Monday, March 29, 2010

Phonics and Chrysalises

Today after singing the alphabet and naming letters, I showed Aidyn the new phonics program that we'll be using. It's basically a CD that follows a booklet which introduces phonics. For me this is new territory as I learned to read using the whole word approach, but I figure that a blending of the two schools of thought wouldn't hurt. Aidyn has been "reading" simple, rhyming words by sight, so I know that he's naturally picking up reading skills; however, learning the nuts and bolts of reading will help him when he comes across a word he doesn't recognize. So, at the table, we followed the booklet, spouting letter sounds and accompanying words. We went through the whole alphabet, took a break, and repeated it a couple hours later. My plan is to do phonics work a couple times a day for the duration of the week and, of course, continue reading stories daily.

In other news, our caterpillars have begun hanging on the top of their cup and one or two have officially become chrysalises. That means that very soon we'll need to pick up some fresh flowers for our soon-to-be arriving butterflies!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Spring Egg Festival

Because we have been learning about life cycles (particularly by observing caterpillars) and the newness that Spring brings, the family make a trek to the Discovery Center Museum of Science and Natural History for their Spring Egg Festival. There was quite a show out, and the grounds had so many activities for us to do. First Aidyn climbed into the cockpit of a rocket ship and pretended to be an astronaut. Then we let him lead us through a maze of Egyptian hieroglyphics. Aidyn had a ball twisting and turning, finding dead ends, and finally breaking free at the end!

Then we went across the way and walked through this impressive Cacti Garden with rocky trails and gigantic cacti, some of which looked like tentacled undersea creatures. We then stopped to play at a bubble-blowing station. We then spied a Children's Garden, so we explored that. A caretaker of the garden invited Aidyn to stand on a colorful slab of cement that said "MAR" for March. She then asked him to point his hands straight up in the air. Looking closely, we saw the the tip of his shadow kissed another colorful slab of cement that said "12," which is what time it was. We explained to Aidyn that he was standing on a sun clock and he was the hands! Afterward, we played hopscotch, read about vermicomposting, and marveled at the beautiful flowers and animal-shaped hedges.

Then it was time for the egg hunt. Aidyn got a simple white basket with his name on it, we waited in line, and then off we went searching the grounds for hidden eggs. Scores of children participated, so I was proud when Aidyn walked away with a full bag. We planted ourselves in the shade and cracked open his prizes until we heard our stomachs growling.

After lunch, Aidyn poked his head through cut-out boards of dinosaur scenes. He pretended he was an apatosaurus and then a baby triceratops. The beautiful sound of beating drums alerted us to the Aztec Dancers, so we gathered with a crowd to watch. Several dancers, decorated in long, exotic feathers and some in animal-headpieces, shook their wrists and heels which were wrapped with clinking shells. Outside their dancing circle, two others banged on the drums and incense filled the air. It was quite a sight!

Aidyn then said he wanted to "do crafts," so we walked to the Arts and Crafts table and were surprised at what we found...Large arachnids and scorpions, meal-worms, and roaches waited in little clear boxes. The lady behind the counter invited us to hold a tarantula. When I asked Aidyn if he'd like to hold one, he carefully shook his head. To help him see that it was okay, I held my hand out as the lady placed a surprisingly colorful and hairy spider that took up the whole of my palm. I have never held a tarantula before, and it was quite a sensation. I held some other spiders as the lady gave us a mini-lesson on them, and Aidyn listened intently. We also checked out a turquoise-colored scorpion, pet large meal-worms, and spied a dozen roaches. We saw cases of other insect specimens, most of which were brilliant, natural colors like teal and silvery yellow. We touched old turtle shells of massive sizes, played with plastic representations of tadpoles and frogs through various stages of change, and toured a little are called Walden Pond. (I loved the reference to Emerson's pond that much inspired Thoreau!)

At Walden Pond, we were allowed to grab small nets and attempt to catch tadpoles, which proved much more difficult than it seemed. The whole family had a go, but we all came out empty-netted.

On the whole, this was an amazing outdoor smorgasbord of fun and exploration. For me, it epitomized the beginning of Spring and set the tone for the rest of the season.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Stories Galore

As if it were planned this week, Aidyn and I read a plethora of books together. After an exhausting day of work and school, I looked forward to our regular storytime on the couch. We read wonderful classics, most of which were favorites that I grew up with, such as The Story Ferdinand by Munro Leaf which echoes the theme of self-contentment. We also read a favorite story of ours called Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey. The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack encouraged the moral that it is better to face the music than run away. Another favorite reread we enjoyed was The Best Nest P.D. Eastman.

