Sunday, December 27, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
I had the opportunity to be a recipe tester for an upcoming Molly Green ebook. We were assigned Sausage Macaroni and Cheese. Anything with Mac 'n cheese already has my Schnickelfritz's approval, but we went ahead with this taste test to keep things honest (and I had to take a picture of the prepared dish). The recipe was a simple, throw-it-all-in-a-crockpot deal. The hard part was taking a picture--what color bowl should I use? Does the flash wash out all the color? Now the dish is starting to look dry. I kept the picture honest--no photoshopping here. When I flip though cookbooks I find I'm always trying the dishes with pictures first and I wanted to give other cooks a fair idea of what to expect. I can't share the recipe here, but look for Molly Makes $7 (and under) Crock-Pot Dinners soon.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
We had the first snow of the season overnight. While the east coast is measuring snow in inches and feet, we would have to use millimeters to amount to any significant number. It didn't even fully cover the grass. In the eyes of a seven-year old though, we had a winter wonderland. My Schnickelfritz dressed himself early with four shirts and two pairs of pants and announced he was prepared to tackle the elements.
He stamped the front yard with a snow angel before heading to the garage to find a sled. There is a slight hill in our back yard and I was surprised to see he was able to travel quite a distance considering how little snow we actually had. In fact, I became a little concern because just past the barn it becomes a steep, tree covered ravine. I could see Fritz getting braver and closer to the edge before "bailing out."
Thursday, December 17, 2009
I love reading aloud with my son, but there are times when it helps to have someone else to the reading for me--during car trips, when I'm making dinner, etc. That's when we pop in a CD like Maestro Classics' The Tortoise and the Hare.
The concept of music playing an integral part of the story telling is not new. We're probably all familiar with The Sorcerer's Apprentice or Peter and the Wolf (both of which are available in this series). But Maestro Classics have gone a step further and created original compositions to go with other familiar children's stories, in this case one of Aesop's Fables. They've also greatly expanded the story --in addition to falling asleep, the hare has time to stop at a bistro for a bowl of French onion soup.
I have to say that the music really adds to the story. In fact, it was the hare's theme music that first caught my Schnickelfritz's attention and got him to stop riding his plasmacar around the basement. The music and the lively narration then kept him rapt in amusement. He also picked up on two morals in the story: the time-honored "Slow and steady wins the race," and thanks to the story's expansion, "It's not good to brag." This CD is best used for car trips or during active times of the day, not as bedtime fare. The lively music and narration would probably prolong the time it takes to fall asleep.
After the story came a track with more information about Aesop's original version and a track about the musical instruments and themes. There is also a stand alone performance of The Pretzel Vendor of Paris song that occurs within the story. Once you've been informed and educated there is a second opportunity to listen to The Tortoise and the Hare. I'll confess that Fritz went back to riding his plasmacar during the informative tracks. Also be sure to check out the booklet in the jewel case. There are puzzles, information about the orchestra, and an explanation about why this is the "Tortoise and the Hare" and not "Turtle and the Rabbit."
The Tortoise and the Hare CD is available at Maestro Classics for $16.98 or you can purchase three of their titles for $45.00 with the coupon code MAESTRO45 . You can read what my fellow Crewmates thought of The Tortoise and the Hare by clicking here .
I received a free CD of The Tortoise and the Hare for the purposes of completing this review. I received no other compensation.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
As we progress through this year on the Homeschool Crew, I realize how fortunate I am to have a son that enjoys math. There certainly seem to be a lot of products out there devoted to making math more fun (or at least tolerable) for students. Our latest review product was a subscription to Mathletics , a website that helps students around the world learn and drill mathmatics.
Because this is an online service there are certain minimum requirements
Windows XP/Vista or Mac OS 10.4 and above
512 MB of RAM
Internet Explorer (7 or above) or Mozilla Firefox (2 or above)
The latest Adobe Flashplayer
Broadband internet connection preferred (we were able to use this fine with dial-up)
The annual subscription for one student is $59. (DEAL--if you know the human calculator's favorite number is 9 you can save $10)
After subscribing, you set up your student: creating his or her own avatar, and assigning a grade level. A word of caution: be sure to review the curriclum under the "About Mathletics" tab on their website to get an idea where to place your student. I set up Fritz as a 1st grader to match where he would be assigned, based on his age, if he were in public school. But as homeschoolers we know that our students can be doing 3rd grade math and 1st grade spelling. Fritz is currently working on adding columns of 4 digit numbers, so the 1st grade "1 + 3" questions were absurdly too easy for him. You can adjust grade levels for you student, but only a limited number of times.
Fritz enjoyed the "work at your own pace" portion of site. Most of his questions involved pointing and clicking at one of the possible answers. (He's really in a gameshow mood right now and this reminded him of Who Wants to be a Millionaire). Using a mouse is much easier for him than hunting and pecking keys. The screens were colorful and he enjoyed watching his progress on the side meter.
The whole program seems to be incentive driven--he could earn certificates after earning a certain number of points. Reaching certain point levels also unlock new features. They can also "purchase" items for their avatar--new hair styles or sunglasses, etc. Fritz doesn't play online or video games so the whole avatar feature held no appeal for him. He accepted the standard model and didn't even try to make it look like himself.
As the teacher/parent, I was able to log on with my own password and see reports on Fritz's activities--when and how long he was logged on, which activities he tried and his scores, and the number of points he scored. There was a separate report that showed his strengths and weaknesses. It requires a sufficient amount of activity to determine what these are. When I had Fritz as a 1st grader it always said insufficient data under the weaknesses (he was getting 100s on everything).
This is a bit pricey for our budget and since Fritz is already excelling in math I don't think we will be subscribing at this time. If you have a student that needs a little more "fun factor" in math you may want to give Mathletics a try. It may also appeal to those with a competitive streak -- there is a daily listing of top scorers from around the world.
To see what my fellow crewmates think of Mathletics, click here.
Note: I received a free 45 day subscription to Mathletics for the purposes of completing this review. I received no other compensation.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Did you know that Americans spent over $450 billion on Christmas last year? Did you know that it would only take a small fraction of that (about $10 billion) to make sure that everyone on the planet had clean water to drink?
These are some of the things our church has been learning as we participate in the Advent Conspiracy. We all complain about how commercial Christmas has become--well know we're learning how to do something about it. It's just four simple steps.
Worship Fully Jesus is the reason for the season. Keep him first.
Spend Less What if you got one less present for everyone in your family? What if you stopped buying presents out of obligation for you second cousin's hairdresser's mailman? What if you made rather than buy some presents?
Give More Give the things money can't buy--give of yourself, give time. Have a family game night. Make cookies together and deliver them to the neighbors. Adopt a grandparent at church and invite them to dinner.
