Friday, September 26, 2014

This week in immersive learning: Over and Under

This week saw a lot of making, and a lot of gift giving. The kids figured out how to weave hair ties together to make useful cords, and then took it a step further to make the cord into other things, like jewelry - such as this bracelet!

To be fair, it did eventually fall apart, but it lasted quite a while before my normal wear destroyed it.
 Hazel has been working very hard on making realistic depictions of the scenes that play out in her imagination.  This was one of the few works that she did not destroy in a frustrated huff for not being good enough.  She was pretty proud of this one, as she should be...the scene below is of her birthday party. She and Cadence are in the lower right next to me - I'm pregnant with Calliope - and James is on the left (the only figure not in a dress), and the rest are friends.  There are balloons and party poppers and the hearts are there to show that there is a lot of love...I love it.

Displayed on the wall in our bedroom...albeit at Hazel height, but hey, we'll take it.
 This week also saw a lot of magna-tile creations...I found this rocket ship that Hazel made particularly impressive, as it was complete with separate compartments for cargo, passengers, and fuel/supplies. She was really determined to see her vision through, even though it took a surprising number of redesigns to find a way to make her vision manifest.

Kangaroos destined for space!

This week our 4H club hiked Turkey Run, and I discovered (confirmed?) that hiking is one of Calliope's favorite things ever.  She was beside herself with excitement that we were going on a "HIKE!!! We goin' for HIKE!" ...and she saw something approximately every quarter of a foot along the way to stop and marvel at.

Selecting the perfect hiking stick is a vital step in the process.
There were some steep climbs in this one, which presented a new sort of challenge since we haven't done a lot of serious hiking yet - but for little legs this was probably a pretty impressive challenge.  There was a creek along the trail, too, which allowed for some splash-stomp-wading and rock explorations, too.

checking out her submerged feet among the leaves
At the bottom of the trail, the woods opened up to the river, which provided some really awesome views.  We watched for various types of wildlife and examined how the soil was different along the shore than it was just a few feet back into the woods.

Definitely not a sight we would have seen in the big city.
The kids have been doing parkour, as well, and it was kind of neat to look at the environmental aspect of the art form as we traipsed over roots and under branches.  I admit to being ignorant of the environmental aspect of the parkour philosophy until *after* our hike, when Calliope found this book at the studio and became entranced by the photos.

Makes me love it even more!
As the month draws to a close, October looms, bringing along all that it contains, which for us is...a lot.  In addition to halloween and the usual fall festivities, it will also mark the first anniversary of my mother's passing.  I am anticipating this to be a difficult time, so while I want to allow us space to breathe, I also want to find a way to meet it head on. 

My sister and I have long known that we would be creating mom an altar for día de los muertos, so I decided to expand on that to teach the kids a little bit more about the holiday, and the culture around it.  We haven't really delved in that far yet, but we had talked just enough about it that, on our usual run to Michael's for project supplies, they found these paper maché skull masks and asked if they could get them to paint like sugar skulls.  I admit I balked at first because I'd rather make our own paper maché skulls, I ultimately decided it was better to let myself off the hook (we have a full plate of projects) and so I relented.

Scary Callie 
Creepy Hazel
I did not, however, agree to pay for a decorative cardboard hat. Sorry Cadence.

I think the grump face was actually because the hat didn't fit, anyway.
But the main focus this week has been on sewing.  Cadence decided she wanted to get back into sewing -something she had been introduced to in her 4's class at the blue school - and asked me for the necessary supplies.  She was a bit rusty so we had to go over the basics again first, but she quickly took to it and improved quickly.  Once her first pillow was complete, she got out the fabric markers to put the finishing touches on:

Not to be outdone, Hazel wanted to give it a shot, too.  A simple square wouldn't do for Hazel, of course, so she dove in with a heart. (I'm noticing a strong theme in Hazel's work...)

Not sure why the thread didn't show up in the picture...but here is is hard at work.
Cadence at work on her second (or third?) project of the week.
Calliope didn't really sew her own project this time around, but he sisters did make sure to keep her involved by showing her what they were doing at each step along the way.

Cadence shows Callie Hazel's heart while Hazel went to work on her next project.
It wasn't too long before I started finding things like this laying around, even when I wasn't directly involved with project oversight.

Proud hazel shows off her work 
 All in all, this week saw a lot of over, under - sewing, parkour, hiking, weaving, was a pretty full (and pretty great) week.

