care and feeding of pet snakes.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

weekly (late!) summary, week 26, spring #2

I know, I know! This is several days later than it should be, and I apologize to those of you who have actually been waiting for it. My only excuse is that, more and more, my life is getting in the way of my blogging. We're just out there having too much fun, there's not enough time to sit here and type!

Anyway, it's been a ridiculously busy week, what with that start of our Monday Homeschool Classes Spring semester, with both kids booked to the gills, and a museum class for J the following day, where he created all the wonders in this picture. We also visited a couple of the museums in Springfield, MA.

The weather this week was a lot like this -- not particularly spring-like. I did a bit of soul-searching and discovered that I've been trying to "push" the spring thing a bit too much, so we dropped curriculum story for this week and next, and are just concentrating on our Raven and River Adventure Circle (which I keep promising I'll blog about, and so I will!).

We topped out our week with a festival celebrating the Spring Equinox. The Map Man said that really, the spring celebration should have begun on Imbolc, at the start of February. (That's the pagan holy day that demarcates the beginning of rebirth -- makes sense, as traditionally this is when many early spring animals are being born in their dens, shepherds' flocks are lambing, and trees are being tapped at the start of the maple sugaring season.) But, I'm sorry, there is no way I'm celebrating Spring in the heart of frozen winter around here. I have trouble enough celebrating it in March! (Snow is forecast for tonight, and they're predicting a big storm at the end of the week -- Spring my BUTT!!)

But anyway, it was really fun celebrating regardless!

And I know you all want to see what the baby birdies are looking like now, so here they are. This will be my last weekly update on them, since they are now full-fledged adolescents, no longer babies. Cute, no?? That's Huckleberry nearest the camera, Raspberry in the middle, and Blueberry furthest away. (Oh, and proud papa Pineapple in the background, who thinks his kids are crazy for happily stepping up onto our hands and letting us carry them around.)

Family Story Time books this week were: It's Spring, by Linda Glaser, illustrated by Susan Swan; Goose's Story, by Cari Best, illustrated by Holly Meade (this is a very sweet story about overcoming a disability, my kids just loved it!); and the beautiful Mother Earth and Her Children, by Sibylle Von Olfers, illustrated by Sieglinde Schoen Smith.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

spring celebration

Yesterday we celebrated the festival of Eostar (the Spring Equinox). Ok, so we were a day late -- the Equinox was technically on Thursday. But since I had to work on Thursday evening, we pushed our all-day-and-night festivities off to Friday.

We had our friends T and B over during the afternoon, and I told a story about the goddess Ostara (and the magic rabbit that lays colorful eggs). Then we had an egg hunt, and dyed eggs as well. In the evening, T and B headed for home, and The Map Man joined us for a wonderfully festive time around the fire (indoors, as the North Wind hasn't quite given up yet, and the weather was just brutal outdoors), eating, playing games, singing songs, and telling stories, including a recitation of the Enki Seasonal Poem, "Princess Spring". We then climbed into sleeping bags and nodded off by the dying fire.

I didn't get any pictures of the evening activities, as it was pretty dark due to a timely power-outage, but here's some pics of the afternoon festivities. We dyed the eggs with tissue paper -- first we ripped colorful tissue paper into small bits and soaked it in water. Then (as the kids demonstrate above) we wrapped hard-boiled eggs tightly with the soaked tissue paper.

We then let the eggs rest for an hour while the dye transferred from the tissue paper to the egg shells. I actually liked the tissue-paper wrapped eggs the best, and we discuss doing this as a paper-mache project next year instead.

An hour later, here's the finished eggs (they looked better than this, the camera washed out a lot of the color). Some of the colors transferred better than others, so I feel a science experiment coming on.... we also discovered that pieces of crepe paper transferred the dye better than the tissue paper did.

The kids on their chilly egg hunt. Brrrr, but it was cold! It may officially be spring now, but our weather just doesn't seem to know that!

The boys explore (and sample) the contents of their eggs.

It was a very lovely festival, given that it was sort of thrown together at the last minute. See Wednesday's post about why it's hard for me to just declare it "Spring" and really "feel" it. But there is something very reassuring to me about the fact that, even totally lacking in organizational motivation, I can still manage to pull something nurturing together! Reminds me that my kids are getting everything they need even if I can't always be "on my game".

a trio of museums

I haven't had enough time to blog all of our adventures this week, so I'm going to have to compact some of them! (Otherwise I'll be sitting here typing all day, and you'll be reading all night!)

