Thursday, December 31, 2009

Practice Makes Progress---With Letters!

I'm so proud of my little guy. He has gotten comfortable with our "letter time" and actually climbs into his seat enthusiastically. Today we began with the alphabet song. Then I went through the letters, asking Aidyn what each one was. The other day we focused only on lowercase letters, so today was uppercase letters. He only missed six!

He had been experiencing difficulty with letter M, so before we started, I had printed out an M worksheet with mountains in the background to help him remember the shape of M. The worksheet was turned over next to his markers and crayons until the letter work was complete. After finishing, I flipped over the page, and he happily colored away. While he brought color to the letter M and the mountains, I played around with some alphabet cards. Seeing me arrange them, Aidyn excitedly asked if those were next. So we went through the whole deck. I placed three cards in front of him: an uppercase letter, a lowercase letter, and a word that started with the same letter. I would ask him what each letter was, and he only missed two! When Grandma came to watch, he would point and say, "That's uppercase M and lowercase m." Then we would sound out the word, "M-m-monkey!" On the back awaited a picture of a monkey, and we had fun making guessing about what kind of pictures would appear on the back ("Will it be a silly monkey or a mean monkey?"). Today was one of those days that we accomplished much while having fun.

I've also been pulling together my resources for next year's curriculum. I have a wonderful book that I will be using called Adventures in Nature that contains weekly themes involving the outdoor world. Those fun and engaging activities will be an addendum to our plans.

We also are debating about taking a small, quick trip to Disneyland for the 2010 unOfficial Homeschool Day on February 26th.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Nuts, Bolts, and Yahtzee

Helping his dad with the building of a standing punching bag, Aidyn, per Dad's instructions, attached washers to the structure. According to Dad, Aidyn got a hands-on lesson about tools, their names, placements, and how to attach them. Dad reported that Aidyn basically built the stand himself and he only tightened the bolts securely. Afterward, the duo practiced their karate skills and both came in the house bragging about their roughed up knuckles. Aidyn got his own Spider-Man punching bag for Christmas and dragged it out with his daddy's so they could practice together. What an adorable sight!

In the evening, the family relaxed with a game of Yahtzee. I had never played the game and neither had Aidyn, so Dad and the printed game rules helped us learn. We all played two games, Daddy winning one and Aidyn winning one. Fun times. : )

Year-End Synopsis

This first preschool-home school year has been rewarding for Aidyn and our family. He has developed new skills and learned many things both through our curriculum and organic living. I, myself, learned how to plan out lessons for him and how to revise them to meet Aidyn’s learning level. I experimented with unit studies, delight-led learning, outdoor activities, field trips, games, and stories among other things. Our family participated in Aidyn’s learning adventures as well, even going off to far away field trip locales. We’ll always remember this first year.

Last February, we started in space. We shot right into the universe with books, videos, and pictures of our galaxy, the planets, the sun, and the moon. We still have the planet decals on our kitchen window and talk about them often. I still fondly recall the Mars cake that we made that deliciously drove home the fact that Mars is red. Aidyn stills remembers! We also visited the Discovery Museum in Sacramento and had a great conversation with a guide on UV rays. We still have our beaded UV Ray detector that alerts us if the rays are too strong, attached to our stroller. Since February, Aidyn has often asked to learn about space again, and we’re excited to revisit the subject in 2010.

Last March, we dove into the ocean, figuratively. We learned about ocean life, sharks, whales, dolphins, and fish. Specifically, he found an interest in learning about the body parts of sharks. Later in that month, Aidyn discovered that shells come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. As a hands-on experience, the family took an extended field trip to Morro Bay because the beach is said to be one of the most generous with shell-findings. As we walked along the beach, we found that to be true. Aidyn watched the waves, dug in the sand, poked at seaweed, collected shells, and braved the cold ocean water. We also visited the Morro Bay Aquarium and looked at sea creatures up close. Eating at a waterfront restaurant, we spied sea otters swimming in the bay right near us. Grandma insists we go back to Morro Bay very soon! That same month, Aidyn watched the process of caterpillars becoming butterflies. He observed tiny caterpillars grow fat with food, hang themselves and curl into a cocoon, and be reborn as butterflies. Once our butterflies were ready, we delivered them to the gorgeous Daffodil Hill, a place in Volcano, Ca, that blooms with hundreds of thousands of daffodils, and released them. March was certainly a month of real-life observation and learning.

April was our first month of full-on, delight-led learning. Because of Aidyn’s interest in monkeys, we learned about them for a while. He donned a monkey suit, we read books about monkeys, and enjoyed “monkey sticks!” During our bike rides, we went on letter hunts and talked about community activities and happenings. Because of Aidyn’s love for animals, we toured a local animal shelter and later learned about reptiles. April allowed us to go in any direction and spend time on subjects he enjoyed.

At the tail end of April through May, Aidyn explored his next unit theme: the rainforest. Each week, we focused on different rainforests around the world with the accompaniment of books, videos, and rainforest picture cut-outs. He learned about exciting “new” animals and the lush forest they live in. It was also during this month that Aidyn watched his first movie in the theater: Disney’s Earth. We’re still patiently waiting to see the next installment, Oceans. We also did a side-activity at the library where we listened to local firefighters. Aidyn watched as an ordinary person was transformed into a fully outfitted firefighter, breathing mask and all. He also had the chance to climb in the driver’s seat of the fire engine. As a cap-off to the this month, Aidyn, his grandma, and I went to Disneyland. We visited the Fire House, specifically, and enjoyed all the others amusements, of course. We also purposefully took him to the Rainforest CafĂ© so he could dine among the atmosphere he spent a month learning about! May was another exciting time in our preschool-home school year.

June and July were warm, summer months spent learning about Africa, bugs, and sports. Aidyn made some neat African animal crafts, read some books about safaris, animals, and the Swahili language. It was also during these months that we found Sesame Street’s African Alphabet song and now regard it as a favorite. We also participated in a reading program at our library and Aidyn received prizes for reading.

In August and September, Aidyn and I revisited delight-led learning. We allowed the world to teach us. We read whatever books seemed fun at the time, such as The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and Snow Happy to be Here. In September, we went to the Lodi Grape Festival and Aidyn rode a horse, spurring a new interest in horses. We read horse-related stories and watched movies about horses. We also began welcoming the fall season by making autumnal goodies and talking about Halloween and Thanksgiving and the changing colors of leaves.

In October, we closed our horse-study by visiting Del ‘Osso Farms where Aidyn rode a pony. We also combined two units: Trains and the Redwood Forest. We visited Jamestown and rode a real steam locomotive. We also took him to the Redwood Forest and went on a guided tour through the towering trees. On a local trail, we walked among almond trees. This month was full of train and tree books, and Aidyn became interested in tracing. Using our Kumon book, he learned how to trace fun shapes through silly pictures. With Halloween approaching, we read several “scary” books about ghosts, and Aidyn discovered one of his now-favorite books: The Ghost-Eye Tree. We ended the month reading A.A. Milne books and watching old Winnie the Pooh movies.

November and December were more times of delight-led learning. We began stargazing regularly (with the help of a fellow tutor) and Aidyn learned how to use binoculars to look closely at the night sky. We also began exploring gold country and took in a trip to Sonora. We also started listening to famous composers chronologically. We sampled the musical styling of Vivaldi, Handel, Bach, Mozart, and Haydn, finding that the compositions were beautiful and relaxing. We intend to continue our samplings of famous composers through next year. In December, we took in several Christmas and winter themed stories and talked about Christmas and the season for giving. Even though Aidyn didn’t have money to buy presents, he helped us pick out presents for our loved ones. We also spent an entire day riffling through his toy collection. Each toy prompted the question from me, “Should we give this to another kid for Christmas or do you want to keep it?” He respectfully donated about three hefty bags of toys to charity, and it turned out to be an excellent opportunity to discuss giving. Also, in the last month of the year, Aidyn became very interested in his ABC train puzzle and began putting it together alone and with me. Later in the month, I purchased a blue pocket chart, alphabet and word cards, and we started practicing letter recognition. He usually only misses 7 to 8 letters, but can completely recite the alphabet song. We also spent the season making Christmas goodies and sharing them with family.

