Monday, February 26, 2007

We're Back on the Dino Again

Despite a short-lived fling with space, Colwyn really only has one obsession in his life again.. dinosaurs. We finished painting the planets (although Doug and I are still arguing over whether Venus is blue or red.. anyone know for sure?), but I still haven't been able to convince Colwyn to participate in gluing them to the display board. I even printed out little labels--they're still sitting on my printer tray. So for now, I have several half-planets taking up way too much space on what I call my Homeschooling Counter of Clutter. Here's a picture, just for the hell of it.

You can see our huge number of crayons, the bowl of polished stones we use as math manipulatives, the real math manipulatives (multicolored bears), our globe, a few workbooks, lots and lots of paper, our Dino ABC book, the states puzzle, some tongs, scoops, magnets, eyedroppers, magnifying glass, dustpan, lots of puzzles, a few board games, play dough, and the poor planets. For those of you with a good eye, you'll also see a book written by Doug's aunt.

You won't see the dinosaur fossils (they're hiding behind the stones), the majority of our craft supplies (they're on the bottom shelf, in drawers), or the two books on science experiments we just checked out from the library. We got Mudpies to Magnets and Flash! Bang! Pop! Fizz!. The first book I had heard about on MDC, but the second one was recommended in this book, which lists tons of great books. We haven't tried any of the experiments yet, but I've flipped through the books and can't wait to start.

Back to the dinosaurs.. last week we did a lot of activities with those ever-present reptiles. I drew a picture of a triceratops skeleton and cut it into pieces (tail, spine, ribcage, back legs with pelvis, front legs with shoulder blades, and skull) and Colwyn glued it back together on a piece of cardstock.

We've also been sorting his toy dinosaurs a lot. We'll sort them into herbivores and carnivores, or we'll sort them by species. Colwyn always wants to sort dinosaurs that we only have one of (like parasaurolophus), so we usually have a few T. Rexes stand in. He's also been playing this strange game that I think he picked up from Charlotte. He'll ask you to be a dinosaur and roar, and then he'll say that he's a race car and vroom loudly. When he vrooms at you, you're supposed to act scared. If you can fall over backwards, even better. Colwyn recently saw Charlotte and Mary acting out a scene from Cars, so I think that's where he got the idea.

Yesterday we took the kids to the Aquarium. I had a feeling it was going to be busy, and it surely was. It's funny, each time we go, the kids find something else to be totally fascinated with. This time, they spent a while looking at a tropical fish tank that had a unicorn tang in it. When we went outside to look at the seals, we noticed that there were some turtles in what we call the "sick fishy room." There was a big sign next to the window explaining how some baby turtles don't start swimming south soon enough, and get sick from being in the cold water off the Cape. They drift around until someone rescues them and brings them to the Aquarium. After getting nursed back to health, they're brought to Florida or some other warm place. Colwyn was quite taken with them, and loves telling everyone how the turtle doctor is going to make the turtles better, then bring them to Florida to see his Grandma and Lang Amma (although his stories include the turtle doctor running up to us and saying, "Oh my goodness!" even though we didn't actually see any staff in the "sick fishy room").

Last week we went over to Jen's house to play with Calvin and Miles and bake bread. The kids played really well together. Colwyn stuck with the trains mostly, but Lachlann had fun playing "tag" with Calvin and Miles. We kneaded the sourdough bread for a while, and after it was done, had a delicious snack.

Today we had everyone over here. Colwyn and Lachlann got to play with Calvin and Miles and Thomas and Aidan. Colwyn is definitely warming up to his new friends.. both Colwyn and Lachlann cried when they had to leave. I hate to see my boys sad, but I'm so glad they like the other kids. They all play together nicely, which is great because it lets us moms chat rather than breaking up fights or chasing the kiddos around.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Who Likes Their Kids?

