Saturday, May 28, 2011

End of Kindergarten!

As the official school year comes to an end, some of the pressures on homeschooling are lifting and I may relax in my documentations, both on blog and on my own record-keeping. This was a cool trial year for us. Ava's experience in Kindergarten, both public school and at home was hopefully fulfilling to her and memorable. The rollercoaster of it all was certainly a ride for me anyways. The kids have learned a lot, and I have learned a lot about how they learn a lot! I would be in heaven if I could continue to learn with them in the years to come. Time will tell, as we are at the beginning of it all, and we are taking it year-by-year. So as I go through this post, of the last two official weeks of Ava being a Kindergartner, I have a great sense of "we did it!"
Of course, as I've mentioned plenty of times, learning never stops. We will continue doing what we do throughout the summer. There's really no start or stop when you are learning from life. This has become our way of life as a family. Questions rarely go unanswered. If we don't know the answer, we can research it, teaching the kids how to look up answers for themselves. I ,as a homeschooling parent, don't need to have all the answers. Teaching children how to FIND answers is the most important lesson of all! To use their curiosity as a catalyst to explore the world around them. Children's curiosity shouldn't be taken for granted! If there's a curiosity or desire, we try to meet that. From a spider crawling on the ceiling to bad weather, from building to reading, going to museum or the library, or even the grocery store, all of it is an opportunity to be harnessed.

So the last couple weeks have included a lot. We have begun our garden, which is something I find so important for every human being on Earth to know how to do! I'm still learning. In all my schooling, I never planted a single seed, until we grew a plant in a college Biology course I took. Isn't that crazy? NEVER grew a plant, a vegetable, a tree from seed. The most fundamental need for life, growing your own food, is generally NOT taught in schools. I find that baffling. So, I'm learning now. So my kids can learn. And the kids are naturally into growing. They love to get their hands dirty. The love to watch their "babies" grow into plants, and from the small amount we grew last year, they love to pick and wash and EAT their produce.

I've been toying with raw foods the past several months and the kids have really gotten into the idea too. They love helping make new meals and love juicing!

As for more "schooly" subjects, while Ava was working in her spelling book recently, I was encouraging her to use more lower-case letters instead of only capital letters. She started drawing art on her arm with a tattoo pen she has. I said I'd let her draw on my arm only if she ONLY drew lowercase letters. She thought that was hilarious and proceeded to draw all over my arm in lower-case letters. We also looked at books to see how in books they use lower case letters, not all capitals, since she loves writing books so much.

Another favorite past time of hers, is drawing and anything to do with art. She wanted to wait and start back up her art classes she was taking in the fall. Frequently, she has me come in her room for "art lessons," and teaches me step-by-step how to do a drawing. She tries to get her brother to do art lessons occasionally, but Noah actually isn't all that fond of drawing. He likes more crafty art when he does do art things.
Recently, I picked up a "7 Days of Fun" kit that has 7 different activities for each day. The kids did most of them in one day, but it was so fun for them. Noah loved the sand art and the clay art. They had a blast with these kits.

One thing a lot of people ask about homeschooling several children at once is how to do so with different ages. Especially with a toddler around. Certainly it takes a little planning and often quick thinking but also it's the ability to be flexible. Since the way we homeschool doesn't involve a strict structure hour-by-hour plan, if one child is too crabby or tired we can simply wait for a better time to jump into any big project. Ava is at an age where she can do a lot by herself, so while I get a little one to nap, she can do her own thing or finish what we were doing. Also, learning side-by-side has many benefits. For one, the older child(ren) teach the younger, and on occasion, even the other way around. Also, while the older is learning about something at their level the littler ones tune in and pick up a lot about the subject as well. As Ava learns about reading words, Noah sees letters and hears the sounds they make, and Amora, not even two, is learning language and watching a great example of her older siblings reading books and learning.

Amora looking at books during Ava's spelling.

Playing clay while her older sibs did messy sand art!