2009 taught us all so much about the world of learning. I was taught by Aidyn that much can be absorbed through simply living and the introduction of fascinating subjects. He grew so much, developmentally and educationally. Reviewing the past year, I think my favorite times were the months devoted to a broad subject and the weeks within the month devoted to more specific units. Particularly, I enjoyed taking Aidyn to hands-on locations that corresponded to his learning. We’re so fortunate to have taken as many field trips as we have this year. That sort of adventurous exploration is what I want to continue doing throughout Aidyn’s education. We have some exciting plans for next year, and we simply cannot wait to learn some more!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

More Letter Practice

Although it was Christmas Eve, Aidyn and I worked on his letters after breakfast. First, I randomly pointed to each letter and marked down ones that he did not know. Today's total was eight. He took turns whispering the answers and yelling the answers. Then, as I did yesterday, I flipped over the letters he got right, leaving only his problem letters. We reviewed them, and then played a card game with them, each picking a card, naming it, and checking to see if our chosen letters made words. His combination made an actual word, so he "won." We reviewed the problem letters once more before I flipped the rest back around. We sang the ABC song twice. First, per Aidyn's request, I sang it, pointing to each letter. Then Aidyn sang it as I pointed to the letters. I'm pleased that he can now recite the entire alphabet song and recognize at least 18 letters by sight!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

More Letter Work

After gulping down some freshly-squeezed orange juice, Aidyn worked on his letters with the help of his blue pocket chart and his Mama. First I randomly pointed to letters, and he guessed them. Each letter that stumped him was written on a piece of paper to revisit later. Then we cycled through the alphabet song twice, pointing to each letter as we sung. Still in a playing mood, Aidyn watched as I flipped over the letters he knew, only exposing the seven letters he didn't know. I named each letter twice and asked him to repeat after me, then we played a game.

"I will point to a letter and you must say as fast as you can to get a point," I said.

My Crayola marker, or makeshift pointer, dashed to a letter and Aidyn would spout out the name. Some he struggled with, particularly "M" and "N." Then we moved on to a different game.

"When I point to a letter, say its name as LOUD as you can!" I said.

After I pointed to a letter, he would shout its name at the top of his lungs.

"Ah, you can say it louder than that," I teased, to which he responded with an even louder burst.

When our game was over, Aidyn had "scored" ten points, and he was a proud boy.

After that game, Aidyn surprisingly asked to make some words. I asked him which words he would like to make.

"Cat," he said. So letter sound by letter sound, we constructed the word 'cat.' Then he asked to do "hat" like Cat in the Hat. So I asked him what makes the "Hh, Hh sound like someone is h-h-hot!" We had fun rearranging letters, spelling, and reading whole words.

Afterward, I made an alphabet chart on Microsoft Word to help me keep track of his progress. After he learns all his letters thoroughly, we'll move onto phonics.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Letter Work

Yesterday while at the table, Aidyn ate Spaghetti-Os for the very first time. They were of the alphabet-noodle variety, so Aidyn accidentally went on a letter hunt in his bowl. Afterward, I worked with him on his letters with our blue pocket chart. I randomly pointed to letters, and he identified them. He asked to sing the alphabet song, so we did as we followed the letters. Also, lately has been interested in spelling two words: his name and 'elephant.' Of course, he needs help but when I tell him we need a p, for example, he points right to it. We have been enjoying our blue pocket chart thus far, and it is becoming an integral part of our learning.

Later in the afternoon, we watched several alphabet videos including many Letter People videos. I have fond memories of watching those episodes in my kindergarten class, and I'm pleased Aidyn gets enjoyment out of them. A particular one that stands out is Miss A. To help with the A's phonetic sound, Miss A sings about how she always goes, "Aaaaa-choo!" We also watched two of our favorite ABC song videos: Sesame Street's African Alphabet Song and Sesame Street's Fairy Alphabet.

In the evening, we took Aidyn to see Santa Claus. Being his third time seeing St. Nick, he handled it amazingly well. He waved at him, smiled with him, and talked to him. It's a relief to know that I no longer have to worry about timidity with Santa Claus. After we did a little Christmas shopping, the family drove to the infamous local house that goes absolutely CRAZY with lights and decorations. We drove by extra slowly and absorbed the Christmas cheer. At night, we had a good friend stop by, we exchanged gifts and caught up.

Additionally, I have been putting together a new arranged curriculum for Aidyn to use next year along with our other planned activities. It's sure to be a fun year in 2010!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Gingerbread Boy

Yesterday Aidyn and I made a giant Gingerbread Boy from scratch. He donned his imaginary chef's hat and helped me add ingredients to the bowl, mix them up, and taste the dough afterward. When our dough was finished, Aidyn and I kneaded it until it was ready for baking. Then the two of us spread the aromatic dough in a boy-shaped cake pan. Baking the Gingerbread Boy filled the home with such a warm, sugary smell that I wish we could have bottled! Once our creation was finished, we pulled him out and decorated him. After making the frosting, I spread some for his eyes, smiling grin, arm and leg sleeves, and buttons. Aidyn delicately placed gumdrops for his eyes, nose, buttons, and sleeve decorations. He was quite a handsome Gingerbread Boy when we were finished. And tasty! I'm glad that Aidyn is becoming more dextrous with baking: he's cracking eggs better, stirring better, and exhibiting more patience for our goods to be done. Most of all, I am proud that he is excited to work with me on kitchen projects.

We have also been listening to Franz Joseph Haydn this week, our fourth composer. Aidyn has definitely adapted to the music and enjoys hearing it. His favorite so far, according to him, is Bach.

Additionally this afternoon, I bought Aidyn a blue pocket chart (finally!) and some alphabet, word, and picture cards. The uppercase and lowercase letters were all jumbled, and, surprisingly, Aidyn asked if he could help me fix them. I laid all the lowercase letters on the table and pulled one capital letter at a time. "Will you find the uppercase G?" I'd ask. He looked through the sea of letters and produced lowercase g. He matched the whole alphabet and was only stumped by a handful of letters; for the most part, he can identify most of the letters. After I hung our letters on the chart, Aidyn pointed to several letters, unprovoked, and said their sound. Pointing at V, he said, "That one says Vvvvvvv," and then pointing at S, "That one says, "Ssssss," like a snake. "There's Z for Zorro and Zurg," he noted. His favorite phonic game is when I ask, "what does U say?" and dramatically pretend to punch his tummy. Equally dramatic, he groans, "Uuuuh."

I am excited about this new phase in Aidyn's learning. He's become such a verbose motor-mouth. He asks so many wonderful questions, makes great observations and deductions, and has a pretty wide vocabulary range, surprisingly me daily with certain words he knows. "Jerry is exercising for he can have big muscles," he said today. Yesterday he informed me, "I can be a (sic) archer and shoots my bow and arrow on a hill." "Can we build a tobaggan for me for I can go doooown the hill in the snow?" he asked, while I had no clue what a tobaggan was. I thought he was just making up words. When I asked him what a "tobaggan" was, he answered, "a sled that you can get in and go 'weeeee' down the hill real fast."

I've made plans for next year's curriculum, still keeping it fun and explorative, and I cannot wait to see what journeys we go on!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Itching to Write

Yesterday while I was wrapping presents, Aidyn requested that he be my gift-wrapping helper by writing the names on the receivers on the packages. I told him that he still needed to learn how to write his letters but he was more than welcome to doodle alongside me. I gave him a strip of paper, some white paint, and a paintbrush. He proceeded to tell me that he can write his letters, at least some of them. Announcing that he would write the letter "i", he swept his paintbrush down and narrated that now he just needed a little dot on top. Thus he made a marvelous lower case "i." Impressed, I told him to continue the good work. He ended up writing (with a sloppy paintbrush, no less) O's and I's of all shapes and sizes and a willingness to do more. Because I was busy wrapping presents, I couldn't instruct him fully at that point, but I got the message loud and clear: he's ready for handwriting. Got it.

This week we will go through one of his preschool workbooks and play around with the letter-tracing worksheets and see how he likes that. : )

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

ABC Train

Through play time with our Melissa and Doug Alphabet Train Puzzle, Aidyn has been mastering his ABC's, letter recognition, phonics, and puzzling skills. We have been playing everyday and Aidyn can put together the puzzle up to letter G on his own. When I join in, we sing the alphabet to discover which letter comes next. He used to rely on the pictures on each piece to help him find the letter, but we are gradually moving toward looking for letters first. When we find the correct letter, we look at it, compare it to other letters, and say its sound. If a letter is particularly difficult to find, I spout out all sorts of words that begin with that letter. If I had to wager how many letters he can correctly identify, I would say 20/26 as he still confuses some letters for others. This is a huge improvement from where he was before, and he has learned this solely on playing this game! He can sing the alphabet song in its entirety but gets a bit scrambled at the ever-difficult L-M-N-O-P section.

Seeing him taking strides of improvement makes me proud beyond words, and I love that he's learning many things about letters through this game instead of only memorizing the song.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


It's been a while since I updated!

