Friday, October 30, 2009


How is it possible that I have a 9 year old son?!?!?! (Ok, so technically it's possible I could have a 9 year old grandson, but that's entirely beside the point....)

Here's how a 9 year old spends his day: morning school work, noon-time sports class (where they played capture-the-flag, apparently a favorite of kids this age), and afternoon adventures as follows:

Hangin' out at the Science Museum, discussing prehistoric eras with our friend Kyra.

Indulging in plenty of space exploration.

Blowin' out the candles.

Eating cake.

Opening gifts. Namely, the one gift he wanted more than anything else in the world, the Playmobil Pyramid.

He's busy putting it together right now. Past his bedtime. It's a pretty big deal, this is a kid who insists on going to bed on time every night (he loves him some sleep....). But tonight, he's 9, he can stay up a little later to finish his birthday project.

Happy Birthday, my little man! May the world continue to open it's amazing doors before you.

Muchie Lal

After finishing our math block, we were in desperate need of a Fairy Tale. So for the end of our week, we worked with "Muchie Lal," an Indian Fairy Tale from the Enki Education Grade 1 Fairy Tale collection. For the first time, we wrote a summary of the story, rather than a verse from the story. We are getting ready to move into Grade 2 after the holidays, and story summaries are going to be a big part of our language arts work, so I figured a little preparatory work would be a good thing. So I read the kids the story on Wednesday. Yesterday we wrote the summary together (with me as scribe) on a large board and read it both before and after our story drawings. Then today the kids wrote the summaries in their good books. Above is J's summary and this is his story drawing.

The kids did a free drawing from the story, so they each chose whichever scene they wanted to draw. J drew the Muchie Rajah searching for his wife near the den of the 7-headed cobra (which you can see on the right side of the drawing). Zoo Boy (whose drawing is here) drew the Muchie Lal when he was still in his fish form. He used a silver pencil to draw the fish, since we didn't have any silver crayons.

Zoo Boy's story summary. I told him he could choose just one sentence from our group summary to write out, and he chose "Her step-sister pushed her in the river." Curiously, he decided to write this out with his left hand, despite having favored his right hand for most of his recent writing. I think that's why this is even less clear than his normal writing -- he just doesn't have as much mileage writing with the left. I'm still unsure whether or not to encourage him to choose between hands. Is it really a problem for a child to be ambidextrous? Wouldn't it be more like a strength?

My drawing, for comparison, or for curiosity I suppose since we are free-drawing now and my drawing is different from the boys' by any case, I chose to draw the Muchie Ranie and Muchie Lal (all dressed in bangles) inside the den of the 7-headed cobra. Zoo Boy would like for everyone to note that my cobra hoods are in the wrong place. Silly, silly mommy....

The new format for our story work threw Zoo-Boy for a loop. He was suspicious when a blank lined board greeted him at story work time instead of a verse as he has become accustomed to seeing and reading. And when I started writing out the summary on the board, he burst into tears and we had to take a break for a little while to give him time to accept that we were making a few changes in the way we usually do things. He eventually worked his way through it (there were a couple of more instances with tears as well). I think I made a good choice in introducing this variation with the same type of story format he's used to (the Fairy Tales) as opposed to switching to Trickster Tales (on tap for our first 2nd grade block) and story summaries all at once. And I'm also glad that I started with the free drawing last week instead of this so it wasn't two new things at a time. The Boy can only handle so much change in one sitting!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

kid chores, farm style

Several folks have been curious about what exactly the kids do for chores every morning, so since this morning was sunny and beautiful, I decided to follow the kids around with my camera as they did their chores.

The first thing that happens is that Zoo Boy lets the sheep out of the front yard, where they've been grazing since before breakfast.

J lets them back into their regular daytime pasture after they cross the horse pasture. (The horse is locked into her paddock while this is going on.)

Then they fetch the wheelbarrow, which I've already prepared with a bin full of hay and a manure scoop, and bring it up to the horse pasture.

They distribute the hay throughout the pasture so that Annie will get natural exercise as she wanders from pile to pile eating.

Annie patiently waits for her breakfast. (Um, yeah, not so much on the patience thing...unless you consider nervous whinnies and pawing at the gate patience...I don't.)

After the hay is distributed, the boys scour the pasture for horse manure, and they scoop it into the wheelbarrow when they find it. (Today there didn't happen to be any manure, so I didn't get to record that shot for posterity.) Then they take the wheelbarrow back to the barn and put the hay bin and manure fork back where they belong, while I let Annie up onto her pasture and lock her out of the barnyard. (Just to keep the kids safe. Not that she'd every purposely harm them, but she weights ten times as much as the two of them combined, so why take chances.)

Next they open up the chicken coop and let the chickens out.

They collect the eggs and open the top half of the front door to the coop as well (they let the chickens out the back door).

