Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z is for Zoos - A to Z April Challenge

One of our favorite field trips for homeschooling is to zoos - both the ones close to us as well as ones we have visited while traveling. Zoos provide a view of animals and a learning opportunity that cannot compare to simply reading a book about animals and other wildlife.

Usually when we visit a zoo, there's a purpose behind the visit: to attend a class for homeschoolers, to practice photography skills, or to learn about animals in general or a specific location (e.g., the ocean, Africa, northern climates).

If we are unfamiliar with a zoo, we try to take a look at the map of the facility before visiting. This helps determine what we absolutely want to see.

Olivia looking at the map of the zoo 
she will be visiting this week.

For example, Sophia and Olivia will be going to a zoo this week. They each are enrolled in the 4-H Wildlife Biology project. So, they have selected 1-2 animals that they want to learn more about and photograph while at the zoo.

The map of the zoo and notes about what to do and 
learn about while there.

They also are both doing the 4-H Photography project so they looked at the maps and selected four animals that they want to spend more time photographing.

Sophia determining what animals she wanted to photograph 
for her 4-H Photography project.

By taking some time ahead of the visit, the girls will get more out of their visit and be able to use the information learned and photographs taken for 4-H projects that they will exhibit in July.

One of the benefits of homeschooling is that we can spend as much or as little time as we want at the zoo and watching each of the animals. We are able to spend the needed time reading informational signs as well as taking our time photographing the animals.

By learning about animals - some who we have learned whose status is endangered or at the critical level - we become aware of other issues of importance - deforestation, destruction of land because of development (houses and businesses), and global warming. Caring for our environment and making smarter choices that benefit the Earth are results of visiting zoos.

The field trips to the zoo - although educational - are fun as well. We come away from the visits always wanting to learn more about various animals and wildlife that we saw...and eager to return.

Blog Angel Reveal - Blue Giraffe Crafts

For the past month I've participated in Blog Angels on Craftbotic. I chose Blue Giraffe Crafts as the blog to be an angel to during April. I was drawn to this blog because of the combination of crafts and cooking - two interests of mine.

Here are some things that I did during April:

The first thing I did was follow Blue Giraffe Crafts's blog and add it to my blog roll. Then I became a friend on Flickr, "liked" Laura's Facebook page, and followed a few of Laura's boards on Pinterest.


I tried to leave a comment on each post Laura wrote during April...though I'm not sure if that raised any suspicion that I was her Blog Angel. Commenting on posts was easy to do because they were interesting and relevant to what I enjoy reading.


On Flickr, there is a photo of a cross-stitched Moroccan style pendant which Laura did on a wood base. I've never seen stitching done on wood before, so this was something new and intriguing.

She also has a wonderful collection of photos of items that she's sewn including book covers, purses, pincushions, pillow covers, and pencil cases.

There's another collection of photos of work that she's sewn and embroidered. One of my favorite items is a cross-stitched star done on what looks like wood.

There's also an adorable cross-stitch deer that Laura made. There's a link to Blue Giraffe Crafts' blog for more information about it.


There were no updates during April on Blue Giraffe Craft's Facebook page, so I wasn't able to do anything on that.


Laura has nine boards and 103 pins on Pinterest. I particularly like and am following the Crafty Projects I Want to Do board. 

Some of the many ideas on that board include a beautiful - yet simple - lacy decoupage project, a fabric envelope tutorial, and a hand-embroidered patchwork cuff. I pinned these projects and a couple other ones - so hopefully my followers saw her pins and are following some (or all) of Laura's Pinterest boards.

I also am following Laura's Food board and pinned several recipes I'd like to try at some point:
=> Ginger Miso Grain and Vegetable Salad. (Although Pinterest says it goes to a suspicious link, I checked it out and it's fine. It goes to a blog called Food to Glow.)

Being a Blog Angel has been a great activity during April, and has introduced me to some wonderful recipes and crafts that I would not have normally found had it not been for Blue Giraffe Crafts and the Blog Angel program.

If you enjoy helping other bloggers by commenting, linking, pinning, posting, or tweeting...take a moment to check out the Blog Angels program. It's a nice way to help and encourage others...a win-win for everyone involved.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Y is for Yahtzee - A to Z April Challenge

One of the fun parts of homeschooling is playing games. The girls each wanted to play games over the weekend - Sophia wanted to play Yahtzee and Olivia wanted to play Mysterious Creatures.

