Wax resist paintings.

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We did a great art project this week. We drew space and underwater scenes with oil pastels and then painted over them with watercolors. The oily pastels resist the water-based paint, creating a really cool effect.

(Incidentally, this site is a fantastic resource for art projects. This is where I got the idea to use oil pastels instead of crayons to create the wax resist.)

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Colin’s underwater scene.

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Alex’s and mine.

Posted in art | 2 Comments

Colin explores past ways…

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This week in Five in a Row, Colin is studying Cynthia Rylant’s lovely picture book memoir, When I Was Young in the Mountains. The text and detailed illustrations show what life was like in rural Appalachia fifty or so years ago, without modern conveniences.

This morning, after our first reading, we took a lengthy detour to explore the foreign-to-Colin concept of baptism, which is mentioned in the story. We discussed what baptism means to Christians, how Mommy and Daddy were baptized, why Alex and Colin don’t need to be, and what we do instead (child dedications). We even watched a YouTube video of baptisms being performed in a river. Colin found it strange but interesting.

Then we paged through the book again, looking for details of how the children’s lives were different from ours. Oil lamps instead of electric lights, an outhouse in the back yard, water from a pump carried to the house in buckets, baths in a tin washtub in front of the stove, handwashing with a bowl and pitcher, shopping from an old-fashioned general store, swimming in a swimming hole… all of these were fascinating details. We even did a Google image search to find out more about what outhouses look like. Then we thought of aspects of their lives that are the same as ours: they like cornbread, for example, and they eat dinner together sitting on chairs around a table, and the grandparents love the children and care for them.

This afternoon Colin tried washing his hands without modern conveniences. He used a little metal pail to fetch water from the outdoor tap, and filled a pitcher with his pail.

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Then he poured water from the pitcher into a bowl and washed his hands in the bowl using bar soap. He was tickled when I sent him out to get his hands especially dirty first!

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He poured the dirty water out of the bowl and replaced it with clean water to rinse his hands. While he did that, we talked about how cold the water was, and how much trouble it would be to get warm water for washing if you had to heat it up on the stove first. We agreed that the family in When I Was Young in the Mountains probably washed in cold water most of the time, except for baths.

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That led us on our second detour of the day, because Colin wondered how we get hot water from our taps. We went down to the basement and examined our hot-water heater. Colin knows that water comes to our house through pipes under the streets. We saw how water goes into the hot water heater, how it gets heated by burning gas, and how it is pulled up through interior pipes to come out our faucets. He was fascinated. I think he’ll definitely appreciate his next warm handwashing!

I love When I Was Young in the Mountains. I adored studying it with Alex – it was her first official kindergarten FIAR book – and I am delighted to be studying it with Colin now. It’s just a really beautiful book.

Posted in five in a row, social studies | Tagged | 5 Comments

“The Kitten Who Thought It Was a Duck.”

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“Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” – Gene Fowler.

Alex is having a hard time with the jump from writing a few sentences to writing paragraphs. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that Alex is giving me a hard time about the jump to writing paragraphs. She’s obviously capable of writing well, but she complains bitterly about the length and otherwise fights me every step of the away.

This little story was last week’s assignment. The directions gave her the basic premise and three supporting ideas to write about – e.g., “tell what happened when the ducklings went into the water.” She was supposed to flesh out that framework into an interesting story. I think she did a charming job of it, but whoa, was it a struggle.

The Kitten Who Thought It Was A Duck

Once there was a kitten who thought it was a duck, because it was raised by a flock of ducks. When the ducklings ate corn, the kitten tried to, but choked. The kitten learned how to swim, so he followed the ducklings into the water. The kitten could not swim far, so he had to ride on the mother duck’s back, but he fell off. PLOOSH! Some kids saw it and thought it was the saddest-looking kitten they had ever seen.

When the kitten chased a mouse, the other ducklings thought they were supposed to. They tripped over their own feet.

The End

Her first draft was a grudging, bare-bones framework and full of misspellings. I insisted, despite her howls, that she write a final draft. We talked about how a final draft can either be a boring exercise in copying or it can be an opportunity to make your story even better. She spent forever on the final draft on Friday and only managed to write a few sentences. She insisted that Writing Strands is just too hard and too long for her. But today, when I sat her down to finish, she added a bunch of elaboration and humor to the second half and seemed genuinely pleased with the result. Now she wants to send it to a publisher.

