Saturday, May 30, 2009

around the farm today

Just a few random shots from around our farm today:

The Map Man squaring up a fence post on a new line of fencing.

Our latest addition, a ewe lamb I've named Esme. (Yes, she IS the cutest thing on the planet!) I traded one of my ewes for her, because I just had to have her. All those spots!!

Annie, hiding in her stall from the swarms of biting black flies.

Above Annie's head, the barn swallows returned this past week and built their nest. They are now busy laying their eggs (and catching and eating the aforementioned flies).

Zoo Boy working on some sort of sand project.

J just hangin' around.

Friday, May 29, 2009

mischief in Alpha-Beta

This week we worked with the Enki Education 1st Grade Language Arts story "Mischief Comes to Alpha-Beta". I already posted about the little hiccup we ran into when we tried to recall the story the day after I read it initially, and what I did to remedy that problem. Here's the rest of the story!

The tale is about odd-consonants and how they use trickery and magic to steal letter sounds so they can reside in the city of Alpha-Beta. After recalling (and summarizing) the story (the day after the 2nd telling of it), we drew pictures of the main characters in the story. And the following day (today) we located the letters within the pictures ("C" in the two upper left-hand drawings, Q in the upper right, X -- the spaces between the faces -- in the lower left, and J in the lower right), then wrote in some words using the "stolen" sounds (one word suggested by each of us).

That first drawing was J's. This is Zoo Boy's. He again did all of his own drawing and writing, even though he chose only to write his own suggestions. But still, that's fairly huge progress for him. I've noticed over the past several weeks that he is reversing some of his letters (N and S being two of them), and he's forming a lot of his letters from the bottom up. I blame that mostly on my having been lazy about working handwriting practice into our rhythms this year. So for that reason, and given that J still occasionally draws a letter from the bottom up, I've decided to have the boys work on handwriting sheets during our summer break to hopefully at least keep their handwriting skills from slipping over the summer. And I'll make continued handwriting practice more of a priority as we start up again in the fall.

My drawing, for comparison.

You'll note the simple "Y" and "Z" at the bottom of the drawings. This is because these two letters slipped in before the Giant closed the gate to the city. We didn't talk about them (although we already discussed "Y" as a consonant last week) in the context of this story, I just put them out there to consider. Next week, the final week of our last Language Arts block, we will talk about Z and wrap up the entire year by writing out a chart of all the letters, and begin organizing our Language Arts Good Book pages for binding during our final week of schoolwork for the year.

This particular story was not a required part of the curriculum, but I wanted to use it (despite the kids' initial difficulty with understanding it) because there is a feeling of coming full circle. In the very first story we read this year, "Little Falcon", the child passed through the golden oak gates. And here, in our final story of the year, the Giant closes the gates to the city where the alphabet resides, just as we complete our work with the individual letters. I'm a big fan of symmetry, and working with this story at this time brought about a really nice feeling of completion to it.

turtle class

The boys participated in a museum class yesterday, turtles being the topic. The class was taught by two of the boys' favorite musuem teachers. Here Ms Rachael (the main squeeze in Zoo Boy's life) passes around a turtle for the kids to examine first-hand.

J shows off the flattened profile of his water turtle's shell, which, he tells me, causes less friction while swimming under water. He also pointed out that land turtles have domed shells, because they don't have to worry about friction, but they DO have to make sure there's enough room inside to contract into (to protect them from predators). Land turtles using hiding as their defense, while water turtles use speed. Pretty clever design, if you ask me!

Ms Sarah helps Zoo Boy put the finishing touches on his land turtle, while J looks on.

A top-side comparison of Zoo Boy's land turtle and J's water turtle. They boys pointed out that ALL turtles have 13 scutes (? the name for the shell scales?) on their shells. I never realized that, and shared my excitement at learning this fact with the boys. They also pointed out the difference in the feet between a walking land turtle and a swimming water turtle (J's turtle has webbed feet).

They then offered to flip their turtles over, and lo and behold, there are difference on the bottom of the shell too. Go figure!
So we all learned a lot about turtles!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

when things don't go as you expect...

Here's the blank piece of paper that I had planned to fill with the summary of yesterday's curriculum story, "Mischief Comes to Alpha-Beta" (an Enki Education 1st Grade Language Arts story). I was excited about this -- for the first time doing a written summary of a story with the boys, rather than just a verbal recall. I had it well-planned: I was going to restate their summary in a more concise form, then model writing it down. It was going to be great!