So, our playgroup on Tuesday fell through. In a stroke of inspiration, I called our neighbor to see if she'd like to get together (she's a teacher, so the inspiration was of me remembering that it was school vacation week). She returned my phone call when her kids were napping, and the first thing out of her mouth was, "Oh, Rachel, I don't know how you handle being with your kids all day! I'm going crazy!" Um. Remember, it was only Tuesday, too. And then she tells me that she's going away with her husband that night and won't be back until Friday. So basically she couldn't handle being with her kids for four straight days, even when she was going to be away for the next three. Wow. I tried to be friendly and not sound too shocked, so we were chuckling over how high energy kids can be. She said that most days when she has the kids, she can't even handle getting them dressed. I (untruthfully) said that we had days like that, and that then there were days like we were in the middle of, when the boys spend most of the morning naked. She sounded mildly shocked, so I explained that we had been painting and it's just easier to take their clothes off before they start. She responded with, "My God, you do, like.. crafts with them!?" Right. No, I spend 7 full days a week with my kids and I never do any planned, structured, or creative activities with them. And she's a kindergarten teacher, too! Later in the conversation, I asked when her kids might be up from the nap, so we could meet up outside, and she said she had no idea, that maybe she should ask the daycare staff sometime.

The concept of not knowing basic things about your kids seems so foreign to me. And the idea of not actually wanting to spend time with them is just horrible. I mean, why have kids then? Now, don't get me wrong.. there are plenty of times when I need a break, too, and there can definitely be extenuating circumstances (like a husband who's never home--though her husband is often home before she is). But the vast majority of the time, I want to be around my kids. Sure, the diaper changing isn't usually fun, and breaking up a dozen fights a day can be tedious, but that only accounts for a tiny fraction of my day. I love taking the kids out to do fun stuff. I love being able to go where we want, when we want. I love doing puzzles with Colwyn and tickling Lachlann. I love piling into my bed to read books, even if they spend most of the time looking out the window. I love getting the kids ready for naptime, reading Colwyn a book in his bed, and lying down with Lachlann while he drifts off to sleep. I love that haze they're in just after they wake up from a nap, when they sit on my lap for ten minutes and just stare off into space. I love the way their hair is sweaty from being under the covers. I love watching Colwyn and Lachlann entertain each other at the dinner table. I love being their go-to person, the person who knows all the important stuff about them. Who wouldn't want to be there for all of that with their kids?

I guess that's why we're homeschooling, and our neighbor isn't. :)


Monday, February 19, 2007

Dinos: To Your Rockets!

We seem to be making a transition from the dinosaur obsession to a space obsession. Or (hopefully) if it's not a real transition, Colwyn is at least making room in his busy life for two obsessions.

I think I mentioned before that Colwyn likes the Magic Schoolbus episodes that have to do with space. He's also really liked the Little Einstein's episode where they visit the planets. Lately he's been pretending to be in a rocket and will take off to visit Mars or something. So, I decided to try to do a bit more with this interest. We're making a styrofoam ball model of the solar system, using one of those giant cardboard displays. Today we painted the display board black (and talked briefly about why space is black), and started painting the styrofoam balls I had cut in half. So far we have the sun, Earth, Mars, Saturn, and Neptune.

But dinosaurs are still a feature in much of Colwyn's play. Last night we used a 50% off coupon to get him a nice dinosaur puzzle at AC Moore. It's a 48 piece Melissa and Doug one. Here he is searching for that elusive piece:

Afterwards, he had to "hide" from the Allosaurus:

He really is quite good at puzzles, and only rarely needs help. Sometimes we prompt him with observations like, "That puzzle piece you're holding looks like it has part of a spotted dinosaur on it. Where might that go?" Reminding him to look more carefully at the piece in his hand is usually all the help he needs.

Actually, my mom and I got into a bit of a argument over the puzzle yesterday, as she insisted on giving him way too much help, or doing pieces for him, or cheering him excessively. I know that seems like a stupid thing to argue over, but the way I look at it.. what is he learning when someone tells him exactly where to put a puzzle piece? He's capable of doing it perfectly well on his own. As for the cheering.. we certainly tell Colwyn he's doing great, but we try to keep our level of praise consistent with his level of achievement. To us, putting an easy puzzle piece into place merits only a "Nice" if anything. Harder pieces, ones that he has to really think about, or finishing the whole puzzle gets more praise, like "Wow, Colwyn, look at how well you did. Aren't you so proud of yourself?" We really want him to have intrinsic motivation to do things.. that is, we don't want him completing a puzzle so that we'll praise him. We want him to feel proud of himself because he thinks he did well, not because we heaped on the praise. Plus.. I think laying it on thick when he hasn't worked hard for something kind of cheapens the comments, you know?