Calliope shows off her ridiculous core strength and proper shoulder alignment during a hang.

Not Asking

Last night, for whatever reason, I couldn't sleep, and I decided to try doing some work recording voice overs...I couldn't focus on that, either, and ended up recording an improvised song in the middle of the night.  I more or less intentionally left it ambiguous, but in my gut it feels very much about grief, and I post it here, flaws, hokey garage band processing (because my adobe audition wouldn't cooperate) and all, in memory of my mother.  She wouldn't care much about the weak spots, and would probably leave some comment about how I used to sing improvised operas non stop as a kid, and try to remember the lyrics to the "where's my purse" song she inspired me to sing as a four year old.

Miss you, Mama.

Friday, September 19, 2014

This week in immersive learning: Water & Fire

Cadence created this out of a box of recyclables and some masking tape.  She says she's not sure what it is called, but it is a form of mass transportation and it has a built - in telescope.
In addition to the (quite usual but still) ridiculous amount of reading that has taken place this week, we've had the great fortune to spend a great deal of time out-of-doors this week.

Cadence has reread several boxcar children books, tackled a few new novels, and threw in a few non-fiction books (mostly about small fuzzy animals) this week.  Hazel has been improving her reading and writing skills at an incredible rate lately, consistently sounding out words and continuing her months-old habit of passing the time by trying to guess how random words are spelled.  She will sit quietly by herself contemplating it until she thinks she might have it right, and then approach the nearest grown up (or even sometimes Cadence) and ask, for example, "Is this how you spell heart?  H-E-A-R-T, heart?"  (The fact that she has self generated this spelling-bee-style amuses me very much.)

Anyhow, she is now capable of reading well enough to identify certain words on a page, and can sound out simple words like it was no big deal, but staunchly refuses to try reading any book - even easy reading books like Dog is Hot - if they aren't board books.  I think it is simply anxiety - they seem more grown up and therefore more difficult, and she is afraid to purposefully set out to read one of them.  She would much rather catch herself reading them by accident.

Personally, I find her writing almost more impressive than her reading.  Her penmanship is pretty derned remarkable for a 4-year old, and her understanding of word groupings has skyrocketed overnight.

Hazel wrote a letter to Papa, and wrote "Hazel to Papa" on the back. She pointed out a mistaken squiggle after the 'to', and said the heart means "with love".
Cadence still struggles a little in her writing, and it relates back to a quirk we noticed when she was first learning how to read...she found it much easier, at the outset, to read her books upside down.  Though she rarely does so these days, I do still notice her flipping a book over to interpret a particularly difficult word here or there.  It's because of this that I don't find it all that surprising that she still defaults to writing her letters (and numbers) backwards and/or upside down.  Usually gently pointing out the error is more than enough for her to go back and correct it without any issues, but we are still working on consistently writing them with the correct orientation the first time.

To this end we have been doing more writing stuff at home.  Cadence has been labeling stuff all over the house, (because taping the paper to the thing makes writing down the name of the thing ridiculously fun) and has written in her diary (which I don't read) and several letters this week.  I also asked her to write a story with a beginning, middle, and end, and she produced a fun little page long story called The Hunt.  It's about our cat, Puy, going hunting because she was hungry, catching some squirrels, and feeling good after eating them. She even specified that while Puy lived happily ever after, the squirrels...well, they'd been eaten.

Cadence working on a puzzle.  She was pretty upset with me for introducing her to such a frustrating endeavor.
Around all of that, we had some pretty fun outdoor adventures, too.  At our settled exploration with the 4-H club, the weather was just right for some good river stomping.  A whole gaggle of kids ranging from roughly 1 to roughly 10 worked together to find as many clam shells as they could in & around the shoreline.  By the time the bucket owner's mom called her home and the endeavor was ended, they had filled the thing about halfway - and it wasn't a small bucket. After most everyone else had left, these three found walking sticks and went for a wet, in-the-water 'hike'.

One of the older kids caught some fish with a bucket and brought it over to show the younger kids 

Shell gatherers at work

close up of the shells after they dumped them out of the bucket


Also this week, we attended a block party and got to meet a ton of local families.  The neighborhood kids all bonded in the bounce-house while the grown ups chatted around tables full of homemade goodies, and once the sun went down (and the truck took the bounce house away) everyone gathered for a little bon fire in the street.  Someone broke out some sparklers and small fireworks, and the kids had a blast exploring the brief, volatile nature of the flames.