Yesterday, after I refreshed our books at the library, Aidyn and I sat down and read two Mercer Mayer books: There Are Monsters Everywhere and There's an Alligator Under My Bed. Aidyn adored them both. We then shared the cute and colorful Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Afterward Lyle, Lyle Crocodile ended up becoming a vocabulary lesson and in-depth conversation about the plot line (which is always encouraged!) We finished off the story session with another P.D. Eastman classic, Big Dog, Little Dog.

We've also filled our home and car with Tchaikovsky The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty, and Aidyn especially likes The Nutcracker. Today we plan on traveling to a hands-on science discovery museum for a Spring Egg Festival.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Effie Yeaw Nature Center and Homeschool Hike

Yesterday, as a birthday present to a dear friend, Aidyn, my friend and her two children, and I traveled to the Effie Yeaw Nature Center in Carmichael. It was a delight to find this place teeming with educational opportunities. Inside the actual center, animals in various stages of rehabilitation are housed and the kids peeked in at them with excitement. Further inside the center, a touch-and-feel museum about California Indians and indigenous animals invited the kids to explore. Once we went outside, we followed a scenic nature trail with springtime blooms, flitting butterflies, and roaming families of deer. Stopped on a bench for lunch, we spied the brave family of deer meandering near us, picking leaves off trees and crossing the fields. While Aidyn was munching, I asked him questions about the area and jotted his observations down in our journal. Later, we followed the two boys as they ran down the thin paths. Happening on a pond, we explored the area and tested the boundaries of the muddy shoreline. The nature trail, on the whole, was beautiful and rich with nature reserves fit to study and simply observe. Although we stayed just a short while, comparatively, there was so much to soak in. I'm definitely making a mental note to revisit this wonderful place!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Grab Bag

Yesterday afternoon, Aidyn and I played a game of Grab Bag. This is a game in which I hide a certain three-dimensional shape in a pillowcase and invite Aidyn to put his hand in and use his sense of touch to guess the shape. For example, I secretly hid a wooden circle in the pillowcase and asked Aidyn to guess what shape it was. Other times, I hid wooden letters and let him guess what they were. He was able to correctly identify all the shapes which included a circle, a rectangle, a triangle, a ball, and the letters A, X, U, and O. The idea of a game like this is to learn the physical shapes of things without relying on sight to tell you what it is. For us, it's fun brain food.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Homeschool Hike--Caswell and the Stanislaus River Part Two

Around noon, Aidyn, his grandma, our dog Niki, and I went hiking at Caswell Memorial State Park. It was the first time there for grandma and Niki, so Aidyn had fun giving her the grand tour and pointing out the tree scents and natural sights. We walked down to the beach area for a view of the Stanislaus River. Since Aidyn was a pro at spending time in this spot, I asked him to tell us something about the location. He narrated that the river is green, very cold, and the current goes "that way," as he made swift motions to the right.

We dunked our fingers and hands in the icy cold water and walked on the beach before Aidyn asked if he could put his feet in the water. I thought that was a wonderful idea. I stripped Aidyn of his shoes and socks and followed suit myself. It is amazing how much more you absorb and learn by going barefoot in a place you've never been barefoot. We proceeded to squish our toes with mud, sink our heels in the sand, and rinsed off briskly in the river water. Aidyn loved it. He practically rolled in the mud and emerged from the beach as a mini-mud man, but it was all in the name of education!

After wading, mud-squishing, rock-collecting, and scenery-gaping, the four of us hiked a bit farther down some trails and explored the park. The outing refreshed us all, and we returned home spent but renewed.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Starry Night with Daddy

Due to time constraints, David took over the usual activities today. We were set to observe Van Gogh's "Starry Night," so the boys tackled that one together. According to David, he asked Aidyn to have a look at the painting for a few minutes. He then asked some questions about the piece. For instance, he asked Aidyn what he noticed in the painting, what was happening in the painting, what certain things were, and what his favorite color was. I heard that Aidyn commented that the people in the town must be sleeping because it was night. I was so happy to hear Aidyn make a connection to the painting and what the people inside of it were thinking or doing. From the sound of it, their first art observation together went rather well.

They also worked on letters and the alphabet song, and David commented that Aidyn did a good job and had fun learning, even asking his daddy to continue after it was over.

It's a relief to know that when I am unavailable, David can pick up the pace.

Homeschool Mornings

Yesterday, Aidyn and I had a lovely homeschool morning. Because we have been talking about St. Patrick's Day coming up, I broke out our decorations and let him have at them. He tried on the shamrock antennae and Irish hat and ran around the house. We even did our tablework decorated for St. Patrick's Day.