Love All Share God's love in a tangible way. Take some of the money you didn't spend on Christmas and share it with those really in need. I doubt you have $10 billion to bring clean water to the world, but it only takes $10 to bring clean water to one child for life.
This year Schnickelfritz and I made loaves of persimmon bread for the neighbors and Toolman's co-workers. We're also making hand warmers and heatpacks from flannel sheets and deer corn.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
The first community event we attended when we moved to Missouri was the Hometown Christmas party. They close down the streets around the courthouse square and the merchants invite you to step in from the cold and get your face painted or decorate Christmas ornaments. Where else can you get a ride in an open sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer (pay no attention to the red Kowasaki 4X4 in the very front).
There were big barrels holding bonfires for roasting marshmallows, giant urns with hot chocolate, and hot dogs to eat. The cafe off the square made dozens of sugar cookies for the kids to decorate.
You can see the penguin Schnickelfritz had painted by someone in the insurance agency. I had a snowman on my cheek. While we were holding very still despite the ticklish brush, another little boy came in. They asked what he wanted painted and he answered "A mustache." One of the ladies painted on a curly, handlebar mustache. Little did this kid know what a trend he had started. Fritz immediately requested a mustache to go with his penguin. As the day went on we saw dozens of boys and girls sporting facial hair--some in traditional colors, some in red and green.
As dusk approached (around 5:30), there was a parade around the square. Hand decorated trailers were pulled by tractors and pickups. This is probably as close as I can get to living in Jan Karon's Mitford.
Friday, December 4, 2009
Last May the Schnickelfritz and I traveled to St. Charles, MO for the Lewis & Clark Heritage days. He was so taken by the costumes, fife & drums, and cannons! The reenactors, known as the Discovery Expedition, is spending this weekend in Hermann, MO. They will be having a parade and Christmas Ball tomorrow night, but today was reserved for teaching school children.
According to their website: "Discovery Expedition volunteers, like their predecessors, sail separated from swift waters and eternity only by thin-but-sturdy layers of wood. Whether buckskins or uniforms, their clothing accurately re-creates the dress of 1804. Their weapons are firelocks. They cook over campfires. They sleep under canvas. They know their history, and they teach.
By bringing Lewis and Clark to life on the banks of rivers—and in classrooms and gyms—Discovery Expedition reenactors have helped more than 80,000 school children see their teachers as storytellers and know that history is high adventure. "
These men are passionate about their history--they have to be to sleep in a tent in freezing temperatures!! If they have an event near you, by all means try to attend. This event was set up in stations. The students had the opportunity to learn about the uniforms, the medicine, the maps, fire-starting, and firearms of the expedition. We started out joining a group of parochial 4th graders. I'll admit my Schnickelfritz was a little bit young for the long lectures. "Captain Lewis" himself invited us to explore the camp on our own and when we had one on one time with the reenactors, he really seemed to catch their enthusiasm.
We were welcomed by "Captain Lewis." The man in the background was portraying President Jefferson.
The flag being raised only has 15 stars. The Star Spangled Banner hadn't been written yet, so the reenactors sang a song called "hester, which according to Wikipedia was second only to Yankee Doodle in popularity during the American Revolution. Look up the lyrics--no separation of church and state here.
This station covered all aspects of the uniforms worn by the Corp of Discovery.
Thanks to detailed record keeping, they were able to restock a recreation of Capt. Lewis' medicine chest. He only received a few months of medical training by Dr. Benjamin Rush (signer of the Declaration of Independence).
Fritz is not fond of modern doctors and shots--he was horrified to learn about the practice of blood-letting. This reenactor also offered to take care of any of Fritz's loose teeth with another ghastly instrument.
Fritz got a personal lesson in starting fires with a flint and steel (something he'll need to learn for Royal Rangers down the road). It was only in the teens that day so a big fire would have felt good.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
I may have admitted this before, but I don't consider myself a typical homeschooling mom. I loved math and science as a student so I am not intimidated about teaching those subjects. I always got good grades in reading and spelling, but I struggle with how to go about teaching them. It doesn't help matters that I am a visual learner and my son is definitely kinesthetic. I had purchased a spelling curriculum--one book designed to be used for Fritz's entire education, but each time I looked through the pages and pages of spelling lists I'd end up setting it aside for "some other time."
It's nothing short of Providence that I received All About Spelling to review as part of the Homeschool Crew. It has a detailed manual with step by step instructions for this timid spelling teacher. It has magnetic tiles for Fritz to manipulate in spelling words. There are suggestions for other ways of reaching the kinesthetic learner--like letting him "write" in sand in a box or liquid soap in a Ziploc bag. The lessons have built in review and reinforcement and are short enough that an energetic seven year old doesn't get bored. Instead of being a tooth-pulling exercise (for both student and teacher) we've been able to approach spelling lessons and still keep smiles on our faces.
Here's what I received and the suggested retail price:
Starter Kit ($26.95 when ordered with a Level kit, $31.95 separately) This contains letter tiles, magnets for the tiles, and a CD-rom of phonogram sounds.
Level 1 Kit ($29.95) There is a teachers manual and a packet of materials for one student (flashcards, index card dividers to organize the flashcards, a progress chart, bingo chips for various activities, and a completion certificate).
Level 2 Kit ($39.95) Another teachers manual and a larger packet of materials for one student. There are currently 5 levels available with 1 more to be published. All levels above One are $39.95.
When you first set up All About Spelling it seems like there is a lot of prep work--the letter tiles need to be cut apart and the magnets applied to each (the magnets are actually optional; you could do this on a table top, but I found a magnetic whiteboard works better for us). There are four sets of perforated flashcards that need to be separated. You may also need to go shopping for a box to hold the flashcards and a magnetic board. Take heart though, once the set up is completed, you'll find very little day to day teacher prep is necessary and tracking student progress is practically automatic.
There are four types of flashcards:
- Phonogram Cards- the student sees the phonogram and the teacher says the sound(s) it makes
- Sound Cards-the teacher says the sound and the student writes the letter or letters that make it
- Key Cards - teaches spelling rules
- Word Cards - the teacher says a word and the student spells it
The cards are stored behind tabbed dividers: concept still needs review, concept is mastered, and concept covered in future lessons. Here's how our box looks.
Each lesson begins by reviewing the cards not yet mastered before introducing new teaching cards.
The magnetic tiles are where the fun lies for Fritz. I had a magnetic whiteboard from Sam's Club that we used to use for math lessons. There are two sets of alphabet tiles: consonants are blue, vowels are red ( the letter "y" comes with both a red and blue tile). As we progress we add new tiles for vowel teams, consonant teams, the sounds of /er/, the sounds of /sh/, etc. This is what the board will eventually look like:
This leaves a large working area in the center for Fritz to draw down tiles and spell words.
