Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Are You Cool?

You can be if you read the Carnival of Cool Homeschoolers!

Girls' Club Second Meeting

We had our second girls' club. I decided last time to cover the American Girls in chronological order. So that meant we talked about Kaya today. I don't have any Kaya books, so I checked her out at the American Girl website. She's a pre-America American Girl at 1764 and is Nez Perce (I chose to say "nay persay"). First we attended to some club business and picked a secret password (I know what it is and you don't, nah nah nah-nah nah). Then we discussed that Kaya was actually an American Girl by virtue of living in what became America instead of being born into or moving to the country America.

We discussed the origin (as I know it, I didn't bother researching) of the term Native American (a lot of people still use Indian or American Indian, so I thought it could serve a purpose). What I said (which only gibes with what I think I know and I'm not really vouching for) is that Columbus was trying to sail to India, and when he found land, he thought he was in India and called the natives Indians. Later on it became a bit confusing and people started to use the term American Indians to help differentiate between Native Americans and Indians in Asia. (Note how I totally skipped the term 'Red Indians'). Then I said that some people felt that American Indian still wasn't accurate, since it was based on a misnomer and that many people started using Native Americans. Of course I had to define what was meant by 'native.'

We talked about the Nez Perce tribe being a Northwest Tribe (I hope, I only checked on source and it wasn't particularly clear) that was very peaceful and loved learning. I also talked about the tribal nature of the natives and how each tribe could be very isolated from one another. We talked about what crops were cultivated, like corn, pumpkins, potatoes, strawberries, and cocoa. Everyone liked those foods! We picked names for ourselves like Pouncing Fox, Glittering Rain, and Dancing Swan (Hanover) which we used for the rest of the meeting. We talked about how things were decorated and how the decorations could be used to gain protection from the gods.

For activities, we went from talking about adorning homes to adorning themselves and made beaded necklaces. That craft took a while. Actually, most of the girls made bracelets, so some had time to make two bracelets. I did not bother keeping the beads at all related to the culture.

After the beading was finished, we had enough time for another craft. We used red construction paper rolled into cones and made teepees. I had actually rolled a teepee before hand and then cut the bottom so it would sit flat, and then unrolled it and traced the curved line onto other pieces of contruction paper. The girls then cut the construction paper on the line and rolled it into the cone and taped it in place. Most of the girls wanted to decorate their teepee while it was rolled up so they could make the designs even with the ground. They drew zigzags, circles, suns, moons, and stick-figure hunt scenes. After they were done decorating them, we cut two slots for the door flap (many girls decided to have a front and back door). While they were making their teepees we could talk about how the teepees would have fires in them in winter, or could be rolled up in summer to let the breeze flow through. We also talked about how teepees could have feathers attached to the top to show the importance of the person who owned it. Then the girls taped feathers to their own teepees.

At the end of the meeting we voted whether to move on to Felicity (colonial era) or stay with Kaya and they decided to continue with Kaya and do more Native American crafts. I think that means they enjoyed it!

On a more personal note, Flurpee did really well. She chose to stand off at the beginning and then joined in for the crafts and just enjoyed herself. So nice. Also, I've been lucky enough that my husband has been taking the FLM (Filthy Little Moose) during the meetings (completely accidental timing, really). That certainly helps things go well.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Why History?

Scott Powell has an article featured in the Secular Homeschooling magazine entitled Why History? It includes the following gems and so much more! Not only does the article discuss the importance of learning history for your homeschool, it also brings the current failure to learn from history into focus.

A small selection:

Regarding history, the real power lies not in piling up more facts, but in being able to see relationships between them. When one can grasp fundamental similarities between past and present, despite circumstantial differences, one can learn and apply the "lessons of history," i.e. the principles applicable to all human life. If one can grasp the connection between the actions of people in the past, and the world that those actions produced, one can develop a proper appreciation for the man-made values around us.

Let us look more closely at these crucial values.

