Saturday, February 28, 2009

sugaring time

Sleep Root Children 'neath North Wind's roar
And rest your weary eyes.
Frost Children at the dawn will play
And then you must arise.

-from "Sugaring Time", Enki Education Kindergarten Nature Story

We're starting our new block next week, and in preparation we worked with the Enki Kindergarten Nature Story "Sugaring Time" this weekend. Maple Sugaring is our primary science/nature theme for this next block, so we started with story and artistic digestion. We'll be starting our new Maple Sugaring Adventure Circle next week. I've got a Sugaring program lined up with the wonderful educators at our favorite nature center/park in a couple of weeks, and we're planning on attending a local Maple Festival mid-month, including a talk on sugaring in our own backyards. We'll also be visiting the neighbor who taps our trees to watch him make syrup from our very own sap. (This first photo is J's story drawing done this afternoon.)

Zoo Boy's drawing.

We had considered tapping our own trees this year (our neighbor taps the trees on our back 12 acres -- we would tap the trees in our yard), but decided that working more thoroughly with the maple process this year will yield a better understanding for the boys when we do set out to make our own syrup and sugar next year. That will give us the year to gather the equipment we need (you can't just boil sap on your stove -- too much steam is produced, it needs to be done outdoors or at least with proper ventilation).

I just love this picture of "the guys" last night as they listened to the "Sugaring Time" story by the fireside.

A special treat -- The Map Man joined us for our story drawings today! By the way, the little "people" at the base of the tree are the Root Children, sleeping/resting up in preparation for their job of hauling the sweet water up Old Maple's trunk all day when the temperatures get above 40 degrees. The little "people" in the branches are the Frost Children, clinging tight to Old Maple while North Wind howls all night long. In the morning, the Frost Children dance away to play in the woods while the Root Children are hard at work hauling the sweet water and pouring it through the taps.

My drawing, just 'cuz.

carnival tricks

My friend T (as opposed to my friend Th, or my friend Tr -- I think there's some new law stating that your name must start with T in order to be my friend. It's my new screening process....) threw a birthday party for her daughter D today. My kids have been to some pretty outrageous parties lately -- first the fabulous Kyra threw her son Fluffy an amazing space adventure/mad science thing where the kids defeated enemy worlds and then blew things up and set them on fire. (I mean, really, how can you go wrong?) Unfortunately, I was too stunned to remember to take any photos of that party. And now T went and did this.

But today I worked around my jaw hanging on the floor to take pictures of the guest performer who taught the kids a bevy of carnival tricks, including:

Balancing Peacock feathers on their fingers. (And feet. And forehead.)

Juggling scarves.

Making juggling balls.

Two-person ball juggling.

Spinning plates atop sticks.

He then made balloon animals (and crowns, and airplanes, and motorcycles, and dinosaurs, and you-name-it) while the kids ate.

But as if that wasn't wonderful enough, T had the kids dye their juggling scarves, too. (they went home with a trio of juggling scarves, and a spinning plate and stick -- it's been like a carnival side-show in here for the past few hours....).

Zoo Boy's birthday part is next week. I'm feeling very, very inferior....

he's meaning it

Bad Mommy moment here -- I'm totally intruding on my son's privacy, but this was just too cute not to share. J's very good friend D had her birthday party today, and he made her a card. He thought long and hard about what he wanted to say before he set pencil to paper and came up with this sweet gem:

award incompetence

I'm very honored that dongdong over at The Adventures of Prime (W) and J has nominated me for a Lemonade Award, for a blog that shows great Attitude and/or Gratitude.

And here's where my almost entire lack of technological competence shows. You'll see my problem following even the simple rules of accepting this award:

Here are the rules:

1. Put the logo on your blog or post.

2. Nominate blogs which show great Attitude and/or Gratitude

3. Link to your nominees within your post.

4. Let them know they have received this award by commenting on their blog.

5. Share the love and link this post to the person from whom you received your award.

Ok, the linking stuff I can do, I've been linking to things in my blog entries for years. But that first part? Step number 1?

I have no idea how to do it. I tried cut and past, which is about the only computer function that I'm really comfortable with (although blogger's not the easiest place to cut and paste). I tried clicking on the cute little lemonaid stand logo, but it's not clickable. (Don't think that stopped me from trying repeatedly to click on it!) The "arrow over" function tells me it's a photobucket file, although I can't seem to find a link to the file, and with past experiences with photobucket, I've not had outrageous success lifting artwork for my blog anyway.

What's a technologically deficient award recipient to do??

I'll tell you what this one is going to do.