Fritz is still learning to read -- we're currently in level three of the Scaredy Cat Reading System. So I've adapted the All About Spelling to a small degree. When I talk about vowel sounds, I don't use the "long" and "short" terminology most of us grew up with. We refer to "brave" and "scared" sounds instead. I've also considered phonogram cards "mastered" if he can list all the sounds we've covered in our reading program rather than all the sounds listed on the card. All About Spelling as designed has the students learn the "a" sound in "water" in Step 1 Level 1, but then they never review that sound again until Step 22 of Level 2.
So far I've been alternating weeks of spelling and reading lessons, hoping not to confuse Fritz with learning phonetic concepts in different orders. In the future I may try altering the order of steps in All About Spelling to match and reinforce our reading work. If I had a student who already knew how to read, I'd follow the steps as directed.
Be sure to visit the All About Spelling website. You'll find product samples and articles on spelling, dyslexia, and tips for teaching kinesthetic learners. You can see what my fellow crewmates thought about All About Spelling by clicking here.
Note: I received free copies of the All About Spelling material to use in preparing this review. I have received no other compensation.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
I have decided not to wait till New Year's to work on my goal to become more organized. Today, I'm working on on a system to save money on groceries by planning menus based on what meat is for sale.
I have dabbled with the once-a-month, or freezer cooking system. (If you're unfamiliar with this, check our the 30 Day Gourmet website). Rather than spend one looonnnggg day cooking, I cook and freeze by protein type. When ground beef is on sale, I'll buy ten pounds and make 6-7 dishes, serving some and freezing some for later. I haven't been as diligent at this as I need to be because I get tired of looking through recipe books for dishes that will use the meat that's on sale.
Using Word, I made some charts to list my family's favorite recipes. Each sheet is devoted to a specific protein type: Beef, Poultry, Pork, and Ground beef (I gave ground beef it's own category since it had so many recipes). I began browsing through my cookbook collection for notes I had written about recipes and added the ones that my family enjoyed to the appropriate list. (Don't be afraid to write notes in your cookbooks, they're all yours, including the margins). I found some recipes I hadn't fixed in years but had noted that my husband had liked them.
Next to each recipe name I listed the amount and cut of meat needed (steak or roast, boneless/skinless breasts, etc.). THen I listed the appliance used in the recipe--crockpot, pressure cooker, or oven. When I look at our school calendar I like to pick crockpot recipes for the days we'll be away at co-op, or I'll pull a fast pressure cooker meal before Wednesday night church.
Next, I made a column Y/N Freezable? If a dish can be frozen, why not make two or three batches and freeze the extras. By chopping and mixing and dividing big batches, tt doesn't take three times as long to make three pot pies instead of one.
Finally, I left space to note the recipe's location. I'm terrible about buying all the ingredients for a dish in my stockplie of "Taste of Home" magazines and then not being able to remember which issue it was in when I went to cook it. Now I at least know what month and year to look for or if I've clipped it for my recipe box. When I select a recipe, I will actually look at it and see if there are any other ingredients I need to add to my shopping list. (Don't assume you remember the recipe--that's why I had to dash to the store at 9pm the night before Thanksgiving).
At some point I may redo this as an excel spreadsheet so I can sort by cuts or appliance. For today at least, I can quickly find some family approved recipes as I look through the grocery flyers.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Della, our dog, likes her schedules and wants to take her B.M. walks at 8:00am and 5:00pm everyday. My Schnickelfritz will sometimes join us on his bicycle in the afternoons but he doesn't really like the distance or the hilly terrain. He prefers to play at home or watch TV during those 20 minutes,. While he doesn't like to go, he doesn't like us to be gone either.
Rather than complete the usual 1.2 mile loop, he'll request I turn around at the horse's mailbox, or his climbing tree, or some other landmark he's identified on our country road. Today he had a new message to try and get us home sooner--"Come back as soon as she's pooped, I don't want you to catch a chill."
Friday, November 27, 2009
I'm not really complaining here. I'm thrilled he loves math--it was my favorite subject too. This week we cut back on the schoolwork to clean house, take the dog to the vet, and prepare for Thanksgiving. Every day Fritz asked if we were going to do math and every day he ended up watching the Math-U-See video and pulling out his blocks. He reviewed past lessons and previewed future ones. I recently got next year's Gamma set through a used curriculum site and he watched some of those lessons as well. (I actually think will be using it before this year is up--he's progressing so fast).
I just wish he would develop an inkling for our other subjects --reading and writing especially. I have to save math as the reward for getting these done.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Is there anything worse than returning home from a trip to the grocery store for last minute ingredients and finding your husband "the Toolman" has disassembled the door to your oven?
We are not a "carve at the table family." As much as I love the Norman Rockwell painting, past family experience has turned us into a "just serve the slices" bunch. (The bird "looked done" but it was still a bloody mess inside--not very appetizing to see when cut into)
So I had cooked the turkey earlier and when the Toolman went to remove it from the oven, the pan juices had sloshed all over the door. In order to clean it thoroughly, he had removed the door and taken it apart. I didn't even know you could do such a thing. The door was spotless, but he was having a little trouble figuring out which way the side pieces attached. I sat on the floor, prepared to "hold this" and "don't push that" and assist in whatever capacity I could. My mind was preoccupied with contingency plans for how to cook and heat everything else with the microwave, crockpot, and other means.
I'll give credit where it's due--my husband doesn't give up or do a job halfway. We got the door back on and the next day I was able to finish my dishes and heat those my 14 friends and family had brought.
***Incidently, I learned there is something worse than seeing your oven disassembled the night before Thanksgiving. My aunt saw flames in her oven Wednesday night. She turned it off and let it cool and went to clean it (thinking it was a grease issue) when the coil in the bottom just broke in half. She had to scrounge up some replacement recipes that could be cooked on the stove top.
Friday, November 20, 2009
When I first saw Exploramania's Gymathtics dvd, I thought this would be a match made in heaven. Math is Fritz's favorite subject and he has enough energy to run the western power grid if we could just figure out a way to hook him up. When I was using exercise videos to walk away the pounds two years ago he would often join me in the living room and jog circles around me. The packaging included a Dr. Toy's 100 Best Products stickers--another reason to be impressed.
We popped in the video that afternoon. We were introduced to Ms Carrie and the boys and girls (an older and younger of each). The workout is sound--starting with a warm up and ending with a cool down.