Not only are the games the girls picked fun, but they are educational. Yahtzee is a wonderful math game. Participants practice counting and multiplication each time it is their turn. To determine who won the game, each person must add the scores for the turns to get an overall score. The winner is the one with the highest score (a greater than/less than determination).

Sophia taking her turn when we played Yahtzee.

Mysterious Creatures involves choosing a card that features an unusual animal, reptile, or amphibian (a science skill). With each turn, the players need to count the number of spaces they need to move (a math skill), determine how to quickly get to the next destination (a logic skill), read the fact cards (a reading skill), and move to the next location on the map (a geography/map reading skill).

Olivia reading one of the cards 
about her mysterious creature.

Even when we are relaxing and playing games, we are still learning and keeping our minds active. That's one of the many benefits of homeschooling - that we can play and learn about many subjects all at the same time.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

X Marks the Spot (Geocaching) - A to Z April Challenge

Today, Sophia, Olivia, and I spent the morning at William O'Brien State Park where we learned about geocaching by watching a 45-minute presentation and then practiced what we learned by using a GPS to locate eight different caches around the park.

Sophia holding the GPS while Olivia looks on.
We learned how to do geocaching last year at Interstate State Park over Memorial Day weekend. However,  with thunder, lightening, a rainstorm, trying to learn how to use a GPS as well as punching in the coordinates, it was a bit overwhelming. Nonetheless, we were able to explore parts of the park that normally we would not have seen.

One of the caches was near a bat house.
It wasn't there, so the girls headed to 
the next big thing in the area: the tree.

This year, the experience was so much fun and we are eager to go geocaching again - at state parks throughout Minnesota and at places we discover through Geocaching.com.

A small cache located near a bluebird feeder.

The latter has places throughout the world where caches have been hidden - from tiny micro-caches (smaller than the size of a 35-mm film canister) to large caches.

The first cache we found was the most difficult.
It was metal and was stuck to the inside of a fence.
The cache was an Altoid tin painted black - 
so it was very inconspicuous.

The instructor said one large cache he went to was a playhouse that had a combination that he needed to enter on the lock. Once he opened it, there was "swag" (something we all get)  for anyone who found the cache.

We were at the same destination when another team 
was looking for the cache.
Finally it was found by the other team - 
hidden under a fallen branch.
It was rather large - but very well hidden!

Today's demonstration showed us how caches could be hidden. Some were easy to find and others a bit more challenging.

First, we were divided into teams. The girls and I were paired with another woman (her name was Peggy). As a team, we had two GPS units so we could gain practice on them while finding the caches.

Sophia and Peggy carried the GPS units.
Olivia and Sophia were the primary "finders" of the caches, and
I provided the directions to which location we headed to next.

We found all eight caches which was a huge sense of satisfaction! It was quite an adventure finding some of the caches because we had to go off the trails.

The girls discovered a cache near the base of the tree.
It was buried under some grass.

We were all happy that we wore long pants because some of areas that we walked through had thorny bushes which would have been uncomfortable to walk through if we were wearing shorts.

The last cache the girls found was near a tree.
Olivia had to be close to the ground and 
under a lot of brambles in order to reach it.

One of the things that the instructor said is to make sure to sign the logbook when you find a cache. It's a good idea to bring a pencil or pen with you because one isn't always available - especially in the case of the micro-caches.

Sophia and Olivia in the process 
of signing the logbook.

The state park has a geocaching program with an avian theme. At each state park there is a cache that has a card featuring a bird typically seen at that park. When you find the cache, you can take a card.

Some people are trying to visit all the state parks and collect all the cards (there's a prize for the winner who does that). Others, like us, will visit different parks nearby our homes or when we travel, and go geocaching so we can find the cards and experience being at the state parks in a different way than we normally would do.

We are looking forward to going geocaching in early June when we travel to Grand Marais. We will have the chance to visit up to ten state parks on that trip alone. During the summer, we can visit more parks within driving distance of our home which we're looking forward to doing as well.

Geocaching is a great way to combine geography, nature,  computers, science, math, and physical education into one educational activity. It certainly has and will enrich our homeschooling this year!