It didn't happen. Not only did I not get to the writing part, I didn't even get to the making-the-summary-more-concise part. When I started to lead the kids in their story recall, they both just looked blankly at me. J scratched his head and said "You know, I really didn't understand that story. It was really confusing. And long. And, well, kind of crazy." I turned to Zoo Boy and he just shrugged at me, a half-smile on his face to say "me, too".

Obviously I had no choice but to bag my plans for the day. So instead of writing and drawing, I retold the story to them. Only this time, I made a few props. Just some simple drawings of some of the key characters met during the story. And a very basic town map, showing simple block houses and the letter characters residing inside. We borrowed some of our wax buddies from our 4-processes block to play a couple of roles. And the fingers on my right hand served as the four main characters.

As I re-read the story, I simply laid out the pictures I drew on top of the town map as they occurred in the story.

It was an enormous hit.

As soon as I finished, J asked "Can we play with this stuff?"

Absolutely, I told him, and I left them to it.

At one point I stuck my head back in the room to find J re-telling the story to himself, using the drawings in the way I had. Later, Zoo Boy ran through the house with a couple of the drawings, using them like dolls in some complicated make-believe story.

I'm guessing I'll find them a bit more connected to the story tomorrow morning. THEN I can go ahead and do the other stuff I've had planned for story work this week.

the ol' ballgame

Last night we went with a group of 350-some-odd homeschoolers to watch the New Britain Rock Cats, our "hometown" AA team (a Minnesota Twins farm club), get clobbered by the NY Yankees (booooo.....) AA club. It was cloudy, and chilly, and the team we were rooting for got walloped. But we had a great time anyway! The Map Man and J were a part of a large group that helped unfurl the giant American Flag (on the upper right side of the field in this photo).

Zoo Boy opted for climbing around the stands instead of standing around waiting to go out on the field, so he and I made our way to our seats and got settled.

The Man and J got into the game (wearing their matching Rock Cats ball caps, might I add -- we all got one as part of the group promotion).

The boy adding his own brand of goofiness to the evening. He actually surprised us by really getting into the game, the statistics, and the cheering. He was the only one of us not ready to leave by the middle of the 6th inning, but we convinced him otherwise (i.e. we bribed him with ice cream).

My guess is we'll wind up back at the ballpark again before the summer ends -- we really had fun!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

more what we've been up to

Zoo Boy pursuing his latest passion, Paleontology. He says he's going to be a Paleontologist when he grows up, because he wants to solve prehistoric mysteries. He recently purchased a fossil excavation set, complete with a book describing how to go about being a good Paleontologist. The kit is not so easy to complete, and will keep him busy for a long time.

Sunday we had an entire afternoon of thunderstorms with heavy downpours. The boys decided to pretend they were living behind a waterfall. That sure was what it seemed like here for awhile!

Their monthly magazines arrived this weekend -- J gets Ranger Rick and Zoo Boy gets My Big Back Yard, both are put out by The National Wildlife Federation. The arrival of the new editions always prompts a couple hours of concentrated reading together as both explore each other's subscriptions.

J holds one of our new ducklings (not from the batch we hatched out last week, which have gone to be grown out by the woman we got the eggs from -- we have a new batch of eggs in the incubator now -- but from a small batch of Call Duck ducklings we are raising). The boys have been helping me out raising the little guys, handling them every day for me so that they get used to people.

Zoo Boy's latest prized possession -- a filed guide to bird songs, complete with digital versions of 138 different songs. Both kids have been having a great time learning how to identify all the bird songs we hear around here, and listening to those that we've not heard before. They also like giving me pop quizzes -- "Mommy, what's this bird?"

Yesterday we were at a family cook-out, here J dances to "Cotton-Eye Joe" with his cousin. It was a gorgeous day to be outside relaxing! The Map Man and I spent the morning planting in our flower garden, hopefully I'll have some colorful photos to share soon!

Friday, May 22, 2009


Yeh-Shien, the young maiden
Yearns for her friend.
Yanked from the pool,
He met a sad end.
Yeh-Shien, the young maiden
Yells in despair.
Yet, soon she will raise
Her arms high in prayer.

-from "Yeh-Shien", a Chinese Fairy Tale (adapted by Enki Education)

Here is Yeh-Shien, a Chinese Cinderella (in fact, the earliest recorded version of the Cinderella story). Rather than a fairy godmother, this gal had the magic bones from her pet fish. We used working with this tale to introduce the letter "Y" (in consonant form). J decided to draw her at the party (where she lost her shoe) -- that ball hanging on the right is, he says, a Chinese pinata.