On Tuesday we went to our local children's museum for the afternoon. Both kids attended a short program on rabbits (where they of course got to pet one of the resident rabbits), and Zoo Boy hung out with The Map Man (who often meets us at the museum on his way home from work) while J was in his class.

And here's J in class -- entitled "Lucky You", which was about the legend of St. Patrick. They created family crests, made snake traps, and decorated butter cookies. (Here they are working on icing their cookies - J is in the middle in an olive colored shirt.) It was a really fun, hands-on class, and Zoo Boy was pretty sad that I didn't sign him up for it, too. (I suppose I could have, he's right at the lower age range, but I'm trying to let the kids have a couple of separate activities too, and for right now I think The Boy is better off in classes where he's at the upper end of the age range.) The instructor let him do some of the activities after the class was over, though, and he gets to have her as the teacher in his own class next week, so he got over the disappointment of not having class that day. I still can't believe how much he LOVES taking classes!

On Thursday we hooked up with some fellow homeschooled friends at the Springfield Science Museum. Here the kids explore the space display outside the planetarium. They love looking at the pieces of meteors and such under magnification.

We also visited the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum, which is next door to the Science Museum. It was small and a little beyond them at this point, but they enjoyed looking at the displays, and enjoyed checking out the Dr. Seuss-themed exhibit halls.

But the best part of the day was getting to run around and play in the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden on the same grounds. They played tag and hide-and-seek amongst the sculptures, and my friend L and I got some rare visiting time in. (Her Little J is only 2, so often times L is busy chasing after him when we get together -- this set-up was just perfect for visiting, as there just wasn't much trouble the kids could get into, and the outdoor space was just wonderful, although it was QUITE cold with a biting wind.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

m is for.....

M is for Me. I've been trying to find a rhythm to my blogging, and I find on Wednesday I get a bit introspective anyway, so I figured I would continue to try sharing my thoughts on Wednesdays. But while I do that, I'll entertain you with some photos of the kids, like this one of them painting this past week.

M is for March. A traditionally Miserable Month for Me, Mostly because of all the Mud (and I hate hate hate Mud!). It's not really winter, it's not really Spring. For some reason I've been feeling external pressure to embrace the rebirth of Spring this year, but it's just not real for me right now. The fact is, Spring doesn't just HAPPEN. It's a slow re-awakening, not a jumping into life. Recognizing that is My key to surviving the Month and trying to find a way to bridge effectively from Winter to Spring. I've been struggling these past two weeks -- the kids are not transitioning well to story after our Adventure Circle -- J is lying there acting exhausted and disconnected, while I lose Zoo Boy altogether (he actually leaves the room). I don't think it's the stories I'm choosing, I honestly just think it's this Month.

M is for Morning Manure Meditation. I know that MOST people who Meditate do so in a quiet room without distraction so that they can focus on their breath and allow revelations to come to them, or focus on a problem, opening their Minds to allow it resolution. When I Meditate in that way, My Mind does not open, at least not in a way that is obvious to Me. I do think it helps to plant some seeds in My Mind, but those seeds don't seem to sprout until I'm out scooping horse poop. Something about the repetitive Motion allows My Mind to open, and I have the Most aMazing revelations. Like this morning, despite the 30 degrees and drizzle, I realized why I've been having such difficulties the past two weeks with trying to get our Spring Semester off the ground.

I've been simply doing too Much. With March being such a Miserable Month for Me, it was silly for Me to think that I could actually treat it like any other Month and just chug along with our rhythms. Since March is about transition, I need for our rhythms to reflect that. Since our Raven and River circle (details coming, I promise!) is so sensory intensive, and the kids are physically exhausted afterwards, I think I need to drop the additional curriculum story this Month, and just let the Adventure Circle BE our story. It's certainly story enough, and honors the process of the slow awakening and change of the seasons, the rebirth of the earth. And I don't want to lessen the intensity of the activities in the story, because we can't do a lot of outdoor exercising due to the Mud.

In April, when the Mud dries and we can get a lot of good, breath-awakening outdoor activity, I can switch to a less intense adventure circle, and bring the Enki stories back into our rhythms. But for now, we'll transition with what will nourish us Most -- lots of activity, held together by a grounding, natural-rhythm honoring story imbedded within.