For the past couple weeks, we have been playing it by ear. Aidyn and I have been baking, playing, reading, taking library trips, and welcoming the Christmas season. The other day we made snowflakes out of tissue paper which lead to Aidyn creating snow by clipping and ripping tissue paper. He created a large mound of "snow" and played with our sledding snowmen knickknacks through it.

Because of his recent game, I picked up some snow-related books and a Christmas themed story. Today we made a batch of chocolate sugar cookie dough which we intend on making into alphabet cookies so that he can "accidentally" review his letters.

In other events, we finished listening to Handel and have recently moved on to Mozart. Hearing music from 17th century composers has been a surprisingly peaceful and educational event. I cannot wait for us to listen to more! While his grandma was watching a civil war documentary, Aidyn announced that he liked the music (I filed a thought to listen to 1860's music in the back of my mind). I can see that he's developing an ear for music which delights me beyond words.

We also had my friend, Hannah, visit us last weekend and Aidyn took to her immediately. She posed some good questions to him, and I loved hearing their conversation. Aidyn explained the life cycle of a butterfly to her (and showed her with our poster) and told her about how we released them at Daffodil Hill. They spoke of superheroes, snowmen, Christmas decorations, and the happenings of Horton Hears a Who.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Preschool Curriculum

Below is our new curriculum that I have been working on. Although our first preschool-homeschool year centered around unit studies, we will be moving away from that and will instead do the activities listed below. Our preschool-homeschool plan is not limited to these ideas but they will be the base for much of our purposed learning until we commit to a more structured curriculum when Aidyn turns six.

Preschool Curriculum

Music and Melodies
Samplings of music of various forms to be played randomly during activity time, mealtimes, reading time, and general quiet time as a way to expose ourselves to a wide range of music. Musical and melodic selections include famous composers (chronologically through time, initially), nursery rhymes and preschool songs, family-friendly musicals such as The Sound of Music, multicultural music, instrumentals, among others. Opportunities to witness musical acts like child-friendly plays and theatrical productions are also included.

Story Sharing
Regular storytelling activities as a conversation. Asking the child to tell or retell a story in their own words. May begin with parent starting, “Once upon a time, there was a boy and he…” and allow child to continue. May spring up from everyday life (“See that dog over there? Where do you think he’s going and what will he do when he gets there?”) Stories also told by parents in an imaginary realm or as an original recap of an actual event.

Science Experiments
Age-friendly explorations of the world around us. May take place with ordinary household objects at the kitchen table, may take place in backyard or outdoors. Using The Backyard Scientist as an occasional guide, conduct fun and exploratory experiments that get the brain turning.

Everyday Problem Solving
Realistic and hypothetical problem solving. Giving child a scenario and asking how they would solve the issue at hand. Socratically leading child to their own solutions as a way of practicing analysis skills.

Multicultural Meetings
Regular exposure to various cultural events, activities, cuisine, and explorations including, but not limited to, participating in cultural celebrations, trying new cuisine and restaurants, exploring cultural epicenters, reading about other cultures, visiting cultural museums.

Occupational Observations
Learning about all kinds of different jobs in the world. Reading about various occupations and doing preliminary job-shadowing/job-visiting to learn about the choices in the workforce.

My World Living Books
Reading whole, living books on subjects close to child’s interests, experiences, and tastes as a way to identify with literary characters, voice personal concerns through a safe outlet, and to encourage a love of literature. Subjects will include themes related to individual child. For instance, if child is a boy who loves to draw, read Harold and the Purple Crayon. If child has had trouble listening to parents, read The Poky Little Puppy. If child adores trains, read The Little Engine that Could. This idea does not exclude other books to be enjoyed, but the focus is on books already within the circle of interest; “required” books come later.

Arts and Crafts
A plethora of arts and crafts including, but not limited to, drawing, coloring, painting (with brushes, fingers, hands, found objects), gluing, cutting, tracing, rubbings, clay play, nature journaling, etc. Visits to child-friendly art museums included.

Other activities include: handwriting practice using Kumon supplies, foreign language introduction, learning the alphabet song and counting, baking and cooking experiences, and introduction to self-defense, martial art, or chosen sport.

Below are all field trip related activities:

Homeschool Hikes
Regular hikes along paths/trails in varying types of nature and seasons as a means of reconnecting with nature, learning from what the world has to offer as that second, and getting back to basics.

Discovery Destinations
The choice or draw of a particular direction with no preset destination in mind. For example, a family member may either choose a direction at random, or we could roll a four-sided die to choose for us. Once we head in that direction, depending on the amount of time we have, we may continue to roll or randomly choose until we stumble upon something interesting to stop for. This could be as simple as an unusual rock structure on the side of the highway, an antique store, a major state park in a county we rarely travel to, or (time willing) a complete weekend getaway to a place we've never set foot on.

Community Connections
Opportunities to connect with various parts of the community: tours of community service buildings (fire houses, police stations, hospitals, post offices, animal shelters, courthouses, etc.--all by appointment, of course), colleges, volunteer work, community-run museums and activities.

Museum Meanderings
Regular trips to museums far and wide and not particularly connected with current unit study (though, of course, they could be) as a means of learning new things and contributing to an organization's effort to keep memories, relics, art, ideas, and learning opportunities alive.

Factory Fun Trips
Trips to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste how things of all sorts are made.

Roadside Rarities
Exploration of unusual oddities along the roadside. This is an opportunity to see some of the strange things that are built with incredible passion, such as shoe trees, quirky restaurants in the shape of unordinary things (flotsam art or concrete dinosaurs, anyone?). The purpose is not only to have fun and embrace our own eccentricities, but to remember to not get bogged down in taking ourselves too seriously!

Animal Encounters
Real, hands-on opportunities to interact with animals. This is not your average zoo trip! Rather, it's a way of meeting and greeting these animals up close with a skilled zookeeper or animal handler that is ready to answer tons of questions.

Open Road Roams
Regular trips to some of California's (and other states as well) most beautiful natural resources. These may not always be the most well-known destinations, but will include often missed gems of the state.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Busy and Artistic

Busy week! A couple of days ago, Aidyn and I had a science experiment day! We filled a large, glass vase with water and created a little vortex by stirring the water rapidly. Aidyn observed the action in the vase as I stirred. Then we played with adding colors to the water. He added red dye and watched it whirl in the water. Dropping blue in, he watched as the water turned purple. We tried several color mixtures and talked about the colors changing. Afterward we played a game of "Sink or Float." Going around the house with a basket, we plucked an assortment of objects and brought them back "to the lab." We individually plunked an object in the water after guessing if it would float or sink. Aidyn had a ball guessing the outcome and watching the result. When the game was through, I showed Aidyn the old "turn toothpicks into a star" parlor trick that I learned when I was little. Then I showed him how to do it himself. After all that guided play, I left him at the table with new objects, free reign over the food coloring, and a spoon and let him play with these new discoveries without assitance or guidance by me. He had a time! He dunked all sorts of objects into his personally-made vat of black water. : )

Also throughout this week, we have been listening to Bach. A couple nights this week, Aidyn also heard pieces of "Paradise Lost" as I was listening to the poem for my own class. It's also been an artistic week as Aidyn had been finger painting, coloring, and making shapes out of moon sand.

Yesterday evening, the family went out for a viewing of Where the Wild Things Are. I am so delighted that Aidyn is getting better and better at movie theatre ettiquette. He knows the importance of whispering, remaining in your seat, focusing his attention, and respecting other patrons. An hour plus movie is still a bit long for him and he gets wiggly but not to the point of effecting anyone's movie-watching experience. Whew!

I am also still working on the new curriculum. I will post it as soon as it is as close to finished as possible. Additionally, I will possibly create a new addendum blog that strictly focuses on our curriculum and activities rather than our personal log.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Community Connection and Museum Meandering

Yesterday, Aidyn, his grandma, and I went on a road trip to Gold Country, specifically Sonora. We enjoyed escaping the valley, driving over the rolling hills, and spying thousands of pine trees. After taking a brief drive through the heart of Sonora, we located the Tuolumne County Museum. Our tour was led by a knowledgeable resident who explained the history of the area, the wagon caravans that first traveled here, the old jail cell and wanted posters, the rocks laden with gold, and early civilizations of the area. We soaked in all that information as well as asked the museum staff about their particular knowledge of the area. Discussing cost of living, the closeness with nature, the beauty of the land, the richness of the history, we heard some really interesting things! One lady even told us about how at her house, deer have snooped up to her back porch and that she's even spotted wild turkies and foxes near her yard.