When the Founding Fathers created the United States, they realized that many of the problems they faced were unique and required unique solutions. Unquestionably, however, they also looked back on the history of Western civilization, and drew momentous lessons from it, including the fact that the separation of church and state is an objective requirement of progress. Thomas Jefferson, drawing on history, noted, "In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own." In a previous correspondence, Jefferson remarked, "History… furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government." His great
collaborator in the project of American secularism, James Madison, commented in a letter to a friend that "Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together."

Friday, September 26, 2008

Dungeons & Dragons Role-Playing Game for Kids

As an update, we bought the most recent set of D&D books, version 4, so we could play this game. Big mistake! It's so much more complicated than the original game I learned. So, in the spirit of "everything was so much better when I was a kid," I decided to find the old books. There are a couple of options.

[Update 1/9/09: OK. Once we ignord most of the melee rules, like cover, advantage, lying prone, etc and then made cards for the once-a-day/encounter/at-will powers for the dad to have at his fingertips (and to help advise the kids which they could use at that time), the 4th edition is working out pretty well. That every class has various powers they can use and all of the skills that are different for everyone makes it much harder for the kids to use their character effectively--but the skills may not be necessary if you are designing the campaign to be a bit easy on them. Again, this is something the Daddy DM may try to help the kids to remember. In the end, we decided to use the 4th edition after all.]

The easiest option seems to be The Dungeons and Dragons Basic Rules set. Finding the complete set is difficult and more expensive than necessary. You can easily find the basic rules book (approximately 64 pages) and an additional book that is an adventure to follow (easiest option if you're new to D&D). The very first adventure is called The Keep on the Borderlands. You can also find the sets on Amazon and eBay.

The most available option is called Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. It's important to remember that Advanced Dungeons & Dragons requires three books: The Dungeon Master's Guide, The Player's Handbook, and The Monster Manual. The books were all published in the early 80s. One thing to watch is that there is also a 2nd Revision (usually visible on the cover if not in the product description). I don't remember how much of a difference there is, but I stayed with the 1st Revision (generally not specifically marked on the cover, but sometimes in the description).

All of those books were published by the original game publisher TSR. The third revision was published by a new company and a lot of rules were changed. There are other options by the new publishers for more simplified games. They too have a basic set. There is also a version of the game that is simplified and goes along with purchased miniature figures.

It was quite a trip down memory lane for me and my husband.

Assuring Math Understanding

Lisa VanDamme has a new essay about teaching math at the Objective Standard blog! Please head on over and read it and remember that understanding, not pure memorization, is a goal of math (not that the kids don't need memorization, but they need to know why the algorythms work).

Round Up

Here! Yippee!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Science for High School Homeschoolers?

I was thinking about doing a high school level physics course (way more fun because you can go fast and not worry about a lot of the math) but wouldn't most people just go to a community college for that?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

RPGs with Kids

OK--if you've never played Dungeons and Dragons, you may think that roll-playing games (RPGs) are silly or scary. I can assure you, as a girl who learned on the knee of her father, starting at the tender age of 5, there's nothing cooler for a kid than pretending you're someone else in a far off time doing something heroic and fighting in a way that you'll never be able to do in real life.

If you or someone you love likes cool miniatures, wants to be the toughest girl ever, would read The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings trilogy and still want more, always thought magic would be neat, check out this link for adapting roll playing games for kids.

And let's not forget that there are so many different games than Dungeon and Dragons!

Second Science Class for Elementary

I just finished up the second science class.

First, we reviewed what we went over last week about what science is and where it started and why it started there.

Then I introduced our topic for this week: Thales (thay-leez). We discussed Thales as the first scientific thinker. We discussed that the Ancient Greeks before Thales would explain earthquakes as caused by gods. Thales thought the Earth might be over top of water and the motion of the water would cause earthquakes. Another of Thales thoughts that was that all things were water (to be picky it's hard to tell if he thought all things started with water if all things were made with water).

