Friday, February 29, 2008

workshop report...

Sigh... I have to admit defeat on this one. This was the workshop I referred to earlier in the week with my post about "it doesn't hurt to ask". Apparently, I need to ask more questions.

The workshop was titled Navigating the Underground Railroad... so silly me, I assumed that this would be an educational workshop on the history of the Underground Railroad. Ummm... no... it was a two hour workshop on diversity and accepting others (with a little section on African American inventors). Which is a great message but it was not what I expected from the workshop. The people that ran it put a huge amount of effort into the planning and running of the workshop... it just wasn't what the title said it was... if you know what I mean.

That said... Alex and Clara seemed to enjoy it.

Here they are working on their first project...

a diversity flower... showing all of the different colors that come together to make a flower...

(they were supposed to match their skin tone as closely as they could to color their petals which they passed out to other members of the workshop... as you can tell... they were short on markers so some kids got a little creative with their colors)

Next they made a nap sack to take on their journey and keep all of their papers in....

This really was a cute idea. It was just a flat shopping bag with holes punched around the edges. The kids laced yarn through the holes, starting at the bottom middle. Then they tied the ends back down to the corners to make backpack straps.

After this they traveled to several different rooms in the building to hear different story books or play games. Like I said, my two seemed to enjoy it but for the adults it wasn't what we thought it would be about and some of the information was just plain confusing.

Oh well... live and learn!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

"schoolish" school

How's that for a title? LOL!

We usually don't do a lot of worksheets, just because as homeschoolers with a class size of two students... we tend to answer questions orally. Well, the teachers guides that came with the set of books we checked out from the Nature Museum have worksheets you can photocopy in the back. I asked the kids if they were interested in doing them and they enthusiastically began jumping up and down! So, for each book we read, I hand them the worksheets that go with it to work on. I'm letting them work together and without my help (although I am within earshot so I can hear to make sure that Alex isn't completely taking over and doing it all). They love doing them!

Here are just a few that we've done so far....

We've only got a couple more books to go before we finish the set. I guess I'll be checking another bag out when I return this one.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

it doesn't hurt to ask

That's my new homeschooling mantra! LOL!

Well... seriously, what's the worst that could happen? They could say "no", right? But that's not too bad... especially when you consider that part of the time they say "yes".

Here's what we learned by asking this week (well... one thing I asked about a few weeks ago but it is happening this week).

1. Monday at the Notebaert Nature Museum we learned by asking that homeschoolers are welcome in the Teacher Resource Room. We also learned that we are welcome to materials on their freebie shelf and we are able to check out their theme bags and boxes. The boxes look super cool... but I didn't feel like dragging one home on the bus that day. So instead I checked out a literature theme bag...
filled with this....
They have a bunch of different themes on several different reading levels.

2. Yesterday at the Art Institute, by asking in the Teacher Resource Center, I got an Educator's Pass that gives me free general admission to the museum.

3. And finally, a few weeks ago I got an email newsletter from a business here in Chicago. They were running an educational workshop on a Saturday. I asked if they would consider running an additional workshop during the week for our homeschool group. They said "yes" and we go on Friday to see their presentation and participate in the activities they've lined up.

Have you asked for any cool homeschool stuff?

a little bit of art...

... in the afternoon.

Yesterday we decided to have a little art appreciation adventure with another family in our homeschool group. We were to meet by the bean (actually called Cloud Gate) in Millennium Park.

On our way to meet them, we decided to walk down the Chase Promenade instead of walking on the sidewalk along Michigan Avenue. It was walking down this promenade that we discovered the Mark di Suvero sculptures. The kids thought the sculpture Yoga was cool even if it showered us with wet melty snow as it turned in the wind. Their favorite had to be Shang, which had a swing they could play on...

(the red sculpture behind Shang is called Rust Angel)

After this short diversion, we met up with our friends and saw what we made the trip for... Paintings Below Zero by Gordon Halloran...

The kids thought it was cool.... but only studied it briefly before moving on to other things.

After warming up at a coffee shop, we decided to head to the Art Institute since it has free admission for the month of February and was close by.

We went straight downstairs to the kids area, miniatures room, touch gallery and children's library and stayed until it closed at 5pm.

Here are some pictures of Alex and Clara doing brass rubbings....

We had a great day full of unexpected adventures... but boy were we tired when we got home!

Friday, February 22, 2008


Jessica asked me about StartWrite, so I thought I would just answer it here as a blog post.

First of all... let me just say that I just bought this program this school year but I wish I would have purchased it two years ago when I first started school with Alex. It would have saved us a lot of frustration with handwriting.

Overview: StartWrite is a computer program (mac or pc) that allows you to create your own handwriting worksheets. It includes a nice selection of handwriting fonts to choose from. It can include arrows on the letters to show which way and order to make the strokes and it can include the lines like regular handwriting paper. Lots of customizing options.

