Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Watching the Big Change

I love when Aidyn takes the initiative to learn on his own. Last night Aidyn asked to watch one of his Geo Kids videos. We have a set of adorable kid-friendly National Geographic videos, and Aidyn selected the Metamorphosis video. In his bed together, we watched the antics of animals and talked about the big change. He remembers when we watched the caterpillar to butterfly cycle last year, but he also relearned that other animals go through changes as well. I love hearing him identify animals that I assumed he didn't know the names of such as sea otters and mosquitoes. I also love how inquisitive he is and his flood of why questions.

Even when we do not formally plan subjects out, education can't help but leak in!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Anything Can Happen Week

This fourth week of homeschool is officially an "off week," but I decided to tweak it with the theme of 'Anything Can Happen!" If we get the itch to tour some random cookie factory, we will. If we elect to spend the day fingerpainting, baking bread, reading comics, or watching Sesame Street, we will. On library day, I'll ask Aidyn to pick out whichever books/videos/cds he wants. Basically, we will not have any structured or preplanned activities but will follow the whim of learning and playing. After all our accomplishments and activities this month, this is sure to be a welcomed break!

Indoor Gardens Synopsis

Of course, the most exciting objective this week was adopting our new family member, Sabor the Leopard Gecko. Our family has been peeking in her terrarium every day and coaxing her to lick our hands and fingers. We're learning how to care for her, feed her, interact with her, and give her her space when she needs it. This experience has also helped us talk about desert plants and climate--a welcomed subject in the midst of a wet winter storm! Additionally, our family has been reading informational books on geckos and has learned much in terms of their expected behavior, temperament, and needs.

This was also my first week back to school/work, so we're adjusting to the newly hectic schedule. I anticipate that much of the 'structured learning' will take place in the morning hours with games and extra fun activities for the late afternoons/evenings and weekends.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Reptile Observation

This week spent learning about our leopard gecko through reading and observation has been so fun! In the mornings, Aidyn's first thought is to check on "baby gecko." We peek into her terrarium and usually find her cuddled in her hollow log. The knowledge of her being nocturnal was fully realized this week as we often caught her napping and not doing much else. There have been late nights and early mornings when the glow of her purple nightlight exposed her nightly habits. She then ventures out of her safe spot and roams through her tiny desert. We once spied her right on top of her log looking like the queen of her world!

We also learned more about her eating habits. Initially we provided her with a scoop of mealworms but noticed that she barely touched them. Worried that she wasn't getting enough to eat, we revisited Petsmart for a professional opinion. The clerk filled us in on her usual diet, and a book from the library explained that pet store lizards may not recognize a certain food item as a meal if they didn't have it frequently enough. The case with the mealworms was that she only had them only occasionally. What she was used to was crickets. Yes. Live crickets! Live crickets dusted with calcium powder, I might add. Doesn't that sound fancy? So we picked up a carton of small, live crickets. Since adding two to her tank, she's gobbled up one already.

I'm sure we could have read all these things in a textbook and probably watched them on a documentary but something about experiencing this beautiful creature teaches us so much more. Some things that we've learned I cannot even put into words, but it runs the gamut from learning about lizards' idiosyncrasies to taking responsibility for caring for a pet. The root of that logic is why I adore homeschool; I want us to touch, see, feel, experience these things instead of only reading about it in a cold textbook. I'm sure we won't be able to do it all, but the things we do learn about with multi-module methods will surely stand out.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Leopard Gecko

The majority of yesterday was spent in learning how to create an indoor desert garden/terrarium and adopting a new family member: a leopard gecko.

I researched how to construct a desert garden and created a simple illustration to show Aidyn. We first went to library to check out lizard/desert books, and then we went to our local Petsmart to meet some live specimens. We shopped around for basic needs while I explained the function of each to Aidyn. When we finally returned home, Aidyn and I made a living desert. He helped place tiny pebbles on the bottom of the tank. Next we scattered natural moss over the pebbles. We then added cactus-specific soil. Carefully, we placed two succulent plants, that Aidyn had chosen earlier, in opposite corners of the terrarium. To create multiple hiding spots for our soon-to-be adopted lizard, we situated a hollow piece of a tree limb, rocks, and moss throughout our desert environment. While placing the lamp on the tank, I talked with Aidyn about a reptile's need for external heat as they cannot regulate it within themselves as we mammals can. Daddy, at one time being an avid lizard owner himself, checked out our progress and further talked about the characteristics and needs of lizards. Once we had everything squared away, we returned to the pet shop and chose our new family member. We selected the quiet, easy-going leopard gecko and wrangled up a name for her. We decided on Sabor, the leopard from Tarzan and an Edgar Rice Burroughs-created word.