Friday, April 26, 2013

W is for Watercolor Painting - A to Z April Challenge

One of the subjects that Sophia and Olivia enjoy as part of homeschooling is art. Pinterest has many ideas for homeschoolers on its site; and there are quite a few project ideas that I've pinned to remember to come back to try at some point.

Sophia's finished watercolor painting.

pin on Pinterest that led to Art Projects for Kids was one idea that I thought the girls would enjoy doing for art one afternoon.

The first step was to cut out a variety of geometric shapes (e.g., squares, triangles, octagons, circles). The girls arranged them on their piece of watercolor paper and traced them. They overlapped some of the shapes, and left some areas open.

Then they erased some lines to show which shape was over and under the other one(s).

The watercolor paper with the outlines of the shapes
as well as some of the shapes colored in with markers.

The next step was to select a variety of water-based markers that would bleed when water got on them.

Olivia coloring in one of the shapes.

They colored the various shapes and left the paper that didn't have any shape on it plain.

Sophia coloring in the shapes on her page.

Next, they took a paint brush and dipped it into water. They splattered it onto their page so the color would bleed and create different shades of colors as well as different organic shapes left by the water splotches.

Olivia shifting the paper so the colored water 
moves in a random pattern on the page.

The next step we did two different ways. With Olivia's painting (the first one we tried), she held the paper up and let the colored water move in a random pattern on her page.In this way, the colors blended with one another and created new shapes over the shapes she traced.

Olivia's watercolor painting in progress.

With Sophia's painting, she did not lift her paper. Rather, she splattered the water onto the page and then let the water move on its own. In areas where the water was pooling, she gently blew on it to move it around a bit.

Sophia's painting in progress.

The results are quite different depending on whether the paper was lifted or not.

Olivia's finished watercolor painting.

The next step is to let the pages dry overnight. Once they are dry, the girls will take Sharpie markers and trace the outlines of the geometric and organic shapes. The more shapes they trace, the more intricate and intriguing the finished product will be.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

V is for Volunteering - A to Z April Challenge

For the past two years, Sophia, Olivia, and I have been volunteering on a regular basis. During 2011, we did   something we called 52 Weeks of Giving where we donated items, cash, or time to different organizations each week of the year.

During 2012, we did a special project we called 12 in 12 where we did 12 different service projects each month for 12 months.

In 2013, we thought it would be good to focus our attention on just a few organizations in terms of volunteering and donating our resources.

One of the new organizations we picked this year is a nursing home in a nearby town. Each month, we volunteer twice. However, we will most likely increase our volunteering during the summer months when we have a bit more time.

Sophia working with the big board during bingo.

During February, we made cherry and strawberry pies with some residents for one activity; and did painting projects during another session.

The residents playing bingo.

In March, we celebrated two holidays with the residents. In mid-March we made shamrock shakes for St. Patrick's Day which the residents enjoyed.

Then, on Good Friday (before Easter), Sophia played the harp while Olivia, Tia (the activities director), and I served angel food cake with strawberries and whipped cream.

Sophia passing out treats to the winners.

During April, we helped Tia with bingo. Sophia and Olivia marked the letter/number combinations on the board once I called them; and Sophia passed out treats to the winners while Olivia cleared the board for the next round of bingo.

A resident enjoying a visit from Eenie and Sophia.

One of the highlights during April was taking Eenie (one of our cats) in to visit the residents. They have no other volunteers who bring in cats, so this was a treat for those residents who enjoy cats.

Eenie and Sophia with a resident at the nursing home.

Eenie did very well on his first visit to this nursing home, and we are planning to return in May to do more animal-assisted therapy.

Olivia and Sophia getting Eenie comfortable with the hallways 
before visiting residents at the nursing home.

Tomorrow, on April 26th, the nursing home is hosting a volunteer appreciation/recognition event. There will be live music performed by a local composer, treats (food and beverages), and a program. We are looking forward to attending the event and meeting others volunteers who enjoy working with seniors.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

U is for United States History - A to Z April Challenge

One of our favorite subjects for homeschooling is history. Today we focused on what happened on this date - April 24th - in United States history. This is a special day to our family because my Mom (Sophia's and Olivia's grandma) was born on this date as well.

Celebrating my Mom's/the girls' Grandma's 83rd birthday
at Olive Garden.