1. Thanks so much, dong dong, for the award! I nominate you back.

2. I nominate all the blogging moms I read.

3. Here's a few of them that you might like too: Tree of Life Homeschool, This Mom, Aspergertopia, Red Dirt Mother, Live, Learn, Knit

4. Since I can't figure out how to even accept the award myself, I'm not going to send anyone here to try to figure it out by back-tracking, so I'll skip the notification process. Just know that I truly enjoy reading all of the above blogs, and many others (whom I'm not entirely confident would want me advertising their blogs....). Plus, I really don't comment much on other folks blogs.

5. This part I can do! Go read about the Adventures of Prime and J -- there's lots of great pictures and stories of homeschooling fun!

Y'know, what I really need is for someone to give me an award for managing to maintain a blog with almost no technological know-how. Seriously, I deserve that one!

Friday, February 27, 2009

snowflakes and pancakes

The boys each took part in a museum class yesterday. Zoo Boy's class was about winter and snow. Their teacher, Ms Susan, always has an amazing display of resources available for the kids to look at. Zoo Boy spent quite a bit of time after class poking through her assortment of snow-themed books and toys.

The class works on their art project. They also played games with cut-out snowflakes, listened to snow-themed stories, and I'm pretty sure I saw them making homemade play dough at some point, though I'm not sure what they were doing with it in regards to the class.

Here's Zoo Boy's snowy art project.

J's class with Ms. Susan was about making pancakes! Here they are assembling the ingredients to make blueberry pancakes (they made plain ones, too). Ms. Susan had lots of syrups and fruit toppings, too.

J shows off his pancake craft.


Now, that's a class I could get into....

Thursday, February 26, 2009

todd and evan

Even's end is great
O, 4, 6, 8!
Odd ends every time
With 1, 3, 5, 7, 9.

-from "Even and Odd Dance", Enki Education 1st Grade Academic Activity

This week we are working with the math concept of odd and even, introduced via an Enki Education Math story called "Todd and Evan". The two brothers both amass an army to defend their kingdom, Evan arranging it so that every soldier has a partner to look out for them, and Todd leading the way before the troops. I like J's drawing so much more than my own, I'm not even going to include mine this week. The boys' drawings are so much more detailed than mine.

Zoo Boy's drawing. So we read the story on Tuesday, then did our story drawings yesterday. Today we started our story work with the "Even and Odd Dance", and without my saying a word about the story or our work with it to this point, J suddenly shouted, "Hey! Even and odd -- that's just like Evan and Todd in our story! I bet that's why they're named that!"

Then we sat down with a dot number chart, and I asked the boys to color in the boxes with dot numbers with the correct color -- red for Todd/odd and green for Evan/even. J immediately set to work coloring in his chart. Zoo Boy colored the "1" block in red, and the "2" block in green, then sat puzzling over the chart. "Are the rest green?" he asked. "They all have friends." I could see his confusion and offered, "Some of them have leaders." "OH!!" his eyes lit up with understanding, and he joyfully colored in the rest of his chart, getting them all correct.

Then I asked J to write the numbers next to the dot boxes. Zoo Boy started to do the same, but was quickly frustrated as there wasn't enough room for his larger writing, and because he hasn't had enough practice with writing the numbers yet to feel confident without a guide to follow. So I labeled the boxes for him as J completed his chart.

J's final dot number chart. As he completed it, he sat back to look at it and made an observation. "Hey, I see a pattern!" he exclaimed excitedly. "Oh?" I said, playing it cool. "What pattern do you see?" He pointed at the alternating colors and said "Red, green, red, green." I nodded and smiled. "Cool!" he said, and Zoo Boy pointed out the pattern on his chart, too.

Story work time was over and the boys transitioned into play time. J immediately ran to find some unit blocks, and he built armies for Todd and Evan of various sizes, pretending the blocks were soldiers, and noting which were odd numbers ("23 -- that's an odd number" I heard him tell Zoo Boy at one point), and which were even ("Now I have 100 -- that's Evan's army, because it's even.").

The discovery process is just TOO cool....

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

planning an adventure circle

I'm in the process of preparing for our next block, which begins next Monday. I'm pretty much ready with my Language Arts plans, which brings me to my next project -- planning out our new Adventure Circle. I've had a bunch of questions in the past, especially from others with kiddos with Special Needs, asking how I go about deciding what to include in our circle, and how to weave it into a story, so I thought this might be a good time to answer some of those questions and try to describe my process.

I start with a seasonal theme, which allows what the kids are seeing in their environment to naturally support them in our circle. Since the Enki Education curriculum is set up to encourage that very thing, there are a variety of seasonally appropriate movement activities in their Movement books, so it's just a matter of selecting those activities that give my kids what they need in terms of sensory integration and weaving those into a story line.