- Warm up while learning about lines, circles, and polygons
- Calisthenics while counting, skip counting and learning about odd, even and prime numbers
- More aerobics while learning about patterns
- Cool down (no math concepts here)
Ms Carrie would explain the activity we were going to do and the math concept that accompanied it. For example, we were going to do punches and count by place value. Then she and the kids would appear in a small box in the corner doing the exercise while the math concept takes up the rest of the screen.
The only section Fritz's enjoyed was the Counting Calisthenics. This could be because it's the same subjects we're learning in math right now. He took the idea and ran with it--skip counting by 3's and 12's on his mini trampoline. In fact, he would now rather do this on his own than follow the video.
The concept is good in theory. I think most kids could benefit from more exercise and it would be great if learning math was seen as fun rather than a chore. Once the novelty wore off, Fritz was no longer interested in doing both together in this format. He's also very sensitive to other people's emotions and he picked up that Ms Carrie's enthusiasm was seemed forced or scripted.
The Exploracise Gymathtics dvd is $24.99 at Exploramania's website.
Disclaimer: Exploramania provided a free dvd of Gymathtics for me to watch and use for the purpose of writing this review. I received no other compensation.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
As part of the Homeschool Crew, I was recently given a free 1-year membership to AVKO Educational Research Foundation. AVKO is the source of the Sequential Spelling curriculum, but our assignment was to review the membership program, not any specific product. According to their website:
AVKO's mission is to provide free and low-cost resources to home and school educators in order to achieve literacy for all, even despite learning challenges or dyslexia. Articles, videos, catalogs, blogs, language arts curriculum and curriculum consultations are just a few of our resources.
If you have a dyslexic child or use Sequential Spelling, then membership is the way to go. The free e-products you'll receive will more than pay for the $25 membership fee.
Word Families in Sentence Context $19.95
The Teaching of Reading and Spelling $24.95
The Reading Teacher's List ...5500 Spelling words $12.95
To Teach a Dyslexic $12.95
Six Audio Workshop MP3's $2.50 each
The Patterns of English Spelling only available to members
You will also be able to save 25 percent on all AVKO's printed materials.
I began reading The Teaching of Reading and Spelling because Fritz and I are currently doing just that. I was an early reader--four years old. That was so long ago that I just take reading for granted and I was getting frustrated that Fritz was having more of a struggle. The first exercise in the book was to read a paragraph upside-down and answer some comprehension questions. I'm actually not bad at reading upside-down, but in this case some of the words were spelled with phonetical equivilents (eg. eadeukecion instead of education). Wow! was it a struggle. It helped me to realize how hard the decoding of groups of letters is to someone at Fritz's reading level and my need to be more patient with him.
To see what my fellow crewmates think about the AVKO membership click here.
Monday, November 9, 2009
It was philosopher George Santayana who gave us the quote "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." In today's world perhaps a good addendum to this would be "Those who are not taught the past can be duped into believing anything." When modern textbooks spend ink to cover Madonna rather than Washington's Farewell Address, it's no wonder people can be fooled into thinking government is more capable of running their lives than they themselves.
The American Heritage Education Foundation is trying to remedy this lack of education by providing FREE curriculum to anyone who visits their website. These excerpts from the Foreward to the Elementary material expresses their purpose more elequently than I could:
In only a little more than 200 years, our ancestors transformed this country from a wilderness into a great nation. This nation demonstrates what can be accomplished by free people who create a government limited to serving the people rather than being their master.
The moral and ethical basis of good conduct was derived from the faith that built America. That faith grew from the common belief that each individual is endowed with basic rights and responsibilities by our Creator.
The character of society is determined by how well it transmits true and time-honored values from generation to generation. These values are not an add-on or supplement to national values but rather determine the charecter and essence of the country itself.
For the elementary level lessons include:
The Declaration of Independence
The United States Flag
The Star-Spangled Banner
The Pledge of Allegiance
The American Bald Eagle
Most of these lessons have a K-W-L chart for the students to complete (What I Know, What I Want to learn, What I have Learned). There may be quizzes or crossword puzzles for those who like worksheets. Some lessons could go very quickly and be done easily as a family--like Thanksgiving. Others would take a very large group and several lessons to complete--like the Colonial America activity.
It's all available as a FREE download. So read through it, use the ideas you like with know guilt that you aren't getting your money's worth.
I recently received a free CD-ROM from American Heritage Education Foundation to use in creating this review. I received no other compensation.
Today's during math, I had to step back for a moment and express my thanks to God for the opportunity to homeschool my child. This could never happen in a public school setting:
First--we were doing this at 6:30 in the morning. Fritz woke up and he wanted to get school started (disclosure: he's not always this enthusiastic but Daddy said no basketball until school is done-a big motivator). When he wants to learn, I'll make time to teach.
Second--we were both still in pajamas. We don't have to worry about latest fashion trends or school uniforms.
Third--We do our schoolwork in a game show format. It just makes it more fun. Today's format was "Who wants to be a millionaire?" Each math problem was assigned a dollar value. We had more than 15 problems though, so we continued up to a $5 million problem. I hope he never tries to collect his winnings.
Fourth--Fritz was standing on a rocking chair for the lesson. Now before you panic about safety--it's a childsize rocker with a flat seat and only eight inches off the ground. He's a kinesthetic learned so trying to stay balanced on the chair provides him just enough movement to concentrate on the lesson. He could never do this in a public classroom.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Fritz's favorite and best subject is math (takes after his ol' Mama). We're using Math U See Beta, but he's already figured out some things on his own--like multiples of twelve and how many thousands are in a million. He also loves big numbers. We check out library books designed to help kids wrap their heads around concepts like how large a pile of a billion peas would be.
Today while walking Della, he had a question for me about subtracting larger numbers from smaller ones. I had to give a brief explanation about the world of negative numbers. No matter how big a positive number he could think of there was a corresponding negative number . The whole way home he would quiz me. "What's 100-200? What's 1000-9000?" Now I'm pretty good at math myself, but he stumped me with this one-- "What's one quadrillion minus one googleplex?" I couldn't tell him, but I assured him it's a negative number.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Usually when we finish schoolwork for the day, my Schnickelfritz wants to play a game (he's really into chess right now) or watch a video. I was completely dumbfounded today when he announced that he wanted to rake leaves! I spent my whole weekend raking wet oak leaves, so this was the last thing I wanted to do. "But Mama, the yard looks so pretty when we've cleaned up all the leaves," he reminded me. He was also thrilled by the prospect of handling Daddy's big rake since Daddy wasn't home to use it.
He wanted to make lines of leaves. I wanted to rest my back.
He wanted to jump in the leaf pile. Leaf piles (especially oak) make me sneeze.
What do you think we did????