In 1704, the first regular newspaper in the United States, the News-Letter, was published in Boston, Massachusetts.

In 1800, the United States Library of Congress was established. President John Adams signed legislation to appropriate $5,000 to purchase "such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress."

Robert Penn Warren, an American poet, was born in 1905. According to Wikipedia, he received the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel for his novel All the King's Men (1946) and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1958 and 1979. He is the only person to have won Pulitzer Prizes for both poetry and fiction.

I read a poem to the girls by Robert Penn Warren called Tell Me a Story

[ A ]

Long ago, in Kentucky, I, a boy, stood
By a dirt road, in first dark, and heard
The great geese hoot northward.

I could not see them, there being no moon
And the stars sparse. I heard them.

I did not know what was happening in my heart.

It was the season before the elderberry blooms,
Therefore they were going north.

The sound was passing northward.

[ B ]

Tell me a story.

In this century, and moment, of mania,
Tell me a story.

Make it a story of great distances, and starlight.

The name of the story will be Time,
But you must not pronounce its name.

Tell me a story of deep delight.

Continuing with more dates, in 1913, the Woolworth Building skyscraper in New York City was opened.

Someone who was born in the same date and year that the girl's grandma (my mom) was born - in 1930 - is Richard Donner. He is an American director and producer who became famous for the creation of the first modern superhero film, Superman, starring Christopher Reeve.

In April 24, 1942, Barbra Streisand, an American singer, actress, producer, and director, was born. The girls listened to one of my favorite songs by her: "Something's Coming."

The CD cover for "One Voice" by Barbra Streisand 
that one of my favorite songs is on.

In 1990, the STS-31: The Hubble Space Telescope is launched from the Space Shuttle Discovery.

A national holiday that we've celebrated before is Arbor Day. The earliest day on which National Arbor Day can fall is April 24th, while April 30th is the latest. It is always celebrated on the last Friday in April. This year it falls on Friday, April 26th. The next time Arbor Days falls on April 24th is in 2015.

On Arbor Day, people are encouraged to plant and care for trees. There was a snowstorm on April 23rd this year, so the trees were covered with snow. Unfortunately, the ground is still frozen and it still too cold to plant a tree. Otherwise, that would have been a good activity to do this week.

This day in United States history was full of interesting facts that we learned about as part of homeschooling. Perhaps picking a date (or dates) out each month to focus on would be a fun activity to do during the upcoming school year.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

T is for Typing - A to Z April Challenge

This year the girls have been typing as part of their homeschooling lessons. They are using the Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing program for adults. It's a step-by-step keyboarding program that includes interesting passages for practice as well as some fun games.

Sophia playing one of the typing games 
as part of her lesson.

This program reinforces good finger position, it works on increasing speed incrementally, and does not use twaddle for typing practice.

It is the recommended typing program by Simply Charlotte Mason, a great website filled with advice and resources for those who are following a Charlotte Mason approach with their homeschooling.

Olivia takes a computer class at the homeschool co-op every Monday. As part of her class, she must practice typing for one hour outside of class.

Olivia practicing typing different keys and patterns.

Although Sophia doesn't take a computer class, she still wanted to learn and build her skills in typing. She is doing using the Mavis Beacon program at her own pace.

Sophia learning to type different keys on the keyboard 
by copying a block of text.

Sophia and Olivia enjoy typing - both the lessons and the games.

Olivia playing one of the games as part of her lesson.

They will continue to progress with the lessons next year when they are in fifth and seventh grades.

Monday, April 22, 2013

S is for Schedule - A to Z April Challenge

This year has become quite busy and much more complicated than past years with additional activities, music lessons, and educational partnering/therapy with the local school. It seems as if homeschooling has been happening in more places that aren't home than in previous years.

Olivia painting a pot at the 4-H meeting in April.

I miss the days that had open space on the calendar...time to relax and enjoy the moments with Sophia and Olivia rather than watching them rush by. If anything, this year has taught me that there is value in being underscheduled rather than overscheduled.

Sophia enjoying doing spelling surrounded by the pets.
She has four of the five cats and both dogs
sitting by her.

As I'm looking towards the upcoming homeschool year, I am revisiting some of the beginning stages of education and scheduling. In the preschool, Kindergarten, and early-elementary school years, I followed a Waldorf approach.