This coming block I'm going to focus on Maple Sugaring, as the Maples here in New England were recently tapped and the sugar houses are gearing up for their busy season. This also allows our circle to support our Science Curriculum (our nature story this week will be about Sugaring as well). An integrated approach to learning is very important to me, and works best for my kids -- everything we work on supports everything else.

Identifying my kids' current needs is the tricky part. Since they are constantly developing and changing, what they need out of circle changes too, so I am constantly reevaluating which components need to be included. Which is one of the reasons I like to change to a different circle each block -- at the end of four weeks, my kids are almost always in a different "place" with individual skills and needs than they were at the start of the block. I do try to carry some of the same activities over, however, for some consistency and familiarity.

Right now, J has the sensory needs of a fairly typical 1st grader. That means that he needs a balance of working on mid-line crossing, base senses (vestibular and proprioceptive), and tactile work, in increasingly challenging increments, and that his needs can be met fairly well by the Enki Education 1st Grade Movement activities. His motor planning skills can always use some strengthening, and I need to be sure to ground any spinning activities (vestibular stimulation) with good solid proprioception (joint impacting), otherwise he feels dizzy.

For Zoo Boy's needs, I depend not only on my own observations of him, but also on the advice of the professional Occupational Therapists that he works with every week. Right now we're focusing on core strength, motor planning, and alternating motions (right side, then left side, then right side, etc). These are all precursors to being able to cross mid-lines, which he finds extremely difficult. He also has a lot of issues around his vestibular system, so I sneak in a little of that here and there. And he has always had a need for lots and lots of proprioception -- "heavy work" the OTs like to call it. He needs a huge amount of joint impaction to feel grounded and able to focus on tasks, even simple tasks like eating or walking.

But there's a problem in working his needs into our circle -- Zoo Boy is still highly resistant to most of the Enki activities that combine verse and/or singing with movement. My best guess is that it is too complex for him to try to listen and move at the same time -- when he listens to music, he sits stock still. So he "sits out" most of that part of the circle, watching from nearby so that he is still engaged with the circle. It would be easy to mistake his lack of participation in those segments as disinterest, but in fact, if you were to ask, he will tell you that he loves adventure circle. He's processing it in his own way.

HOWEVER! He also needs the sensory work that the Enki activities provide, every bit as much (in fact, probably much more) than his brother. I get around this by writing in sensory activities that meet his needs in between the Enki activities. So he's getting nourished by the rich verses and songs of the Enki activities by watching and listening to J and I do them, but also getting the sensory integration work he needs.

My general formula is to select a couple of opening-type activities to "awaken body and breath", as the Enki materials state. Then we do a couple of mid-line crossing type activities, and at least one vestibular and one tactile activity. I modify almost all of the activities slightly to emphasize proprioception, and will occasionally throw in extra proprioception-rich activities. I also include a few activities that have a strong motor-planning component. Simple jump rope games and hopping across pillows laid out on the ground are examples of these sorts of activities.

Then all that is left is to write a simple storyline around the activities so that there is the feeling of moving from one part of the story to the next as we go along. I try to include story language like "Once upon a time," in my story plan, as my kids like the feel of acting out a "real" story.

Stay tuned to see how our Maple Sugaring Adventure Circle turns out! It's shaping up to be a fun one!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

newest addition

In front of the other lambs is Carlisle, who was born yesterday. His mother is the very beautiful Sun, who disappointingly only ever seems to give us one lamb at a time. Rounding out the crew, from left to right, is Edward (nibbling hay at the feeder), Jasper, Emmett, and Bella. We have one ewe left to lamb, Nilla (Sun's mother), who seems to like to make us wait on pins and needles for her lambs.

Now you all know why I don't get much done this time of year. I spend a lot of time sitting in the pasture watching these cuties play!

Monday, February 23, 2009

summary school week #17

I shook up our rhythms a bit starting this week, deciding to focus on just one curriculum story per week in order to feel less rushed now that the kids are involved in more outside pursuits. I'll describe the changes as I go along with this post.

This was the third week of our second math block, and we focused on greater than/less than (J is showing off one of the symbols we made to go with our story work this week), which I blogged about here and here.

Since the kids are each taking multiple classes with our Monday Homeschool Class group, I decided that we didn't need to be trying to squeeze in work with our curriculum that day as well, as the day was full enough. This week, however, was a Monday holiday, and we had a fairly unstructured day in which the kids were able to explore my spinning wheel and the interest in gears that it promoted.

J folded an origami "bomber" and made some bombs, then drew a bomber dropping letters rather than bombs -- note the "creative spelling".