In the short amount of time that we've had her thus far, observing her has been quite interesting. Through this sort of peeking in through the glass and careful petting and holding, Aidyn is absorbing things a book could never teach him--the experience of watching a live animal, of caring for a pet, of sampling how certain animals behave. We look forward to daily observations and learning more about the personality of Sabor and the behavior of geckos in general.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Indoor Gardens

Week of January 18th:

Theme: Pets
Adventures in Nature theme: Growing Indoor Gardens
Music: Jacob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn

Our main objective this week is to construct an indoor desert garden. We are economically searching for an aquarium and materials to make a desert scene including pebbles, charcoal, desert-type soil, and cacti. We aim to read both fiction and nonfiction books about the desert and its inhabitants, namely reptiles. There is a possibility that we adopt a leopard gecko or similar reptile to observe in our desert garden. This week is sure to be exciting and scientific!

We're also going to be working on number recognition, counting, and simple math problems, listening to a new composer, and adjusting to a new schedule as I am soon due back to work and school.

Winter/Birds Synopsis

Hands down, our favorite activity this week was making pine cone bird feeders and hanging them in our yard. It has been a treat to spy out our windows and catch hungry birds nibbling away on the pine cones. The experience also afforded us the opportunity to talk about what certain animals do in the winter, where they obtain their food, what they do for shelter, and how they respond to the weather.

In related homeschool news, Aidyn continues work on his number recognition and counting. He does rather well and is able to identify every number from 1-10 with the exception of 5 for some reason. Next week, we will continue working on numbers and counting.

The house has been filled with Schubert and his highly moving, melodic pieces. I feel that, out of all the composers we have listened to, his music contains the most passion. The experience of sampling various composers has certainly added some tranquility to our home.

We're also experiencing the death of a furry family member. This is Aidyn's first time dealing with the subject of death up close. Our very old cat is dying, peacefully and quietly. In seeing him respond less and less, we're all discussing the inevitability of death. Not to my surprise, Aidyn is handling it well. He shows curiosity but understands what is happening in simple terms. Although heartbreaking, it is a learning experience, and I intend to allow Aidyn to ask any question about the topic of death and answer him as best as I can.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Feeding the Winter Birds

Yesterday Aidyn and I worked on his numbers. With his new number cards and the pocket chart, he spouted off numbers he knew, met numbers he didn't, and worked on counting up to twenty. Afterward we played a number counting game using a separate set of cards.

When we wrapped up number work, we talked about birds. Specifically, we talked about what birds do in the winter and the limited supply of food in the area. He then flipped over his "surprise page" and found a robin to color. After coloring, he hole punched the paper and put it in his binder. He is getting much more adept at using the hole punch and opening and closing his three-ring binder.

Later in the day, we shopped for wild bird seed and brought it home. We found several pine cones in our front yard perfect for feeders. First we mixed peanut butter and shortening in a bowl. In a separate bowl, we mixed the bird seed, oatmeal, bread crumbs, and corn meal. After slathering each pine cone with the PB&S mixture, we dunked and tossed them in the seeds until well-coated. We left them overnight to sit and dry, so this morning we hung them in various places around our yard. We filled one of our conventional bird feeders with the remainder of the seed mix and now patiently await some bird-watching.

Through these activities, we've been able to have good conversations about birds, wintertime, and what some animals do in the winter weather.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Week of January 11th:

Theme: Winter
Adventures in Nature theme: Birds in Winter
Music: Franz Peter Schubert

This week we plan on reading winter-related books and doing winter activities. We also aim to make homemade bird-feeders (from found pine cones, peanut butter, and wild bird seed). Hanging our bird feeders in a visible area, we plan on doing some simple bird watching. We'll talk about what certain birds do in the winter as well as other animals and living things. Schubert will be our classical composer for the week, having finished our sampling of Beethoven.

ABC's and 123's Synopsis

This was a wonderful first week of homeschool for 2010. Daily, we sang the ABC song while using his blue pocket chart for reference and we worked on letter recognition. At his best, he correctly identified 22 letters. And now, with the letters he does know, he can identify whether they are uppercase or lowercase. Mixed in with our letter work, Aidyn learned the sounds of several letters and can also name things that begin with certain letters. Next week, as an addendum to our curriculum, we will work further on phonics and word recognition using the pocket chart.