Ava telling Noah about satellites.

More books in the club house!

Amora with her book.

Amora with Mommy's book!
Playing together even offers so much to kids. The cooperation, patience, and communication, and turn-taking is critical in social skills. Being with kids of different ages and abilities I think strengthens these skills enormously. Of course, it doesn't always appear that they are cooperating and learning turn-taking sometimes, but even in those times, they are learning important social skills. Disputes, arguments, and seeing how far they can push the other, build a lot of skills even when it seems like they're just yelling. Every child needs to learn those lines, those buttons, the social consequences, how to argue and debate, how to love someone even if you're mad at them or disagree with them, and who better to learn that from than from their trusted family members?

Talking to others I've heard plenty that it will get so much easier too. If we can homeschool at these ages, it's going to be a breeze and even more fun to learn with older children. The world is wide and there are so so many opportunities out there!

The kids also got a real-life lesson from the recent tornadoes that went through. They know very well why we have to take cover during the sirens and Ava is very interested in watching the weather map on TV and what it all means. Earlier in the week, we drove past some of the damage caused by the recent tornado in our area. Noah was amazed that the tornado was strong enough to pull up the huge trees by their roots. We actually have shingles and insulation in our yard from the debris from where it tore over houses several miles away.

Our last homeschool group meet was Friday. It was a clean up day to clean the room that the church allows us use of. The kids all pitched in, the youngest kids, including Amora, stomping baking soda into the carpets and the older ones spraying and scrubbing with non-toxic cleaners and vacuuming. Then afterward, they all got to play at a near-by park together.

And for the last little funny pic I added here, this morning Ava an I were watching a little spider crawl on the ceiling. We were wondering if he could see us watching him. We started talking about how some animals can see very very far, like hawks, and why this is important for them to be able to do. Then we discussed bats and how they use echolocation. Ava was intrigued so I grabbed her near-by laminated map place mat and held it in front of her face and told her to say something with her eyes closed and tell me if the place mat was there or not. She could tell every time (I put my hand over her eyes too, no peeking!) Looks like people can use echolocation on some scale too!

So, this marks the end of Ava's Kindergarten! Stay-tuned for summer adventures, and maybe a few graduation pics since we'll do something little and fun to celebrate, of course!

Thanks to all who have supported our family and continue to do so in this adventure!!! I'm so looking forward to all that awaits us.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Clouds, Eagles, Clocks, And Garden!

On the way home from a picnic last week, the kids were asking about clouds in the sky. This led to a discussion about what a "gas" is and we talked about how when we boil water we can see the water evaporating into a gas into the air as steam. After our talk, we drove pass a gas station and I, not thinking of any connection, asked if the kids remembered where gas we put in the car comes from. I was thinking back to when we talked about fossil fuels and was wondering if they remembered about it. Instead, they both yelled "I know I know, from water!" So I quickly realized I had to back step a bit and clarify about what was meant by gas. Plus then we could use the idea about how the gasoline in the car starts out as a liquid and so on...I love how the real world connects the dots for us!

We also had a playdate with my cousin Jen and her little girl Liv last week.  I had put a bunch of beginning reading books by Ava's seat in the van before we left.  I heard her sounding out the words and repeating the sentences back to herself. She seems to be having a lot of fun with reading the books now.
When we arrived, we went on a walk to see a giant bald eagle's nest in one of their neighbor's yards. Apparently, the people who live there have to abide by certain rules because of the nest's location. For example, they can't have loud noises like four-wheelers or saws, etc. According to the DNR, human disturbances can cause an eagle to abandon the nest leaving their young vulnerable. We had thought maybe we saw some little ones in the nest but couldn't quite catch a glimpse for sure. We also went looking for turtles in nearby pond.

Since she has been working on telling time and counting by 5s, John had gotten Ava a clock that she could paint and put together herself. She painted it one day and then the next day stuck on all the numbers and we helped her get the hands on it and battery. It turned out great! She loves it and it's going to look so cute in her room too.

