Monday, January 31, 2011

She Got Me!

Today Ava and I were reading about how the sun works and we came to a page explaining that the sun is made up of hydrogen and helium. It discussed the atoms in the gasses and how the hydrogen actually becomes helium.
Ava knows a little bit about atoms from things we've discussed so she was asking which things have atoms. The conversation went like this:
Me: There are atoms in everything!
Ava: Not EVERYTHING though.
Me: Yes! Everything!
Ava: Hair?
Me: Yes.
Ava: Concrete?
Me: Yes.
Ava: A swimming pool?
Me. Yup!
Ava: Blood?
Ava: (Giggling and amused) No...I'm gonna trick you. It can't be everything.
Me: You can't trick me. Atoms are in everything.
Ava: In my hand?
Me: Yes.
Ava: In other planets?
Me: Yes.
Ava: In our floor?
Me: Yes.
Ava: In the air?
Me: Yes, can I continue reading now, Ava? Atoms are in EVERYTHING.
Ava: (As I begin to read again). Mom, I know what doesn't have atoms in it....
Me: (With my I-know-more-than-you-because-I'm-the-mom-grin) What....
Ava: An atom.

Busy Weekend

One of the (many) cool things about homeschooling is that it doesn't have to follow the weekday 9:30 to 4pm schedule of institutional-learning. This weekend was full of great learning times for the kids.
On Saturday, Ava got to go try out the ski's my dad made for her. Yes, he made them, like out of wood. He can do stuff like that! She spent the day cross-country skiing for the very first time and had a blast. (Pictures still to come). She also jumped into dad's snowshoes a couple times when he took them off and was walking around on them  in the deep snow. When I came to pick her up, she was happily (and speedily!) skiing around the yard.
She and Grandpa also worked with her microscope that she brought along when they were inside warming up. Since I had the two younger kids with me it gave her the opportunity to use it without worrying about her little brother and sister getting into it. We've installed a lock on her bedroom door for this reason too!
On Sunday, we went with our friends Angie and Malcolm (2 1/2) to the Children's Museum. Each time we go we never are able to do everything. The kids get so involved in whichever activity they are doing. This time around, we went to the new Living Art exhibit. The kids got to play "in" famous paintings.
Then Noah worked in the kitchen/restaurant for a half hour or so while Amora shopped in the grocery store.
Ava got to make a card for a little girl named Emily who is in the hospital with cancer at a station they had set up for her. There are several stations set up this month at the museum for charitable giving. I wish we could have got the them all. I know they also had bag decorating for Meals On Wheels on one of the floors as well.

Sunday evening, Ava and Amora and I went to a raw food potluck at Ecopolitan restaurant in Uptown. This was so fun for Ava as she has been watching me practice a raw food diet the past couple weeks and is very interested in it. She wants us to make some of the foods we tried there. There were some blueberry/cashew balls covered with coconut flakes that she loved and has been asking for since we got back.

Bedtime is often a fun time to play wind-down games. Noah loves "The Dinosaur Game" where I describe a dinosaur and he has to figure out which one it is. So I'll say "This dinosaur is a big meat eater that has sharp teeth and walks on two legs." And he guesses, his favorite, Tyrannosaurus. Both kids like "I Spy" which we have to play every night. John and the kids often play a memory game where they tell where 4 or 5 animals are hiding (like the COW is behind the TREE) and then the others have to remember where they were. I don't have near the memory the kids do apparently. It always blows me away how well they recall where everything is!
Last night, at 10:30 everyone was asleep but Ava and me, so she decided to grab a flashlight and we took turns quizzing each other on her Magic Math board. We also did math word problem game along with it, figuring out how many bananas, bunnies, or flowers were left after adding or taking away some. It exhausted me before it did her.  I told her we were going to be talking in our sleep all night saying the answers to math problems.
This morning, a Monday morning, we all slept in.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Symmetry and More

This week started with a trip to the Mall of America. John was off work so we brought the kids to go on some rides for the day. Ava got to try a new ride with John now that she meets the height mark for it. Noah did his favorites, the car and train rides.  Amora got to go on her very first ride (the school bus).  She clung to me through the whole thing, not really loving it, but not crying either. And the best for last, as always, John brought Ava and Noah on the floom ride. So it was a great family day out!

Tuesday, Ava had art class. She has three classes left now and she is sure that is NOT enough classes. She loves art class so much.

Today my van was in the shop so we couldn't go anywhere even if we wanted to. Somehow we still got a lot in between some chaotic moments!
After getting some ideas from another homeschool blog called Adventures in Mommydom, and Joyful Learner we worked on symmetry. I drew half of a heart on paper and the kids held it up to a mirror to see the rest of it appear due to it's symmetry. I drew some symmetrical shapes and the kids drew symmetrical designs onto it. Ava had the idea to cut them out along the line of symmetry so she could see the two identical halves. We also talked about how people are symmetrical too.

