Friday, March 29, 2013

Adventureland: Journeying through the Jungle Cruise

Adventureland at Disneyland is my favorite themed land. Now that Aidyn has ventured through the Temple of the Forbidden Eye and earned his own Indiana Jones hat, I'm pretty sure it might be his favorite, too. Adventureland captures the exotic and lustrous locales of the world. The tramp steamers of the Jungle Cruise take guests along major rivers of the world, including the Nile and the Amazon. While floating down the blue-green waters and listening to the wacky Jungle Cruise skipper, guests can spy animals from the rainforest, like Bengal tigers and gorillas, and animals from the African savanna, like zebras and lions.

This week, we finished up our time in Adventureland, by learning about different animal biomes presented in the Jungle Cruise.


The Rainforest

We read The Umbrella by one of our favorite authors, Jan Brett. The Umbrella follows a young boy who explores the rainforest in search of its beautiful animals, but the animals have a different agenda.

Jan Brett is a talented author and artist and even has a website chock full of activities, coloring pages and more (link will direct you to her rainforest mural activity).

We also read Good Morning, Gorillas (Magic Tree House #26), in which Jack and Annie are transported to an African rainforest where they meet a family of gorillas.


 There are many more wonderful stories about the rainforest:

1. My Brother Needs a Boa by Anne Weston
2. The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry
3. Way Up High in a Tall Green Tree by Jan Peck
4. Looking for Jaguar and Other Rainforest Poems by Susan Katz

If you're in need of more rainforest books, visit

The African Savanna

We read Here Is the African Savanna by Madeline Dunphy. It has a This-is-the-House-that-Jack built style of writing but beautifully presents animal life in the African savanna. The colors were also a great contrast to the rainforest books.

We also flipped through his Childcraft: Friends in the Wild book and learned more about the geography and climate of both the African savanna and the rainforest.


After reading the rainforest picture books, he painted the rainforest on green construction paper (no pictures, sorry!). He also colored rainforest animals from Enchanted Learning. After we read about the savanna, he painted a savanna scene on beige construction paper (he said this was during the dry season) and colored savanna animals from Enchanted Learning.


In addition to his regular math work, he did some Rainforest Math at Enchanted Learning.


From his Childcraft: Friends in the Wild book, we read about the animals of the rainforest that are adapted to live there: the gliders (flying squirrels, flying dragons, paradise tree snakes), the climbers (sloths, jaguars, kinkajous), the swingers (chimpanzees, siamangs, orangatans), and the stickers (chameleons, tree frogs, and geckos).

We watched some videos on YouTube to see exactly how these animals move:

Just for Fun:

During car rides, he watched The Jungle Book and Tarzan and listened to "rainforest music" on Pandora during lessons.

Learning about these different biomes offers so many opportunities that we never do it all, which is probably why we've used this theme thrice since beginning homeschooling when Aidyn was three. I'm sure we'll visit the rainforest and savanna in our studies again!

Now that we've closed the book on Adventureland, we've headed to the primeval world of the dinosaurs!

Mamatography 2013 Week Twelve: Painting, Egg Hunting, and Phonics-Battles

I am taking part in the Mamatography 2013 Challenge with Momma Jorje and Diary of a First Child to take a photo every day of our day-to-day life and post once a week.

We had a very chill week with no big field trips, as we're approaching Aidyn's first foot race in a week or so and saving up for special extras for that trip.

In art class this week, he made a ladybug from a paper-mache balloon project. He was able to take the other half of the paper-mache piece home, where he painted himself a helmet.

Aidyn and his friends had an Easter egg hunt with the other kids in our community.

He substituted some phonics table work with Reading Eggs, by far his favorite phonics program.

He battled with his phonics tiles. On the left, he had beginning sounds and would call them, for example, "Sir tr-" or "Sir st-." On the right, he had ending sounds, like "Sir -ick." He charged them at each other a la Gawain's World style and made dozens of words.

Thank you for stopping by!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Mamatography 2013 Week Eleven: Bowling and Globe-Trotting

I am taking part in the Mamatography 2013 Challenge with Momma Jorje and Diary of a First Child to take a photo every day of our day-to-day life and post once a week.

On Sunday, for a late birthday celebration, we took Aidyn's Grammi Tami bowling and out for lunch and frozen yogurt.

During the week, Aidyn perfected his stars, as a way of rewarding himself for a job well done with math.
We also learned about India by reading books and watching films.