Here's Zoo Boy's drawing. Of special note here, he decided to write the entire title himself, and thoroughly unprompted my me (I was no where near ready to write the title on mine). His N is reversed and on the wrong line, and his upper and lower case letters are mixed, but I was pleased to see him take such initiative with his writing. It's certainly not the norm for him.

The boys' upper and lower case Ys -- J's is on top.

J's written verse. It occured to me today how far he's come with his writing -- he's keeping his words well spaced on the page (and from each other), and he's not tiring, even with a verse this long.

My drawing -- I put her by the pool where her fish was killed by her step-mother.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

end of year awards and performance

Monday marked the end of this school year's Monday Homeschool Classes, and was a day for awards presentations and performances. First we attended the presentation of the Junior Master Gardener certificates -- here J accepts his from his instructor.

The certificate, plus the insect and disease and landscape horticulture pins. The instructor is working on starting a garden for the JMG class in a community garden location, so I'm sure we'll see more JMG activities this summer. Which will thrill J, he's just loved being involved with JMG.

Then the Homeschool Chorus performed. Here's a sampling from their concert, a Northern Native American lullaby (J is on the far right):

The kids all take a bow. They were working on singing rounds this semester, and it was challenging for them, but the results were wonderful!

After a few other activities that my kids were not involved with, J took part in a soccer game at the conclusion of his soccer class. His instructor says that he's really doing well with his soccer skills. (He's the kid on the far left with the blue shirt on.)

Then they handed out certificates and trophies for all the soccer kids. And then I served ice cream to everyone -- I had sundae toppings left over from my Farm Animal class (we talked about cows in the final class and made ice cream), and decided that an ice cream treat was a great way to end the year. I was right -- the kids (and some of the adults!) were thrilled.

It was a great year -- the boys really loved the classes they were involved with, and I very much enjoyed all the classes I taught. But I'm ready for a break before we dive back in again next fall!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

what the boys have been up to

I'm slowly realizing that there is just not going to be time to make all the blog entries I'd like to about what we've been doing around here the past couple of weeks, so I'm going to just go ahead and do a quickie catch-up post to get us caught up to THIS week, then go from there.

So here's some of what the boys have been doing:

Exploring the physics of magnetism...

...learning to crochet (well, J anyway)...

...building entire cities out of common household items...

...earning a living...

(J has done such outstanding work at his job, his employer doubled his salary!)

...practicing everything they can think to practice...

(this was a joint effort, J did the letters, Zoo Boy did the mathematical symbols)

...and getting out to enjoy the beautiful weather.

Lots and LOTS of that!

vowel secrets

I am falling seriously behind on my blogging!! I figured I'd better blog about last week before THIS week is over!

We started our final full block, a Language Arts block, last week. We read the Enki 1st Grade LA story, "Vowel Secrets", which introduces the short vowel sounds as disguises that the vowels wear. (I can't possibly do justice to the magic and wonder this story inspired for my kids, so I won't bother trying! But trust me, the kids embraced the idea enthusiastically!) This first drawing is mine (and is now posted in the hallway with our other work from this spring -- my words are slightly more legible than the kids'), and depicts the conclusion of our short vowel work -- I'll go through the steps below.

It's been months since we introduced the vowels, so we started with a short summary (mostly told by the kids) of "The True Name of the King". Then, as I read the "Vowel Secrets" story to them, as each of the characters (vowels) appeared in the story, I simply laid out J's paintings from the previous story, as a way of tying the two together. It was VERY successful and made the transition to the new story absolutely seamless for them. After the story, I posted the paintings in the hallway again, as shown.

The next day, we recalled the story, and did this drawing (this is J's), of the fire fairy's fire and the vowels in disguise (depicted by lower case letters). As I wrote the letters on my own drawing, I simply said their short vowel sounds, and the kids followed suit.

The following day, we took turns coming up with words that used the short vowel sounds, and wrote them on our drawings. (Again, this is J's work.)

Here's Zoo Boy's. He found all that writing quite taxing, so I suggested just writing down ONE word for each vowel sound, so he wrote down the words he came up with.

There is a third 1st grade vowel story that goes along with the two we've already worked with, but after observing my kids working with this story, I've decided to save that one for the fall to reawaken their vowel work then, rather than drawing them more into the academic realm now. Right now they are in need of working with a regular 1st grade fairy tale.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Look what's been happening in our incubator this weekend:

Looking all fluffy and cute in the brooder. These are Indian Runner/Magpie cross ducklings, and I'm loving the variety of colors we got! There are 22 so far, not sure if any of the remaining 4 eggs will hatch or not -- they've got until tomorrow until we give up on them.

Needless to say the kids are excited -- and so are us "big kids". There's not much cuter than ducklings!