The area couldn't have been more beautiful. Sonora seems like it was delicately placed between rolling hills and mini-mountains thick with evergreen trees. The buildings and homes seem fixed between the natural elements: a babbling creek that passes through downtown and deciduous trees with raining leaves of red, orange, yellow, and gold. The antique buildings in town echo a forgotten way of life, and the townspeople smile as they pass by. We visited a store called The Candy Vault, and was it ever! It was filled with every sort of candy one could dream about and even some vintage candy that my mom had not seen in decades. While we browsed the aisles with wet palates, music from the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory filtered down to us. After scoring some sweet delicacies, we explored a nearby educational shop. Oh! If only I were a millionaire. Aidyn couldn't be torn away from this adorable, child-sized, grocery display where he pretended to sell me bananas, tomatoes, and apples. Later we ate in a 50's style hot dog diner and listened to oldies. Driving away made us wistful, but we have more places to explore!

Also during this week, we have been listening to our second composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, and reading books about California. I have also been continuing my work on next year's curriculum and fine tuning it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Stargazing--Night Three and Storytime

Tonight Aidyn and his attentive father listened as I read two books entitled Wait Till the Moon is Full by Margaret Wise Brown and Into This Night We Are Rising by Jonathan London. Each curled up on Aidyn's bed, they listened to the sweet little story about a baby raccoon who is so excited to see the moon, but his mother encourages him to be patient until the moon is full. Veiled in the story was a wonderful lesson on the phases of the moon and the effected brightness in the sky depending on the moon's appearance. Brown usually writes such beautiful tales, and this one is no exception. Into This Night We Are Rising took us along with some children up to the skies, into the clouds, and back down to the earth. It was a poetic, imaginative jaunt to the skies by what every child dreams of doing: flying. Aidyn was awe-struck by the children making beds out of the clouds and bringing along their animal-friends. Lately, Aidyn has been very into holding his stuffed animals, naming them, and pretending they are his babies. He'll even have adorable conversations with them when he believes no one is looking.

After storytime, Daddy, Aidyn, and I went out to stargaze. First we went to the backyard and immediately found Jupiter. Wondering where the moon was, we slipped through to the front yard, but, alas, could not find the moon that was so large just last night.

Earlier in the day, Aidyn also did some outdoor explorations with his dad and told me all about it. Apparently the two went "rock hunting" until they found a huge rock "this big," Aidyn reported with his hands illustrating its girth. He told me, in great detail, about the ants that crawled atop it in search of food. He also picked some dandelions for his grandma and placed them in a recycled yogurt cup.

Stargazing--Night Two

Last night, Aidyn, his grandma, and I went out to stargaze. We set out chairs, donned our pajamas, and brought along a pair of binoculars and made ourselves comfortable. Instantly, we spied Jupiter glowing ever so brightly and waited until several stars appeared before our eyes. We spent a good hour talking in the night, sharing the binoculars, and commenting on the night sky. Aidyn asked several wonderful questions like, "Why is Jupiter not red? Why is it white? Where's Mars? Where are the other planets?" Later, we went around to the front yard for a better view of the huge full moon. With our binoculars, we observed the intricacies of the moon. This was actually Aidyn's first time using a pair of binoculars and he handled them like a pro. Luckily, Aidyn was able to express his curiousity and wonder about the night sky. Stargazing is something I would like to continue less as a unit activity and more as a constant hobby.

Before our stargazing adventure, Aidyn and I did a project while listening to Vivaldi. I painted each of Aidyn's palms black, and he planted them on a piece of paper. He was amazed to see just how big his hands were. We even went so far as to do his feet (which were even larger!). Afterward, he couldn't walk or touch a thing for fear of getting everything black so we hosed him off in the sink. I titled his pieces of art, dated them, and marked down his current age.

Earlier in the day, Aidyn and his daddy spent time at Outdoor World, talked about animals, and then they played for a couple hours at a nearby park. We all had a very sweet day!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Stargazing--Night One

Last night Aidyn and David went stargazing in both our backyard and front yard. According to David, they both watched the night sky and made simple observations about what they saw. They talked about the moon, its shape, and the idea of it seeming to "follow" them. They also pointed out twinkling stars. I was indoors madly reading The Duchess of Malfi in order to finish it on time, so I missed out on the stargazing. However, I talked with an "astronomically" knowledgable coworker today about stargazing, and she provided excellent tips! Tonight we will all go out and spend some time observing the night sky.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Library Walks and Talks

This afternoon's weather was too beautiful to drive to the library, so Aidyn and I strolled there on foot. While meandering through the neighborhoods, we noted the different autumnal colors of the trees and how some trees retained their green color. We listened to leaves crunching under our feet and smelled the scent of aromatic fruit trees. While walking, Aidyn brought up his upcoming birthday, how he'd like a Star Wars-themed party, his thoughts on Halloween and trick-or-treating, and ideas on game plans for Disneyland this December. When we arrived at the library, Aidyn immediately began playing in the children's section while I gathered new books. Once I finished collecting our reads, I sat down at one of the children's tables and surveyed the books in a nearby basket while Aidyn, holding two puppets, relaxed on the rug.

I watched him play at the playground for awhile before we started back home. Aidyn talked on and on about Disneyland. He told me what he plans on doing once we get there. He said that we'd all eat breakfast in the morning first and then we would walk to Disneyland. As we'd get closer, we would see the giant rides peeking from over the trees. When we get through the lines, he remarked, we'll go under the big train tunnel and see the houses (shops on Main Street). I reminded him that, when we go this time, a 50-foot Christmas tree with loads of twinkling lights and ribbons will stand at the center of Main Street. His excitement was palpable as then he began listing all the rides he wants to go on: "yellow submarine" (Nemo's Submarine Voyage) and all the fish and "Nemos" he sees under water, Peter Pan's ship, the teacups ("remember when Gilbert came on with us and we spun fast?" he recalled), Winnie the Pooh train, doom buggies, and many more. I told him that we would feast on yummy Christmas cookies made especially for this time of year, Mickey Mouse-shaped ice cream bars, mint juleps, egg nog, candy canes, and cinammon churros! Aidyn and I had such a sweet time mind-escaping to a nearing holiday vacation.

Once we got settled at home, we watched an episode of Between the Lions that focused on the short u sound. Thus the show was full of "bugs, hugs, and fun." When I sang one of the short u bug songs and asked Aidyn to join in, he sang the words, "hum bug" which, remarkably, do contain the sound I was looking for!

We also played some Vivaldi and had quiet time before Aidyn requested a viewing of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, a Beatrix Potter story. He's now watching that while Vivaldi continues to play in the background.

I intend to sample approximately thirty-four famous composers chronologically beginning with Vivaldi and other 17th century composers. My intent is simply to taste the sounds without emphasizing too much on who the artist is (unless Aidyn asks), and to purely enjoy the music. Later in our homeschooling venture, I will have Aidyn do composer/artist studies, so I wanted to lay some foundation-recognition now.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

PBS Showtime

Yesterday afternoon, Aidyn, David, and I watched an episode of Between the Lions, a remarkable PBS show that emphasizes the joy of reading. When I first saw it nearly ten years ago, I hoped that it would remain on air when I had children. Sadly, it's not a show that comes on often (if at all), so I rented an episode from the library's meager collection. Aidyn seemed to enjoy it, and I particularly liked the reference to Gawain (since I only just recently began reading Arthurian Legends!). What I loved was that the show blended both the whole word and phonetics approach to reading. I tend to side with the school of thought that emphasizes whole word learning because it instills a love for literature without specific phonetic goals; however, I think the phonetic approach is useful later. This show beautifully intertwines both viewpoints. This is definitely a series I will be purchasing in the future!

After Aidyn saw Between the Lions and ran amuck for awhile, he watched a Sesame Street rendition of Alice in Wonderland featuring Elmo, Abby, Cookie Monster as the Cheshire Cat, Bert and Ernie as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, and many other SS characters in a show entitled Abby in Wonderland. While on this Fantasyland unit, I thought this would be a neat way to hear the original story told in a fresh way.

Later in the evening, David and Aidyn played together while I got some much-needed reading done. Aidyn and David even joined me in watching King Lear, and Aidyn, surprisingly, followed along until bathtime.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

And the Wind, Wind, Wind Came Down Down Down

Yesterday was a relaxed, co-parent homeschooling day. When I got home from work, Aidyn and I worked at our round table and made PB & J Surprise Muffins. Aidyn assisted in mixing, stirring, and tasting while I read instructions and measurements aloud.