Hazel manages to look serene even while bouncing.

Callie Bounces! and Cadence does her best not to land on her new friend...


Not bad for a week that also saw the first illness of the new academic year - a nasty head cold that hit hard and fast, which the kids have pretty much beaten at this point, but my poor asthmatic lungs always take weeks to recover following respiratory bugs.

Here's to another busy week!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

We question our existence, our anger, our everything

So many poetic words burn through her head as she frantically looses the flood of feeling that she expertly dodges during the torrent of the day, but now the gates are down and the raging force is free, leaving her staring into oblivion without an understanding of the power of her words, her fingers fly across the keyboard but can't touch even a drop of the depth of the feeling that was dwelling in the hollow of her chest just moments ago when she let the sound keen, the faraway unimaginable depths momentarily connected to a sticky spot in her lungs where breath wasn't yet born but was destined to  carry the weight of connection, rejection, heartache, love and wonder, and yet even that is but a drop of the arch of what IS and there is no way her fingers can even begin to trace the line left behind by the shadow of the thing that she is chasing, but she isn't chasing anything, just feeling, just trying to stop doing and just be, just being, just living, just breathing just...

Friday, September 12, 2014

This week in immersive learning: Picnics Galore

Calliope exploring the dynamics of a water balloon 
This was a busy week for the local homeschooling community, as we 'kick-off' the academic year with not one, but TWO amazing "not-back-to-school" picnics.

I asked her to smile. (check out the boxes in the background-curriculum swap!)
The name sounds kinda satire-y, which is somewhat intentional...especially amongst the unschooling crowd.  We don't have formal summer vacations, since our educational philosophy becomes a sort of way of life for the family and there isn't really anything to take a break from (SIDE RANT: I also really like this aspect of our chosen path because it doesn't set up false expectation of guaranteed unlimited free time every summer before saddling them with real world jobs where you get two weeks off per year, if you're lucky), but it is still nice to recognize the rite of a new year beginning.  Fall also marks the time when we can resume group field trips and classes which often get put on hold during the time when public schools are out.  Many organizations don't offer school discounts during these times, and many homeschoolers choose to avoid popular destinations while the public school kids will be there - we can go anytime, but they can't, so let them have at it while they can and we'll take our turn when school is back in session - it reduces crowds for everyone involved.
Cadie climbs

Happy Hazel at play 


Hazel takes Callie on an adventure!

Failed crowd shot.  too many people spread out to far to really get a good picture of how well attended these things were.

So anyway, these picnics were a great opportunity to reconnect with folks who we haven't seen in a while, to introduce new families, and chat about classes and events we may want to tackle during the coming year.  Everyone gathers in the playground with tons of food and curriculum materials to swap and share, and it is great fun.  We came away with a whole bunch of new books (oi, we have a book problem in our house - despite having given away a bunch at the picnics!), GLITTER (much to James' chagrin), paper for handwriting practice, anatomical models, puzzles, activity booklets, patterns, and even a couple new dresses for our ever-growing seven year old.  Oh - and tap shoes.

Obviously we had great fun exploring all of our new materials...and then I got to post this to Facebook: "The dark side to homeschooling: Scored some glitter at the not-back-to-school picnic & swap this afternoon, which Cadence quickly paired with her knowledge of her father's disdain for the stuff and the fact that we have been discussing pranks lately to devise her very own: She glitter bombed his workstation. Her attempt at a good and harmless prank would have been successful had she thought to move the keyboard first."

Last tax court softball game of the season!

Also this week, we received a lovely gift from my friend Tim, who, learning of the major sunburns we brought home with us from our trip to California, mailed us an Aloe plant.  The company that sent it included a second succulent as a bonus, but neither one was potted.  So, we got to get our hands dirty (literally!) creating a new home for our newest living members of the household.

Cleaning out the pot
Filling the pot 3/4 full of specially mixed soil
Finished happy(er) plants!

THANK YOU SOO MUCH! To Tim for the generous gift, and of course to all the wonderful families that make up our homeschooling community.  Some of the most giving folks you will ever meet-I am glad to be a part of it!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A typical conversation with my 22 month old...

Calliope (22 months):  Mama, I'm all ready for bed!
Me (her mother): No you're not, you still need to wash your hands, you have pretzel on your head, and you're naked except for some tap shoes.
Calli:  Let's see what baba thinks.
           (exits, tapping and clacking as she goes, shouting):
          Baba, I'm all ready for bed!