Both of those ideas are wrong, but it the ideas were important for a number of reasons. Thales was working with what he noticed around him. He was trying to explain what he observed. But he wasn't just explaining the particular instances he observed, he was generalizing his ideas to include all such events (every earthquake, not just the one in Greece last year). The ideas are also important because they were natural explanations--not relying on gods.

Here's what I wrote on the board:
  • Thales ~600 BC
  • First Natural Explanations
  • Observations
  • General
I then spoke about some of the other things attributed to Thales. Another accomplishment was that Thales could measure tall buildings and also tell how far away ships were. It was written that Thales predicted a solar eclipse. I told the story about the shepherd boy in Magnesia whose staff was sticking to a stone, but the stone wasn't sticky. It was only the metal tip of his staff that seemed to stick, nothing else. Thales was supposed to have examined the stone's behavior.

I brought out my loadstone sample (my $3 specimen that isn't actually magnetic) and the kids could observe that it had rust on it. We then switched to real magnets and filled out a chart like the following:

Attracted Not Attracted

We tested a number of materials like steel, brass, paper, plastic, wood, cork, paper clips (or we would have if I had found them), and aluminum. I let the kids keep their magnets so they could do more testing at home.

Afterward, we talked about how Thales noticed that rubbing amber allowed it to attract little bits of stuff. We tried rubbing plastic rulers with our hair, but that didn't work as well as the balloons. The kids ripped up paper into little squares and then were able to use the balloons to pick it up after rubbing the balloons on their hair. They also got the balloons to stick to the walls (who hasn't done that?), attract the cloth of the tablecloth, stick their skin, and pick up bits of yucky stuff from the floor near the baseboard (where your vacuum will miss). I pointed out that magnets attract only specific things but that the balloons seemed to attract everything.

At the end, I decided to review 45 degree right angle triangles (I may decide to talk about how Thales may have measured buildings' heights by measuring its shadow at the time of day when the shadow and the object make a 45 degree right triangle). I also reviewed circles, ellipses (how a circle at an angle would be foreshortened), cylinders (if the Earth only curved in one direction), spheres, hemispheres (hmm--not sure I really had a reason to introduce this--perhaps I'll remember later), and squares and cubes (if a square were stretched in height) to prepare for area and volume discussions.

In order to get the kids to understand the importance of angle (let's not forget that I'm spanning 1st grade to 4th grade in this class), I held up a square and asked them what the shape was. After they all said square, I asked how they knew. The answer was, of course, four equal sides. I drew a rhombus on the board (a parallelogram with four equal sides, a diamond) and asked them if that was a square. They all answered no and I asked why not? Why was one shape with four equal sides a square and the other wasn't? One of the kids (who's advanced in math) knew that squares have perpendicular sides that make a right angle. I also showed three different size 45 degree right triangles and pointed out that as one side got longer, the other side got longer by the same amount and because a 45 degree right triangle is half a square, the kids know the two straight sides have to be equal in length.

At this point, I'm not going into the explanations, just doing the same type of exploration that Thales may have done. I didn't bother giving the kids the other explanations the Greeks came up with to explain the behavior. I may choose to go into that when I switch from a purely historical presentation to a presentation for each discipline (after the ancients). Most of what I tell the kids is generalized and I am not trying to present the entire picture--just enough to get us going. I know some of the details are being questioned at this point (like the solar eclipse prediction), but the kids can worry about that if they ever become historians.

Our next class (or two) will discuss some of the cosmologies of the Ancient Greeks. I'll be presenting evidence that the world curves and the ideas of the heavens moving around us. I'll also quickly present Empedocles idea of the four elements and their forces. Then I need to present Aristotle's reliance on observation over another's conclusion (if I can find it). Once those thing are out of the way, I'm all about Archimedes.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

First Science Class for Elementary

I held the first science class this week. It seemed to go rather well. It was one hour of those poor children listening to me talking. This lecture was an introduction to science. I was trying to answer the questions "What is science," "Why study science," "What was there before science," and "How did science start."