I think this is a reasonable amount of writing to expect from a third grader. I certainly think that kids in public school are writing this much or more. Am I off base?

Posted in language arts, writing | 5 Comments

The rest of Colin’s week with Lentil.

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Science was definitely the highlight of our Five in a Row study of Lentil, but we packed lots of other great things into the week as well.

  • Colin was a story detective, looking and listening for clues that would answer the question, “Does Lentil happen in now times or in old-fashioned times?” He was able to pull together details from people’s clothes, the interiors of the school and the store, and the vehicles in the story to conclude that the book takes place in old-fashioned times.
  • We spent a lot of time studying Robert McCloskey’s illustrations, which (as in all his books) are excellent. We figured out how people felt by their facial expressions, and how bad Lentil’s early harmonica experiments were by the reactions of the animals in the illustration.
  • Because Lentil takes place in Ohio, Colin learned, with great relish, to tell the joke about “what’s round at both ends and high in the middle.”
  • We did some charcoal drawing just like Robert McCloskey.
  • We discussed a number of miscellaneous social studies issues: what it means that Colonel Carter “gave” a library or a hospital to the town of Alto, Ohio; philanthropy; how practicing at something makes you better; why a town like Alto might have a monument to Soldiers and Sailors.
  • Colin learned to identify the musical instruments featured in the pictures of the Alto, Ohio town band.
  • I introduced the idea of the climax of a story. I say “I introduced” because I think this lesson went over Colin’s head. That’s okay; it’ll come up again.
  • We sang “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain When She Comes” every day, because that song is featured in the story.

It seems like so much, doesn’t it? But all of this stuff (except the charcoal drawing, obviously) was just casual cuddling-on-the-couch conversation. He was just that into Lentil.

Posted in five in a row | Tagged | 1 Comment

Captain Obvious’s Homeschooling Tips

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I’m trying something bold and innovative in our fourth year of homeschooling:


No, seriously. I haven’t so much done that before. We school year-round, so there’s no pressure to “finish the school year” at a certain point and thus no real reason to divide up and schedule our work. I’ve organized individual subjects – planned out which lessons to do for each Five in a Row book, made (and, uh, largely ignored) lists of projects and supplemental reading for Story of the World. But mostly I’ve been a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants homeschooler, and every day we’ve gotten up and Done The Next Thing.

The problem was that we kept missing stuff. We didn’t wind up doing that many projects or experiments because I wouldn’t have planned them out in advance, and subjects like science and history kept getting pushed off because I wouldn’t have the materials I needed together. And when I was tired or distracted, it was easy for me to lose the flow and just let the kids go off and play. All the extras I kept wanting to add in, like art and poetry teas? Forget it.

So I mapped out a schedule. I distributed Alex’s subjects more evenly and and arranged them so she’d get one weekday off in everything but math. I put in spaces for Colin, for cleaning, and for myself. This past week, I tried it for the first time. On Sunday, I filled in all the boxes with specific plans for the upcoming week.

I was amazed at how much more smoothly our school week went. Amazed! Nothing got skipped (except, uh, most of the cleaning), and most days we finished by lunch. I knew in advance what science experiments were coming up, and was ready to do them. I had a much firmer grasp on exactly what each day would contain, which made me feel more free to let Alex choose the order of her subjects.

Lots of things got scribbled out, moved around, amended, or checked off out of sequence. Five in a Row happened in a completely different order than I’d planned. But I never felt off-balance. I didn’t feel bound to the schedule, just supported by it.

I’ve already got my chart finished for next week. Captain Obvious thinks she might be on to something here.

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Posted in policy & planning | 7 Comments

Return to Five in a Row: Science with Lentil.

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The other night, rocking in Daddy’s lap in the darkened bedroom, Colin looked up at Michael and said, “You know what, Daddy? I think Lentil is fiction. The things could have happened in real life, but you can usually tell it’s fiction from the cover.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we use Five in a Row. That joy of inquiry.