We raked leaves, of course! If a child is enthusiastic about work, who am I to dampen his spirits? If he enjoys it now, perhaps I wanted have to nag, cajole, or threaten him to do it when he's twelve. I got to spend a sunny afternoon with my son. The leaves had dried out considerably and the work wasn't as difficult. And like him, I can't think of anything more satisfactory than looking over a clean yard during leaf-raking season. I guess today my son taught me a lesson.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
One of the first things I did when I learned I would be part of the Homeschool Crew was to look through the list of vendors signed up for the year. I had just reached the "B's" when I big smile appeared on my face -- Bright Ideas Press. I've been accumulating their products for years: The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide, and the first two volumes of The Mystery of History. We were asked our first and second choices for products to review. My first choice was The Mystery of History Vol III, since I was familiar with and loved the first two. For my second choice, I decided to go with a product with which I had no experience--Christian Kids Explore Biology. I was blessed with the opportunity to receive and review both my choices.
The Mystery of History Volume III covers the years 1455-1707. The text is organized into four 7-week quarters. Each week starts with a pre-test. Then there are three lessons written as though the author were speaking directly to the students. I find this perfect read-aloud material (more on the later...). Each lesson will have suggested activities based on age groups. There is a review of the week's lessons when students make memory cards for each lesson and put historical individuals or events on a time line. The Companion Guide gives suggestions if you are making your own timeline figures or you can purchase a gorgeous set by Amy Pak for $9.95. Finally, there is a cumulative quiz based on all the previous lessons (some allow students to use their book of memory cards).
I do not follow this format in teaching my Schnickelfritz. We use unit studies as our base curriculum and I prefer using living books when possible. There are times though, when I don't have time to read a whole book or am unable to find one in my rural library. Then I turn to The Mystery of History. I know I will be getting a well-researched lesson written from a Christian worldview (whether or not the subject was a Christian). Last spring our community college had an international day and Fritz had his face painted as a Maori warrior. (I've been dying to share this picture!)
Of course he wanted to know more about them and fortunately for me there was a lesson in MOH Vol 2. I plan to get the whole series just for reference material.
If you are familiar with the Mystery of History series, let me point out some changes in this volume. First, the text now comes in hardback with full color pictures (wonderful as we learn about the art of the Renaissance). Second, this book only contains the text. The lesson activities, pre-tests, quizzes, and printables all come separately on CD-ROM.
I mentioned earlier that this is a great read aloud. For some of these lessons I think this is the only way to go. Some of the great artists of the Renaissance lead less that godly lifestyles. There are also descriptions of atrocities suffered by those who died for their faith. In some cases the author includes a warning for younger and middle students to skip the next paragraph and resume later--but wouldn't the first instinct of most kids be to read what they were just told not to read? Other times, like the death of Thomas Cranmer in the lesson on [Bloody] Mary Tuder, there is no warning so you may want to pre-read and edit the text for younger students.
The Mystery of History Volume III Student Reader retails for $59.95 alone if you only want to read the text. The CD Companion Guide: Curriculum and student Activities is $29.95. Or you can buy them as a bundle for $79.00.
Christian Kids Explore Biology is one of a series of science books for elementary students. The book is recommended for 3-6 graders, but it includes simpler hands-on activities for grades 1-3. There are 35 lessons organized into eight units:
Plants in God's World
Birds of the Earth
Mammals in the Wild
The Human Factor
Reptiles all Around
Insects High and Low
Each units begins with a vocabulary list, a materials needed list, and an intricate coloring page (the cover picture is taken from the first unit). The coloring pages were more than my Schnickelfritz wanted to tackle, but I can see them appealing to older students.
The lessons are divided into teaching time and hands-on-time. The text of teaching time is very conversational and good as a read aloud. The hands on time may involve drawing, using playdough, or "Checking It Out"--their term for simple experiments. For the very first lesson on creation we were instructed to throw cards (we used legos) into the air and see if they built something when they landed. The object was to see that order doesn't happen without a designer. Needless to say this was a big hit in our house and we repeated the experiment several times.
In the margins you will often find Bible verses, recipes, little known facts, and other goodies. There are also wonderful labeled diagrams that could be copied for lapbooks. I took the Food Web diagram and turned it into an activity for our homeschool co-op. Everyone received a nametag for a plant or animal in the web and then we took yarn to connect the producers to their consumers to the tops of the food chains.
The hands-on-time for the final lesson in a unit is a review in quiz format. I must say the author know what appeals to kids because each correct answer is worth 10,000 points!!
The appendices are a treasure trove! There are reproducible forms and maps, additional coloring pages, scripture memory flash cards, and more. Here you will find the 10,000 point answer key and pages and pages of suggested further reading.
I've been so please with how well these lessons have matched up with our Konos lessons. We've got the five senses, taxonomy, predators and prey (the food web), and birds this year. I'll save plants and other systems of the body for later years. I've been so impressed with this book, I'll have to look at others in the series: Physics, Earth and Space, and Chemistry.
Christian Kids Explore Biology retails for $34.95.
Most of the Bright Ideas Press products have a Yahoo Group associated with them. Think of it as a co-op/support group where you can ask questions, share ideas, find websites with additional materials, etc. Just do a groups search of the book's title to get started.
You can see what my fellow crewmates thought of these and other Bright Ideas Press products by clicking here.
Disclaimer: Bright Ideas Press provided me with free copies of these products to test and use in order to write this review. I received no other compensation.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Abcteach is a one-stop source for all your worksheet/printables needs. There are thousands of free printables available to anyone and more than 35,000 items available to those who sign up as members ($40 per year). I received a short term membership for the purposes of completing this review.
I have to confess, we are not really a worksheet family. Unless I'm forcing my Schnickelfritz to practice handwriting, he'd much rather build things than put pencil to paper. I'm of a mindset that wordsearches and coloring pages are just busy work to keep one student occupied while the teacher is working with another student. Since I only have one child, this isn't necessary. I did explore some of the content reserved for members only to see if membership would be of value to other homeschoolers.
The biggest membership advantage seems to be the abctools--wizards to help you create customized worksheets. If you are a unit sutdy or lapbooking family you can generate crossword puzzles, word searches, and shape books that fit your current study theme. I did try the handwriting tool to make practice sheets for Fritz. We use Handwriting Without Tears which is one of the available fonts. You can fit three very short sentences on a page. My third sentence "I play with my dog" was too long and carried over to a second page so it could be a paper waster.
