Thursday, October 30, 2014


Here is my 3 1/2 year old's jack-o-lantern. I carved it tonight - as per her instructions. She helped by scooping out some of the seeds, which I roasted with olive oil and a little sea salt at 350 until the house smelled delicious. She also used her little butter knife to "help." My daughter wanted circle eyes, a nose like her nose, and a mouth like her mouth. This is the best I could do. I must say, this year's jack was so much easier than last year's. Last year, she wanted octagon eyes, a square nose, and a toothy smile. OCTAGON EYES!!! But Mommy did her best. Tonight, Jack was too wet to put a candle in, so I solved the problem by putting a little flashlight in a Ziplock Baggie. And now, I'm going into the kitchen for a handful of pumpkin seeds...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Preschool Spider Craft

My three-year-old (whose favorite color is green) made this spider & web craft at the Natural History Museum on Sunday.

All you need are 6 notched popsicle sticks, 2 little pieces of double sided tape (or Mom can hot glue the sticks together) 1 pipe cleaner cut into fourths, and yarn.

Attach the popsicle sticks with the tape (as shown).

Starting from the center, wrap the piece of yarn around a notch, then go to the next stick and wrap around another notch. Continue until you run out of notches. Wrap around last notch a couple of times to secure.

Put the four pipe cleaner pieces together and twist. Bend each of the spider legs once. Put your spider on its web.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Trick-or-Treating through the Natural History Museum

We went trick-or-treating through the Natural History Museum this afternoon.

In the North American Mammals Hall, a woman playing Mary Anning introduced us to a juvenile triceratops (designed with Jim Henson Studios). My three year old was a scared of the triceratops and wanted to stand at the back of the hall; it looked and moved as if it were a living creature. (Mary Anning did not discover triceratops fossils, but the character makes a great narrator for the NHM's Dinosaur Encounters, and the woman playing her was excellent in that she interacted with the children very well.)

At the NHM's entrance
My three-year-old does not want her picture taken.
When my husband found the penguin in the Bird Hall, I of course wanted to take my daughter's picture with it. My daughter did not want to be photographed, as you can tell by her crossed flippers.
Her bones weigh 6 pounds.
Trick or treating in the Dino Lab
Seated on her feet in front of "Mary Anning," learning "She sells seashells by the seashore."
Daddy holding Daughter in the Spider Pavilion
Here is what they're looking at. (Orb Weaver Spider)
Mommy, still dressed as the mommy penguin, is holding Daughter's costume.
The pumpkin decorating table was set up in the NHM's Edible Garden.
Pumpkin decorating with foam stickers, googly eyes, pipe cleaners, and markers.
In addition to trick or treating, the NHM also had pumpkin decorating, mask decorating (which we didn't have time for - my baby penguin was worn out and fell asleep on the ride home), and a scavenger hunt (which we didn't do, but will in a couple of years). I really appreciate that the NHM made this event so kid-friendly.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Things We Do For Love...

Some of last night's to-do list:
  • stop at craft store on way home from work for "Duck" tape
  • make dinner
  • hand-sew seam of store-bought adult penguin suit (half of the head wasn't attached, seam had come apart)
  • iron two penguin suits and feet
  • reinforce penguin feet soles with penguin-print "Duck" tape

Friday, October 24, 2014

Words I Never Could Have Predicted Myself Saying...

"Okay, but just wait a minute while I iron the penguin suits!"

To Quote My Child...

"Mommy, I want you to pretend to be a trash can."

Fishhook Frustration

I feel a great sense of frustration over my district's mandated writing assessments. I was given the assessments Tuesday, to start between Wednesday and next Thursday. The only real information we were given was that we should administer this over two days. Two days! Ha!

The packet includes two articles (one about archaeology, which does not include the word "artifact," a necessary vocabulary word when talking about archaeology), three images, two pages of questions about the articles (with space to cite evidence), three questions about the third image (a Gabrielino/Tongva Indian fishhook), a couple of sentences about the fishhook followed by two more questions, a writing prompt, and a complicated "brainstorming" page.