We’ve been studying Lentil by Robert McCloskey this week, and Colin has been reveling in this odd story about a harmonica-playing boy who saves the day when his town’s celebration is threatened by a lemon-sucking antagonist. (Really.)

Lentil lends itself to some great science activities centered on the senses. On Tuesday, we looked at our taste buds in the mirror and talked about the four primary tastes: sweet, sour, salt, and bitter. I set up a plate with little piles of sugar, salt, and unsweetened cocoa powder, plus a wedge of lemon, and we tasted all four.

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Then we tried an experiment. Colin lay on his back with his mouth open and his eyes closed. I dipped a wet Q-tip in each of the flavors in turn, and touched the Q-tip to the roof of his mouth. He was completely unable to identify the taste. Then I touched the Q-tip to his tongue, or even just let him bring his tongue to the roof of his mouth, and he was able to tell sweet from sour, salty from bitter. Without a doubt, those little tongue bumps are critical for the sense of taste! That was a really cool and effective demonstration.

Lentil practices his harmonica in the bathtub, “because the tone was improved one hundred percent.” We’ve experimented with that aspect of the senses, too. Of course Colin had to try playing his harmonica in the bathtub, like Lentil. We also did a direct comparison between playing the harmonica into the blankets and pillows of a bed and playing it in a tiled shower stall. “The Magic School Bus Inside a Haunted House” (link is to the full video) helped us understand that sound is produced by vibrations, which make waves that can bounce off the tiled bathroom or be muffled by soft cloth bedding. We spent some time testing the sound-is-vibration thing, too: singing with a hand on our throats to feel our larynx vibrate, and seeing how the sound of whacking a metal rail changes when someone holds it tightly to reduce vibration.

Today we’ll finish up our study of sound with an activity Michael devised back when Alex studied Lentil: sprinkling salt on the head of an improvised drum and seeing how the grains “dance” when exposed to a nearby sound.

Five in a Row is so much fun.

Posted in five in a row, science | Tagged | 3 Comments

Attack of the evil sorcerer!

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Colin is pretty good at sounding out words, but I’ve noticed that he has a lot of trouble telling the difference between lower-case b and d. He usually has to guess.

Today a sorcerer visited our house to leave a magic path of letters on the sidewalk. You could only navigate the path successfully if you followed the rule – for example, “you can only step on a letter that says /b/.” The sorcerer coated incorrect letters with glue, so that if a person stepped on them they were stuck fast until someone else pulled them loose with a lot of heaving and difficulty. Then they were swung around in a big arc, back to the beginning.

The first round, he got stuck in the glue a lot. The next round, a little better. Then I went through according to his rule, and he was in charge of telling me when I made a mistake. He got steadily better and better, and we mixed in different rules, until finally he mastered the Super-Special Bonus Round, in which you have to step on one letter in each row and say the sound it makes before you move on.

We did a similar thing with math when Alex was in kindergarten, mixing up problems that added up to six vs. seven. It’s a great game for anything you need to practice telling apart.

Posted in reading | 1 Comment

Third grade writing, part II: Alex’s first paragraph.

As promised, Alex’s first paragraph:

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The Stream

There is a stream in the forest at the end of our street. Where the water is shallow it moves fast, but in the deep parts it moves slowly. The water is muddy and has litter in it, but there are still fish there. There is a little bare spot covered with rocks where Colin likes to throw rocks off. My favorite thing to do is sail leaf boats in it.

Here’s her first draft:

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She wrote a collection of sentences answering the various questions she’d come up with about the stream, and then I cut the sentences apart and encouraged her to play around with how to arrange them. She kicked up an enormous fight about how much writing the first draft was, and an even bigger fight about copying it over neatly on a separate sheet of paper, in proper paragraph format and with spelling and capitalization errors fixed. “I’M NEVER GOING TO WRITE A PARAGRAPH AGAIN, NEVER!!” I think that maybe the final draft being printed rather than cursive was meant to be a rebellion?

My poor kid. She would never survive public school writing assignments, would she? But this is right where I’d like to see her at the beginning of third grade. It’s a nice little well-organized descriptive paragraph. Her writing sounds natural rather than formulaic. She’s got a good grip on the basic mechanics: spelling, handwriting, punctuation. I don’t think waiting until now to work on original writing has harmed her in the slightest.

