Saturday, September 6, 2008

We love the big outdoors

We've been doing a lot of critter exploring lately. Mostly it has been great, but sometimes nature has not been so kind to us. I learned that the slime on my leg was pecan snot, the Monkey learned that it hurts like hell when a squirrel throws a pecan grenade at your head from 15 feet above, and the children learned that I am useless when it comes to identifying any species of caterpillar. See all the learning we've got going on?

As part of our first unit from R.E.A.L. Science: Life, we did a plot study. Basically, we marked out a square meter of wild land and observed it for signs of living and non-living things. This is the point you are meant to pause with wonder at my motivation and dedication to my children's education. If we had started this curriculum three weeks ago when it still blazing hot outside, I would have skipped this activity, without even a mention of the possibility to the Monkey Ducks. As it turns out we've had some low-humidity, beautiful mornings so I enthusiastically provided my children with a meaningful learning experience.

We packed up our magnifying glasses, field guides and clipboards and headed to the Nature Center. The Monkey picked a plot that had a pecan tree smack in the middle of it. We thought this was great! Oh, the nature we would see. We didn't realize how much we'd feel the nature. Some of the squirrels in and around the tree did not appreciate the interruption to their mid-morning feast. We were soon hit from every direction with pieces of pecan shells. Then, a big glob of what can only be described as a snotty slime fell from the tree and landed on my leg, followed by another blob on my shoulder. I had no idea what this was but I kept my cool and smiled with the kids at how amazing nature is (take another pause of wonder.) I found out later that this slime comes from the inside of an under ripe pecan. I am certain the squirrels already knew this. We found some bugs, saw a caterpillar, watched a blue jay, and then the Monkey was attacked. It was a direct hit from a squirrel that had gotten into prime position while we were distracted by some lady bugs (who I now think were in on it.) The squirrel went Rumsfield on us and dropped a whole, almost ripe pecan straight down onto the bullseye marked on my son's head. Being the fine mother that I am, I laughed, especially when he started to look a little dizzy. I took it more seriously when he started to cry.

So, here's our adventure in pictures.

A very cool caterpillar that the Monkey found. I tried to identify it but failed. Anyone have any idea what kind of caterpillar this is? It was smooth, moved like an inch work, distinct body segments, and two yellow stripes down it's side.

This is a debris carrying larvae. We identified this last year, when the Monkey said "look, Mama, the dirt is moving." They are very cool little things. They are sticky when born so whatever they are around sticks to them to provide their protection. That's my arm it's climbing on (pause with wonder.)

The debris carrying larva crawling on the Ducklings finger with her proud brother looking on.

One of the damn ladybugs that distracted us.

Let's call him Donald, shall we?

Some more nature pictures follow in the next post.

We are all so proud

Look at what we did! We are the givers of life. We are the caretakers of the planet. We didn't kill the tadpoles!

Isn't he cute? It was quite an amazing process. We checked him yesterday afternoon and observed that he (or she?) had grown some front legs but still had a tail. I checked on them before bed and we had a little toad sitting on the rock with all the other tadpoles looking at him like he was king. We'll release him tomorrow to the nature center.

This caterpillar was on our screen last night. And, of course, I was not able to identify this one either (pause here for a different kind of wonder.)

Some gratuitous pictures of the kids from the nature center.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

We're in the thick of it now

We are officially homeschooling. Schooled kids went back to school last week. The Monkey would have been going off to first grade, for about 7 hours a day, 35 hours a week. I still feel very good about our decision and I feel certain that it is the best choice for the Monkey and the Duckling, at least for now. I'm not so sure it is the best choice for me, however. It is hard to hear other parents talk about their time to themselves, knowing I don't have any of that. We don't live near any family and our one babysitter just went off to college. The kids are either with me or Sharyn. I don't want 35 hours a week away from them, but a few hours sounds good. I think I may need to spend some time and energy on finding a babysitter we can call when I need a break or when Sharyn and I would like to go out together. But, I hate spending money on that - it feels so indulgent to me. I also need to let go of my general disdain for television and use that to give myself a break. 

We've developed a nice routine, for the most part. I'm not keeping up with the house chores as well as I would like but we're not living in a pigsty either. The basics are getting done and I'm satisfied with that for now. We spend about 1-1.5 hours a day on "school work." We usually start with some math, then do some writing, then read history or science, followed by some kind of project. We've added all of our subjects and the transition has been smooth. The only struggle has been with the Duckling, who doesn't like my attention being focused on the Monkey. We're figuring it out and making adjustments as we go along. I play with or read to her before doing any work with the Monkey and she is often in my lap while we're sitting together. I bought her some special coloring books that she enjoys. Before we read history or science, I read to her first, or just snuggle, in hopes that she'll let us get through what we need to. The Monkey is working on not interrupting when I'm reading to the Duckling in order to model that behavior to her. It is slowly all starting to come together and it honestly feels quite good and I am a bit proud of myself.

The biggest struggle has been my ability to balance my life. I have been working a lot on contract work, about 15-30 hours a week, and that has been a challenge. I am thankful for the work (check out the pics of our new digital piano that the contract work paid for!) but it is a strain on all of us. I'm not reading to the kids as much because I'm working in the evenings. This has left me feeling very inadequate. More than anything that we are doing, I think Read-Alouds are the most important and they aren't happening consistently. Our weekends aren't much fun because I'm working. I'm too tired to do much of anything so we've been having crappy dinners, rather than the homemade fare that I enjoy making. I can't remember the last time I made some bread or baked with the kids. And, like I said, the house isn't as clean as I'd like it to be. By 10:00 pm, I'm ready to do something for myself so I end up staying up way too late, watching x-files DVDs. This, of course, leaves me trudging through the next day. While a day-long supply of iced tea helps a lot, I'm burning out pretty quickly and I need to find ways to take care of myself and bring some balance into my life. I'm working on it.

Okay, now onto the fun stuff. The pictures.

The Monkey Ducks with their new tadpoles, that we caught on the side of the road in front of a stranger's house.  Our neighborhood doesn't have standing puddles so we had to find one.  Its times like that, when I'm on the side of the road in gutter water, that I wished we lived in the country.

Cute, aren't they?  One of them already has back legs.  We learned that they are toad tadpoles. Who knew?

Our new digital piano, purchased after WAY too much on-line research. It amazes me - it really does feel and sound like a real piano.  Wow, technology.  I've been teaching myself piano and I've learned the major and minor chords and am now working on scales, though I'm not sure if I'm using the correct finger placement.  I think I may need lessons. The Monkey takes his first lesson later this week. Maybe he can teach me. Oh, and in the background is some baskets of unfolded laundry, taunting me. I actually moved them into the middle of the kitchen, thinking it would force me to acknowledge them and fold them. Nope, didn't work.

Our first activity from Story of the World - cave paintings.  The Monkey really enjoyed this activity and the Duckling enjoyed painting herself.  You'll have to look at the following post to see the final product.

More pics to satisfy

The Monkey's final product of the cave painting project.

The Duckling's cave painting project. She choose a different canvas.

Well, I'll try to straighten that out. It's the Monkey's first project from his art curriculum. This is a drawing of some dogs barking at each other in front of our house, drawn in Ebony Pencil. 

The Ducklings project, also drawn in Ebony Pencil.  It's an ice cream cone with sprinkles.  That's my girl!

Finger painting today. Why do all of her art projects end the same?