We then worked on grouping. This was a challenge for the kids so it was a great introductory activity. I printed and cut out a bunch of little bears, we would make them "dance" to music, then when the music stopped I would call out a number and that's how many groups they would have to form. It took the kids a few tries to understand what three groups meant, and not just counting a group of three bears. I loved watching their brains working to understand this new concept!

In the evening they worked on their sock puppet kits and then did some computer learning games. Ava did some word matching and then later we practiced some sight words. Noah did a Dora math game on his computer and we worked on some letters and number recognition. And that was in addition to the letter recognition Noah and I did while cleaning the giant mess he made of the letter sticker tote!!! See, there is learning in everything! haha...

Not bad for being cooped up for the day with three small hyper kids.

Friday, January 21, 2011

This Week: Wind and Cold!

This week our family made a windmill using a recycled plastic bottle and a windmill kit. When the kids held it in front of the fan at high speed, the wind generated enough power for the small light bulb to light. It was a great experiment to add to our Energy unit.
I then brought the kids to see a real wind turbine in Anoka. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get as close as we would have liked due to the snowy drive leading up to it. It was breezy that day but the wind turbine was not turning. Still, the kids enjoyed seeing it.
Last winter, in the paper, the turbine was mentioned because people wondered why it wasn't spinning. According to the Star Tribune, "The refurbished, 115-foot towers had operated on a California wind farm, where they didn't have to worry about cold hydraulic fluid turning to gel and oil lubricants getting too sluggish."

Today, Minnesota's below zero weather made for a fun experiment. We threw boiling water into the cold air and watched as it immediately turned to vapor in the less than -11 air. Then Ava blew some bubble to see what would happen to them. The bubbles floated a few feet before popping, leaving little frozen bits on the snow. One landed on the front step and froze in a perfect sphere. Ava popped it with her finger and the pieces are still frozen there.
At least something good came out of today's frigid weather!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

First Week

The first week of official homeschooling was a success! Ava decided our first project Monday morning would be a painting activity. We put blobs of paint on paper, folded them in half to make interesting pictures, then decided what they looked like. Even Amora got into it!
Monday also involved coin identification, telling time on the clock and some time worksheets, spelling words Ava is working on, reading practice ( has great practice activities and games), stories, and of course, more art and drawing, Ava's specialty.
Later in the week, we played a reading game using flash cards and numbered "game spaces" I put on the floor. When Ava read a word or when Noah new a letter on the flash cards they got to move a space. I love finding ways that both Ava and Noah (and often Amora too!) are learning at the same time.
Ava got to try out her new ice skates for the first time on Wednesday. She did great! I was so surprised how well she was able to move on them. I thought I'd be holding her up the whole time but she didn't even need me.
Ava's been working daily on her calendar. She loves to keep track of the days and plan out the months. She has her own My Little Pony calendar and is busy filling it up as I type this. She knows the order of the months and can read them all now. She knows the days of the week and the numbers of days in a month. Amazing what giving her something as simple as a calendar does for her grasp of reading, writing, patterns and numbers. It also gives her a sense of control in her world. She knows what to expect on a daily basis. She knows what is planned and what days are open to do with what we please.

On Friday we went to our homeschool group. We are so lucky to have found this wonderful group of moms and kids! I love the age range too. Amora is the youngest and the oldest is around 12 or so. Everyone gets along so great. The older ones love helping the younger ones and there's always a variety of activities for them to work on and learn from. I loved watching Noah teach a boy more than twice his age how to play the game we brought with. What a great confidence boost for a three year old, who is usually being told how to do things himself.
The group was learning about Cheetahs this time and Ava was loving the book they read and was answering the questions that were asked and was very involved in it all. We then had a cheetah painting project that all three of my kids loved. The group has so many fun ideas planned for the group throughout the year. We are really looking forward to being involved more now.

Over the weekend, Ava has been continuing to work on typing lessons, which she began taking an interest in a month or so ago. We found some free online sources, her favorite so far is Tux Typing, which involves a penguin character that helps her learn.
At bedtime, the kids got to be involved as John replaced our broken bathroom faucet. All three of the kids LOVE being involved in fix-it projects around the house. They want to see how everything works and be involved in fixing them. I love that John asks for their help and welcomes all their questions. It can't be easy letting three small children in his workspace as he tries to fix things!!!
Tonight after her typing lesson, Ava was teaching Noah letters by drawing them on a Doodle Pro and asking him what they were. They were both having so much fun, giggling and laughing as Noah learned more letters.

I'm already loving the freedom that we now have. My kids get to be a part of real life. They can stay up late if they're into an activity without a problem. They can go with during errands and shopping and learn from those experiences. We can visit museums and ice rinks, for example, in the middle of the day when they are not so crowded so we can get the full experience. When stores aren't busy it means we can take our time, the kids can read signs, add prices and learn about money.  And the relaxed time of day means less stressed employees, who often will stop to talk with the kids and answer questions.
Next week Ava starts art classes at Rum River Art Center. She took a class there in the fall and loved it. They are so great with the kids. We also may have a family vacation to Duluth in the weeks to come. It will likely be a last minute thing. And that's okay! Not only will Ava not miss school, but she'll be learning even more. We plan to visit the museum and train depots, they'll get to see Lake Superior in the winter... so many questions they will surly ask. And so much to learn when we are in the right mindset.
Everything is learning. Days, nights, and weekends. We get to be flexible and don't have a set start and end time. Just how we like it!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Back To Real Life!!!