Then it's off to the duck pen to open it up for the day so the ducks can roam the side pastures.

Zoo Boy's favorite job, herding the ducks out of their pen to the pasture.

While they are busy with all this, I muck out the stalls and give Butterscotch his soaked hay (we soak it in water to remove as much of the sugar as possible) and refill the soaking bucket with hay. J taked that bucket up to the garage on his way across the street to do his job (taking care of the neighbor's chickens) while Zoo Boy brings the eggs they collected from our chickens inside. When J gets back from his job, we gather up our dogs and head out for our morning walk.

And that's a morning on our farm!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

divide and conquer

Finally! The much anticipated day where we added King Dominick Divide to our "Paddy's Picnic" drawing and finally completed them. The kids were very excited to read King Dominick's verses and draw him into our scenes, with his special scepter forming the dots on either side of his arm to make a division sign. J (whose drawing this is) added a joyfully singing bird (one of Mini's friends, he told me) to complete his drawing.

Zoo Boy was really into finishing his drawing, adding a picnic blanket (the green striped thing on the ground in the lower right corner, above the title), and claiming "It looks to me like King Dominick Divide is going to come to life in this picture!"

Today we wrote out one of the King's verses (J's is at the top of this post) and then did a division worksheet (this is J's). Both of the boys actually had trouble with that first equation -- "I don't get it," said Zoo Boy. "This doesn't make any sense," said J. I read the problem out loud, "King Dominick has 11 items, and he divides them amongst all the people present, which in this case, is only one." Both boys looked at me quizzically. "There are 11 cherries, and Paddy is the only one there," I offered. "OH!!!" they both cried and hurried to write in their answer of "11". They went on to work through the other problems with no further questions.

Again, I noticed the boys' different styles in working through the problems. Zoo Boy counted rocks into as many piles as there were people until he got the original number, then went back and counted the number in each pile to make sure they were all the same, then wrote down the answer. (Here he works through "10 divided by 2.")

J, on the other hand, counted out the original number first, then used both hands to divide out equal amounts, recognizing instantly how many were in each pile and writing down that number. (Here he is working on the same equation as Zoo Boy was above.)

Their differences in style show in working through word problems as well. J's problem today was "Daddy made a batch of pumpkin muffins. There are 12 muffins in the batch. If we each eat one a day for snack, how many days will we be able to eat muffins?" He thought about it for a couple of moments, then offered his (correct) answer. Zoo Boy's word problem was "We have 8 cookies left. If each person eats 2 cookies for snack today, how many people can we feed." He fiddled around with his fingers for a minute, then said "I need my counting rocks!" and dashed off to find his bag. In another minute he had the correct answer for me.

Here's The Boy's work. His handwriting is getting stronger all the time. I'm pretty curious as to why he still uses only capital letters, but I'm just going to give it more time and see if, with further work on his handwriting sheets, that doesn't just come along naturally without me even having to say anything about it. He's such a reluctant writer that I fear putting him off of it entirely if I even inquire about it, so I believe leaving it alone for now is my best approach.

And here's my finished drawing for comparison. I added cherries to everyone's hands to match Max's 10.

And that's a wrap on our math block! We read a new fairy tale today, just because I felt like we could use that at this point, so we'll work with that over the next couple of days, then take a few days off as we celebrate J's 9th birthday (eek, how can that even be possible?!?!?!) and Halloween and some group homeschooling activities. Then we'll jump back into our next Language Arts block in the middle of next week.

Monday, October 26, 2009

classes and adventures

I've not been real good about posting our adventures over the past week or so. I have a good excuse, I've been sick, and pretty much have been in bed when I haven't been transporting the kids here, there, and everywhere. I've managed to keep up with our daily rhythm (on sort of a relaxed scale), but I've not managed much more than that. So we've had a lot of short forays out and about, but nothing amounting to too much on their own. However, it's enough to lump into one post with a few photos, so here you go! This first picture is from Barkhamsted Reservoir, which we dropped by on our way somewhere, simply because I needed a short break from driving and it was a nice place to stretch our legs.

J's participated in a bunch of classes, including the museum class where he (and Zoo Boy) got to tear apart owl pellets and reconstruct rodent skeletons (pictured). He also has been attending chorus rehearsals for the Youth Chorus he sings with, and of course he's been participating in the Homeschool Gym classes where they've played Capture the Flag and Dodgeball in addition to soccer.

He also got to attend a Geology program put on by the Army Corps of Engineers last week, where he learned about the Rock Cycle (drawn by him here). He really loved that class and raved about it for days. I'm not surprised, given how drawn he's been to any exhibit having to do with geology whenever we visit a museum. I'm pretty excited about his interest in Geology, because I myself find it a very fascinating area of study.