Because of the high gusts of wind yesterday, we commented that it looked exactly like the windstorm in Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day when poor Piglet in nearly carried away by the wind. Aidyn enjoyed talking about the wind and the noises it created and objects that pattered on our roof.

Later, per Aidyn's request, David reread Snow White despite it being a rather wordy book. Snuggled in bed, David read warmly aloud with Aidyn tucked in his arm with his head resting on his chest. I hope that's a memory that remains in Aidyn's mind.

These past two weeks, Aidyn and I have been counting down to Halloween. We began with nine and have since counted down. Every day I tell him how many days are left and we count them together on our hands. He is so excited!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Evening Reads with Daddy

This evening while I read Volpone to myself in my rocking chair, David and Aidyn gathered on the bed and took in two books. Together they read Snow White by the Brothers Grimm, and I heard David's strong, fluid voice carrying the story to Aidyn's attentive ears. Next they read a favorite of mine growing up: Rumpelstiltskin by Paul O. Zelinsky, and Aidyn seemed to enjoy the storyline and the silly little ending. I think David brings a different flavor to homelearning that Aidyn enjoys. Most importantly, I believe he is an excellent role model. Without the slightest need for influence, David reads his own books avidly. He zips through novels quicker than I do these days, and Aidyn sees this sort of behavior regularly. I think that what is equally important to reading to a child is allowing that child to see how much we enjoy reading our own books.

After storytime, David and Aidyn played all sorts of imaginative "boy" games while I wrapped up some schoolwork and sonnet memorizations. I appreciate the playing just as much as I do the readings. I owe many of Aidyn's admirable qualities to David.


Our A.A. Milne week ended with more stories and viewings of Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day and the modern television show My Friends Tigger and Pooh. Next year we will definitely be revisiting Milne and his lovely stories!

With that unit closed, the family took a trip to the local library to stock up on new books. Because we're beginning the Fantasyland unit, I chose several fairy tales. Not limiting ourselves to stories within that land, I selected some like Rumpelstiltskin which have no ties to the park. I also picked up a video on a much-loved PBS series entitled Between the Lions for Aidyn to enjoy.

This past weekend (in all it's busyness!), I researched and customized a new approach to our home learning. "Official" school doesn't begin for yet another year, but I have crafted a new, enjoyable curriculum to prepare Aidyn for the fast-approaching school schedule. When the end of the year draws closer, I will share our new custom-fit plans for the 2010 year. I'm still hammering out the details but look forward to it being completed.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sweet, Sweet Anniversaries

Today, October 24th, officially marks the day that David and I were married seven years ago. We have also now been together for eight years and the speed with which those years zoomed by surprises me. Yet, in the same breath, it feels like we have been together, happily, for much longer. Interestingly, when we announced our intention of marriage, not a soul mentioned, hinted at, pointed at, or accused us of being "too young" though we were only approximately 19 years old. It was wonderful to have that sort of unflinching support behind us, and now remarking on the quality of our relationship, I know why no one paused to say anything negative. When we did decide to get married, age was not a factor in my thinking. I just knew that David would be the person I would happily and wholly share my life with. I am no perfect person (far from it!) but I fit with David; he is also no perfect person, but he fits well with me.

In this day and age, marriage is fleeting, relationships spoil, and ties are so quickly broken. I have heard from others that, in this time, a strong marriage of seven years is something to be proud of. It seems silly to say that that accomplishment was effortless though, honestly, it sometimes feels that way. But what others call "work" in a marriage, we see as a normal process of building and reinvesting on our relationship. There are some keys points that I have thought of that indeed helps us to maintain a good relationship. These are not things we must consciously think about and aim toward, but they exist at the core of our actions.

  • have a solid foundation of friendship with each other
  • play together
  • laugh
  • work together toward similar goals
  • meet and discuss events/topics thoroughly and openly
  • flirt with each other
  • two apologies (from each person) is always better than one.
  • solve any dispute before laying your head down each night.
  • be silly, goofy, crazy, hilarious, wild together
  • hear each other, really listen
  • make the relationship a priority
  • love fearlessly
  • hold yourself accountable for personal error and ask the same of your partner
  • touch a lot
  • be open to new things
  • play games together
  • talk a lot
  • be gentle
  • be yourselves

Additionally, this also marks the anniversary of Aidyn's first trip to Disneyland three years ago when he was a bubble-blowing, excited 10-month-old. I'd give anything to relive the magic of that particular trip. We worried that he wouldn't get much from the flurry of action and details of the Disneyland Resort, but he did! Oh, how he did! I will always remember the brightness in his little eyes and the eagerness each morning in the hotel room to get back in there and experience the magic. Since then, we have watched him progress: risking his bravery on larger rides (PotC, HM), and verbally choosing rides to go on ("go Hook ship:" translation: "I want to go on Peter Pan's Flight--the one where I sail on a pirate ship and see the twinkling streets of London below me before I soar to Never Land."). Now he talks about it regularly and has absolutely brilliant ideas ("Mama, let's just go to Dinneyland now," he'll say while I'm driving us the store).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Closing One Door to Open Another

When I got home from work today, I read Aidyn a few books while he was a captive listener. We read Davy, Help! It's a Ghost! by Brigitte Weninger and Eve Tharlett, and Aidyn delighted in the antics of the Rabbit Family creating ways to survive a night home alone. Afterward, we read Harriet's Halloween Candy by Nancy Carlson and talked about the importance of sharing and not overdoing it on sweets! We also read Tough Boris by Mem Foy and learned that even tough, sruffy, greedy pirates cry. To cap off, Aidyn requested his third hearing of The Ghost-Eye Tree by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault. Those books and conversations sealed off our last unit of New Orleans Square, pirates, and ghosts.

In the early afternoon, Aidyn and I made an impromptu trip to the library to stock up on A.A. Milne stories for our next short unit. Settled at home, Aidyn and David were both listeners to The Pooh Story Book. I read two lengthy sections of the story, and the boys laughed at the subtle hilarity of the author's narrative wit. To read classic Winnie-the-Pooh tales was simply touching, and we all enjoyed hearing them very much. For fun, Aidyn and I decided to watch The Book of Pooh which was a relatively modern live-action series about the stuffed bear and his Hundred Acre friends where they attempt to bring to life the joy of reading. Honestly, it had me falling asleep, and as it turned out, it had the same effect on Aidyn. I yanked the tape out and replaced it with another "classic:" Winnie the Pooh and the Day for Eeyore (1983). Much better!

When I had a moment, I researched A.A. Milne and his Winnie the Pooh legacy and learned some very interesting facts. During the short duration of our time with this chummy bear, I would like to sample the stories "through the ages." For instance, I would like us to continue reading the original tales by Milne, and watch several adaptations of the story starting from the 60's to the present My Friends Tigger and Pooh. This is sure to be a Tiggerific unit study!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tentative End-of-2009 Schedule

Below is our tentative schedule leading up to our December 7th-11th Christmastime in Disneyland vacation. Because of our lack of time, we will be learning "in chunks" rather than in the original segmented units. Before this, we never attempted to turn a Disneyland vacation into a unit study as Aidyn is quite familiar with most of the subjects, but this curriculum was originally constructed for someone else as a collaborative, fun activity to enjoy together. Despite the other party's choice to drop out of the activity, I wanted to continue it, if anything for sheer fun and to teach Aidyn to turn potentially negative things into positives and to follow through. It has, at times, been dispiriting to do certain things/go certain places minus our other party whom we adore, but it has also been an opportunity to create more joy within our family.

October 22nd- Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne author unit
October 25th- Fantasyland
November 1st- Tomorrowland
November 8th- Sunshine Plaza/California
November 15th- Hollywood Backlot
November 22nd- A bug's land
November 29th- Paradise Pier
December 7th- Disneyland!

The remainder of the year will be spent doing Christmas and winter related units, and I intend to introduce a Christmas novella, perhaps A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

A Pirate's Life for Us

Yesterday afternoon, Aidyn and I sang, clapped, and danced to a slew of pirate-themed songs including the well-known "Yo-Ho, Yo-Ho, A Pirate's Life for Me" as well as several random buccaneer ballads. During our session, we talked about pirates, walking down the plank, and the ride at Disneyland. Aidyn remembered all the quirks from the ride. He commented, "Mama, 'member that dog that has the keys?" I nodded and replied, "Yeah, and the prisoners are stuck in that jail cell. What do they shake at the dog to try to get him to bring the keys?" Aidyn's face lit up, "A bone! But he didn't want that bone." I laughed, "You're right; that dog was too smart for them!"