On one school morning, Aidyn asked to make play-dough. I had a whole list of things we already had to do, but I knew I could incorporate reading and math into this play-dough project, so I agreed.

Aidyn read the directions (three times since he made three batches!), measured on his own, and formed the dough by himself.

We started a rainforest unit, which you will hear about very soon!

And Aidyn tried a pomegranate for the first time. : )


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

He Is a Reader! (despite my many failings)

I have been holding out on calling my son "a reader" until I felt like he hit a stride with reading fluently, could pronounce words bigger than c-v-c combos, and could critically engage with the story that is unfolding as he is reading.

He is a reader!

Yes, he still struggles with remembering sight words or that he just read the word "roar" on the previous page, but he is reading!

I hate/love that hindsight is 20/20. On this road to reading, I feel like I made some serious mistakes as well as many loving decisions. We'll start with the terrible first:

1. I had high expectations that he would LOVE the act of reading.
2. I expected that he would learn to read with the same ease that I had with reading.
3. Working through our phonics book felt too much like "school" on too many occasions.
4. I audibly worried about his reading, probably too much.
5. Instead of just answering him when he would ask, "what does this say?" I would encourage him to sound it out himself nearly every time.
6. I talked too much on the Great Importance of Reading and, as a result, pressured him on occasion.
7. I got into a FIAR rut early on, in which I had him label maps and color stupid things because it was related to a FIAR book.
8. I got in the way sometimes of the natural road to reading.

Now that I feel horrible about myself as a parent, let me go over the good choices:

1. I have read to him from the moment he was born, as a loving act, to bond, to lull him to sleep, to share stories with him. We still cuddle up and share books.
2. We have read all sorts of books (and everything counts!): board books, picture books, chapter books, graphic novels, comic books, poetry, non-fiction, horror stories (Goosebumps, for example), etc.

3. I've let him see me enjoy reading and audibly admired his father for reading for fun.
4. We've gone to dozens of library shows and seen magicians, puppeteers, farmers, clowns, etc.

5. We attended library storytelling mornings for tots.
6. We've signed up for summer reading programs at the library every year since he was born.

7. I've made scavenger hunts for him, which he so enjoys.
8. I've patted his back, hugged him, kissed him, congratulated him, supported and waited for him as he has learned to read.
9. I've spent hours scouring YouTube for funny phonics videos that I knew he would love (especially Cliff Hanger videos!).
10. I thought about his love for Legos and helped him "build" words with tiles.

11. We played with words.

12. We live in a book-friendly home. Books spill out from shelves, are stacked on a desk, color the coffee table, and peek out from every imaginable spot.
13. I've kept myself open and tuned in to what engages him, whether it be a kind of book genre, learning style, or learning obstacle.

What I Know Now That I Wish I Knew Then:

  • just enjoy the road to reading and worry MUCH less, if at all.
  • don't push a boring old phonics book.
  • find fun and personalized ways to practice reading.
  • don't air out worries, ask if he "likes reading," or cringe if he just shrugs his shoulders.
Where We Are Going from Here:

My goals are to continue reading to him aloud, from a vast array of genres and subjects. I will read all the fart books and joke books he wants since he clearly enjoys them. On that note, I will keep finding personalized ways for him to learn and allow him to find those things for himself by giving him space, without any nagging worries, to explore and figure himself out. We will continue to play with reading, join summer reading programs and watch those who love to entertain and educate at the library. I will continue to proudly watch him grow and help him discover who he is and what makes him happy.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mamatography 2013 Week Ten: Keeping the Fun Rollin'!

I am taking part in the Mamatography 2013 Challenge with Momma Jorje and Diary of a First Child to take a photo every day of our day-to-day life and post once a week.

Fresh from our Disneyland vacation, we wanted to keep the fun rollin' (literally!). On Sunday, we went bowling.

Aidyn kept working on his short vowel reviews.

He kept the fun swirlin' with a tornado project.

And we visited the Fresno Chaffee Zoo and the Forestiere Underground Gardens, which you can read all about here!

The weather is just starting to warm up here in California, so we're expecting more fun field trips and outings on the horizon!

Adventureland: Indiana Jones and India Unit Study

With the excitement over finally reaching the required height for the Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye ride at Disneyland, Aidyn has been intrigued by the adventurous archaeologist and his harrowing journeys.