Tuesdays Zoo Boy has formal Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy, and both boys have a very active lunchtime playdate with homeschooling friends, so I felt that doing circle on that day does not make sense. So we are participating in our current Adventure Circle on Wednesdays through Saturdays instead. We do read our Curriculum Story for the week on Tuesday morning, however, so that the kids have a chance to sleep on it before we start working with it on Wednesdays.

The kids have created a game that uses silk scarves to represent various types of Pokemon, and have been having a lot of fun playing this game during their creative playtime this week.

We work with our Math (currently) or Language Arts (next block!) curriculum story on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings. Wednesdays afternoons are for painting or baking, Thursday afternoons are usually museum classes (although this Thursday we got together with a group of homeschoolers at the library), and Friday afternoons are gym classes and playdates. Friday evenings are for reading a Nature Story (Science curriculum), then we work with the Nature Story on Saturday, with artistic digestion in the morning, and a related activity, craft, or field trip in the afternoon. (This week, however, I managed to pick up a stomach virus on Friday night, incapacitating me for the weekend and eliminating science curriculum for this week!)

J shoots a basket in his Friday gym class. This week was, obviously, Basketball.

We do practice work (handwriting -- letter practice sheets -- and reading) Monday through Friday. This week J was reading Mummies in the Morning (a Magic Treehouse Series book by Mary Pope Osborn), and Zoo Boy finished up reading Little Bear and started Father Bear Comes Home (both from the Little Bear Series by Else Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak).

Storytime stories this week were Snowballs by Lois Ehlert and Winter on the Farm by Laura Ingalls Wilder, illustrated by Jody Wheeler and Renee Graef. We also started reading a new chapter book, The Indian in the Cupboard, by Lynne Reid Banks, but we had to abandon it early on, as Zoo Boy found it too frightening. (Something about a small plastic man coming to life and stabbing it's owner with it's knife was scary to him... go figure.... It actually seems to have more to do with the fact that the figure was a birthday present, and his birthday is in just a couple of weeks. He told me that we could read it in a month that none of us has a birthday in, like maybe August.) So we took a break from chapter books for the rest of the week, and will start up with something less threatening this week.

Friday, February 20, 2009

contest for a crown, part two

Here's the second part of our work with greater than and less than. Today we made a chart similar to yesterday's, only this time we randomly filled in numbers in the two columns. We talked about what we did yesterday, using our symbols to show the truth of relationships. Then we discussed that numbers have relationships, too. The boys used the small symbol we made yesterday to show the truth in the relationship between the two numbers on their charts, and then they wrote the symbol in on the chart. Again, neither boy made a mistake with assigning the correct symbol. I just love how they are "getting" this stuff! This first chart is J's.

Zoo Boy's chart. I helped him make his "8" (he still has a lot of problems crossing his midlines), otherwise he did all the writing himself. He wasn't happy with the one greater than symbol between the 10 and 8, so he crossed it out and did another.

Then I spread dot cards (stiff cards with dots on them like dominoes) around the living room in a circle, with space between each card. I handed the kids our large symbol and told them to lay the symbol between any two cards in a way to show the truth about their relationships. Here J indicates that 7 is less than 11.

Zoo Boy counts the dots on the 8 card to confirm how many there are before making his decision of where to place his symbol.

He makes his decision, placing the symbol to show that 11 is greater than 8. Again, the kids didn't make any mistakes and seem to have a pretty solid understanding of the greater than/less than concept. They played several round of the game, then J switched the cards around to create new pairing of relationships, and also combined cards to make new, larger numbers to work with. Zoo Boy enthusiastically claimed "This is FUN!"

Next week: Odd and Even

Thursday, February 19, 2009

contest for a crown, part one

It's a contest for the crown
Who's the greatest one around?

-from "Contest for a Crown: Greater and Less Game", Enki Education 1st Grade Academic Activity

We've been working on greater than and less than this week, and I was going to wait until the end of the week to post about it, but at this point I've got a lot of photos to share, so I figured I'd be better off doing two posts rather than one. So here's what we've done to this point.

We read the "Contest for a Crown" story, which very lightly introduces the concept of greater than/less than. This first picture is my drawing from the story after recall the next day. You can see the greater/less than symbol in the drawing, as the "true" (greater) Prince opens the magic chest, and the "false" (lesser) Prince cannot. This was the proof the people in the story needed to know who their true ruler was.

Here's J's drawing. I particularly like the grimace of effort his "false" prince has on his face as he tries to lift the lid of the chest!

Zoo Boy's drawing. He's shown a lot of improvement in drawing the entire picture himself, although he's still asking me to write the title for him. (Although he did agree to write the first letter of the title.)