Posted in language arts, Uncategorized, writing | 2 Comments

Third grade writing, Part 1: Writing Strands.

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In kindergarten, first grade, and second grade we required virtually no original writing from Alex. No daily journaling. No creative writing. No descriptive paragraphs, expository paragraphs, persuasive paragraphs. Just narrations (brief verbal summaries of readings) and dictations, plus occasional short answers on a science lab sheet. In second grade she did a few short writing assignments (just a few sentences each) for MCT Language Arts and for science. That was it.

It made me a little nervous, to be honest, being so light on original writing in a world in which, we keep being told, third-graders in public school are writing five-paragraph essays. (I’ve wrung my hands about it before, although sadly the graded examples I linked to seem to have been taken down.) But it made sense to me to should focus on learning to write words and sentences correctly, not on producing large amounts of material, so we stuck with it.

Now, for the first time, we’re using a more traditional writing curriculum, Writing Strands. Alex is winding up Lesson 2, a 9-day (that’s three weeks for us) exercise called “Sentence and Paragraph Control.” It’s a very interesting method of building up to writing your first paragraph.

For the first few days of the lesson, Alex worked on re-writing a “core sentence” five times to include answers to five questions. Here’s an early example:

Core sentence: The girl flies the kite.

Alex’s sentences, answering questions posed in the text:

1. Janet sees the girl fly the kite.
2. Janet sees Alice fly the kite.
3. Janet sees Alice fly the red kite.
4. Janet sees eight-year-old Alice fly the red kite.
5. Eight-year-old Alice is flying a red kite in stormy weather, and Janet thinks it is fun to watch.

Aha! See the breakthrough in the fifth sentence? Alex wanted to know why she had to include all the question answers in each successive sentence, and now I know: because the repetition is so boring that you wind up breaking out and finding a more interesting way to express yourself.

She moved on to getting to choose her own core sentence and her own questions. I pointed out that if she made her questions more interesting, her sentences would be more fun to write. So she did:

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Core sentence: The hamster runs.

Alex’s sentences, answering questions of her own devising:

1. Fufu is running.
2. Fufu is running 60 miles per hour.
3. Fufu is being chased by a giant robot, so she is running 60 miles per hour.
4. Fufu ran through a mud puddle at 60 miles per hour while being chased by a giant robot, so now her fur is all brown.

The brilliant part of the lesson comes in days 7-9, when the author explains that writing a paragraph is essentially like writing these sets of sentences, except that you don’t have to cram everything you want to talk about into one long sentence. You get to use a whole sentence (or more) for each question you’re answering. Alex wrote her first paragraph based on this process, and she did a beautiful job. (I’m going to break that off into a separate post, though, because she hasn’t quite finished copying over her final draft yet, and I promised her I’d put its picture on the blog when she was done.)

Posted in language arts, writing | 6 Comments

Lesson in decimals, lesson in metacognition.

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Alex has really been enjoying her first exposure to decimals in MEP 4b, so I didn’t expect any trouble today, when the lesson introduced decimal addition. That was my first mistake.

As often happens in MEP, the first step was to give a problem orally and encourage the child to come up with ideas for how to approach it. The problem went like this: “Alex was digging a trench in her garden to plant a hedge. The first day she dug 2 meters, 70 centimeters. The second day she dug 3.8m. The third day she dug 4m, and the fourth day she dug 3 6/10m. How long was the trench altogether?”

Alex wrote down 2m 70cm, 3.8m, 4m, and 3.6m and announced that the sum was 12.84m.

“Okay, it looks like you added the whole meters first, and then you added the centimeters, which was a good strategy,” I said. “The whole meters you added and got 12, and then you added 70 and 8 and 6 and got 84. Let’s take another look at that part. This .8 meters right here – how many centimeters would that be? Eight-tenths of a meter is most of a whole meter, so could it be eight centimeters?”

Light dawned. She changed the .8 and .6 to 80 and 60cm, added them together, and gave the correct answer: 12m 210cm, or 14m 10cm. Awesome.