He has seen all three of the original Indiana Jones movies: Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Temple of Doom, and The Last Crusade.

*Disclaimer: The Indiana Jones series range from to PG-13 to PG ratings, and some scenes are not "appropriate" for younger viewers;therefore, I make no claims that all children should or could watch them; however, we have always had dialogue with our son about fiction/non-fiction and special effects, and when we provide context to something, Aidyn is usually capable of understanding it well enough to not be afraid/sensitive.*

He loved all three but The Temple of Doom in particular. We began reading the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom chapter book, but the language was a little out of reach for Aidyn, so we switched our unit study to India, the country in which Indy has his adventures in the film. To be fair, the movie could generate some flat stereotypes about India and its people, so I sought to find relatable books and stories from India to introduce us to its character.

(The book Monsoon is upside-down so it looks like Noosnow! Haha!)

The Road to Mumbai by Ruth Jeyaveeran follows two companions, Shoba and her monkey, Fuzzy, as they travel to a wedding in Mumbai. In trying to find the wedding, they pass many inhabitants of India, including a camel named Ismael, a boy named Anil who sells coconut water along the roadside, silent monks, and women in beautiful saris, among others. This story is a sweet presentation of India's rich and colorful culture. Aidyn particularly liked the way the monkey was trying to sneakily discourage everyone from crashing the wedding.

After reading The Road to Mumbai, we found Mumbai on our wall map and traced their journey on the map provided at the back of the book.

Monsoon by Uma Krishnaswami plops readers right into the hot, dusty and windy climate of India as a young girl and her family wait with anticipation for the monsoon rains. Even though she fears the monsoon rains will cause a flood, she eventually understands the importance of both the dry season and the torrential downpour of rain. She learns to have patience, to trust her Nani's experience, and to read the skies for signs of the monsoon. This gorgeously illustrated story is a vivid portrayal of the climate in India, which differs from ours in California.

I was a bit wary at first of reading The Story of Little Black Sambo, a "banned" book, to Aidyn as it has a controversial history, but after picking up this Christopher Bing-illustrated version, with its beautiful and magical artwork, I knew I could not pass it up. We're so glad we didn't! The Story of Little Black Sambo, also known as The Story of Little Babaji, is a fable about a boy who trades his grand pieces of clothing and umbrella to the Bengal tigers who threaten to eat him. Eventually, the tigers, who concern themselves with fighting over which is the grandest for having such clothes, erupt in anger and stubbornness, allowing Sambo to not only escape but to profit from his quick thinking.

After reading the story, we talked about fiction vs. non-fiction and the fanciful elements that make the story magical.

What I loved about the illustrations were the collage-type artwork preceding and following the story. The antique postcards, journals, and maps contain the feel of Adventureland, a piecing together of old relics, maps to adventures, and personal diaries of explorers.

For more factual information about India, we read India (Globe-Trotters Club) and learned about the geography of India (their two major rivers and tall mountain peaks), how India "crashed" into Asia millions of years ago (forming the Himalayas), the modes of transportation in India as well as Ganesh, the Hindu god of wealth and wisdom who keeps travelers safe, family life in India, how they dress, how and when they do school, and how to use our fingers to count the way they do.

 To learn more about the dangerous wildlife, we watched Deadly Dozen: India on Netflix. Here is a clip about Bengal tigers from the same show:

Inspired by the big cats in this episode and the ones illustrated in The Story of Little Black Sambo, we each drew a tiger. Here's Aidyn's:

Aidyn also watched an episode of The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones in which he and his parents visit India and he befriends a kind Indian boy who teaches him to play cricket.

We also did a couple of brainstorms as we learned more and more about India.

Before moving on from India, Aidyn placed their flag on our world map.

 Aidyn also watched one of our favorite short films, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.

And yesterday, as a wonderful capstone to our India unit study, we watched Life of Pi. What a remarkable film. As soon as the credits rolled, Aidyn asked to see it again. Here is a trailer below:

And now we're off to The Jungle Cruise to learn about different animals and their habitats (including the savanna and rainforest biomes). Check back next week!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Field Trip Report: Fresno Chaffee Zoo and Forestiere Underground Gardens

This weekend, we visited the unexpectedly chilly city of Fresno. Usually, Fresno, being splat in the middle of California, has people sweating and donning sunglasses. Despite the cold breeze and threatening rain clouds, we visited the Fresno Chaffee Zoo as well as the amazing Forestiere Underground Gardens.