Now... this doesn't sound terribly exciting, does it? Well... it really is! See, Alex HATED handwriting and would cry when assigned handwriting worksheets. I finally wimped out and let him go it alone.... but it made me crazy that his handwriting was so bad. Now, enter Clara, who had major trouble forming letters. Due to her issues, we decided to go with Handwriting Without Tears for her.... but it is not your typical handwriting font so there were no additional worksheets for it (like all of those printables on the internet).

Then finally this year I broke down and ordered StartWrite. What a difference it has made! Alex's handwriting is finally becoming somewhat presentable (well... at least he's not starting his b's and e's at the bottom anymore... lol). The main reason why is that he doesn't hate handwriting assignments anymore... in fact he looks forward to them! Alex loves jokes and riddles, so I type out the joke using StartWrite, leaving a blank line for the answer (I also leave some open space at the bottom of the page). I started with the arrows, but now I don't have to use them. He traces the joke neatly, and then guesses at the answer to the joke/riddle. I give him the answer which he writes neatly on his own on the blank line. He uses the space at the bottom to illustrate the joke. After that we three hole punch it and put it in binder which is his own personal joke book! We went from crying over handwriting assignments to begging to do them.... what a great change!

For Clara we just do the typical stuff since she likes her handwriting workbooks. But we use StartWrite any time she wants to write something more. For example, I typed out all of the Thank You notes from her birthday party for her to "write". She "writes" letters to the grandparents too. Can you believe that for Alex I hand dotted all of the letters when he wanted to write something? What was I thinking?

And like I posted yesterday, I will use StartWrite to type up my own worksheets for the kids. I can use their own fonts (Alex just uses the basic manuscript font and Clara uses Handwriting Without Tears) and customize the font size to their level as well. I sneak in more handwriting practice this way since I have them trace the question before answering it. And instead of just a blank line to answer like a typical worksheet, the ones I make have the three lines.

The options with StartWrite seem to be endless. Besides jokes, thank you notes, letters and worksheets, you could also do journal pages or text for a book they want to write. I seem to find a new use for it all of the time.

Okay... I've rambled on enough about it! LOL! If you use StartWrite and have any cool ideas that you have used it for, I would love to know!

(oh... totally unrelated... but Jessica, Homeschoolestore is an online store where everything is in a downloadable format. I get lapbooks from them. They also have great weekly freebies... so sign up for their newsletter.)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

we have mushers! :-)

It took us several days of research (mostly looking for the cutest dogs... I must admit) but we have finally picked our mushers to follow during this year's Iditarod. We picked three but officially we have one musher for our family that we listed on the eIditarod site.

Here are the kids with their info sheet about our musher, Hugh Neff...

Here's Alex with his sheet about his musher, Gerry Willomitzer...
And finally, Clara with her sheet about her musher, Jennifer Freking....
(how do you like Clara's vacant stare in this photo? lol!)

I found some musher bio sheets on the internet but they weren't geared for current mushers. It had places to list death information and other stuff that didn't apply. It became too much to modify so I just typed up a quick sheet using StartWrite so they would trace the questions and have blanks to fill in their answers which they found on the bio pages I linked to above and had printed out for them (whew... that was quite the run-on sentence).

With our musher bios complete... we sat down to read...
L is for Last Frontier: An Alaska Alphabet

We had checked it out at the library a few weeks ago and had never read it, so we decided today was as good a day as any! We've read a few of the other books from this series and enjoyed them. This was a nice light overview of the state with more details in the margins for when we wanted to know more.

We also did a little more work on our Sled Dog Lapbook that we had gotten from Homeschoolestore. Today we learned about the actual sled team and the different positions within the team. I thought our sled team mobile from a few weeks ago was just for fun... but today it was a handy visual aid! We were able to identify most of the positions from our little team. The kids have also added a little lego musher on the sled. :-)

We're getting very excited about the beginning of the race!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

shameless copy and paste job...

... from my other blog, but I thought it applied here as well.

Here's what the kids and I were watching tonight...
Yep... it's Lunar Eclipse night! This is one of those wonderful things about having kids and homeschooling (not that you have to have/do those two things to enjoy this sort of stuff... but without them, in combination, I am completely oblivious to this stuff). I don't believe I have EVER seen a lunar eclipse before. I didn't know about it until one of our homeschool friends emailed me about it this morning. We looked it up in our books and did a little online research too. Then after dinner, the stalking of the moon began. Every 15 minutes or so we would don our coats and trek down the block a bit to a break in the trees. I would have felt too silly to do this on my own, there's something about having kids with you that helps you look not quite so insane... LOL!

Additional bonus rambling not on other post... LOL!

You should have seen how absolutely crazy we looked! Me and two kids out after 9pm standing on the sidewalk... Clara had her yellow binoculars and Alex had this big long yellow plastic telescope that wouldn't focus worth a darn! Needless to say, people avoided making eye contact with us! LOL!