Calliope and Turtle

Friday, September 5, 2014

An Oceanic Kick-Off to 2nd Grade

Me & my three incredible kids wiggling our toes in the pacific.
Most kids in our area headed back to school this past week, following up Labor day with a return to home and routine.  As for us?  We kicked off our academic year in style, too, but we opted not to wait until after the holiday, and we traveled to the opposite coast to do it.  Welcome to second grade/pre-K, let's jump into some oceanography! (and then the Pacific Ocean itself.)

While visiting our friend Cat in Santa Barbara, she took us to a wharf not far from her home which featured, among other things, a little sea center.  It was tiny, but very informative, and perfect for our little clan.  It housed a mini-aquarium premised on the idea that all the creatures you could learn about in the center could be found by just exploring the waters below the wharf and along the adjacent beach.

The sharks we were able to touch

While I generally dislike petting zoo situations, I admit it was really amazing to see the kids begin to appreciate the sharks they were able to gently stroke on a much more real level - a step away from "agh! shark! dangerous!" and more toward it being a real, living being...and I learned for myself that stroked in one direction they feel quite smooth, but going in the opposite direction, it feels quite spiney. 

One of the coolest things we got to see during this trip was SHARK EGGS.  They were breeding these sharks in-house, and had the eggs on display as well.  It was really amazing to see the tiny sharks wriggling about in the eggs-and then seeing how the older fetuses were folded in on themselves, about ready to burst free.
Shark Eggs
There was tons of awesome stuff there - urchins, sea stars, giant snails, of course mussels...they had a wheel of fortune type deal to see if you as a fish would survive to (and through) adulthood. (spoiler:  the chances weren't good.)  And they had a (somewhat creepy) dolphin-a-la body worlds on display, with some innards moved out and it's infant partially in the womb...very interesting from an anatomically educational standpoint, but somewhat gruesome.

They also had a big, dark room with a bunch of black-lit jellyfish (and friends!) in it, which was, of course, beautiful.

Hazel gazes at some radiant creatures
But the most thrilling part of the trip for the kids was our visit to the hands-on oceanography center at the back of the building.  There, they had a big hole cut in the floor that was open to the sea below, and they had all sorts of equipment - and docents - on hand.  They explained to us how each test worked, and then guided us through performing several experiments ourselves.  We measured water clarity, pulled up crab traps, and collected water samples and samples of sediment from the ocean floor.

James helps Hazel see over the edge, down into the water below
Afterwards, we sifted through the sediment to see what it was made up of.  we found many shards of shells and a few creatures mixed in with the sand. Then, we took petri dishes with some of our findings over to a video microscope for closer inspection.

Hazel and Calliope sifting through a sediment sample
Cat looks at some live creatures on the large scope while Cadence and James check out some shell shards on the small one 

We also conducted a series of experiments on our water samples to check the Ph levels, the salinity of the water, and of course, temperature.
James assists Hazel pour water into the meter
The kids had great fun, and were very excited to get to use some real scientific equipment.  It was especially fun to take what we learned with us, and get to do some further exploration the next day, at the beach!  The kids were on the lookout for creatures - and other features - of the california coast habitat.  This photo has a picture of a pretty big sand crab if you look closely enough...they burrow super fast and snapping a pic was a bit of a challenge.  There were SO MANY (as the kids would exclaim) of the little tiny ones, but they darted away far too quickly...this guy was practically lumbering by comparison.

Sand crab in a bucket. if you look reeeeeaaaaally close, you may see at least one teensy one, too.
Hazel was not at all a fan of the kelp...her disdain for it reminded me of how much I used to despise the sensation of it wrapping around my ankles as a kid...Can't say I blame her for going out of her way to avoid it. She busied herself making sand castles and hunting for rocks that looked like seashells.

Hazel gathering materials for her creations 

Cadence was far less intimidated, and she and James ventured farther down the beach in search of tide pools among the rocks.  They kept getting distracted when she would try to dowse him with her bucket, though.


I am hoping that all the fun exploration we did this week will set the pace for an academic year full of the same.  We hit the ground running this week, and kept it up despite traveling home and the jet lag, attending a class about bats at a nearby nature center where we got to see some wild bats and talk about their importance to our ecosystem (among other things).  Here we go, 2nd grade, we're pleased to meet ya.