Aidyn did a quick run-through of the alphabet song, we talked about some letters, and then we did our artist study for the first time. I checked out a children's art book that focuses on Vincent Van Gogh. Yesterday morning, I selected a page for us to look at, which happened to be his "Pear Tree in Blossom" painting. Armed with his sketchpad, I asked him to look at the picture and tell me his thoughts. Every observation I wrote down. He said many interesting things and made careful observations. For example, he said that the pear tree had no leaves on it, only flowers, so it must be springtime in the picture. This is an exercise that I would like to make a habit. Eventually I would like him to even sketch the painting himself on his sketchpad and write his own observations. But this is a good way for him to become familiar with later exercises.

After we finished the art observation, Aidyn and I played with his tangram pieces which is an assortment of right triangles of differing sizes, squares, and parallelograms (we have more than the usual 7 pieces). I am using this particular set as an introduction to mathematics, geometry, and tangible puzzles. It is an excellent way for him to learn his shapes and how to manipulate these shapes to make pictures or other shapes. When we played with them, there were no set rules; we simply messed around with them. He ended up joining two triangles to make a square, and upon flipping it around, he said that he made a diamond and a kite. We made pictures with the pieces also. For example, I made a rocket ship and Aidyn made two houses with roofs. We pretended that my rocket ship was sailing over his houses. I am hoping that this kind of math play encourages Aidyn to like math more than tolerate it.

We have also been filling our home with Johannes Brahms. He is actually on an assortment CD, so we've also revisited Mozart and Bach. Listening to classical music these last months has brought a certain calmness and tranquility to our home, and I love that Aidyn is getting samplings of some of the finest composers. Later when we do more in-depth studies of them, he'll already be familiar with their music.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Poignant Books and Computer Games

Aidyn and I have been very sick this week. Although it has been difficult to fit activities in, we've tried our best. The other night, Aidyn and I took in a slew of heartwarming books. I had actually gone to the library without a pre-decided theme or list of books, and searched for some of my childhood favorites. I uncovered The Little House, Ten Apples Up on Top, Kellogg's version of Jack and the Beanstalk, I'll Teach my Dog 100 Words, and Go, Dog. Go!

Aidyn and I, sniffly-nosed, read these books together and talked about them. He had such poignant questions and observations about The Little House, a story about a strong, pink house built in the countryside who witnessed the rapid revolution of industry, motor cars, subways, tenement buildings, smoke, and unhappiness.

After reading Jack and the Beanstalk, I asked Aidyn, "so who do you think the 'bad' guy in the story was?"

Immediately (as most folks do), he replied, "The ogre. He was mean."

We then talked about other characters and their actions. I mentioned that Jack stole things from the ogre and took more than he needed. I asked him now, "who is the 'bad' guy?"

He had to think about this for a while. He recognizes that Jack did bad things, but he is set on the ogre being the 'bad' guy. He's much too young to explain this to (the negative connotations of the ogre's words, the heavy phonetic sounds, etc.), but one day we will revisit it and have quite a debate!

This week, we have also worked on Aidyn's computer skills. Through, we played several games that required the use of the mouse and arrow keys. After some practice, Aidyn became pretty adept at the task required. He even learned how to click on an image and drag it to a desired spot.

We fortunately stumbled on and played many matching games. When he completed the medium stage, he was awarded a Silverstein picture, which we promptly printed out.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

YouTube Edu.

Despite us both being ill, Aidyn and I have been able to sneak in some learning time. Today we learned it YouTube style! Because we've been talking about the soon-to-be arriving season of spring, we watched several videos showing animals hatching from eggs. We viewed baby ducks, chicks, caterpillars, and even lizards being born. We also watched videos of the caterpillar-to-butterfly process to remind Aidyn about what we did last year.

In the next few days, I will be ordering caterpillars to raise and watch as they form chrysalises and emerge as butterflies. This simple yet sweet project has become a tradition in our household, and I see it as a signal of spring!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Storytime with Colds

For the last few days, Aidyn and I have been slammed by a cold. We're coughing, moaning, and generally feeling icky. However, the downtime has afforded us the opportunity to read books together.

Yesterday we cuddled on the couch and flew through a stack of wonderful books. We read Bunny Party by Rosemary Wells (Aidyn adores the Max and Ruby stories). Afterward we read The Story of Babar, a tale of an elephant who becomes king. Then we read and laughed to Kipper (Aidyn also adores this character). We finished off the reading session with Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McClosky. Aidyn and I both love his story, Blueberries for Sal, so I figured we couldn't go wrong with Ducklings. All were adorable stories shared in an adorable way. : )

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Homeschool Hike--Caswell and the Stanislaus River

Early this afternoon, Aidyn and I took a quick trip to Caswell Memorial State Park to enjoy the sun with a nature hike. Armed with a new sketchpad and colored pencils, we explored the area. We stopped to listen to birds, watched squirrels skit around the tree branches, and inhaled the fresh foresty aroma.