Well, anyway.

I tried to teach Colwyn to play Red Light, Green Light today (gotta get in PE somewhere, right?). We've done something similar in the grocery store before, where I'll say "Red Light!" if he runs too far ahead, and say "Green Light" when we catch up. He follows those instructions just fine, but today he completely ignored all my "Red Light" commands. I think he just really felt like being three. :)

We're having Thomas and Aidan over again tomorrow, and on Thursday we're going to Jen's house to bake bread with Calvin and Miles (Thomas and Aidan will be there, too). Wednesday is our other playgroup, and we're going to Lisa's house since it's school vacation week. Hopefully we'll be able to paint the rest of the planets sometime over the next few days and glue them onto the display board.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

U.S. Ranks Second-to-Last for Child Well-Being

A mom in our homeschooling co-op sent this article to us, from The Economist. Apparently, when calculating the "well-being" of children in 21 rich countries, the United States comes in second-to-last, with Britain being the worst. Of course, any study like this is open to criticism, as their methods of calculating well-being are not in any way exact. For example, to figure the material well-being of children, they take into account household-income inequality, self-reported deprivation, and the number of children's books in a house. Of course, those are very important things to consider, but by no means definitive. However, the article does make a very good point about family life and the effect it has on children.. a point that makes me feel proud of what Doug and I strive for and achieve for our family.

"Where Britain and America really score badly, however, is in the categories of relationships and risky behaviour. British and American children apparently spend less time (and eat fewer meals) with their parents, compared with the other countries, and seem to be somewhat less happy with their friends and in school. Some of this is especially messy to assess and the report's authors acknowledge "obvious problems of definition" when subjective measures and self-reporting are compared. Maybe British and American children are better at moaning than others. But many of the data seem reliable enough. There is statistical evidence (at least in Britain and America) that children in single-parent families are worse off in some ways, when school drop-out rates or eventual educational attainment are measured, for example. And family breakdown may be a contributing cause to the worryingly high rates of risky behaviour—younger sex, more drug taking, dreadful diets, and high levels of drinking, bullying and violence—in Britain and America.

"The question, then, is what to do about any of this? It seems rather more likely that others are going to take up British and American cultural habits—more junk food, more single-parents—than the other way around. And while governments can spend more on cutting child poverty, whatever politicians promoting family values may say, they can do relatively little to encourage parents to stick together for the sake of their children, let alone to enforce a regular family meal or lots of bedtime stories."

So, hey.. at least we can say that we eat together as a whole family at least once a day, and each of the children's meals are with at least one parent. And if our bedtime reading isn't enough, then I don't know what is. :)


Friday, February 16, 2007

Quick Link

I was reading through the archives of the Open Path blog, when I came across this post, from this past October. She makes such a good point, and is so eloquent. Made me want to cry.

Co-Op Madness

Some weird things have been happening in the homeschooling co-op we joined. The short version is that everyone has left except for me and the two founders. The slightly longer version is that the people who were in the group were either not committed to homeschooling, or wanted something very different from the group. I think they're going to start advertising a bit and hopefully some new people will join. I think that as the kids get older, it'll be easier to find people who are sure that they want to homeschool (or are actively homeschooling), rather than just considering it.

We had a playdate at our house today with Dani and her sons, Thomas and Aidan (they're from the co-op). Colwyn is the type of kid to just play by himself in a large group of kids, so I wanted to set up a few one-on-one playdates so he could get to know the kids better. Colwyn and Thomas did so well playing, and didn't get into any fights. As they were leaving, Colwyn told Thomas that he loved him and that he could come back after Saturday. :) Dani and the other mom in the co-op, Jen, are bringing their kids here on Monday, so he was actually right about Thomas coming back after Saturday.

So, oddly enough, Colwyn actually enjoys doing worksheets. This is only slightly to my dismay. As much as I'd rather be doing fun, creative activities, if he's happy to do worksheets, I suppose that's fine. After all, I liked (like?) worksheet type things, too.