I also tried using the extensive clip art library to make a food chain project (you'll hear more about that in another review). I was searching for pictures of common animals -- squirrels, owls, deer, etc. I got frustrated with the amount of time it was taking to try and locate each animal. There are subtopics in the clip art library for animals of North America, South America, etc., but they did not include all the animals. Another subtopic was "Mammals" but the listings within the topic were not alphabetical so I had to look through several pages each time. When I tried typing specific names in the search engine I had to dig through listings for word searches and puzzles to find the clip art. When I did get to the picture I wanted, it could be copied and pasted into my word processor, but it was often way too big (filling the page and pushing everthing else offscreen).
My best advice to you is to try abcteach for yourself. By browsing the categories or using the search engine, you can see what items are available for free and what items are available for members only. You can even try the abctools to customize some worksheets in a limited way (only a sampling of formats or limited themes, etc). If worksheets are something your students enjoy, then by all means sign up--the $40 will go much further here than if you tried to buy workbooks for each subject for each student.
You can read what my fellow crewmates thought of abcteach by clicking here.
My Schnickelfritz turns seven this week. In the first of a string of celebrations with different grandparents he received his own digital camera. He took several pictures during a visit to the Museum of Transportation with his train-loving grandpa. At home his favorite subject seems to be our long-suffering dog, Della.
But even patient Della doesn't want to be photographed all the time.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Last week the firemen visited our Royal Ranger's outpost, so it only seemed fair that the police had a turn.
This will be the only time in my life I will happily display a photo of my Schnickefritz being handcuffed . All the boys were anticipating this part. When asked to raise their hands...for any questions, the boys didn't wait for the end of the sentence but eagerly threw out both hands for the cuffs.
We read Acts 23:12-22 and Fritz drew a picture of himself obeying the law to earn the Keeper of the Law Acheivement patch. It's actually a picture of nme obeying the law--not passing when there's a solid line in the center of the road. I have no idea why that rule made such an impression of him.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
When I received a free copy of the Amazing Bible Timeline to study and use for this review, I cleared off the dining room table (it's that big ), found the magnifying glass and spent an hour or so delving into the mysteries of history. The circular chart is broken down into century wedges--everything within a wedge occurring around the same time. The beginning of the world occurs at the 12 o'clock position and the life of Christ, separating B.C. from A.D. can be found at the 6 o'clock position. The color coding designates a variety of things: purple for events of the Catholic Church, light pink for the Reformation, and yellow, blue and deep pink for descendants of Noah's sons--Shem, Ham and Japheth, respectively. I'm not sure why the people who lived before Noah's sons are colored in at all because they clearly aren't descendants.
In the bottom corners is a table designed to help you locate specific people or events once you understand how to navigate the chart. If you look up Jonah you will find the reference "8-9 B.C." This doesn't mean Jonah can be found at the year 8 or 9 B.C. In the center of the chart, the lines forming the century are numbered with zero at the life of Christ and increasing by one for each wedge line going forward or backward in time. So Jonah can be located in the wedge formed by lines 8 and 9 on the B.C. side of the chart.
The timeline explains that where very ancient history is concerned some of the dates are really just best guesses--we have to accept that with any timeline. I was more concerned by what appeared to be several "agendas" the timeline was attempting to push without overt comment. The most blatant being that the American Indians are actually Semitic if not an outright lost tribe of Israel. All along the outer rim is a yellow (Semitic) band labled The American Indian. In each wedge is another "proof" like "Spaniards found Hebrew characters on many ancient tombstones..." or a directive to read an outside source "Read 'Indian Legends' J.W. Leseuer."
As a Bible believing Christian, I accept the fact that Native Americans descend from one of Noah's sons--we all have to. It's a big stretch for me to think that one group of Shem's family would move such a great distance when all the others stayed in the Middle East, or that Japheth's line traveled to the Far East and then stepped aside for someone else to cross the land bridge to North America. In no case could these people be a lost tribe of Israel because the covenant with Abraham didn't even occur until centuries later!! I leave it to others to determine why establishing the Native Americans in the Semitic line is so important to the timeline's creator.
A second area of concern is using Biblical prophecy to interpret events since the birth of Christ. Text near the outer rim states; "That man of sin" reigned 1260 years Rev. 13: 1-18 II Thes. 2:1-18 . Just above it is the statement "From the fall of paganism to Napoleon abolishing the civil power of the Pope 1290 years Rev. 13:1-18, 17:1-18, Dan. 7:14-25. At the same time, closer to the center the divisions of west Rome are given the title "The Ten Kingdoms." I can only infer from this that the timeline is taking prophecy from Revelations and calling the Pope the antichrist.
I prefer timelines to display facts rather than conjecture. I also like the freedom to add events and individuals as we study them. We will therefore continue to use our homemade timeline in the hallway rather than the Amazing Bible timeline in our homeschooling. If you choose, you may order the Amazing Bible Timeline from this website for $29.97. You will also receive a downloadable version, an interactive map, the genealogy of Jesus Christ, and other free downloads from time to time.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
The Fire Department gave the Royal Rangers an upclose tour of their fire engine tonight. The boys got to see the jaws of life, an airbag/carjack, hoses, ladders... the whole works. I think they were most impressed by the huge lights that rise from the top of the truck and can be rotated to shine and illuminate the area. We live in a rural area with no fire hydrants so the trucks also carry a thousand gallons of water and an inflatable pool that a tanker truck can fill.
We read the story of Elijah and his challenge to the prophets of Baal (fire related). Now Fritz will draw a floorplan of our house and the escape routes and meeting place in case of fire. The last thing is to check the batteries in the smoke detectors (which everyone should do--Daylight savings time serves as a good reminder date). Then he'll have his Firefighter acheivement patch.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Sarah Smith, recently orphaned, tries to honor her mother's legacy by carrying on her work in the underground railroad. At the same time she longs to be part of a family again. The book is filled with suspence--will the slave catcher find the secret room hiding the couple trying to find freedom or the slave hiding under the straw in the wagon? It was hard to find stopping points because of the constant wonder what would happen next.
Author Jim Baumgardner dedicated Sarah's Wish to his homeschooled grandchildren. It reminds me of the old Landmark Book series--well researched Historical Fiction, reverence to God, and no obscenities or questionable language. (Although the author did share in one of his newsletters that another book in the series does contain a derogatory term in the context of showing how bad slavery really was).
Sarah is a very inquisitive child who wants to grow up to be a teacher. As she asks questions, both she and the reader learn about life in the 1850's: slavery, herbal medicine, steamboat travel, the beginnings of baseball. After a while I felt as though events were being "set up" just so the author could teach us something new, like when Sarah and Granny going to the wheelwright's shop and we learn how a wagon wheel is made.
The dialogue of some of the characters is written in a colorful way with phonetically spelled words and apostrophes cutting off the ends of words. This might make reading difficult for some students. If you don't like reading aloud, the end of the book gives instructions to download a free audio copy.