We are once again returning to homeschooling. While I am, of course, relieved at Ava's decision to homeschool, I am glad she had the opportunity to try out school. If it weren't for John encouraging me to allow her to choose for herself, I probably wouldn't have let her. Now she sees what it's like, she gained a new experience. She was courageous in doing so on her own free will. She no longer will be curious about what it's like or feel held from it.

John is more comfortable with school than I am. He had an overall positive experience, in his later school years especially.  He had many friends and was fairly popular and a well-liked guy. Well, perhaps some of his teachers weren't as happy with him. He did spend his share of time in the Alternative Learning Centers where he met many friends from as well. Yes, he has a lot of entertaining stories of the trouble he and his pals got into in his teenage years.  But he did enjoy school.

Meanwhile, I was the "good girl" student. Teachers loved me. I got good grades. I was quiet and did as I was told weather I liked it or not. I never expressed my dismay or anger at authorities and teachers. I was the perfect student. Looking back, I may have felt much happier, more confident, and certainly would have gained popularity if I would have kicked over a few chairs and cussed out a teacher or two. It would have done me good to skip some classes.  I would probably have some pretty fun memories then. The kind I could look back and laugh about.

It makes one wonder how important the actual school part is! Afterall, all those bad grades and missed classes didn't hurt John any. He is a successful electrician and entrepreneur. He makes twice as much money as I could ever hope to achieve despite my honor roll grades, perfect attendance and four year degree. And I'm thankful that he is so smart and confident and such a hard worker. And thankful that opposites attract! (Well regarding the good girl/bad boy thing...I think I'm also smart and confident and a hard worker, haha).

After watching Ava these past few months, I see she is a "good girl." She does as she is told in school. She never talks back. She tries to please her teachers. She does as she's told even when she's angry about it, without saying a word.

From the first week of school, Ava would return very angry and frustrated. On the second day, I dropped her off as she kissed Amora and Noah goodbye and said she loved them. She smiled and waved goodbye. When I picked her up at 4, her brother was beaming in his carseat after spending the day telling me he missed her. As she climbed into the van, and he smiled a big hello, she screamed at the top of her lungs and began hitting on him until I physically stopped her.
I was crushed. Sad for Noah, whose excited smile was turned to painful tears. And sad for Ava, whose frustration and anger had been building throughout her long day. Although she no longer beat on her brother after that day, her anger and bad moods continued. We talked constantly about it with her. Each time it was the result of some specific incident that happened at school that upset her earlier in the day that she had been holding onto. The last of such was because one of the paras, who according to her "has a rough voice and is mean to all the kids," made her wear her boots home when she wanted to wear her shoes. Every time these incidences happened, I explained she should express to her teacher how she was feeling or ask the teacher or para why something is necessary. Each time she shook her head "no."
I realized what a tough thing that is for a child to do. To speak up for themselves in an environment such as a classroom. And if she did that often, she would likely be labeled as difficult or stubborn or uncooperative.
I also think of the long day these kids have with no solitude or break. I actually quit visiting her at lunch time because the lunchroom was so loud and crowded that I wasn't even able to chat with her anyways! The teacher, during this time, takes her much needed break sitting quietly eating alone in the classroom. Ava is around 20+ five year olds ALL day long. Some she likes, some she doesn't. She has to sit by kids that bother her, she's obviously not allowed to have any quiet time alone.

I realize many will read this and say "So what? That's what school is about. It's socialization. She'll get used to it." But though we have come to take this setting to be a normal part of childhood, it's really not. In real life, a child deserves some quiet time when they need it.
In real life, a child would have friends of all ages and abilities in their surrounding communities. Some to look up to and learn from, and some who look up to and learn from them. Real life doesn't box 20+ five year olds in a classroom most of the day.
In real life the adults around a child know and love them unconditionally. The adults around children in real life are those they trust and can tell everything to. In real life, the adults kids learn from do not need to test and assess and quiz a child to prove they are learning.

These past few months, my heart has broke over and over again for Ava. My stomach turned dropping off my bubbly social daughter knowing I'd be picking up an angry stressed child with a broken spirit. I stood by as she went from, "Just drop me off at art class and go mom!" to not wanting me to leave her anywhere. And as she was crabby and angry all weekend because she said she was thinking about school on Monday.

The morning Ava made her decision, we were getting ready for school. Like a typical school morning, she was angry and was fighting with Noah. She called me into her room and said she wanted to be done for good with school and just wanted to do homeschooling.
When we talked about it and I said that she could stop if it was what she really wanted, she suddenly returned to my normal little girl! Immediately after I left her room she began playing happily with Noah. Like a light switch had been flipped.
I told John it looked like a big weight had been lifted off of her little shoulders.
And mine.