What was supposed to happen next: I was supposed to show another couple of ways of solving the problem – converting all the lengths to straight-up centimeters, and then making a place-value table and slotting the numbers into it so that the numbers are lined up properly for column addition.

sample solution

What did happen next: Alex started sighing and rolling her eyes during my explanation of alternate solutions, and then I snapped at her for being rude, and then she started complaining that she was confused, and then I tried to illustrate by walking her through another problem but going straight for the place-value table, and she escalated to crying and yelling that it was just getting more and more confusing.

I put the math lesson away. I broke out the Base 10 blocks. We agreed together that if the “flats” were 1′s, the rods would be tenths and the little unit cubes would be hundredths. And then we worked through several decimal addition problems, each time with the blocks first and then on paper, until she fully understood that you can only add hundredths to other hundredths, and tenths to tenths, and so on. I took the picture at the top of this post, figuring that I’d write a nice little “method” post about using Base 10 blocks to teach decimals.

…Until we were in the car on the way to pick Colin up at day camp, and Alex started a different sort of conversation.

“Mom, you know when you were showing me the different ways of doing the same problem? I didn’t understand that all that was about adding decimals, so first I got really bored and then it made me think that the way I did it was wrong.”

“Ah,” I said. “And it seems to me that that’s where things started to go badly with our math. Because you got bored and stopped paying attention, and then you were confused and frustrated, and I got mad because you weren’t paying attention.”

“Yeah,” she said eagerly. “I got frustrated and then I got really mad, and that usually means tears.”

“Uh huh. Let’s think about whether that could’ve gone differently. Like, if we could jump in the TARDIS and go back in time, what would’ve helped? It seems like I should’ve been more clear at the beginning, like, this is why I’m showing you these other ways, because these are the steps to learning to add decimals.”

She agreed, but couldn’t contribute anything she might’ve done differently.

“Well, how about, what if when you first started to feel frustrated, you told me, Mom, I’m don’t understand why you’re showing me all these different ways. Would that have made things go differently?”

She was dubious. She explained that she’s just the kind of kid whose feelings explode. I suggested that she may not be able to control how she feels, but she can learn to control what she does.

“I guess so, but when I get upset it’s really hard to think of what else to do. I’ve tried bottling up my angry feelings, but I only have so much bottle and then I explode!”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “I totally know what that’s like. So we know that bottling isn’t going to work. Usually the best thing is trying to notice before the feelings get really strong, and doing something then, at the beginning, while you still have options.”

That made a lot of sense to her. We went on to have a nice, sympathetic conversation about how tricky that is – including that I can’t always do it myself, which is why I sometimes yell at her. A huge part of becoming a grownup, I explained, is learning to understand yourself and notice your feelings so that you can have more control over how you act. But I’m not perfect at it, and I don’t expect her to be either.

I’m amazed that she was able to initiate, and apparently benefit from, this conversation. The real lesson today didn’t involve decimals; it involved metacognition – “thinking about thinking.” That ability to be reflective about your own mental processes is hugely, hugely important – especially to a kid who’s a bundle of nerves, like Alex. I am unbelievably proud of her.

Posted in math, philosophy and politics | 2 Comments

All cursive, all the time.


Alex is obsessed with cursive. She’s been tearing through the basic book that’s languished on the shelf all year (I don’t value cursive, so it’s always been optional) and writing her spelling and dictation assignments in a hybrid of cursive and print. Little cursive notes appear all around the house.

So yesterday I made a decision. “Hey Alex, what would you think about setting Writing With Ease aside for a while and doing cursive copywork instead?”

“I would love to!”

And she did, too. I picked a funny passage from our latest read-aloud and she copied several sentences with good will. Then she wrote an extra sentence so she could demonstrate her skill with capital I. Then she asked for more copywork. Win!

The only problem is that I find it pretty challenging to write out a “perfect cursive” example. (I know you can buy something like StartWrite to do it for you, but I’m cheap.) My cursive skills are not awesome or automatic, and I learned a script that’s slightly different from the one Alex is learning. Still, it’s worth the extra trouble to see her glow with pride.

The proliferation of cursive writing everywhere in our house makes the drive-by comment someone made on my last post all the funnier. This person is so familiar with our family that she began her comment “It may help your little perfectionist (and “Miss Amy,” presumably his teacher)…” She explains at length how useless cursive is, how adults don’t use it, and how it should never be required. Very nice, but I would’ve found an article on “what to do when your kid makes you teach cursive even though you don’t want to” a lot more relevant to my own situation.