Afterward, we even went so far as to pretend the bed was a boat and below was the threat of the cold ocean and a hungry alligator. Aidyn promptly corrected me and said, "No, it was a crocodile!" We had fun pretending and Aidyn got a kick "teaching" me some things!

I found a way to intertwine my own studies with Aidyn in a way that he seemed to enjoy. I had pages of Shakespearean sonnet sequences to read, so I found a comfy spot in the living room and proceeded to read them aloud. At times, Aidyn listened to the rhythms of my voice and fluidity of the poetry. Other times I assumed he was not listening but, surprisingly, he would remark on a funny or strange word that I said. I've never been shy to read "grown-up" material to Aidyn (the first book he heard was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a newborn), but I haven't been doing it as much as I would like. I think he has the attention span to hear some chapter books now, so I would like to select one that he'd enjoy. I would also like to continue reading aloud poems/stories that may not particularly be on his radar (like Mr. Shakespeare) just yet.

In the evening, David and Aidyn snuggled up on the couch and read The Ghost-Eye Tree which is becoming a favorite in this household. Recently, I learned that someone made a short film based rather closely on the story. I need to make a note to myself to look into that.

After the spooky tale, Aidyn elected to watch WALL-E, and his dad and I sat with him for an interactive viewing. To others he would seem like one of those annoying movie patrons that ack a zillion questions while the film is playing, but I see it as an opportunity to have conversations with him. During one scene after WALL-E was caught in the flurry of action aboard the Axiom and had make-up put on him, Aidyn asked, "Where did his make-up go?" realizing that he had never actually taken it off, yet his face appeared normal again. "I don't know..." I said, in wonder. "Nobody took it off..." Aidyn remarked, "and now it's gone." I had never actually noticed that, but Aidyn caught on to the continuity error.
Still, I'm not sure if there was a scene showing the removal of make-up; however, I'm pleased that Aidyn can recognize what appears to be continuity errors and shows curiousity if events are unexplained.

Also during this week, we have been playing jazz music daily. Our living room often feels like the French Market in New Orleans Sqaure (audibly, anyways) and makes me wish we were strolling alongside the beautiful trinket shops.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Games & Sunday Baking

This weekend David and I have been taking advantage of learning opportunities as we are still pretty consumed with post-surgery stuff. Yesterday while David and I were up in the wee hours of the morning, sipping coffee and playing a game of "Star Wars Duels," Aidyn climbed up on his chair, showing interest to join our game. So the next round, we added him in. He elected to be Darth Vader, and I explained game rules as we played. He learned (and reviewed) how to roll the die, move his piece the selected amount of squares, hold cards, draw cards, and engage in cooperate game play. In the end, he was able to defeat Count Dooku (Daddy's character), but did not quite have the skills to defeat Obi Wan Kenobi (Mama's character). So he practiced a victory and a loss which I feel is important for him to learn. David is not quite the world's most modest winner or even-tempered loser, so we try to teach Aidyn the qualities of good sportsmanship.

Later, David and Aidyn stole away to read Olivia's Pirate Party and talked about shapes, colors, and the content of the reading.

This morning, Aidyn played Associate Baker as we baked homemade Ghiradelli chocolate-cranberry wild oatmeal cookies. He helped pour ingredients, combine ingredients with the electric mixer, taste the chocolate chip (ya know, just to be sure they were good), and made himself an audience to the baking cookies in the warm stove.

Later we plan on "doing school" by working on his tracing book and possibly making some theme-related crafts.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Arts, Crafts, and Spooks

Learning this week has been scattered and opportunistic. Due to David's very recent shoulder surgery, life has been a bit full, leaving little room for purposeful activities. However, Aidyn has been filling in pages of his Halloween coloring books with splashes of color. Yesterday Aidyn and I did a painting craft. I traced and cut out Halloween shapes such as a jack o' lantern, crescent moon, pumpkins, and a ghost. Then I taped them in place on a piece of construction paper. Aidyn then painted the shapes, taking great strides to color outside the lines. When he finished, I peeled the pictures off, and we were left with the outlines to a wonderful Halloween scene!

Today while I was away at work, David and Aidyn worked on more pages in his tracing book. He's progressed to fun zigzag patterns, sideway arches that resemble C's and 3's, and entertainingly complex trails for characters to wind down. When I got home, they showed off Aidyn's penmanship skills. Later Aidyn and I rushed to the library to restock for our new unit: New Orleans Square. We brought back a load of books concerning ghosts, pirates, and assorted Halloween themes. Aidyn then spent a good deal of time playing on the playground with a group of boys and girls. To help Daddy feel less cooped up, Aidyn and I encouraged him to go on an evening walk with us. We walked down to the park, stopped several times to listen to birds and smell the pine trees, and swung Aidyn on the swings.

After we got home and cozy, Aidyn and I took in some quirky Halloween poems from the book In the Witch's Kitchen. Then we read a spooky story entitled The Ghost-Eye Tree which sublimely captivated Aidyn. We were able to talk about spooky trees, the way things can seem scary, bravery, sibling relationships, and nighttime.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Halloween Fun Day/ Indoor Campout

Today, the family had a total play day. Upon returning home from work, Aidyn and I dug through his super-huge Halloween bucket o' fun. We donned impressively hideous fake teeth and showed Grandma and Daddy. Then we blew up a whoopie cushion (and hilariously expended it!) numerous times and nearly died laughing. Also we made these cute little masks, one of which was a wolfman and the other was a witch. He also put on a pair of Groucho Marx glasses complete with bulbous nose and bushy mustache and eyebrows. He stomped around and declared, "I'm a man now!" I am so glad that Aidyn now immerses himself in Halloween-excitement. This is the second year that he has independently requested his costume (this year, despite it not being anywhere in stores, he has chosen to be the evil Emperor Zurg!). Last year, he was able to say, "Trick or Treat," but shyness often got the better of him. This year, according to Aidyn, he's ready to not only say, "Trick or Treat," but also, "thank you," to every single treat-giver.

Later in the afternoon when I was deep into Shakespearean poetry, David and Aidyn made a fort out of sheets, pillows, chairs (for added height and dimension), and our two couches. They camped out in the living room and were up to all sorts of shenanigans for the remainder of the day.

Due to our rapidly progressing schedules, we will be combining several of our preplanned units into land-units. For instance, instead of studying pirates for a week and ghosts for another, we will be studying New Orleans Square as a whole. Today I had the jazz music playing through the house. I plan on cooking some Lousiana-style cuisine, reading books about pirates and ghosts, playing dress-up, creating spooky crafts, and playing pirate games.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Open Road Roam: Big Basin State Park

As a closing to our redwood trees/train unit, we ventured off to Big Basin Redwood State Park near Boulder Creek. We used the long, windy drive to catch up as a family, but as soon as we hit the forest, it was all ooh's and aah's. Immediately exiting our vehicle and stepping out into the wilderness, we were pleasantly greeted by the sweet woodsy aroma and fresh, clean air. We walked up towards the information center like tiny ants amid these gigantic trees. Outside the center, we waited for our guided Redwood Loop Trail Hike to begin. Our wonderful, knowledgeable, avuncular guide took us through a half mile trail, stopping at intervals to explain the majesty of the forest.

When we came to a giant felled tree, Aidyn anxiously volunteered to climb it, per the guide's suggestion. Aidyn and his daddy scaled the tree and ran (seriously!) up the trunk. They must have been about fifteen feet above the ground! Also during our hike, Aidyn explored a "chimney tree" which was basically a hollowed out redwood. When inside, if one looks straight up, a large hole makes the sky beautifully visible. We greeted two important trees in this state park: the Father of the Forest and the Mother of the Forest, appropriately named, I may add.

After our hike came to a close, we browsed the gift shop, store, and connected nature museum. Aidyn adopted a cute, stuffed bear that he named Whitey. We toured the nature museum and learned all kinds of neat trivia about the Redwood Forest. This quintessential-to-homeschooling- type journey reinforced our learning goals and made us desperate to spend a whole week camping out there.

We also attempted a Mystery Spot trip, but alas, we arrived too late. Now we have more reason to go next time!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Sweet Stories and "Monstrous" Talks

Today Aidyn and I read a sweet story called Niccolini's Song which was about a night watchman in a train yard that soothes trains (and others) to sleep with his melodic singing voice. By the end, Aidyn and I both were near slumber not because it was boring, but because it was so calming and lulling.

He then did an additional five pages from his Kumon Tracing book. He's really enjoying the idea of tracing paths and trails. This section of the book actually had him practice zigzags and arches (over and under). How fun! We also worked on holding the pen (or, in this case, marker) the "traditional" way, and Aidyn got the hang of it pretty quickly. He then hung his favorite on the wall.