Just based on that information, do you think that two one-hour testing sessions is enough time to be successful on this task?

I wouldn't set my own child up for failure. I wouldn't give my own child assessments she wasn't prepared for. Add this to the list of reasons why we're homeschooling. When I assess my child, it will be based on what I have taught her. Look at Charlotte Mason and narration. We don't tell students to narrate back BEFORE they've heard/read a story; we ask this AFTER.

Last year, no one collected our district assessments, nor were we instructed as to what we should do with them. This year, so far, we have given one assessment (math) and it's the same story. The deadline was last Friday, but here it is a week later, and there they sit, unscored in a stack on my desk.

Now my students are supposed to write a fictional narrative as if they are an archaeologist who has discovered a Gabrielino fishhook. Their story is supposed to "establish a situation," include a series of events (the brainstorming graphic organizer they were given has four boxes for events, as well as lots of other spaces for various other things), and a conclusion.

To demonstrate proficiency, students must write a multi-paragraph story about discovering a fishhook.

Um, perhaps someone should inform the assessment creators that a "story" needs a little something called conflictHere's another way to put it: Do you realize how hard it is to make the discovery of a fishhook exciting to a nine year old?

We've had a series of three professional development meetings about Cultural Responsiveness, including a very small portion of one of the meetings discussing how to be responsive to Youth Culture. To begin to understand Youth Culture, we teachers were told to try the following (not the whole list): fist bump students hello, watch kid movies, and eat Flaming Hot Cheetoes. That's right folks. This is where your tax dollars are going: to pay for teachers to learn to fist bump.

While fist-bumping and Cheeto-eating, I am supposed to test students on how well they write a story with a beginning, middle, and end, with details, with dialogue, with characters, with the inner-thoughts of the narrator ABOUT FINDING A FISHHOOK!

More on this in Fishhook Frustration Part 2, coming soon.

(Blogging from my phone. I apologize if there are typos.)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Add this to the list of reasons we're homeschooling...

My public school teaching job informs the way I parent, and being a parent informs the way I teach a class of 30.

Today after school, I sat at my desk grading math tests. My fourth graders have just completed Topic 3, which is a chapter about the meaning of multiplication and division. The chapter includes lessons on drawing bar models to illustrate a multiplication or division problem (a concept I never learned in school - as a child who did well in math classes - but had to learn as an adult because I had to teach it as part of my employer's mandated math curriculum), the rules of division (n divided by n = 1, 0 divided by n = 0 [if I have nothing, and I want to share it with others, no one gets anything], n divided by 0 = impossible [it's impossible to share if there's no one to share with], n divided by 1 = n), distributive property (a lesson I LOVE teaching, thank you Danica McKellar*), etc.

Eighty-three percent of my class scored a 3 or above. (We have a 4 point grading scale in which 3 is Proficient and 4 is Advanced.) Half of those students scored 4s. Half of those 4s were high 4s: 100%.

Eighty-three percent! I was patting myself on the back. I must have done a really good job teaching this chapter. To public school teachers, 80% success is great; it's what we shoot for. To me as a homeschooler, this number is unacceptable. I don't want my child to turn the page in the textbook just because she scored "high enough." A student who scores 12/14 (86%) could possibly be missing two problems from the same lesson, meaning he or she does not understand a concept, and this will mean trouble later.

I want my child to learn to mastery, mastery being 100%. I don't want her to worry that she hasn't completed a textbook by a certain date. I don't want her moving on because a district's pacing plan says she should.

Eighty-percent isn't good enough. Add this to the list of reasons we're homeschooling.