And of course, there's Monday Homeschool Classes. Today in the Colonial Kids class I had them make potpourri sachets, quoits (ring-toss) sets, and cranberry ice (yum!). Spanish class is humming right along (with Zoo Boy and I observing from the side-lines), and we've got enough vocabulary now to be able to speak Spanish during our breakfast prep time in the mornings. And they are starting to choreograph the musical the kids are putting on next semester -- he and his very good friend D are Monkeys together. We've been peeking in at them, and it looks like they are having an absolute blast!

Zoo Boy has mostly been playing and being his usual silly self. He thought the reservoir was " really really super cool" (as evidenced by this little impromptu dance he gave there). He's also taking his own music class which he says he's very much enjoying. (He certainly spends plenty of time listening to his class CD, reading through his music book, and singing all the associated songs.)
So, that's pretty much what's been happening here amongst the curriculum work and a lot of bed hours logged by yours truly. Hopefully we've still got some nice outdoor weather left this fall to get out and enjoy ourselves now that I'm on the upswing again.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Oak Tree

Our Nature Story this week was "The Oak Tree", a part of the Enki Education 1st Grade Nature Stories collection. I purposely picked a story that had a fairy-tale type feel to it, as the kids were in need of that type of thing after a block that has been a bit lean in the story department. (Zoo Boy objected slightly to working with another story, he thought we should just jump right into division, but I promised him "soon enough" that we would add King Dominic Divide to our drawings. Both boys are HIGHLY anticipating his arrival, J has been reciting his verses from memory on a daily basis.)

I gave free-drawing a try. Up until now, I've mostly been doing led-drawings with the boys for artistic story digestion. This is because they both, for their own individual reasons, had a problem really sinking into the drawing process. In J's case, he needed guidance in choosing an important scene from the story. In Zoo Boy's case, it was a lack of motivation to do any drawing at all unless he was following my initial lead. I've attempted free-drawing on several occasions, only to meet with some fairly disconnected work (when any work was done at all). However, the past couple of months, both boys have shown a lot of maturity in their artistic expression, so I decided it was time to give it another shot.

I was really excited at the results! I sat down as usual for our story work, we recalled the story (with the boys doing the vast majority of the retelling, I only jumped in when they were getting too bogged down in details), and then we unrolled our crayon rolls and opened up our good books. I simply stated "Now we'll draw whatever we want to from the story. I think I'll draw the princess sitting in the Oak tree." And then I went ahead and did my drawing. The boys immediately and enthusiastically set to work.

They both sank into the process immediately. J, whose picture is first in this post, started off drawing a castle, complete with King and Queen looking across the meadow, then added the oak tree and princess. As he was adding the tree, he said "And now I want to add some leaves clinging on." "That's what I'm doing!" exclaimed Zoo Boy, excitedly. Sure enough, he was working diligently on a tree with many, many leaves. He also added snow flakes falling from the sky (which are very difficult to see, since they were drawn in light pink), to prove that some of the leaves hung on all winter long.

This afternoon we took a nature walk in an area dominated by various species of Oaks. The boys pointed out the color of the Oaks and how different they were from the orange and red Maples and the yellow Hickories and Sassafrass that dominate our morning walking route. They also noticed that while most of the Maples are now bare, the Oaks are only just coming into their own.

My drawing, for comparison. This time the comparison to make is just how different the boys' drawings are from mine. They are truly starting to bring forth the parts of the stories that speak to them in their artwork. I'm excited to see where this leads! I think we're close to the point where I can just leave them to their own drawings without even having to start them out. The only remaining question is, do I want to? I very much enjoy creating alongside them.


It's that time of year! Every October, the minute we get a sunny day after a period of cold, we are inundated with Lady Bugs. Well, technically, these are not "Lady Bugs" as in the native version of the Ladybird Beetle. These are actually Asian imports, brought over to the US for agricultural purposes. These little ladies (and dudes) eat aphids all summer, then migrate into buildings for winter. Apparently, we have a very healthy population of them in this area, because every winter our walls and ceilings are literally crawling with them.

What harm do they cause? Well, none, actually. I hear they taste bad, so, you know, I try to avoid eating them. They keep our cats occupied for a few weeks. And they vacuum up fairly easily once the novelty of having hundreds of bugs in the house has worn off. For now, though, it's a somewhat charming reminder that winter is coming.

They come in a wide variety of color shades, anywhere from pale tan to bright orange to fire-engine red. And unlike the native Ladybird Beetle, who can be distinguished by breed depending on the number of spots, these guys can have no spots at all, or upwards of 20 (based on our particular sampling). Fortunately they are all pretty darned cute, as far as bugs go anyway.

Is your skin crawling yet? Well, c'mon over on a sunny fall afternoon and stand on our front steps for a few minutes. In the time it took me to snap a few photos, I had several dozen crawling about me, in my hair, on my arms, on my feet, and all over my clothes.