Today we made two greater than/less than symbols, with a crown on top, to play a few games with the concepts. I cut the symbols out of foam board, the boys colored in the crowns.

I set up a chart with the "greater" prince from our story/drawing on one side and the "lesser"on the other. Then the kids and I discussed all the attributes of a prince. They came up with bravery, being a good hunter, honesty, generosity, loving, rich, and helpful. Then the kids took turns placing our small symbol on the chart for each line, and I wrote in the answer (the symbol) on the chart. These were purposely all positive attributes, so the answer was always the "greater" prince.

Then I said "What would happen if 'mean' was on our chart?" Zoo Boy instantly flipped the symbol over to show that the "lesser" prince was greater in meanness than the "greater" one. He asked if we could make a chart like that, so we did, coming up with other traits the "lesser" prince was actually greater in. Mean, selfish, darkness, horrible, and greedy were on our negative attributes list.

Next, I set up various pairs of things around the living room, and we visited the pairs with our large symbol. The kids took turns placing the symbol in the appropriate direction to tell the "truth" of the relationship. In this photo, J places the symbol to show which block is great in squareness. (Zoo Boy then had a turn, flipping the symbol over the other way to indicated which piece was greater in brownness.)

Zoo Boy places his symbol to indicate that the scooter board on the right in greater in yellowness than the scooter board on the left. Other attributes we looked at in various parings were length, weight, softness, and age. I finished with amounts -- I had two piles of beanbags. The kids didn't make a single mistake with any of the comparisons, and with absolutely no input from me other than to suggest some attributes to look at.

Tomorrow we'll take the concept to actual numbers, and the kids will get to write the symbol themselves on a comparison chart.

holy crow!

J, as I enter the living room this morning: "Mommy can you do this?":

Uh, NO.

Monday, February 16, 2009

what goes around comes around

Hey, look, my spinning wheel! Dug out of the closet we shoved it in five years ago when we started working on Autism remediation for J. Because, you see, things that spin are not your friend if your goal is helping your child to be present with you.

But there was a time I was an avid (perhaps rabid!) spinner/fiber enthusiast. Hence the reason we live on a sheep farm, you see. (These things all do make sense when you get right to the heart of matters.)

In any case, yesterday out came the wheel in preparation for teaching my Sheep to Scarf class about spinning next Monday. Like riding a bicycle, I was right back in the spin of things (pun fully intended) in no time. And lo and behold, I love it every bit as much as I did back "in the day". I've been having trouble resisting the urge to spin all of my students' fiber up (and hence fully defeating the class purpose!).

As my kids watched me spinning this morning, both boys got fascinated by the physical aspects of how the wheel works. I pointed all the pieces of the wheel out, how they are connected, and how it makes the yarn twist. Zoo Boy frowned. "I don't get it," he said, "How does the big wheel make the gear go faster?"

I pulled out my drop spindle to show them how spinning without gears works. It's slow, it's laborious, it's moderately frustrating. (I secretly hate drop spindling, but don't tell my students that, I am about to try to get them all enthusiastic about it! Thankfully kids seem to naturally love spinning with a spindle, because it's cost prohibitive to send them all home with wheels!) My boys observed how the spindle could only spin as fast as I could spin it.

Then we moved back to the wheel, and I let them take turns working the treadle while we saw how much faster the gear turned than the wheel. Zoo Boy had more questions about gears.

So, out came the big box of plastic gears. I knew I'd been saving this for a reason! These items, too, went into hiding the same time we began working on banishing autistic obsessions from our house. But something stopped me from chucking them all together, figuring I might be happy I have this collection of gears at some point down the line. This is that point!

I set up a little demo mat with a large gear and a small gear, and let the kids count the number of times the little gear turned as compared to the number of times the big gear turned. "Oh, I get it!" cried Zoo Boy.

And then they spent hours experimenting with various configurations of gears.

J wants to learn to spin on my wheel, and I've promised to teach him. He's been having fun helping me figure out how to balance the wheel, what needs oil, what needs more tension, etc, so that it doesn't make the variety of noisy-old-wheel noises it was making after sitting in storage for so long. Thanks to our collective ingenuity, it's running pretty smooth now.

Zoo Boy just likes hanging out with the wheel. He likes being able to reach out and touch it, feel the smoothness of the wood, the roughness of the freshly spun yarn. He reads and does his pretend play in close proximity to it, and occasionally stops to get his tactile fill of it. And he loves watching me spin and commenting, "I didn't know you are a spinner, Mommy!"

I had forgotten myself. But I am. A spinner.