The kids are helping John make a raised garden bed (my gift for Mother's Day!) in the back yard. We had a very small garden last year, so this will be our second year and we're hoping to get a lot out of it. Plus, it's such a great experience for kids to work in the garden. They're going to be great helpers. I loved watching how excited they got last year watching things come up, waiting for tomatoes to ripen, and picking them themselves and eating them fresh off the plant. I'm looking so forward to that again!

And more fun outside on one of the few hot days we've had pictured below!

Building A Garden
Mugs the kids made me for Mother's Day!

Ava Playing in the Mud

Muddy Amora

Noah's Mud Slide

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Field Trip Week!

We had a huge week last week with Homeschool Days at both the aquarium at the Mall of America and a local airport in addition to a tour of the Target Center in Minneapolis with our group!

Monday we hit the aquarium. This was especially exciting for Noah with his love for all aquatic life. He was too young to remember the last time we were there so it was all new to him. All three loved seeing the fish, jellyfish and lobsters. I got a big smile when Noah ran up to one of the aquariums featuring a certain popular kind of orange and white fish and instead of exclaiming "NEMO!!!" he exclaimed "Look mom! A CLOWN Fish!!!" He knows the names of more marine life than I do.
I'm always a bit wary of visiting an aquarium because of my beliefs in not using animals as entertainment. And I do think this is an example of this. I am not a fan of zoos for that reason as well. And while I feel a little better about fish in an aquarium than an elephant swaying back and forth locked up at a zoo, I do not condone either. I explain to the kids how the animals and fish should be in their natural habitat and wonder about how exactly they were transported to Minnesota. And wonder about how many die in the process and how injured animals are treated. It's always on my mind and I bring up concerns to the kids despite my choice to attend the feature, thereby, essentially supporting it. There are also aquariums at the Children's Museum we go to. I suppose there will always be picking and choosing and weighing things out. I hope my kids will learn compassion out of these events as we talk about them and think about the behind the scenes of it all.

Tuesday was an at home day. We played match games with letters for Noah and some sight words for Ava. Ava then used her match game cards to put together sentences. Noah and I used his letter cards to figure out which of his toys started with which letter cards.
Noah and I also used the Spin and Speak (you know that toy that says: "THE COW SAYS...") to identify what letters animals started with. He'd point it to one and make me guess which one it was pointing to by telling me which letter it started with.

Also this week, Ava came up to me and told me she now had a job. She would write a book and sell it. So she did! She sat down and wrote and illustrated a book, stapled it together, and said it would cost 10 cents. She then went outside, sat and waited for passer-bys. Within 15 minutes she came in happily with a quarter telling me, "Mom! A lady gave me even more than I asked for!"
She made another book and went back out. That book she gave to someone for free since this second lady didn't have any change on her.

On Friday we had both the Target Center and the airport tours. The Target Center was an hour long tour that showed us the suites, backstage, the balconies, the arena floor, etc. Ava had to be talked into going that morning but she ended up loving it. She asked the tour guide if Avril played there and he told her she had. Noah was into the backstage and floor equipment. He saw the zamboni, some forklifts and machinery, and also liked the floor sweeper. We got to see where the Timberwolves locker rooms were and the basketball flooring all stacked up. The kids had a great time but were exhausted by the end (me too!) but we made it back to the van and went home for a quick lunch break before the next trip!

The Crystal Airport has homeschool/open house days in the spring. We had gone last year as well. They actually offer airplane rides too but we didn't go on those. This year was great since our tour group consisted of only us and a mom with a teenage son, so the kids got to ask a lot of questions. They chatted with the mechanic for a while and learned where the plane's oil is, the gas, and how the propeller works. We saw a flight simulator inside the building which helps pilots learn how to fly in situations when they may not be able to see, such as fog or a storm. Then all three kids then got to sit in one of the real planes.