A rather festive way of decorating your jammies, don't you think?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

expanding our rhythms

This is one of those posts where I ramble for a while, so I figured you might like to see some pics from this morning's walk, just to keep from getting too bored while reading. In this first one, J walks Cheer and Zoo Boy walks Joy (and Grace is with me, making picture taking a significant challenge...).

I'm making some changes to our morning rhythms, in response to a couple of things. First, as the kids get older and more responsible, they are increasingly a part of the general daily animal/farm care. Which means that they are spending more time doing chores. That works out well, because it means that we are leaving later for our walk, which will be nice as it starts getting colder, as it will give the sun a chance to climb higher in the sky and warm things up a bit more.

(Zoo Boy tagging along behind on the way home.)

Our walk is also taking longer, because we are walking further now that the kids' stamina can handle it, and because we are taking all three dogs with us. For some reason, the more dogs you add to a walking scenario, the more stopping here and there you do to check out sniffs and good places to pee. There's also dog-juggling to be taken into account -- swapping off dogs, or, if you are Zoo Boy, ditching dogs altogether in favor of hanging behind to contemplate life. All these things take time.

(J walks Cheer.)

Which all adds up to about an extra hour of time to be accounted for each morning. Which pushes snack time to before story work rather than after (which honestly, makes more sense to me anyway). It also gives our morning the feel of an overall slower start, which is also OK by me. This time of year taking our time to bask in what remains of the sunshine and nice weather feels like a natural thing to me.

(Joy and Grace, mugging for the camera.)

By the time we get home, get the dogs in their yards, get changed out of barn clothes, do our spin-and-fold sensory integration exercise, and eat some snack, we're looking at starting our story work around 11:00. Which means lunch isn't happening until around 1:00ish, by the time we're done with story work and an hour's worth of play, and rest time isn't starting until 1:30 or so, which also means that rest, with a reading of a chapter from our current chapter book at the start and some independent practice time at the end, doesn't wrap up until 3:00 or later.

That doesn't leave us a lot of time for afternoon adventures, especially considering that, once the clocks finally change, it'll be getting dark an hour earlier. Which leaves me in a bit of a quandry. If we're staying home and painting or something, then it's not a big deal. However, if we want to get out to a museum or somewhere, most of those places close at 5:00. And if we want to get together with friends, well, most of them are heading home to eat by 5ish.

I'm still working through what to do about that. For the rest of the fall, we're going heavy on the museum/nature center classes, since they cater towards school schedules and don't start until late afternoon, hence fitting in well with our schedules.

And I've been known to feed the kids in the car on our way to spend the afternoon out and about with friends. I just don't want to do that EVERY day. I feel like our rest time (including the reading before and the practice time after) are a very valuable part of our rhythms. But getting out with friends is valuable, too. So it's a balancing act. We've been pretty on-the-go all fall, I guess I feel like it's time to tip the scale back in the other direction a bit.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

subtract, minus, give away

This week we're working with Mini Minus's verses and subtraction. To the left, J added Mini to his drawing, in a splendid blue dress, giving one of Paddy's cherries to Max.

Well finish our drawing next week after adding King Dominic Divide to the group.

Zoo Boy's Mini is giving one of Max's cherries to Paddy.
As we were pulling out our Good Books to do our drawings, he observed, "I know why we do this. It's so we learn to draw better." I just mumbled "Oh?" and he continued, "Well, it's working, I'm drawing MUCH better!" I simply stated, "Things tend to get better with practice," and he nodded in agreement.

J works on his subtraction sheet, lining up his counting rocks, then pushing away the number that are given away.

His completed sheet.

Zoo Boy works in a similar fashion, and surprisingly much quicker than J. He got one problem wrong, but he discovered the mistake himself and fixed it without my having to draw attention to it. He's definitely got this whole math thing down pat (so does J). We'll see how things go next week -- he struggled with the concept of division when we first introduced it in the Spring. My guess is that he's more ready for that sort of thinking now.

The Boy's verse (J's is at the top of this post) and completed sheet.

As he was writing out the verse, he had a sudden realization. "Oh!" he exclaimed. "I know why you write that out," pointing to the large print version of the verse I provide on an easel for them to read and write from. "That's so I know what to write!" I just smiled at him. Categorizing why we do the things we do seems to have become important to him lately. Earlier in the week he asked me why taking walks is part of our "homework". When I offered, "Getting exercise is important in everyone's day," he said "Yeah, that's what I thought." I'm thinking that he's trying to find connectedness between what we do and what other families do. I'm going to start letting him and J take a peek at some of the other Enki Homeschool blogs to show them other kids' work and help support that feeling of connectedness and belonging.

My drawing so far, for comparison.