Posted in writing | 7 Comments

Cursive and the perfectionist.

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Let me tell you, when a perfectionist starts to learn cursive it is fun times.

“Augh! Look at this y! It’s horrible! Look at how messed up it is!”

“No, Alex. I’m not going to look at your messed up y. Finish the row, and then circle the y you like the best, and I’ll look at that one.”

Z is hard too! Miss Amy says that she never mastered cursive z. Do you think I’ll ever be able to get it?”

“If you could write cursive letters the first time you tried, you wouldn’t need a cursive book. Just keep practicing and then circle your best z.”

And miraculously? This totally works. Circling the best letter, which I guess implicitly means disowning all the less-perfect ones, seems to shut off the perfectionist critic in her head. It keeps her practicing.

She can’t wait to be able to use cursive all the time:

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Posted in writing | 5 Comments

Wordless (almost) Wednesday


The Farm Experience program is going swimmingly.

Posted in BHCC, excursions, field trips | Leave a comment

Big news…

I’m quitting my job this summer.

My academic research psychology position just isn’t making me happy… to put it mildly. Instead, I’m going to strike out on my own. Seeing a gap that needs to be filled, I’ve decided to open a clinical practice that focuses on the assessment needs of homeschoolers.

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Right now, if you’re a homeschooler concerned that your child may have a learning disability, an attention issue, or special educational needs, your main option for an assessment is the public school system. Under federal IDEA law, the schools are responsible for identifying children with learning differences. However, many homeschoolers find that the public schools don’t really satisfy their needs.

The evaluation is likely to focus on questions of eligibility for special education services, school-based intervention programs, and classroom accommodations. Parents may be given very little advice about how to modify their homeschooling practices to remediate or accommodate their child’s difficulties. Understandably, school personnel aren’t knowledgeable about homeschooling curricula or different homeschooling philosophies which may impact educational choices. And many homeschoolers feel judged or misunderstood when they interact with the public system.

Private psychologists will also do assessments, of course, but these can be quite expensive and may be nearly as unsuited to the homeschooling context. Families may find themselves spending a lot of time educating the professional they hired about homeschooling.

Enter me.

I’m going to be able to provide assessment services that are well-informed about homeschooling, and recommendations that are written to the layperson and focused on the homeschool environment. Afterwards, I can consult periodically with families as they work with their kids to strengthen weak areas and work around problems.

Other families might just need a simple IQ test to establish their child’s eligibility for a program for gifted kids, or simple achievement testing to determine grade level in various subjects – say, when their child is coming out of school and they need to pick appropriate curriculum levels. I can do that too.

I think this will be a tremendous opportunity to serve the community, and it will also be work that I’ll really enjoy. And having my own practice, setting my own hours, will allow me to work less and have more time with the kids. I’ve been unhappy about racing through homeschooling most days to go running off to work, and I’ve worried about what it would be like to have both kids home. Now I’ll have the chance to set up a much more sustainable rhythm of work, schooling, and home life.

I’m excited!

Posted in policy & planning | 18 Comments

Looking ahead to third grade.

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Our new school year starts on June 1st. One of my goals for third grade is that Alex start to take a little more ownership of her education, so I asked her what she would like to accomplish this year. Without prompting, she came up with the following list:

1) Learn to write in cursive, quickly.
2) Learn how to multiply fractions.
3) Know the area of a circle.
4) Know the area of the Circle of Life.
5) Be able to write an essay by the first day of fourth grade.

Not such a bad list! #1 hadn’t initially been on my own list – I honestly don’t care if she writes in cursive or print. I learned cursive in elementary school, labored over it for four years, and instantly switched back to printing the moment I hit junior high. It did not impair my efforts to earn a Ph.D. But since Alex wants to learn it, I let her pick her script and ordered a handwriting book in the style she chose (Zaner-Bloser, pretty close to the Palmer script I was taught.)

The other kind of writing has been much on my mind. In third grade, I really want to focus on translating Alex’s strong verbal skills into writing.