Later when I was doing work at home (editing a paper for a student), Aidyn quizzically watched what I was doing. He inquired about what I was doing, and I realized that I don't always tell him what his Mama does during the day, and often at home, to make money. So in that little moment, I had the opportunity to say that Mama "helps students put their letters and words together" and "teaches them how to do that just like I teach [Aidyn] how to do it." He was generally pleased and interested in that answer.

It was also reported to me today that Aidyn expressed some neat ideas of which my mom had no idea he knew. They were talking about particular rides at Disneyland and Aidyn asked her if she was scared of the Matterhorn and why.

She responded that she wasn't really "scared" of the ride, but it made her dizzy because it was so fast.

Aidyn retorted back, "Yes, it is scary, Grandma. There's a monster in there." Grandma, interested, replied, "Really? What does he do?"

Aidyn made "monster hands," scrunched up his face, and said, "He jumps out and says, 'Arrrrrr!' He's a Yeti, Grandma."

Surprised at hearing him use that word, she said, "He is?" To which Aidyn, picking up on the surprise and curiousity in her voice, said, "Yes, Grandma, that means he's an abominable snowman."

Grandma reports that she was blown away by that "lesson" from Aidyn. : )

I remember telling him that many months ago and am surprised that he retained that; it's not like I reference abominable snowman every day! That is why I've always chosen to communicate with Aidyn without dumbing down my language. Some people used to lovingly joke with me when I would have long, drawn-out conversations with a six-month-old Aidyn. Even now, I try to explain everything the best that I can for him, ask questions to lead him to express himself, and listen to his thoughts and theories.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Field Trip Brainstorm

Over the past couple weeks, I have been brainstorming ideas for regular field trip activities that transcend age, ability, and learning method. I wanted to construct a routine activity guide to begin now and continue indefinitely as an addendum to our ever-changing homeschool curriculum. We do many of these things regularly now, but this will serve as a reminder to continue. I'm a huge advocate of travel and mobile exploration and am not barred in or limited to certain attractions; if it's fun, we're going! If we learn something, bonus!

Homeschool Hikes
Regular hikes along paths/trails in varying types of nature and seasons as a means of reconnecting with nature, learning from what the world has to offer as that second, and getting back to basics.

Mt. Diablo  in Contra Costa County, CA
Effie Yeaw Nature Center in Carmichael, CA
Big Basin State Park Santa Cruz County, CA
California State Parks website for hikes near you

Discovery Destinations
The choice or draw of a particular direction with no preset destination in mind. For example, a family member may either choose a direction at random, or we could roll a four-sided die to choose for us. Once we head in that direction, depending on the amount of time we have, we may continue to roll or randomly choose until we stumble upon something interesting to stop for. This could be as simple as an unusual rock structure on the side of the highway, an antique store, a major state park in a county we rarely travel to, or (time willing) a complete weekend getaway to a place we've never set foot on.

In San Joaquin County

Community Connections
Opportunities to connect with various parts of the community: tours of community service buildings (fire houses, police stations, hospitals, post offices, animal shelters, courthouses, etc.--all by appointment, of course), colleges, volunteer work, community-run museums and activities.

Town of Sonora and Tuolomne County Museum
Museum of Entomology at UC Davis
The Bone Room and The Great Stoneface Park in Berkeley, CA

Museum Meanderings
Regular trips to museums far and wide and not particularly connected with current unit study (though, of course, they could be) as a means of learning new things and contributing to an organization's effort to keep memories, relics, art, ideas, and learning opportunities alive.

Factory Fun Trips
Trips to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste how things of all sorts are made.

Roadside Rarities
Exploration of unusual oddities along the roadside. This is an opportunity to see some of the strange things that are built with incredible passion, such as shoe trees, quirky restaurants in the shape of unordinary things (flotsam art or concrete dinosaurs, anyone?). The purpose is not only to have fun and embrace our own eccentricities, but to remember to not get bogged down in taking ourselves too seriously!

I use Roadside America- California to find all sorts of kooky field trips.

Animal Encounters
Real, hands-on opportunities to interact with animals. This is not your average zoo trip! Rather, it's a way of meeting and greeting these animals up close with a skilled zookeeper or animal handler that is ready to answer tons of questions.

Open Road Roams
Regular trips to some of California's (and other states as well) most beautiful natural resources. These may not always be the most well-known destinations, but will include often missed gems of the state.

Homeschool Hike

Early this afternoon, once I returned home from work, Aidyn, Grandma, and I set out for a leisurely hike. We searched for a trail I had discovered on, but found that it did not, in fact, exist! Luckily, we had a backup plan, but on the way we happened on another sort of trail. On a whim, we decided to hike that one instead. It was a cute, roughly mile-long path in Ripon that actually crosses over the Stanislaus River. Aidyn sat in his wagon and observed all the flora while Grandma and I talked, handed Aidyn assorted rocks and sticks to check out and alerted him to nearby squirrels and lizards.

My favorite part of the hike had to be when we all played "Pooh sticks." If you're not familiar with classic Winnie the Pooh stories, "Pooh Sticks" is a game where players toss a stick on one side of the bridge, dash over to the other side, and watch it reappear. We did this a number of times with both leaves and sticks. Aidyn even experimented with dropping a stick on the opposite side to see if it'd go backwards; thus, he learned something today about water currents.

Walking along the path, Grandma shared some sweet stories about her childhood that explained her love for trees. She remarked that on Sundays when she was a child, her dad used to gather the kids and take them out in the middle of nowhere under a tree and allow them to play. He'd always bring along a watermelon and slice pieces up for them to enjoy after they were done frolicking. So in learning about trees this week, Aidyn and I both had the opportunity to hear a sweet, nostalgic story and learn something new about Grandma.

Wonderful, explorative, naturesque day!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Phlebotomy, Tracing, and Chess!

When I returned from school and work today, my mom had an in-home appointment with a nurse. Luckily, Aidyn was around for most of her exam and was able to observe the procedure, especially the drawing of blood! Thus, he added a new word to his vocabulary: phlebotomist.

After that excited ended, I introduced him to the letter T, the first letter for the word tree. I worked with him on tracing the letter, and though he did an excellent job, we're not ready for that yet. I believe he needs more foundational work to exercise his writing abilities; he has years ahead of him before handwriting is "required." If he's to be ahead in anything, handwriting letters does not have to be it!

So I got him started on a tracing book that I've had tucked away for a couple years. In it are adorable, real-life illustrations of trails and paths. The idea is to link one object to another. For instance, one page had a little crab in the upper corner and another little crab in the bottom corner with a mess of rocks between them. The goal is to create a path for one crab to meet the other without touching the obstacles. Aidyn had a ball doing this and learned to navigate his lines in a fun way.

My goal for him at this stage is to continue to use his creativity and imagination ("Okay, Aidyn, we must draw a path for this kitten to get to his mama without falling in any of the holes. Be careful! Oh, watch out! You did it; great job!") and to exercise his 'writing muscles' with art first.

After he completed a number of pages, I let him display his work as he saw fit. He chose the location and taped it up himself; so what if I have to tilt my head to appreciate it? : )

When he finished "doing school," Aidyn requested some play time with the chess board. He just discovered it in our closet today and was curious to see what that was all about. Not being a chess whiz (I'll leave that to David!), I showed him the very bare basics of the game. He enjoyed plopping the pawns and other figures through the board and looks forward to his dad teaching him how to play.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Dancing, Fresh Books, Circus Animals, and Nature Exploration

When I arrived home from work, Aidyn promptly requested a dance session "with oh-dees," as he refers to the stylings of 50's and 60's music, so we danced, sang, and spun around until we were both dizzy.

We then took a trip to our local library where I stocked up on new reads and Aidyn played with puppets. I asked him to choose his own storybook, and he selected Hi, Cat (my inner voice cheered!). Afterward, he played for a while on the playground and "did laps" around the play structure.

Later, we lounged on his bed and read C is for Caboose, a less than entertaining book, but it did bring up some new and old vocabulary words. We then read the more delightful The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper and Tell Me, Tree by Gail Gibbon. Both provided opportunities for discussion and oral dictation.

As the time neared for Mama to do her own school work, David took Aidyn to the bank among other places. To give me time to read and to fulfill the rest of Aidyn's homeschool day, David and Aidyn stopped by the camped out circus on the other side of town. David reported that they were able to see camels, zebras, elephants, llamas, and dwarf ponies. Well, that's something you don't see everyday!