Here is what I wrote on the board (kind of--I'm working from memory):
  • Science is understanding the laws of the universe
  • Scientific Method
  • Observe
  • Hypothesis
  • Experiment
  • Conclusion
  • Ancient Greece
  • Freedom of Thought
  • Thinkers were Celebrated
  • Knowledge Available to Many
  • Wanted to Know Why
We had a discussion about the various myths and gods used to explain everything and how unpredictable life was before modern times. I also talked about physical science versus biological science or chemistry.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Carnival Time for Cool Homeschoolers

It's up at Homeschooled Twins!

Round Up

More good stuff (especially with the horrid intellectual ideas represented by this year's main party choices) at the Objectivist Round Up.

First Girls' Club

The first girls' club meeting was held! I thought we could get a lot done, but there was just enough time in the 1 1/2 to 2 hours to introduce everyone, vote on a club name (The Great Girls Club), and decorate a shirt to use as a smock in future meetings. Password, handshakes, etc will probably be not be a voting process--it could take months! We also didn't discuss how to handle craft costs, snacking, and which American Girls to concentrate on. I decided to go chronologically.

Most of the girls had a good time. There was one notable exception--my very own daughter. My younger daughter, Flurpee, had a rip-roaring, scream-at-the-top-of-her-lungs, knock-over-furniture, destroy-any-crafting-material temper tantrum. In case you forgot, she's almost seven! She's a big girl. It was very disruptive to the meeting too, with the screaming and all of the kids whispering about how badly she was behaving and not able to enjoy the meeting as much.

There are a number of things I can think might have exacerbated Flurpee's wild behavior (many of which involve my own mistakes, but since it's my blog I think I'll just ignore those for now). I cannot discount the addition of Filthy Little Moose. I probably 'babied' her quite a bit. For another I have not yet settled on a consistent approach to this apparent melt-down/manipulation (oh yes, some of it is deliberately planned). Well, now that I've decided screaming in frustration didn't actually help (can you believe it took me a whole month to figure that out?). Harder schoolwork now that she's advancing in grades could also be a problem.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Family Nicknames

You've seen them everywhere--the pseudonyms people use on their blogs to avoid using their kids' real names. They're usually theme-oriented (if the blog has a theme). This is going to sound wierd because it's entirely backwards. My husband has actually given our kids family nicknames that he uses whenever he wants to tease them. I've spent so much time saying 'my oldest' and 'my youngest' and now, with the baby, 'my youngest daughter' that I finally decided to bring the nicknames into the somewhat open of the blog-o-sphere. I introduce to you, in order of appearance:



Filthy Little Moose

(temporary name until my husband actually assigns one)

I have no idea why or how my husband decided to do this thing to his poor children, but here we are and now I can refer to my children by some name instead of a long description.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

New VanDamme Academy Newsletter

I always find Lisa VanDamme's e-mail subscription interesting. I do not think I will ever attain her level of accomplishment in teaching (although I only have two children), but I am always inspired by her insight. She's introducing a new newsletter and the first issue is already chock-full of information and fascinating success stories.

Dear "Pedagogically Correct" Subscribers,

The new school year is underway, and an exciting year of curriculum lies ahead, including: Ancient history, physical science, and classic literature from D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths in the elementary classrooms to Antigone and Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in junior high.

This year, I will be sending a monthly newsletter to parents, telling stories from the classroom, highlighting aspects of the VanDamme method, and answering parents' questions about the school's philosophy and curriculum. Follow the link for the first issue of this new newsletter.

VDA Newsletter


Lisa VanDamme
Head of School
VanDamme Academy

Out of Commission

We have lost our Internet connection probably through the rest of this week, and therefore will be out of commission.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Only 4 More Days!

Make sure you're prepared for Talk Like a Pirate Day! The following video is a great help, but not necessarily for the kiddies.