Oh... the things we do in the name of homeschooling! :-)

i've been shopping again

This bike is the second to the last machine for the kids to build from their K'nex Simple Machines: Gears set. So, it was time to order a new set.... and it seems wasteful to order just one thing so I added a few other things to my cart and now here is what I have coming from the wonderfully fabulous Chicago Yellow Pages sized Rainbow Resource catalog (seriously, have you seen this catalog? it's HUGE!):

K'nex Simple Machines: Wheels, Axles and Inclined Planes
The Teacher's Guide to go with it
Apologia - Exploring Creation with Botany (to go along with the garden we're planning)
Another math workbook for Clara
Wikki Stix Activity Kit
Wikki Stix One-of-a-Kind Creatables Manual

Oh... and then a random pack of extra Wikki Stix. Not sure what compelled me to buy so many Wikki Stix items but I think it had something to do with the guilt of buying another K'nex kit for Alex and needing to find something fun that was more Clara centered.

I can't wait for the box to get here! :-)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

catching up on some math books

I'm way behind on these! Here are a few of the ones we picked up at the library a couple of weeks ago...

Numblers by Suse MacDonald and Bill Oakes
This one appears to be out of print but if you love illustrations that you and your kids can really interact with, this is a good book to look for. I will start by saying that it is another book that only goes to 10... but I'm getting over that... sigh. Each page is a different number and on the number page it shows the number morphing into an element that is part of the illustration on the right hand page. For example: the four morphs into a sail on a boat and on the right hand page, four "4's" make up the illustration of the boat. Oooooh.... this could be a cool creative project for Clara!! I might have to try it!
Ten Black Dots by Donald Crews
A simple 1-10 counting book with great bold illustrations.
One is a Snail by April Pulley Sayre and Jeff Sayre
This is a really fun book! And of course I love the fact that it goes beyond the number 10. Not only does it go beyond ten but it shows you different ways to add up to certain numbers. For example: 40 is four (ten legged) crabs OR ten (four legged) dogs. Clara liked seeing the different adding combinations and Alex saw the connection with multiplication. A lot can be done with this book on multiple grade levels.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

the creative quest :-)

Last week I had the good fortune to attend the winter trade show of the Craft and Hobby Association. I was there with Memory Makers Magazine and Deann of DiScTalkRadio.

Anyway... the last day of the show was a slow day for me... all of my obligations were done. And it was a slow day on the trade show floor... so I wandered a bit out my scrapbooking comfort zone and started looking at the other craft sections (Joyce, I peeked at some quilting stuff too). At some point I ended up in the Crayola booth and I started chatting with one the men who was working in the booth. It turned out to be a great conversation. He is an art professor at a college so I asked him all kinds of questions on how to integrate more art into our homeschool day. He gave me some great ideas of things he used with his classes and how he adapted them for his grandchildren.

The one that struck me to most was his take on an artist study. He said that in his class last term, he ordered one pink lawn flamingo for each student. They were to study their favorite artist and decorate/adorn/whatever that flamingo to reflect something about that artist's style. He told me about the Jackson Pollock inspired flamingo that his grandchildren did. (Random note: while googling Jackson Pollock I came across this... not sure what this site is but it was kind of fun.)

What a fun way to add some excitement to an artist study for kids! Who knows, I might even order a couple of lawn flamingos (they might look nice in Alex's garden he wants to do for the garden walk... LOL!). His class this semester is doing this project using old shoes, so he suggesting saving some old shoes for future projects... he also suggested that old toys and dolls could be fun as well.

I'm really getting excited about the possibilities of this approach to art appreciation studies! He really stressed nurturing creativity now and the technical stuff can come later. I think I can do that! LOL!

If anyone out there does this too... leave me a note! I would love to hear how your project turned out!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

a plea for help!

This evening I fly to California for a convention and won't be back until Thursday night. So this will be my last post for a while. I figured what better time to make a plea for help! LOL!

After the brawl over Legos yesterday I came to a realization.... I cater too much to Alex's interests in our homeschooling. Okay... maybe not "too" much, but I do. Perhaps because his is much easier to identify. He loves building and engineering... so it's a no brainer to fill our house with Lego and K'nex science kits (simple machines). He loves them and they have educational value! lol!

Clara enjoys legos and is very enthused to build with Alex... at first. But her attention wanes, while his does not... which is when the brawl developed.

Okay... so now its time to figure out what Clara's thing is. The girl loves art. I would not say that she's terribly "artistic" but she is extremely creative. She's a rule breaker with her projects... she's not big on doing it the way it's supposed to be done... but doing it the way she envisions it.

We encourage her free form projects... she has bins and bins of art/craft supplies that she has full access to. She creates projects for us nearly daily.