What is wonderful about this zoo is that it has exceptional viewing areas and observation towers. Here, we were able to observe two elephants having hay for breakfast. We watched them gather hay with their trunks until making a pile, and then they scooped it up and into their mouths.

Experienced, kind and informative docents were sprinkled all over the zoo, ready to talk and share personal insights into the animals. When we visited the orangutans and siamang, a docent told us which one was the mother and which were her children, their names and the meaning behind them, and a bit about orangutans in general.

When we neared the Bengal Tiger exhibit, a docent informed us that she was pacing the fence because she knew that it was almost lunchtime. She and the male tiger had come from San Diego Zoo, and the Chaffee Zoo hoped that the tigers would produce a litter soon.

Again, the viewing area for these African animals was open, expansive, and made us feel super close to these beautiful creatures. Here, we saw the giraffes being fed.

Prairie dogs of North America!

We learned that when giraffes are born, they are already six feet tall! Here, Aidyn stands at just under four feet. He was amazed that he is shorter than a newborn giraffe.

The only thing you gotta watch out for at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo is the random hippo that hungrily emerges from the bark chips to gobble young zoo-goers.

Overall, we had a blast at this zoo. Admission was only $7.00 for adults and children (2-11) and seniors (over 62, I think) were only $3.50. They also have a rotary playground next door as well as a storybook land, both of which we did not go to because the weather turned, but they both seemed sweet and enjoyable.

Before heading home, we visited at the Forestiere Underground Gardens in Fresno. We had stopped at "the best kept secret in Fresno" before, but it was closed. This time, it was open and we promptly signed on for a tour.

It is an historical landmark and, from what I read, was featured on California's Gold with the late Huell Howser.

Here's the basic story:

Baldassare Forestiere, the second oldest son in the family, was denied property by his father (it traditionally going to the first-born son), but Baldassare had a dream of owning a citrus empire. He moved, by himself, to America in the early 1900s, dug tunnels in Boston for his first job, and eventually moved out to California to start his citrus farm. Property in Orange County was too pricey, but there were unbelievable deals in the Central Valley; therefore, he purchased 80 acres of land in Fresno, Ca, and got to work on his lifelong dream.

But, once he ran a shovel into the ground, he struck hardpan soil, a rock-infested soil that his trees would definitely not be able to grow in. Even though he was disappointed, his dream crushed, he tried to make the best of the situation. Once summer arrived, he met with the suffocating 100 degree heat of the summertime and sought a way to escape it.

He dug tunnels. Lots of them.

He made himself a network of underground tunnels in which to live, hide from the heat, and host small gatherings of friends with the hopes of eventually turning the property into a resort. He began experimenting with plants underground, using the soil he had extracted from the uppermost hardpan soil. The hardpan itself he used to build strong walls and ceilings.

What is there now is an intricate tunnel system with beautiful trees reaching for the surface, a cool getaway from the shine and heat of the sun, and relics to this innovative man's 40-year labor of love.

*Disclaimer: All pictures taken are property of Forestiere Underground Gardens and my own personal pictures of the property. They are not used for commercial purposes but rather to report on our field trip.*
Here is Aidyn by an orange tree, above ground (with soil extracted from that hardpan soil), prior to our tour.

Aidyn, his grandma, and I waiting on a bench above ground.

Here is Aidyn in the Trinity Courtyard, below the surface.

Beautiful home-style touches.

Aidyn and Grandma by a citrus tree underground. Every tree has an open ceiling so that it benefits from the heat of the sun without being damaged by the frost of winter.

Aidyn, sitting on a planter, ready to descend into the dark tunnel in the background.

Baldassare even put a bathtub outside!

His bedroom.

A second bed, for guests, presumably.

A gorgeous view of one of the open ceilings. Even though Baldassare was technically underground and enjoying the cooler temperatures, he could still enjoy the sunlight.

Heading out of a tunnel and back to civilization.

While at first I was a bit shocked at the $15 price of admission, the tour was worth every penny. We had a jovial and informative tour guide who was obviously passionate about Baldassare Forestier's story and life's work. Seeing this man's creation and walking through his tunnels is inspiring; it teaches us to be flexible with our dreams and work hard to develop our passion. This little gem is often missed as people coast by on highway 99, with only a small historical landmark sign mentioning its existence. But it is worth the turn off Shaw Avenue and the admission cost.