We used to take nature walks regularly when 
Sophia and Olivia were younger.
I would like to begin doing this on a regular basis again.
This is a turkey vulture that we spotted sitting on a fence 
at the end of the road we live on.
Sophia took this picture of it.

The Waldorf philosophy has a strong belief in a schedule that has a rhythm to it. Children thrive when their schedule is predictable and there is a consistent rhythm - either day-to-day or week-to-week. When children's daily activities reflect the natural order of life with a rhythmic arrangement, they flourish.

Rhythm - or a predictable schedule - provides a series of fixed anchors for children to work around in their day and week.  Meal times, bed times, play times, work times - all are gently scheduled to provide a nurturing home and homeschooling environment.

So, generally, what does that look like? From a food perspective, there is a type of food that is eaten on a particular day of the week, according to the Table of Correspondences. For example:

Sunday - Wheat
Monday - Rice
Tuesday - Oats
Wednesday - Millet
Thursday - Rye
Friday - Barley
Saturday - Corn

For our family, it would something that's a key part of a meal - whether it be breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack. Perhaps for ease and consistency, having it be the focus of a snack rather than at each and/or every meal would be sufficient. For lunches, we could have a different bread that uses each grain of the day to accompany a salad.

Sophia hopes to be a baker or chef someday, so the grain of the day was something of particular interest to her.

Sophia making a cheeseburger casserole.

Another thing that I like about having a predictable schedule is that children (and adults) can look forward to activities that create a pleasant home environment and/or are mentally or spiritually enriching. These are once-a-week activities above and beyond the normal curriculum. For example:

Sunday - Cooking
Monday - Gardening (outdoor and/or indoor - depending on the season)
Tuesday - Painting
Wednesday - Bread Making
Thursday - Doing Handwork
Friday - Adventuring
Saturday - Doing Housework

Olivia used her binoculars on a walk we took on April 16th 
when we spotted tundra swans in a small pond 
in a neighbor's cornfield. 

The last area that I like is having a color of the day. This can be as simple as having placemats and napkins in  the featured color:

Sunday - White
Monday - Purple
Tuesday - Red
Wednesday - Yellow
Thursday - Orange
Friday - Green
Saturday - Blue

Taking it a step further - there could be a candle(s) on the table and/or a centerpiece that ties into the color. Some families and Waldorf schools incorporate food that is the color of the day into some of the meals.

Olivia liked the color of the day idea a lot. She's a very visual and artistic child, so this resonated with her in particular.

I'd like to begin doing this in June when we transition to our summer homeschooling schedule. Our schedule is lighter from June-August than it is from September-May, so it will be a good time to make modifications to our schedule and try some new simple ideas to make life more peaceful, predictable, and relaxed...a place to nourish all of our souls.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

R is for Reading - A to Z April Challenge

Reading has always played an important part in homeschooling. From the time that the girls were both adopted, they have listened to stories - ones that I have read to them as well as that they have listened to on tapes or CDs.

Olivia reading a Harry Potter book.
She is going through the series and 
is on the fifth book...a rather long one.

When the girls were both in preschool, Kindergarten, and early-elementary school, fairy tales and short stories seemed to be the main focus of our reading.

Once we began using Sonlight's curriculum in the mid-elementary school years, reading became an even greater part of our days. Literature and living books related to history, geography, and science became an integral part of our days.

Last year, we began reading the Caldecott and Newberry award-winning books. The former award is for books based on artistic-design while the latter is an award for content/writing.

We have read all the Caldecott books that have received an award to date. From this point forward, we will read one book annually (the one that receives the award) until the girls graduate from high school.

The Newberry books take a bit longer to read since they are chapter books. Our goal to read all the award-winning books by the time the girls graduate from high school.

In addition to the books that I read aloud to the girls as well as the ones they read to themselves as part of their homeschooling, they also read and listen to books on their own.

Sophia reading a book after a long day.

Each of the girls started a book journal when they began reading on their own. In it, they write down what book they read next to a number. In this way, they can keep track of all the books they have read (not including the ones required for homeschooling).

At this point, Sophia has read 596 books and Olivia has read 74 books. It will be interesting to see what number they reach by the time they are ready for college.