Here are the founders themselves offering advice of a piratey nature:

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Girls' Club

I'll have about 8 new girls over my house. What's the occasion? At a recent library sale I came across an American Girl Club Handbook. The handbook is a resource for people who like American Girl dolls and who want to hang out and do things with other people who like American Girl dolls. My oldest daughter has wanted to have a 'club' of some kind for a year now.

I think the general idea is to learn about each historic American Girl and her era. The girls might do some reading about the time period, do a craft related to that girl, and have a snack or activity. The American Girl Company no longer supports the clubs and I wouldn't want to be limited to only American Girls anyway, so we'll nominally start it off as American Girl but then branch out into anything else the kids find interesting.

I'm very lucky to belong to a great state-wide inclusive homeschooler's list. Whenever anyone knows about a resource for homeschoolers, or a local event, they can put it on this e-mail list. So when I wanted to start up this girls' club, I only had to post it on this group and I found a number of people with girls of the right age interested (we limited it to 2nd through 5th grade). Another great resource has been another regional group called Classical Kids. This is another inclusive group for parents who are influence by The Well-Trained Mind or Charlotte Mason.

Our first order of business in the club will be to select a name, determine a secret password, a secret hand shake or symbol, and to make smocks for the rest of the activities planned. In a way it reminds me of girl scouts, only without the uniforms and without badges. Either that or a birthday party held every two weeks without the cake and presents. We'll also need to determine whether kids will alternate bringing craft stuff, if they'll pay dues to cover costs, or if they'll hold fundraisers.

I can't wait to see how it all works out and how I'll fit all the girls doing crafts in my house!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

9/11 Round Up

For a refreshing take on confronting the tragedy of 9/11/01, please visit the Objectivist Round Up hosted today on Rule of Reason. Nicholas Provenzo has come through with a fine carnival with posts highlighting what it really means to defend ourselves as a nation and having a commitment to our ultimate goals of security and real respect of individual rights. High quality posts from a truly moral standard rarely seen today.

Parenting Books

I've been doing a lot of reading lately! Between the physics books for the class and parenting books for the fighting, I've got a lot of books under my belt right now. Summer break is a tricky situation for my family. I like to take a break and my kids are old enough to be fairly self-entertaining. BUT when we don't have something regularly scheduled that takes up a lot of time, like school work, they can get on each other's nerves and then things start flying (literally--my youngest likes to 'throw her weight around').

In trying to find some help with the sibling nastiness, I reread a couple of books. Two by Adele Faber, "How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk," and "Siblings Without Rivalry," and I read one by Haim G. Ginott (the guy Faber worked with), "Between Parent and Child."

I enjoy all of the books, but I'm having a hard time getting enough information from them. In some ways I like the Haim G. Ginott book the best because he has more information about the general principles along with some examples. Also, Faber uses a hypothetical group session model with sharing stories to help illustrate examples, and I find that forced and distracting.

Reading parenting books is always enlightening. Sometimes in the "Aha! I think I need to do that!" way and sometimes with great chagrin as I think "Wow. I have been destroying my children's self-esteem for years because I was doing that."

I particularly like the very concrete advice by Faber on hitting; pay attention to the child who got hurt and don't come down like a screaming banshee on the agressor.

One thing I'm trying to remember is to validate their feelings. I love Dr. Ginott's saying "birds fly, fish swim, and people feel." Something I find maddening is that when I try to empathize with my children's feelings they tend to glare at me. I just can't figure it out. I think right now it might be because it's new and because sometimes I'm just not in the frame of mind to empathisize and they can tell it's just show.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

How Are My Kids Doing?

Not my kids, I'm not touching that subject right now. The above question is one that homeschoolers often face if they put together separate curricula or (like I would like to do) make their own from scratch. I've listed my sources of information previously (the World Book Encyclopedia online listing). I also have the Core Knowledge series (though I don't follow them much). Here's another resource to use as a gauge if you need some ideas of what your kids should or could be capable of learning: a sample TIMSS test online. They have both math and science available for 3rd grade through high school. TIMSS is short for Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (it's that test you hear about all the time when we find out that American students place behind Finland in mathematics, etc.).