*I got to hear Danica McKellar speak at Harvey Mudd College a couple of years ago, and her talk was wonderful.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Mind Blowing Science: Tug of War

Tug of War is another experiment from Janice Van Cleave's Chemistry for Every Kid

To do it, you need foil, food coloring (red or blue is suggested), rubbing alcohol, water, eyedropper or pipette, 2 cups.
Put water in one cup. Color water with food coloring.
Pour some alcohol in second cup. (Mommy did this part.)
Put some colored water in the center of the foil. ("The thinner the water the better.")

Next, use the pipette to add a drop of alcohol to the center of the colored water.
To see what happens, watch the video.

"The water molecules on the surface of the water are pulling equally in all directions before the alcohol is added. When the drop of alcohol touches the water there is an immediate separation between the two liquids. Alcohol is pulling away from the water and the water is pulling away from the alcohol. The water molecules seem to be victorious and the water spreads outward taking some of the alcohol with it. This outward movement causes the alcohol to be spread into a thin layer over the the foil. It also causes the water molecules to stack up and form a ridge around the alcohol layer. The ridge has a pulsating motion because the water and alcohol molecules continue to pull on each other. The pulling stops when the two liquids totally mix together."

Monday, October 20, 2014

Mind Blowing Science: Floating Egg

This experiment, from Janice Van Cleave's Chemistry for Every Kid, is called "Magic Solution."

You need 2 clear plastic containers, salt, 2 eggs, 1/4 teaspoon of milk, and water.

Put water in both containers. Add the milk to one of the containers. This is just to make the water cloudy.
 Add salt to the second container.
 Stir. The salt water will have the same cloudy appearance as the milk water.
 Put an egg into each container.
The egg in the milk water will sink. But the egg in the salt water will float. (If your salt water egg does not float, add more salt.)
"The egg floats because it is not as heavy as the salty water. The heavy salt water is able to hold the egg up. The egg in the milky water is heavier than the water, thus it sinks."

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Review: Mathematical Reasoning (Level A)

Mathematical Reasoning Level A by Linda Brumbaugh & Doug Brumbaugh can be used with kindergarteners as either a complete curriculum OR a supplemental resource. It's published by The Critical Thinking Co. 

The book I have is aligned with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) standards. Lessons are divided into five categories: Number and Operations, Algebra, Geometry, Measurement, and Data Analysis and Probability.

The skills taught are addition, reading bar graphs, using a calendar, capacity, coins, counting, fractions, language, length, likelihood, matching, number line, odd/even, order, pattern, real world problems (word problems), shapes, subtraction, time, weight, whole numbers.

The topics spiral throughout the book. For example, the first eleven pages of the book are organized like this:
1 page of Geometry
1 page of Algebra
5 pages of Number and Operations
3 pages of Algebra
1 page of Number and Operations

A topic is dealt with, followed by a different topic or two, and then the topic comes back up later. The idea behind this is that a child will have time to let concepts sink in "before dealing with more complex aspects of the skill/concept" (from the Introduction). Because I teach full time, my job informs the way I teach my own child (and parent her), and my experience as a parent informs how I do my public school job. As a public school 4th grade teacher who uses a curriculum that does not spiral, I see a great value in spiraling.

The authors suggest that the buyer proceed page by page through the book. However, they also say that "if your child is interested in a given topic and seems to want more, it would not be unreasonable for you to skip to the next level of that topic and do more of it." This is what we've done. My three-year-old has done 87 pages in order. But she's also bounced around the book because she saw pages that caught her eye and wanted to do them.

The Mathematical Reasoning series offers books from Level A through Level G (kindergarten through 6th grade). There is also a Beginning 1 book (for 3 year olds) and a Beginning 2 book (for 4 year olds). I bought Beginning 1 when my daughter was 2. It was as wonderful as Level A, but Beginning 1 focuses only on numbers 1 through 5, and my daughter outgrew it by 2 1/2.  (She's got a mind of her own, this one. Mommy was thinking, Oh how lovely, we're following Charlotte Mason, so I have years before I have to think about teaching you addition. Years? Try nanoseconds.) Though Beginning 1 is designed for age 3, I would recommend it for children as young as 2. I would recommend Level A for children as young as 3 and 4.