With counting, he has improved his skills by being able to count higher than when we began. We also played counting games with real-life scenarios. Yesterday at the table, I asked Aidyn how many of us were eating. He counted and answered, "Four." When asked how many there would be if Daddy left the room, Aidyn answered, "Three." When I proposed that Daddy would return with a new person and asked how many of us would be here altogether, he answered "Five." Although that seems rather simple, it is an improvement for Aidyn. We played all sorts of games such as that, and we plan to continue throughout the year.

In our Adventures in Nature unit, Getting to Know Snow, Aidyn and I read snow-related books. The family even visited Pinecrest and played in the snow. It was Aidyn's first time actually touching and rolling around in the snow, and it was an experience I'm sure he won't forget soon.

Friday, January 8, 2010

20 Free (or relatively cheap!) Activities to Do with Toddlers/Preschoolers

1. Go stargazing. Just look up in awe. Bonus: bring binoculars.
2. Go for a walk and talk about anything.
3. Count fingers and toes.
4. Bake cookies together. Bonus: make them alphabet-shaped and allow them to "accidently" identify letters.
5. Dance to music and allow the speed and rhythm of the music to dictate your movements.
6. Make scribble monsters. Scribble with a crayon or marker on a piece of paper. Add arms and legs. Bonus: add googly eyes.
7. Play with Play-Doh or molding clay.
8. Build towers, castles, and other such structures with blocks.
9. Share a story in their bed.
10. Read poetry aloud whether or not they’re paying attention.
11. Add water to dirt outside and play in the mud. Bonus: make mud pies.
12. Learn with YouTube. Watch anything (reasonably) requested such as mini-cartoons, videos of tornadoes, the ocean, space, etc. See where it takes you.
13. Pull up Microsoft Word and allow them to peck on the keyboard.
14. Before reading a story, hold the book upside down and wait for them to correct you. Read the wrong way and allow them to teach you how to read a book.
15. Fingerpaint. Dry. Hang in random place (not on the fridge!).
16. Do leaf-rubbings. Put a leaf underneath a sheet of paper and rub a crayon or chalk over it to reveal the outlines of the leaf.
17. Tour a hardware store and talk about items you come across and their uses.
18. Give them a disposable camera and allow them to take pictures of whatever strikes their fancy.
19. Play with change: pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. Talk about them, sort them, stack them. Wash hands afterward.
20. Host a food coloring experiment. Add drops of color to water in a see-through container and stir to make an impressive cyclone. Combine colors and see what happens!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

ABC's, Calendar, and Beethoven

This morning, following our 'brain shake,' Aidyn and I worked on his letters. We recited the alphabet and he did the usual naming of the letters. Today he correctly identified 22 letters! Afterward, I pulled down the X and showed him how one would draw an X. I asked him to practice on a blank sheet of paper. Once he had it down, I showed him our new calendar explaining the name of our current month, the year, and all the boxes representing the days. I also talked about how we are on day 7 of the month and asked him to count the days gone by. Then I allowed him to draw big X's on those days. I imagine his X's will be near-perfect by December. ; )

After hanging the calendar back up, he colored a picture of two boys having a snowball fight near a snowman and two children on a sled. When finished, we hole-punched the sheet and placed it in his binder. He showed initiative to learn how to hole-punch by himself, so I brought him blank paper and left him alone with the project. After some trial and error, he learned how to do it sufficiently enough. Then I pulled out an animal tracks worksheet. On it were pictures of a raccoon, a chipmunk, a deer, a rabbit, and a wolf alongside jumbled animal tracks. We talked about who would belong to what track based on size, shape, and whether or not the animal had claws. What fun! We matched all the animals to their tracks, and then Aidyn hole-punched it and added it to his binder.

When table time was over, we listened and danced to Beethoven. We interpreted some of the music and moved accordingly. "This sounds like people tiptoeing in the snow," I suggested, and we tiptoed around the living room. When the music got boisterous, Aidyn said, "This is chasing music. Run!" After running around, twirling, and dancing, Aidyn said it was time to put on 'lunch music.' So I put on slower tunes and made grilled cheese sandwiches for the family. Excellent homeschool morning if I don't say so myself!

Field Trip to the Snow/ Discovery Destination

Yesterday Aidyn, his grandma, and I ventured to the snow in Pinecrest. All bundled up in layers and Aidyn in his snowsuit, we traveled for approximately two hours east until evidence of snow lay on the side of the highway. After finding a secluded campground in the Stanislaus Forest, we exited the car and proceeded to play in the snow. We touched it, clomped in it, and held it in our hands. Aidyn and I made a tiny snowperson before our fingers froze off. We had a ball throwing snowballs at Grandma (playfully). The sound of a snowball thwumping against someone is the funniest sound ever! Aidyn ran and danced in the snow, rolled in it, and even made snow angels. Our fun in the snow had us all dreaming of renting a cabin there for an entire weekend.