Later, the boys went to the park where David emphasized interaction with nature. Thus, they ran up and down the grassy hills, inspected leaves, and, as David proudly bragged, Aidyn climbed his first tree (with only a little help). According to David, Aidyn's butt was soon attacked by a "swarm of ants" and they swifted ducked out of there. They then played on the swings until tiredness got the better of Aidyn.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

New Unit Kick Off!

Today we officially kicked off our new unit. Actually I combined two units (as our destination apex nears faster everyday!): trains and the Redwood Forest. Although they seem like polar subjects, I smooshed them together because we've always wanted to take Aidyn on the steam engine ride through the Redwood Forest, so we thought this would be an excellent way to merge those ideas.

So, this morning, Aidyn and I colored number and letter trains. Each train car had a certain number or letter ready to trace. I was impressed by how well he was able to mimic the writings though I haven't pushed formal handwriting just yet. Rather, I think I will start him on a tracing book with real world applications (i.e., things he can readily imagine) and save the letters and numbers for later. Later, Aidyn and I glanced through our big train encyclopedia for children and just browsed through the impressive pictures. He also took in the Disney short The Brave Engineer.

After we "did school," Grandma, Aidyn, and I headed to Jamestown to ride a real steam locomotive. What a neat experience! We chatted with the conductors and train car hosts, toured the grounds (which included a blacksmith's shop, a caboose from the film Back to the Future III, a carpenter's shop, and a roundhouse). Interestingly enough, the peek into the blacksmith's shop brought to life a book we read not even a day ago: Winter Shoes for Shadow Horse in which the father was a blacksmith who made horseshoes with his young son.

What an excellent start to a new unit! Throughout the next week, we have many exciting activities to do and many marvelous books to read.

Pony Ride and Autumnal Fun

Yesterday officially closed out our unit study about horses. We began the morning with a cooperative baking of an apple-cinnamon cake. Aidyn helped me measure, stir, and sample along the way. When it was done baking, we shared it with everyone. Later, Aidyn and I read two marvelous books entitled Winter Shoes for Shadow Horse and Wild Ponies. The artwork, especially striking, along with the beautiful language and story, brought these tales to life for us. In reading them, we had the opportunity to talk about horseshoes, hard work, mares and their foals, and the concept of freedom. Afterward, Aidyn watched an animated movie called Spirit: Stallion of the Cimmaron which was about a young, wild stallion who travels to the Old West. While watching it, Aidyn decided to pretend he was a horse and gallop all over the house!

In the afternoon, the family browsed through our local pumpkin festival and brought back homemade pumpkin bread. Later, we made a trip to Del Osso Farms specifically for Aidyn to ride a pony once more. Watching him saddled on the pony and trotting along, I thought he looked so at ease and so natural that I imagined he may like horse riding lessons some time in the future. It's definitely something to bring up with him later.

Aidyn also toured the farm grounds and played along the way. It was the perfect ending to a small introductory unit study on horses. I especially liked that he not only read books, watched movies, and pretended he was a horse, but he actually enjoyed the real world experience of riding a horse twice. : )

Friday, October 2, 2009

Homeschooling with Daddy

David and Aidyn spent the day playing and learning together. According to his report, the two played hide 'n' seek, tag, and other physical games. Afterward, they read Horses in Dreamland "numerous times" because Aidyn kept requesting a re-read. David suspects that he was interested most in the wolves. I need to file that thought for later as a possible unit study! When Aidyn selected a new book, he picked Caterpillar Sring, Butterfly Summer, which is one of his favorite books. Sounds like the two boys had a very warm, interactive, and enjoyable homeschool day!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Autumnal Cookies, Science Experiment, and Whole Books

As promised, Aidyn and I made cookies this breezy afternoon. Wild oatmeal cookies were on the agenda originally, but I lacked an essential ingredient. Thus, we made a batch of cookie dough, rolled it out, and, with the help of themed cookie cutters, made Halloween cookies. Aidyn, involved in every part of the process, helped stir, mix, crack the egg, roll the dough, press cookie cutters in, and enjoy his culinary skills. We made a lovely assortment of witches, ghosts, jack o' lanterns, pumpkins, crescent moons, and witch hats. While we worked together, we went over ingredient names, measurements, and units of time (as we waited for the dough to get solid and cold).

During the wait, Aidyn and I conducted a little side experiment unrelated to our unit study but fun nonetheless. I fished a handful of pennies out of my change jar and placed them in a bowl. Over the bathroom sink, Aidyn and I washed the coins with soap, water, and two old toothbrushes. We analyzed the results; then I added vinegar and salt to the coin water. We watched as the tarnish faded away and we were left with shiny pennies. We also compared these pennies to ones that were not washed and noted the differences. This experiment gave us the opportunity to learn about methods of cleaning, how different ingredients have varying effects, and about the President that graces the penny. He then narrated the experiment to his grandmother and father afterward.

Additionally during the wait, Aidyn and I took in two amazing whole books about horses. The first was called Horses in Dreamland, and we marveled at the beautiful illustrations and rhythmic poetry. The other was entitled With the Wind and the end inspired goosebumps in me and an opportunity to discuss an important topic with Aidyn. Both books are worth a second checkout.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Jack O' Lantern Fruit Salad: Holiday Fun Food

Today, after our excursion to the library, I made Aidyn a jack o' lantern fruit salad to observe the upcoming holiday in a fun, healthy way.

First, I took a tangelo (only because oranges at the grocery store looked a bit bad), and cut the top piece off similar to how one would take the top off a pumpkin. Using a knife, I loosened the pulp and with a spoon scraped it into a bowl. Carefully, I carved two triangle eyes, a nose, and a one-toothed grin through the skin of the tangelo. Once it had its face on, I filled the cavity with sliced red grapes and strawberries. After drizzling the tangelo juice over the fruit salad, Aidyn capped the creature with the top of the tangelo (which, funny enough, has a somewhat pointed top!). Then, spoon in hand, he scalped it and ate the jack o' lantern's "brains."

Fun, festive activity!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Grape Festival/Horse Ride

As a real-world introductory to our next unit study, the family spent the day at the local Grape Festival and Aidyn, particularly, rode on a horse. Following suit of the first unit where we interacted with firefighters previous to our study, we wanted Aidyn to physically connect with the unit before diving in. However, this experience was not our sole reason for attending, but thought it could serve as quality family time, exposure to new things and events, further enjoyment of “rides and thrills,” and as a break from the day-to-day routine. First off, we visited the Reptile Exhibit, and looked at all sorts of snakes, frogs, lizards, and other creatures. Aidyn pet a tortoise, spied a chameleon, stood three feet from an uncaged alligator, and talked with a red parrot. Then, Aidyn and his daddy rode a turbulent (for the average three-year-old) boat ride which Aidyn loved. Later, we took in a zany circus show by the Swan Bros. Afterward, a clown made Aidyn a dragon-balloon-animal, per his request. Fortuitously, Aidyn wanted nothing more but to ride a horse, so we took him over to the area and watched him ride and pose in a cowboy hat. After some arm painting, music-making, and gallery-viewing, the family called it a day.

This jaunt on the horse will launch our next unit study: horses and horse-drawn carriages.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


During the whole of studying along Main Street, we are listening to turn-of-the-century ragtime music. Aidyn and I just made up our own silly dances and remarked on the quirky sounds of the music. Had we not begun this venture, we probably never would have experimented with ragtime music!

Fire House, Main Street U.S.A.

For the past week and a half, we have been focused on a unit about fire engines and firefighters based off the Fire House attraction along Main Street.

On our first day, we checked out firefighter-related books and media from our local library. Along the route home, we spied a fire engine. Waving, we watched as the bright red engine full of smiling firefighters pulled over to say, "hello." The fire captain waved and spoke with Aidyn and offered him a sticker. Out from the back of the engine, a firefighter dropped down and met with us. He gave Aidyn a fire badge sticker and a hearty handshake. While Aidyn and I walked back home, Aidyn exclaimed, "I wanna be one of them!"

What a way to start a unit! I felt like we struck homeschool gold!

Not surprisingly thereafter, Aidyn was so excited to read all his picture books and watch his video about fire engines and fire safety. He has tugged us all to the couch during the past week to watch his video. Putting on his own pretend firefighter helmet, he imagines that he is "Engineer John" and often requests to water the lawn on jet-setting like a firefighter puts out a fire.

Additionally, I have been in contact with a local fire chief who has offered us the opportunity to further expose Aidyn to life as a firefighter. I will be answering the invitation soon and provide Aidyn with a real world chance to learn about real-life heroes.