The authors also suggest that you "keep learning fun and avoid frustrating your child. Work around your child's attention span." Hello, Charlotte Mason. If your child has a three minute attention span, work for three minutes. If your child has a twenty minute attention span, work for twenty.

The authors advise finding ways to relate the skills to your child's daily life. One way we did this was with the idea of even numbers. We talked about shoes, and how a shoe has a partner. One pair of shoes has two shoes, and when all the items in a set have partners, it's an even number, so two is even. What happens if you put Mommy's shoes with your shoes? Now you have four shoes. All the shoes have partners, so four is an even number. (It's all hands-on right now.) The authors also say that if your child has difficulty with a page, come back to it later or recreate the lesson with manipulatives. I also love the suggestion of making a number line that your child can walk on. We haven't tried this yet, but I plan to soon.

The book is available for $31.99 and does not require the additional cost of a Teacher's Manual. I have not used Saxon Math, but I have relatives who have and loved it, but the Saxon Math 1 Homeschool: Complete Kit is $107.35. I really, really, truly believe you should not need a Teacher's Manual for math in kindergarten or first grade. Arithmetic just isn't that complicated. The price difference is $75 I would rather spend on things like science kits. Your child does not have to write in Mathematical Reasoning (but certainly can), as many of the activities can be done by saying the answer or pointing to the answer; this means that the book can be reused with a second child. For activities involving tracing numbers, you can practice tracing with a finger, writing numbers on a whiteboard or a separate piece of paper, writing with chalk on the sidewalk, writing with bathtub crayon in the tub, printing handwriting pages off the internet, or - if you intend to only use the book once - writing in the book.

The book is full color and inviting. It has shapes, animals, clowns, fruit, sports equipment, dominoes, happy faces, etc. To view sample pages, click here and then click the tab that says "Sample Pages."

My daughter doesn't have the fine motor skills or the desire to trace numbers, so I don't force her to do this. Being able to write and being able to compute are separate skills, just as being able to write and being able to read are separate skills. A child learns to compute and read before being able to write. Charlotte Mason knew this, and that's why children gave answers orally and narrated orally instead of writing. Just because a child is a pre-writer doesn't mean you should put off teaching ideas. (My plan - which I reserve the right to change as needed - is to teach cursive when my daughter is six, earlier if she's interested.)

When my daughter finishes Level A, I will be buying Level B.

Not an affiliate link; I just think this book is awesome.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Math and Attachment Parenting: What do these have to do with each other?

My three-year-old likes math. A lot. Like she doesn't want to stop doing pages in Mathematical Reasoning (Brumbaugh & Brumbaugh). Mommy is the one who needs a break. Mommy is the one who says, "Okay, but just one more page. Then how about some TV?"

We watch a lot of TV. Today, in the park, my daughter pointed to a squirrel and said, "Mommy, if I had squirrel powers, I could activate that squirrel. And you could activate that squirrel over there." (This is a reference to the PBS show Wild Kratts, in which the main characters wear creature suits and "activate" their creature powers to learn more about various animals.) She wanted us to be able to dart across the park and speed up trees.

But math...
Mathematical Reasoning Level A (for kindergarteners) is 250 pages, and my daughter has done 100 of them (80 in order, from page 1 to 80, then about 20 scattered throughout the book). Prior to Mathematical Reasoning, we used dot-to-dot pages from a Kumon workbook, as well as Unifix cubes and a hundred grid, for practice counting and one-to-one correspondence, etc.

I just kept finding really fun resources. Keep finding.

 "Of all his early studies, perhaps none is more important to the child as a means of education than that of arithmetic."

Of all his early studies. Charlotte Mason just didn't mean this early.

I know this is very un-Masony of me, teaching my child to add before she's six. But children are born persons, and my person likes math. (And reading. And science. And...)