I advise you to visit http://sarahbooks.net/ for yourself. You can read samples from all the books in the series, sign up for the newsletter, or get your own autographed copy of Sarah's Wish for $9.99.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
My Schnickelfritz had a bout of "The Yuckies" today, unable to keep anything down until late this afternoon. We were able to spend the day snuggled under warm blankets reading On the Banks of Plum Creek . Fritz also wanted me to read his chess book--it's really a workbook by Championship Chess, not exactly reading material. I read it to him anyway, in a comforting voice while scratching his back. It reminded me of when he was a baby and I'd read aloud to him magazine articles that I was interested in, but in soothing tones as if I were reading a fairy tale.
We also watched Swiss Family Robinson. He'd drift in and out of sleep. Then we'd have to skip backwords so he could see what he'd missed. The afternoon ended with watching deer in our back yard. We've had three visit us daily for the past two weeks. Fritz has names two of them Bucky and Emily, but hasn't settled on a name for the third one yet.
THis has really been the first time he's been sick since I stopped working outside the home. It was so nice to be able to focus just on him and having to make phone calls to sitters and my job, not having to try and get work done from home, or worrying about how big the pile will have grown when I go back. I didn't want a sick kid, but I've really felt blessed today that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing--if that makes sense.
Post Script --Fritz is feeling much better and has mentioned that it's been a l-o-n-g time since he's eaten pizza.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Virginia Soaps and Scents recently sent me a free sampler of their products to test for this review. The sampler included three scented soaps, a scented shampoo bar and a kit to make my own laundry soap.
Due to allergies in my family, I did not test any of the scented products. I will say that the soaps looked lovely. If anyone practices hospitality, I'm sure their guests would feel pampered and special with these handmade soaps in their powder room. I donated our soaps to the county's recently opened safe house and I pray that they might, in some small way, lift the spirits of the women who take shelter there.
Fritz and I did make and test the laundry soap. The easy instructions included in the packet had us mix and melt soap shavings in water.
Don't ask me to explain the "robot arm" made out of a roller coaster construction set. All I can say is life is never dull in our house.
Then we added the powder from another bag. I originally had some concern about using my cooking pots for this procedure. I've looked at several other recipes for cleaners online that state you must use a pot reserved just for the cleaning solution. I contacted Virginia Soaps and Scents and received a speedy response that it wasn't the case here. It is safe to use pots and utinsils that will touch food later. An added bonus is to throw the pot in the dish washer and help get your dishes extra clean.
It was all transferred to a storage container and more water added. (As a side note, no sacrifice is too great in performing these reviews--Fritz and I had to empty the ice cream container in order to use it for the soap. Delicious!!) The soap gels as it cools so a bucket you can scoop from is better than a container you would need to pour out.
The next day I used the soap to test three loads of laundry--colors, whites, and blue jeans. We used both hot and cold water and I can say I'm quite pleased with the results. Fritz's socks seemed a little bit brighter and everything got clean. The load of blue jeans was particularly grungy, so rather than just put the soap in the washer, I rubbed it into the areas of the jeans most heavily soiled. The soap doesn't produce as many suds as detergent, which is a good thing in our house. I have cut back on detergent several times and still see soap bubbles foaming around the drain pipe. While I have no clear evidence to back this up, I'm sure it's better for our septic system as well.
I'm going to be ordering more of this laundry soap. You can either buy it as a kit ($4.95 for 64-72 loads) or just buy a cleaning bar ($3.95) and add your own borax and washing soda. A bar provides enough soap for two batches of laundry soap. I'm a big fan of the Tightwad Gazette so now I'm going to have to get out a pencil and see which is more cost effective.
To check out what others on the Homeschool Crew thought of Virginia Soaps and Scents click here.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
I recently received six free ebooks from Guardian Angel Publishing to read and review.
The first we read was a lighthearted story Are we Flamingos. Two young flamingos are concerned that they don't look like the other members of their flock. After being reassured by their mom that the pink coloring will come in time from their diet, the siblings amuse themselves by drawing pictures of what they might look like if they diets consisted of other foods. That night at bedtime their mother shares that it's not what they look like but what's inside that counts.
This story might be good for the one red-headed child in the family who has been teased into beleiving they were adopted. Fritz is an only child, but he did enjoy the story. The vived pictures really captured his immagination, especially the "pepperoni pizza flamingo."
Our next selection was the Rainbow Sheep. This was another story with terribly creative illustrations--in this case they were photographs of pictures made with felt. This one had much more reading per page than the flamingo book but Fritz was interested enough in the picture details that he didn't seem to mind. In the story a young shepherdess uses her imagination to tell stories to amuse (and brighten) a rainbow bored with life.
Perhaps I'm being nit-picky here, but in the first picture Fritz asked why there were snakes slithering among the sheep. "Wouldn't that scare them?" he asked. The text has a simile "Rain fell from the sky, like snakes slithering down the hill." Having actual snakes complete with eyes and a forked tongues made it hard to explain that it was just a figure of speech.
Parts of speech is a good segue to our next book, Hamster Holidays . This book about fictional holidays has color coded words--blue for nouns and red for adjectives. I appreciated the definition for noun: a word that names a person, place or thing. I grew up in the era of Schoolhouse Rock on Saturday mornings and the song "A Noun is a Person, Place, or Thing." A grammar lesson by Joyce Herzog helped me identify that faulty logic (I am a person, therefore I am a noun). After learning what nouns and adjectives are in the introduction, we couldn't practice identifying them in the story because the work had been done for us. There were some activities in the back of the book, including a uncolored story, to reinforce the grammar lesson. We did not use them at this time.
Andy & Spirit Go to the Fair shares the experience of a boy participating in a 4H horse show. He overcomes not only his physical disabilities but self-doubt and bullying to take the top prize. This story didn't keep Fritz's interest, through no fault of the story. I think he's a little too young for it.
I did not share The Sum of our Parts with Fritz. Frankly, I found some of the pictures (like what we would look like without bones) disturbing. I'm having a hard time figuring out the target audience for this book. The subject matter and vocabulary would suggest an older student, but I'm not sure they would appreciate the Dr. Suess'ish rhyming or the cartoonish smiley faces drawn on each of the bones.
Earthquake may prove to be the most useful book for our family. We live in the region of the New Madrid fault. As a child I can still remember four different earthquakes and I'm sure we will experience more now that we've returned. This book helps youngsters to know what to expect during and after a quake in terms they can relate to (big quakes are like roller coaster rides .... they can sound like a train, etc). There are also practical ideas to be ready for an earthquake: don't mount picture frames over your bed, make an emergency bed pocket to hold glasses and a flashlight, have an emergency back pack. If you live in an area where earthquakes are possible (and according to the book 46 of 50 states did have one between 1975 - 1995) this book may be a good investment.