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Kid's Activities Carousel--A Stop Gap Measure to Keep Homeschooling

I've stepped right into it now. For the last two years I've avoided any major time commitments when it comes to outside activities. One of the girls had dance class once or twice a week. Not this year. This year we've got soccer for each girl (2x-a-week practice and Saturday games), dance for each girl, a weekly park day, a weekly science course that I'm running, a girls' club that will be meeting at my house every other week, and a once-a-month nature class.

Why the sudden uptick in outside activities? Because my kids dislike homeschooling. Apparently my dream of sitting quietly around the classroom with my kids studiously working on their given lessons or listening attentively while I read to them is just my dream. Actually, they don't dislike homeschooling, they loathe it. If homeschooling were a piece of paper, they would crumple it, stomp on it, burn it, burn the ashes, step on those, drown them in water, dry them, and set them on fire again. My eldest is simply uninterested and sporadically motivated (although she's at least somewhat motivated). My youngest girl is fighting it every step of the way with all of the hellfire and brimstone she can muster (throwing things, hitting, ripping, tearing, scribbling). There is a load of effort that she puts into getting out of work that if she could just channel into doing work would probably make her a genius.

If it weren't for my husband's request that I explore my options further, they would already be in school. Which would be really embarrassing considering that my husband runs an astronomy course for homeschoolers and I have plans to have 10 homeschoolers over my house next week.

I am not surprised that neither of them adore homeschooling. Both of my children have had very positive experiences in their Montessori school and they couldn't imagine why sitting around with a bunch of other kids going to school is something we wouldn't choose for them. Their teachers were also infinitely patient (or if not, they could call in reserves). I am not infinitely patient. Especially not when trying to corral the baby while dealing with the needs of both kids. I have also not propagandized homeschooling for them. I'm not the parent talking about how great it is that we don't have to wait for the bus at 8:30 AM, how they aren't doing homework after dinner, how boring (or baffling) trying to learn along with 20 or 25 other students can be, or how the playground is like the Lord of the Flies. I try to explain why we choose to homeschool, but it generally goes right over their heads (final outcomes being 10 years away or so).

Mostly I think my eldest is lonely for the social interaction she'd have at school (NOT socialization) and my youngest girl is suffering from a case of feeling neglected (having to go to big sister's dance class while not having one of her own). So a few (or a lot) of activities may help me weather this year. That, a strict bedtime routine, and some bribery ought to help. Perhaps I'll remember to post an update. I'll certainly post if we're not homeschooling anymore!

Advice on the carrot part of 'carrot and the stick' (I've got the stick part down--as a friend of mine said 'I'm all stick') is more than welcome! Here is what I'm trying (apart from the activities so that each girl has something of her own): no more skipping recess, backing off and trying another approach when things start flying (literally), more learning games (though this is a lot more work for me--like making matching cards for learning spelling words and phonics lists for practicing digraphs--and a lot more personal involvement for my youngest school child), more reading aloud from me, more coloring or lapbooking-type activities (lord help me with all the prep that involves), incentive charts (5 days of 15 minutes spent reading and she can get a toy, same for days without temper tantrums). It makes me feel like I'm running a preschool. At least I'll be well-practiced for the littlest one when he gets to be three!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Girls Vs. Boys

Actually, it's penises versus vaginas, but I really didn't want that as my title. I got to hang out with a new group of moms who have a lot more experiences with boys. This is stranger territory than I ever imagined. I was well educated about some of the penile-related complications. I am so glad these moms shared their experiences, because penises are much more complicated than I'm used to dealing with. The final verdict: vaginas--be nice to your vagina, and it'll be nice to you; penises--they don't cooperate, they get in the way, they can be very unpredictable.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Lesson Plans for Art and Myths

I like this website from the National Gallery of art, here. That particular link focuses on representations of the Greco-Roman origin myths. It includes some art appreciation and pre-packaged lessons.

There are a lot of lesson plans at the site. There are some fun kid's activities as well.