Now... how do I turn this creative energy into something a little more educational? I don't want to take away her free art time, just like I wouldn't want to take away Alex's free lego building time, but how do I turn this creative streak of hers into school projects that will get her as excited as the Lego kits get Alex? Are there any science based art kits? LOL! I'm at a loss here!

I would love any suggestions that you might have (Joyce... what did you do with K?).

Thank you!!!

ETA: I have the comments set to where I have to moderate them (due to some spam a couple of weeks ago) so if your comment doesn't show up immediately, its because I may not have computer access yet to accept them. :-)

Friday, February 8, 2008


Thank goodness it's Friday! Except for that means I leave tomorrow on a trip and have to get my act together and type out homeschooling instructions for my in-laws since they'll be here with the kids next week. Our schedule isn't that difficult to put down on paper... I'm just procrastinating! :-)

We had a good morning with no fighting at the table while we did our book work. The kids were extremely motivated to get along because as soon as their schoolwork was done they could get the lego kit back out again.

After our seat work was done, we worked on our Iditarod stuff a little. In the book, Dashing through the Snow, that we read a while back there was a list of what the Junior Iditarod mushers carried on their sleds. So, today we decided to pack our sled for the Iditarod. Not very fancy and not terribly accurate, but the kids had fun with it....
I had saved the packet of ads from last Sunday's paper for this project... but perhaps the most helpful publication for this project was the LLBean winter catalog (which I found by cleaning out a bin of Christmas catalogs I had forgotten all about). They got the basic idea, although I'm sure some of these things are very far from the actual equipment that would be used.
Like my fancy sled drawing? LOL!

After this they got back to their lego kit. We took a break to run some errands. And then they went back to the lego kit again... only for a brawl to break out a short time later which resulted in the legos being packed up for a while... sigh.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

the school day that would never end

.... and I mean that in a good way! :-)

Today we opened the magical box of Legos that arrived in our house several months ago. This fall we decided that we would sign up for the Junior First Lego League as a family. Jeff wanted to be involved too so we decided to work on it on the weekends. But then Clara got a part in the Nutcracker and her Saturdays were spent at the dance studio. The kit just got shoved aside. Then we found out that we had already missed the registration for the expo... which made it even less of a priority to start.

Well... I'm taking a more relaxed approach to our afternoons lately.... so I asked the kids what they wanted to do. They originally asked to do the K'nex Simple Machines set but then Alex very timidly asked if we couldn't open the JFLL kit. Well... why not?

I have to say that it is an amazing kit! At least 12 different projects with 3 or 4 variations for each project. My only problem with it is that it doesn't have the detailed teachers' guide like the K'nex does but I think we did okay. They started building the projects at 1:30pm and continued to build and experiment until 8:25 (they had to be showered and in bed by 8:30.... I'm thinking they only got wet... I'm not sure they had time to actually use soap and!). They only briefly stopped to eat dinner. With all of that building and experimenting they still have only made it to project 6. After we get through all of the building, I think we might move on to doing the actual BIG project we were supposed to have done for the expo.

I think this was project #2... building a fishing rod and a lego fish to catch...

This was the first build... after this they added more weight to the fish and a different pulley system to the rod.

The projects are set up in a way that work really well for my kids. Each project as a part A and a part B (in separate instruction books) so each child has a piece to build and then in the back of part B they join their sections together. A typical issue for us is that Alex wants to do all of the building, leaving Clara without anything to do. This time she got to do her fair share of building.

I love, love, love days like this (however, I am choosing to ignore the fact that they both spent the morning doing their bookwork in their rooms since they couldn't stop bickering at the table... sigh).

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

the field museum

The Field Museum offers free admission for the entire month of February so today we decided to take advantage of this.

I only had one section that we *had* to cover today, that was the "Arctic People" section to go along with our study of the Iditarod. Regardless of how I prepped them, the kids were expecting to see exhibits on the dogs, sleds and the race itself.... not a great big exhibit about the native people of that region. We did learn more about the people and the conditions in which they lived and saw the reasons why traveling by sled dog would be a good mode of transportation.

Here the kids are reading about the sleds....
... we learned that the basket sled came to be used only after Europeans came into that area.

An Eskimo dog...
An Eskimo dog on top of a traditional house of that region...
Some clothing....

Photos were tough... it was a very dimly lit room and the lights in the display cases were on motion sensors. So, if I took too long fiddling with settings, the lights shut off and I would have to wave my arms around to re-light the lights and then start all over again.

In addition to the Arctic People section, we also covered most of Africa, the What is an Animal section and, of course, Egypt (a definite favorite with Alex and Clara). We had a really nice time, but we were all tired. So, we didn't end up staying all that long... maybe 3 and a half hours or so. That's the beauty of living in the city and the fact that admission is free right now. We could go home, guilt-free, knowing that we could go back again without any trouble.