This is just a sampling of the books available from Guardian Angel Publishing. Downloadable ebooks sell for $5.00. There are several free samples available on their website. If you prefer reading in an easy chair instead of in front of a computer screen, you can order actual books for slightly more plus shipping charges.
You can see what others on the Homeschool Crew thought about Guardian Angel Publishing by clicking here.
Monday, October 5, 2009
I was walking our dog this morning and ran across a neighbor holding a garage sale. I spotted some furniture and since we've been on the lookout for another storage cabinet for the kitchen I popped in. The cupboard was already sold, but nearby I saw a set of dishes. It was a service for eight and when I picked one up I saw it was Wedgewood. The lady said she didn't have a price on it but she'd take $5 for the set. I noticed there was one plate missing. "It had been broken," she said "and it's too much trouble to find a replacement." This set hardly looked used and my 20 year old set looks VERY used. Since there are only three of us I thought we could live without one plate and maybe I'd run across a replacement someday. I took the dog home and drove the car back to load up the dishes.
At home I got online to see if I could find a single dish on ebay. To my surprise, the dishes are still being made and a single place setting cost $60-75!! My five dollar investment would have cost nearly five hundred dollars at Macy's. I can't believe someone "dumped" these dishes because it was too much trouble to find a replacement plate (which I've found for $16.)
Sunday, October 4, 2009
We're all familiar with the phrase "A picture is worth a thousand words." I'm not sure a thousand words is enough to do justice to the jaw-dropping photos that grace the covers and pages of Nature Friend magazine. The picture on the first issue I received captured an owl with extended claws about to pounce on a mouse. I have a feeling if you left this magazine out where little eyes could see it, your child couldn't help but peruse the pages.
I was leafing through the September magazine when my six year old Schnickelfritz hopped up on the porch swing next to me. I shared the "Invisibles" page with him -- remember those drawings with hidden objects to find? The puzzle kept his attention until he had found all the objects, then we turned the page and started reading the article about walking sticks. I'm not sure "article" is the right word to use--rather than just providing facts about the insect, it was written as a short story of a girl and her mother discovering one of these critters.
Another regular feature is "Wondernose," a Pennsylvania Dutch term to describe someone who is curious about everything around him. (This describes my son to a tee, but I think I'll stick with Schnickelfritz as my endearment for him.) There are also art lessons, fill-in-the-blank quizzes, puzzles, reader submitted poems and drawings--a lot packed into 20-something pages. An optional Study Guide insert provides additition puzzles, a lesson in writing and great tips on nature photography. One thing you won't find in the magazine is advertisements. Okay, a second thing you won't find is any evolutionistic undertones--the magazine is written from a creationist viewpoint.
The reader submitted drawings included the ages of the artists--ranging from 4 to 16 with the majority being between 9 and 11. I would think kids much older than this would find the articles too simplistic. The study guide articles seem to be written to an older audience. You can judge for yourself if this would be a good fit for your kids. Nature Friend's website has several sample issues you can download.
Subscriptions to Nature Friend magazine start at $36 for USA deliveries (Canada/Mexico $49, other countries $62). The optional study guide insert is an additional $24 per year no matter what country. There is a $3.00 discount available till Novemeber 30th for new subscribers. Just enter coupon code BLOG93.
You can read the reviews of my other crewmates by clicking here .
Saturday, October 3, 2009
The whole family has just returned from Rockwoods Reservation, having just had one of the best days of fall. The Dept. of Conservation was hosting on open house of sorts highlighting all the activities available in the park.
Fritz and I started the morning with a class on compasses. The gentleman volunteer who taught us should be a homeschooler-- he was so good with the kids. He had several activities to teach us how to use a compass and why it was necessary to have a reference in the woods. The kids started by kicking soccer balls in an open field, then they were blindfolded and directed to "find their balls." (The parents were walking nearby to keep anyone from hazards). He certainly had all the kids interest at that point. Next he used a giant compass mock-up to teach us how to get out bearings.
The soccer balls were kicked again and this time the kids used their compasses to get a bearing before being blindfolded. They couldn't look out in the field, only down at their compass but by keeping the red arrow "in the barn" they all managed to reach their balls.
The next activity involved dropping a silver marker on the ground. Then the kids set their compasses to 120 degrees and marched out 25 paces. They dropped a marker and set off on a new heading of 240 degrees for 25 paces. After dropping their final marker, the set their compasses for a heading of 360 degrees and marched again. You may have figured out by now that the directions were leading the kids in the path of an equilateral triangle. If all the computing and measuring was accurate, they should end up where they dropped their first marker. Fritz finished less than 18 inches from his starting point!!
Next we headed to a field with scattered trees to follow a regular orienteering course. Each family was given what sounded like a Chinese proverb.
At the starting point were tags with the first words of the proverb, a course setting, and a distance to travel. All the tags were on trees so as long as we got our bearings right we didn't have to worry so much about the distance. Fritz liked this activity so well we had to repeat it 4 times with other proverbs. By then it was time to move on to our next class -- Dutch Oven Cooking.
This was not our first class with the Dutch Ovens, so we were prepared to try one of the harder dishes, but Fritz had made friends with another homeschooled boy assigned to cornbread so we joined them. All in all we had a three course meal with cornbread, the best chicken enchiladas I've ever had, and brownies for dessert. There's nothing like hot food on a cold afternoon--although charcoal doesn't quite provide the ambiance of a campfire.
After our assigned classes there were plenty of tents to explore with walk-up activities. We could identify stuffed birds, snakes, and small mammals for our region, cook biscuits on a stick (which they topped with strawberry preserves), and taste wild foods: hickory nut cookies, black walnut cookies, persimmon pudding, honey, blackberry jam, even mushrooms. Okay, there was a lot of free food to be had. Can you blame me for being excited?
Finally we heard a lot of noise coming from a nearby shelter. The kids were making critter keepers. Someone went to a lot of trouble to cut up wood, screening, and plexiglass and predrill holes for nailing.
Then the kids could decorate with rubber stamps of plants and insects. Fritz built this by himself (I did have to operate the staple gun to attach the screening, but he helped hold it taut).
There were other classes like a hike to a quarry or exporing a cave (we did this last Spring, see here) It was such a wonderful day but also bittersweet. We just learned that due to budget cuts, Rockwoods Reservation will not have staffing to host events like this after next year. We take classes here every month and often meet other homeschoolers here. I hope there will be a way to keep these classes and events coming.