M is for Marvelous!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

fun day monday

Yesterday was the start of the spring semester of our Monday Homeschool classes. J was signed up for soccer, and Zoo Boy surprised me by asking if he could play too. (Having never shown any interest whatsoever in playing sports or anything even remotely athletic, like, you know, walking....) They were more than happy to include him, and he stuck it out for 45 minutes, until, while playing goalie, he got his fingers jammed on the ball when trying to stop it. Poor little guy was pretty freaked out by that -- and I agree, that HURTS! We'll see if he still wants to play next week. I'm not holding my breath....

After soccer, J went off to chorus, and Zoo Boy accompanied me to the preschool program I'm co-teaching. He had a blast, and was very pleased when informed that this class was for HIM, not for J. He even participated in the craft, creating this cool St Patrick's Day bookmark. (And crafts are not ordinarily his cup of tea.)

Then both kids had a really awesome class called Museum Explorers, which is a cooperative effort between the class co-op and the museum where we hold it. The kids are going to be learning all sorts of behind-the-scenes information and "secrets" from the museum staff. Here one of the instructors discusses some of the signs of wildlife we can find in our backyards and neighborhoods.

Here's the class (my two on the back left), totally engrossed in the program. They also got to meet some ring-necked doves, and learned how they trained the male to "wave goodbye".

As a project, they dipped rubber animal feet into paint and made track paintings. Zoo Boy was pretty excited about this project, and proudly filled his paper with crow prints.

It was a very busy, full day! And the kids loved every minute! (Well, the part where Zoo Boy got hurt wasn't a lot of fun for any of us, but we all recovered and went on to have a great afternoon.) It's going to be a great spring!

Monday, March 17, 2008

weekly summary, week #25, spring #1

Ok, so this may not look much like spring, but this is the reality of early spring in New England. And we're cheating a bit, given that spring doesn't really roll in until later this week. But this was our weather this week -- it would snow a little, the sun would come out and melt it, the clouds would roll in and snow a little more. On and off all week. "Sugar snow!" J claimed, quoting the Maple Sugaring books we read all week.

And, truly, it was. The cold nights and warm days of late winter/early spring in New England is the time for the gathering of sap and the boiling of syrup. Our curriculum story this week was the Enki Nature Story, "Sugaring Time", and our Family Story Time books supported it: Spring Thaw by Steven Schnur, illustrated by Stacey Schuett; Sugar Snow by Laura Ingalls Wilder, illustrated by Doris Ettlinger (yet another one of the My First Little House Book series that we so love); and the wonderful Sugarbush Spring by Marsha Wilson Chall, illustrated by Jim Daly (by far all of our favorite, although we love all 3 of these books). We also attended (as shown) a fabulous program on Maple Sugaring at our favorite park and nature center, which can be read about in detail here and here.

We topped off our week of sugaring activities by making Maple Sugar Candy. I was dubious about boiling down syrup into sugar in my kitchen, but it came out REALLY wonderful! I think we'll make it a yearly tradition. On Saturday night, we had one final telling of "Sugaring Time" by the fireside, while munching on popcorn topped with Maple Syrup. We're looking forward to getting more of a jump on the sugaring season next year, and plan to tap our own trees and make our own syrup.

Here are this week's wet-on-wet watercolor paintings -- on top is J's creation, on the bottom is Zoo Boy's. They continue to really love the entire process of this painting technique, particularly Zoo Boy (which I find both surprising and delightful!). We also began our Raven and River Adventure Circle, based on the book Raven and River by Nancy White Carlstrom. (I will try to get some photos in the coming week and talk a bit more about the details.) It's an early spring adventure, where we take the role of various animals and try to wake the sleeping river from under its blanket of ice. GREAT fun, and a huge hit with the kids. In fact, we had a bit of a sick day on Thursday, due to J having a cold, and instead of the circle, I simply read the story to them. But the boys jumped in and did various parts of the circle as I was reading, and both of them have spent some time "practicing" pieces of the circle on their own throughout the week.
We also paid a visit to the "special" dinosaur exhibit at the Springfield Science Museum as a family this weekend, to mixed reviews. (Kids love it, adults were bored to tears.)

And just because I know everyone wants a Budgie update! The babies left the nest box this week, and are working on fledging, pumping their little wings and, so far, getting nowhere fast. They are now starting to eat on their own and are about 3/4 the size of their parents. They soon will be ready to go to their new homes (although Blueberry, shown here, is going nowhere -- we'll hang onto him ourselves). We (or should I say, I) also introduced two new Budgies to our fruity flock as well, Coconut and Blackberry. Have I mentioned that we love Budgies??