After we warmed our bodies up with the hot chocolate I brought, we decided it was time to grab something to eat. We drove through the quaint town of Mi-Wuk Village and eyed a little place called Andy's Mountain Grill and Deli. Upon walking to the door, we were asked by a regular if we had ever eaten there before. "Best place on the mountain," he assured us. Immediately we noticed that they served 'Chaka Burgers' and promptly ordered some. Best burger ever.

Once we were ready to go home, Grandma suggested we go through Twain Harte, a town she had heard was beautiful and we had seen signs for. We took the turn-off and drove into Twain Harte, and it was, indeed, a beautiful, green, little town, like a hidden place of magic. Scenes like that continuously inspires us to live in Gold Country!

All in all, I am fortunate that Aidyn explored snow in such a hands-on way.

Earlier this week, we had took in some snow-related books that may have inspired Aidyn to do as much as he did in the snow. First we read a classic by Jack Ezra Keats entitled The Snowy Day. We then read White Snow, Blue Feather by Julie Downing, a sweet story about a young boy's exploration in the snow. Next Aidyn "read" The Snowman to me. Famously known as the story without words, The Snowman is a story of pictures, and Aidyn told me what was going on in each little picture, and it sounded like a sweet story in his personal interpretation. We also wove in our ABC's with Zooflakes ABC which is an alphabet book with pictures of zoo animals as snowflakes. We had fun identifying each animal, and Aidyn announced that the iguana was his favorite!

We have also been counting things as we come across them to practice number skills. Aidyn can successfully count items up to twelve and, if assisted, can go even further. So far it has been a fulfilling week!

Monday, January 4, 2010

ABC's and 123's--Day 1

Today went remarkably well. In the morning after our "brain shake" (apple juice, frozen blueberries, banana, and ground flax seeds mixed in a blender), Aidyn and I worked on his letters. He correctly identified 21, and we reviewed the ones he missed with silly songs. Afterward he colored an alphabet worksheet that he said looked like "alphabet noodles." When he finished, he helped me hole-punch and place his work in his binder. Then it was time for counting games. I brought out our set of eight popsicle molds and asked him to count them. Then I proceeded to pretend to take away one, and ask him to count again. Using math language, Aidyn and I practiced counting, adding, and subtracting. Then we counted blocks. We would first count the entire lot of blocks, then classify them. I would ask him, "Okay, how many red cylinders are there? How many green cubes? How many colored blocks? How many triangles?" So not only did we work on counting, but we used mathematical language and geometric figures to bring it to life.

Later in the day, we took a trip to the library and stocked up on snow-related books. We're all set to go to the snow on Wednesday. We plan on taking thermoses of hot chocolate and edible snowperson pieces (a carrot for the nose, for example), so that once he melts, woodland animals can munch on the remains. We're looking forward to the little getaway.

ABC's and 123's

Week of January 4th:

Theme: ABC's and 123's
Adventures in Nature Theme: Getting to Know Snow
Music: Beethoven

This week we will be reviewing the alphabet and number system through instruction, games, and activities. Our Adventure in Nature is 'Getting to Know Snow,' so we will be taking a trip to the snow to explore it, touch it, build a snowperson, and watch for 'snowprints' of different animals. Our books will include stories about the snow along with some ABC's and counting books. Our sixth composer in line, Beethoven, will continue our sampling of famous composers this week.


This weekend was spent mostly in doing fun assessments with Aidyn and continuing his letter work. I found some helpful assessment worksheets for preschoolers and used them to guide our activities which included asking him to count by rote, count objects, identify letters, sounds of letters, colors, and shapes. He did well in most areas, and I also have a better idea about where he is lacking. I compiled these updated abilities and challenges along with a worksheet on goals for the 2010 year and placed them in a binder. I have also been compiling my resources for our plans this year.

Aidyn has consistently been working on letter identification. Today he correctly identified 22 letters! Before we even "did our letters," Aidyn played teacher and plucked letter cards out from the pocket chart. He told me and his grandma their names and many times told us their sounds. For some special letters, he would even say what words began with such letters. For instance, he picked up letter Z and said, "Here's Z, Grandma. It says, 'Zzzzz,' like 'Zzzurg' and zzzoo." His improvement is apparent and, more importantly, he is showing an eagerness and curiousity to learn that I love seeing.