I think what drew me to Charlotte Mason were the same things that drew me to aspects of Attachment Parenting. I liked the idea of birth bonding, that my baby, a person with whom I'd spent the past nine months in the closest proximity possible, would be right there with me, not down the hall, out of sight, away from me. Sleep training had worked great for a friend of mine, and I read books on how to do it before my child was born. But then, there she was, a person who needed to be worn in a sling, needed to co-sleep, and needed to nurse on demand. So that's what we did. As she got older, it was about "appropriate responsiveness," saying no when she wanted to do something dangerous, and saying yes when I could say yes. (For example, at age two, when she wanted to stand over an open flame and saute shrimp in hot olive oil, my answer was yes - with me right next to you.) And my friend Anita gave me some of the best advice early on, which was to listen to my baby because she would tell me what she needed.

But math...

Right now she's telling me she needs numbers, shapes, and patterns.

Sometimes I think about the pace she's going, and if this continues, how she'll be finished with this book before she turns 4 (in seven months) and on to Level B (1st grade). I think about how I was in 1st grade the year I was ages 4/5. I think, okay, maybe this makes sense. Maybe this is what she needs. But I also think, Yikes, keeping up with you takes some doing.

If only I had squirrel power...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Teach Your Preschooler to Read: Lesson 61

My three-year-old just finished Lesson 61 in Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons (Engelmann). One of the Picture Comprehension questions that goes with this lesson is "What do you think is in that can?"

"Worms. I don't like worms. If I were going fishing, I would use pickles."

She likes pickles.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Field Trip: Underwood Family Farms

Underwood Family Farms in Moorpark has its annual Fall Festival going on right now. My three-year-old highly recommends this outing...
 Test your strength.
 Stalk some chickens.
Save your energy for...
playing on this.
 Slide down the combine slide.
 Scale a pyramid.
Get a fresh perspective.
 Enjoy a beautiful sky.
Corn maze sign reads: Don't get cornfused.
 Hold hands. 
Take a farm tour on the cow train.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Mind Blowing Science: Magic Ooze

Can you say "non-Newtonian fluid?"
Mind Blowing Science comes with cornstarch. Other than cornstarch, all you need to make "magic ooze," or a "crazy colloid," or "ooblek,"* or a "non-Newtonian fluid" is water. The kit instructions say to use 1/8 cup of water with 5 tablespoons of cornstarch, but we needed a bit more water for the consistency to be right. The more pressure you put on the ooze, the thicker it becomes. Poke it and it's solid, pour it and it's liquid. I've read that it's even possible to walk on cornstarch and water! (I haven't tried this, but it would be fun, wouldn't it?)

*Ooblek is named for the Dr. Seuss book Bartholomew and the Ooblek.

Mind Blowing Science: Dancing Powders

The first activity in "Mind Blowing Science" is Dancing Powders. It's similar to pouring vinegar into baking soda to produce carbon dioxide gas, but this version is citric acid (powder), baking soda, and water.

The point of this activity is to teach that citric acid is an acid, and that baking soda is a base, and when they mix (in water) they produce a chemical reaction. They neutralize each other and form carbon dioxide. The bubbles and the fizz is the carbon dioxide escaping from the water/citric acid/baking soda liquid.

LEFT: The chemical reaction. RIGHT: Steps 1 through 3.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Field Trip: Art Zone

In the Climbing Room at Art Zone - Hike through a forest above a jeweled cave!
Painting a puppy

Next, the Art Zone employee dipped my daughter's handprint in glitter!
Wash your hands in the Water Room. Way more fun than a bathroom sink.

The Goo Table.
The Squeegee Room. Spray bottles of paint, a window, and squeegees...

Blue and yellow make green!

Field Trip: We Rock the Spectrum

Today we attended TWO birthday parties! Four straight hours of fun. The first was at a kids' gym called We Rock the Spectrum. (For more info on WRTS and how it began, click here.) The gym is awesome. There are swings, a trampoline, a climbing apparatus, a zip line, and more, and everything is padded. Two thumbs up!