After taking a new trail, we discovered a small beach where we plucked sticks from the ground and tossed them in the river. We talked about currents as we watched the sticks sail down the river. We sunk our fingers in the sand and dipped our hands in the icy water. Planting ourselves on the sand-hill, we doodled in our nature journal. I wrote down the cute observations Aidyn was making and he drew his representation of our view of the Stanislaus River. We also ran our hands down the bumpy trunks of trees and talked about bark, branches, and how trees start out as little seeds.

I'm definitely happy to welcome back warm, comfortable weather!

Forgot to Mention!

Supporting my wacky viewpoint that Disneyland can, in fact, be educational, the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln show brought the famous president to life in ways a textbook or myself could never do. Fittingly on Homeschool Day at the park, Aidyn, his grandma, and I browsed through the Disney Gallery and theater where the Lincoln show had finally been restored. We looked at old models, maps, and pictures of the Disneyland park from its inception in 1955 to the present. We even watched a video about the history of Disneyland and learned new things along the way.

Inside the room just outside the theater, we marveled at a grand model of the Capitol, busts of Abe Lincoln, and poignant portraits of events of his presidency and the weight of war. During the show, we gasped at how lifelike Mr. Lincoln appeared and felt like we had just sat in on one of his greatest speeches. According to the pre-show, Disney had exhaustively researched Lincoln, his mannerisms, and his idiosyncrasies. It was amazing.

Although Aidyn knows who Abraham Lincoln is, I understand that he didn't get the full effect of the show, but (fingers crossed) one day he will.

Just outside the theater, after watching the show, we strolled along the hallways. Each wall was dedicated to a certain ideal (Perseverance, Imagination, Courage, etc) and portraits of famous representatives hung on the walls. Walking through, I pointed out familiar faces to Aidyn and explained why they were hung there.

Needless to say, it was quite a neat little experience!

Math, Letters, and the Hope for Good Weather

Despite this being a crazy-busy, post-Disneyland week, we were surprisingly able to get some things done! During the morning, Aidyn and I played with his math manipulatives, practiced counting, adding, subtracting, and grouping by color. We also played with pretend money. Counting pennies, we worked on simple addition and subtraction. After explaining how a dime stands in place for ten pennies, we counted in tens, which was new for Aidyn. Once we counted to 100, I would hand him a pretend dollar. He suggested that he "buy" stuff, so he ran to his room to choose "merchandise" to put up for sale. He decided that he wanted to buy a truck for five dollars, so we counted out dimes in tens until reaching 100, five times. I'm so glad that he loves playing with math manipulatives and is using the pieces and information practically before he sees abstract addition problems.

We also have been working on his letters. Using our blue pocket chart with alphabet cards displayed on it, we sing the alphabet and point to each letter as we go. Then I have him playfully identify random letters. He usually gets 23/26 correct, and the other three he answers after hearing clues like the phonetic sound or what word starts with that letter, for example.

If the weather decides to get less miserable and wet, I would like to take Aidyn on a small hike to observe the trees, new buds, and saplings.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Branches, Bark and Buds

Week of March 1st

Adventures in Nature Theme: Branches, Bark and Buds

Leaps in Confidence

After a much-needed vacation at Disneyland, we're ready to get back to our schedule! Although we were technically having an "Anything Can Happen!" Week, Aidyn made much personal progress while at Disneyland. Finally reaching the required height, Aidyn was able to ride Star Tours with the family. I'll never forget the measurement process with the Cast Member when Aidyn got the big OK. He absolutely loved the ride. During our 3-day stay, we rode Star Tours about six times!

Then, to my great surprise, Aidyn felt compelled to ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, a highly turbulent roller coaster. It was remarkable to see how brave he could be. He even confronted his two old fears: riding Pirates of the Caribbean and watching a Bug's Life Show (both, he said, he wouldn't do again). I feel wonderful because this exemplifies his growing confidence in himself and his abilities and his trust in his parents. This whole thing, much like many aspects of raising a child, was a process. From a tender age, we exposed him to rides (as tame as merry-go-rounds and quarter-rides at the grocery store) while he built his self-confidence and trust. I'm thrilled that we can have fun as a family, and I'm mighty proud of Aidyn.

Sometimes the best lessons don't spring from textbooks but from gradual processes of life experiences. This may not seem like a huge deal, but for me it translates into a sense of confidence and trust that he can apply to anything that stands in his way. These experiences fall under my two main goals for my son: getting an education and having a damn good time. Other than that, not much else matters. : )