We played with the states puzzle for a while today. If I take out 10-15 states, he does great at putting them back, but if they're all out, he's a bit lost. He really likes pointing out where we live, where Mexico is, and where the space shuttles and dinosaurs are. We also played with some math manipulatives (a set of bears in 3 different colors and 3 different sizes), but after a bit of sorting - which he called making parades, he kept insisting that one of his bears was going to be mean and knock down my bears. So we ended that game.

I've started showing Colwyn some Magic Schoolbus episodes on TV. He really likes the one about the asteroid. I'd really like to get some of the books, though, as the TV show is just a little.. weird.

Well, Lachlann has a diaper that needs changing, so until next time!

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Love of Reading

Tomorrow we're planning on taking the kids to the library. We normally go every other week or so to get new books. I figure two weeks is a good amount of time for each book to get read several times (we usually get lots of books), which I think helps Colwyn learn more from the story. After all, if they can show the same Blues Clues 5 days in a row, Colwyn can read a book every other day for two weeks, right?

We usually read one book at naptime and three to four books at bedtime. The kids also usually bring me at least two (if not half a dozen) books to read randomly throughout the day. Some of our favorite books are:

One Dark Night (Lisa Wheeler)
Sailor Moo (Lisa Wheeler)
Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, and other Pigeon books (Mo Willems)
Owl Moon (Jane Yolen)
How Do Dinosaurs Eat/Say Goodnight/Get Well Soon (Jane Yolen)
Night Pirates (Peter Harris)
Bubble Bath Pirates (Jarrett Krosoczka)
Where the Sidewalk Ends (Shel Silverstein)
New Kid On the Block (Jack Prelutsky)
I Dreamt I Was a Dinosaur (Stella Blackstone and Clare Beaton)
The Gruffalo (Julia Donaldson)
No, David - and other David books (David Shannon)
Click Clack Moo (Doreen Cronin)
Polar Express (Chris Van Allsburg)
The Z was Zapped (Chris Van Allsburg)
If You Give A Mouse A Cookie (Laura Numeroff)

I absolutely love children's books, and while I did okay with the better board books (Audrey Wood's, Eric Carle's, Sandra Boynton's, Byron Barton's, and a few others), I'm really enjoying reading "real" books to the boys. The kids enjoy books a lot, too, even if I'm not reading to them.. several times a day they'll pull books off their bookshelves and look through the pictures. What I'm really looking forward to is reading chapter books aloud with the kids. But on the other hand, I'm enjoying having a good excuse to read children's books. :)


Thursday, February 08, 2007

Life Gets Crazy

Things have been a bit crazy this last week or so.. that's my excuse for not updating, and I'm sticking to it. I do have quite a few things to share, though. We'll start with the boring and work our way to the fun stuff. :)

I know I've said that I'm not into worksheets, and I stick by that. However, Colwyn got a random workbook for his birthday, so occasionally he'll take it out of the craft drawer and want to do some pages in it. Here's what he did today:

We've been steadily working on our dinosaur ABC book, as well. We're up to Iguanadon so far. Colwyn now knows whether the following dinosaurs are meat eaters or plant eaters: apatosaurus, brachiosaurus, corythosaurus, deinonychus, edmontosaurus, fabrosaurus, gigantosaurus, hadrosaurus, and iguanodon. He knows that giganotosaurus was bigger than T. Rex, and that brachiosaurus's nose was on top of its head. :)

Last weekend, we took the kids to the Museum of Science again. This time, they were healthy, rested, and fed, and thankfully the museum was a lot less crowded. Colwyn didn't spend as much time with the dinosaurs as I had been expecting, but he did really like an archaeology exhibit, and enjoyed looking at the model exhibit. We also had some fun with stop animation in the animation exhibit, and he looked at a few random things through a microscope.

The other really cool thing we did was make a volcano out of playdough, a paper cup, baking soda, vinegar, and red food dye. We filled the cup about halfway with baking soda (more would have been fine.. in fact, we refilled it later), then used playdough to turn the cup into a volcano. While the boys and I were doing that, Doug added some red dye to a cup of vinegar. Here's what our volcano looked like:

When we poured the red vinegar into the baking soda, it bubbled over and nearly looked like lava. If you're patient, you can see a video of it here. But I'm warning you, it's quite a big file and will take a minute or two to load even on broadband. The kids seemed impressed, but I think Doug and I actually had the most fun. Oh well. :)

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