I don’t think she’s quite ready for Paragraph Town, the next level of Michael Clay Thompson language arts. (Boy, would she love getting to move on to the next MCT poetry book, though. Music of the Hemispheres was one of the highlights of this year.) I intended to just have her focus on writing short paragraphs or themes in history and science, but on impulse I bought Writing Strands instead. It’s written to the child – I think it’s time to start making that shift – and it has a mix of creative and expository assignments. One of the things I like is that it focuses on working on the same piece of writing over several days. It looks like Writing Strands 3 will take about six months to complete, and then we can move on to MCT Town level towards the end of third grade.

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In math, with regret, we will mostly be leaving Beast Academy behind. They’re now saying that they’ll come out with each new set of books five months apart – and a set of books is only a quarter of a grade level. We’ll still buy the guides for enrichment, and perhaps the practice books as well, but Beast Academy can’t continue as Alex’s grade-level work. Instead, over the next year or so she’s going to work through a compacted version of MEP 4b-6b. Beast Academy has shown me that Alex just doesn’t need as much practice and repetition as there is in MEP. She thrives on moving a little quicker. I’ve reduced the rest of MEP down into about a full year’s work (it will take longer if we intersperse with Beast Academy), and we’ll move at that pace as long as she feels comfortable with it.

The last new thing I want to add for third grade is art. We did great art lessons with Five in a Row in kindergarten and first grade, but since then, sadly, Alex has mostly been on her own. She does great mixed-media and fabric art projects on her own, but I know that she would benefit from some actual instruction. We’re going to try working through Mona Brookes’ Drawing With Children, and see where that takes us.

In addition to these new things, Alex will be keeping on with Lively Latin, All About Spelling, Story of the World, and Intellego science units. That seems like more than enough!

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The really major new thing we’ll have going on this year is that Colin is dropping out of nursery school and becoming a home-preschooler, for reasons I will explain in an upcoming post. Yay, I get to do Five in a Row again! Colin is ecstatic about not having to go to school anymore, although he did cautiously ask if I could give him easy homeschooling, at first. I’m not going to leap right in to a lot of academics with him. Besides Five in a Row, I think I’ll try to spend some time at the table with him most days, doing varying activities: fine motor skills, board games, cutting and gluing, games with math manipulatives, mazes, learning to write letters, and continuing on with a little MEP Reception, or, as it is known in our house, “Colin math.” Oh, and books. Lots of time on the couch reading books.

It’s going to be awesome.

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Posted in art, five in a row, math, policy & planning, writing | 7 Comments

Soil is a filter.

We’re studying soil now in earth science, which dovetails nicely with the farm program that I wrote about in my last post. Today the kids spent a surprising amount of time playing on a soil website, watching little animations and doing click-and-drag activities. I thought this would be pitched too young for Alex, but she and Colin both loved it.

Then we set up an experiment to understand how soil acts as a filter. The directions were confusing, and our results were not as spectacular as promised, but it still turned out to be a good activity.

We punched holes in the bottom of two paper cups. One was half-filled with sand, and the other had about an inch of sand and was then half-filled with dirt. We put each cup inside a smaller paper cup to catch any water that leached through the soil. We were supposed to see big differences between the sand and the soil, and we didn’t.

First we poured dirty water full of miscellaneous gunk into the top cups. The water that came out the bottom wasn’t clear, but it didn’t have any visible material anymore – the soil and sand filtered out all the cruft.

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Next we drained out both cups and started again with water that had been colored with purple food coloring. Alex hypothesized that the water that leached out into the bottom cup would stay the same color. Nope! It came out a light slate gray.

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The experiment directions promised all kinds of cool results, like the water coming out hot pink, and we were not at all that lucky. But it still got the main point across: soil filters some substances and chemicals out of the water that seeps into underground aquifers, but it doesn’t filter out everything.

Alex did a nice job with her lab write-up. I helped out by having her formulate the sentences orally first, so that I could dictate them back to her, but the essentials are hers. (Oh, and I wrote the tiny labels on the pictures.)

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Posted in earth science, experiments, science | 4 Comments

Kayam Farm experience!

This week the kids started a new activity through the Baltimore Homeschool Community Center: a “Farm Experience” at Kayam, an organic farm north of Baltimore that focuses on environmental and Jewish education. (The homeschool program is secular.)


For the next six weeks, they’ll visit the farm one morning a week for hands-on activities and lessons. Sadly, I don’t get to go – it’s on Michael’s day at home. I get to experience it through pictures and the kids’ jumbled reports afterwards. By all accounts, it’s amazing.

What did they do their first week? Fed the chickens, gathered eggs, planted radishes and potatoes, chased goats out of the chicken coop, did yoga, played games. Colin’s group hunted through a sandbox for buried seeds and then matched them up with pictures to figure out what they would grow. Alex’s group, the over-sixes, weeded a garden bed and learned about the awesomeness of soil.

They had one heck of a good time.

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Posted in BHCC, excursions, field trips | 2 Comments

Latin and the little brother.

Sorry for the break in posting. I’ve had a lot going on, which hopefully I’ll be able to post about soon, and Alex has not had a lot going on – she had two weeks off for spring break, including a wonderful week of camp at a local nature center.

We have definitely noticed the step up in difficulty between Lively Latin 1 and Lively Latin 2. Alex is up to the challenge, but she’s not memorizing the vocabulary quite as quickly as she used to, and now she gets a new list in every chapter instead of every other chapter. When we picked Latin back up again after spring break, it was clear that we needed to stop and finish nailing down the recent vocabulary lists before we would be able to move any further.

Enter Latin Bingo:

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I made Alex a quick little Bingo card with Latin words and gave her a bowl of dried beans to mark her squares. Then I called out words in English and she tried to find them on her card. Colin also got a Bingo card with words from Alex’s recent Latin vocabulary lists, except that he had to match the English words I read with clip art pictures.

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I’m not as good as I’d like to be at finding learning activities that benefit both kids, given their age difference. I’m really happy with how this one turned out. Colin got some good searching-and-finding practice and a vocabulary lesson (which picture shows reward? How about announce?), and Alex got quite a bit of vocabulary practice. Because the kids’ Bingo cards weren’t identical, I called out plenty of words that weren’t on her list. She had to translate them into Latin in her mind before she could find them, or not, on her card. They played two rounds of regular Bingo and a round of “blackout Bingo,” and they are eager to play again tomorrow.

I might make this a regular feature for every chapter. Looking ahead, I see that next list has plenty of good vocabulary words for Colin, like breastplate, command, and conquer. Words that every four-year-old boy needs to know! And games are so good for morale.

Posted in languages, toddler world | 2 Comments

Alex’s rock museum.

We’re finishing up the Intellego Geology chapters on Minerals and Rocks this week, just in time for Alex’s spring break. The curriculum encourages doing some kind of response activity at the end of each section. For rocks and minerals, Alex is working on a “museum exhibit” of rocks that we’ve collected. We’re making label cards for each rock, with the identification (if possible) or whatever we can deduce about the rock. I am writing the label cards to Alex’s dictation, because I want her to concentrate on providing good content rather than on being extra-concise so she won’t have to write as much.

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We’re finding two resources enormously helpful with this project. Don Peck’s rock identification key can be found on the website of the Mineralogical Society of America. For our purposes, this key is far superior to the other ones online because (a) its descriptions are extremely clear for non-experts, and (b) it is limited to common rocks you are actually likely to find. (I can’t tell you how many times we’ve tried to work our way through a mineral identification key only to be told that we are supposedly holding a rare mineral found only in South Africa, or something.)

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We’re also using the Audubon Society’s First Field Guide to Rocks & Minerals. This is another extremely clear guide, with great pictures and descriptions of different types of rocks.

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Posted in earth science, science | 4 Comments

Snow candy!!

All winter, ever since I read Little House in the Big Woods to Colin, Alex has yearned to make snow candy the way Laura Ingalls did. All winter we’ve had no more than an inch of dirty snow at a time. But today – at the end of March, in Baltimore – we woke up to three inches of fluffy white. Today was the day.

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To be honest, I didn’t care for the flavor. Or the texture. And I know that Michael didn’t care for the job of cleaning hardened candy out of the pitcher we used to pour it on the snow. But the experience is something Alex can always remember. She made snow candy like Laura Ingalls.

Posted in experiments, language arts | 1 Comment