November 29, 2009

Still holding hands

One of the things I love about homeschooling is getting to be with my kids all day long. Ironically, it's also one of the things that is hardest about homeschooling. I have two 9-year-old sons. And they still hold my hand. When we go for a walk around the neighborhood they'll put their hand in mine and chatter along about their day, their thoughts and the things they want to create. When we're shopping in a store they slip their hand in mine and show me the things that interest them and make observations about the people around them. They hold my hand without prompting or embarrassment.

I love the fact that they don't know that moms are weird or embarrassing. No little friends on the playground have told them that I'm not cool. No one has said that only babies hold their mom's hand. I love that they are uniquely themselves and do what they want without measuring it against someone's artificial standard of cool.

I love the relationship we have. We can talk about anything, and do. We can laugh and learn together. I know everything that went on in their day and they know about mine. They confide in me, they listen to me, they want to be near me and cuddle with me on the couch.

Some day those boys won't want to hold my hand, but for now I cherish every minute of it. Some days those hands are covered in dirt and sweat and sticky food or things I don't even want to think about. But they put their hands in mine and I love it.

I must confess that I'm glad I have younger sons, because I'm assured years of hand-holding. I just wish I had a hand for each of them.

November 23, 2009

Vegetarian Korma

Everyone really enjoys this and I love that the kids are eating a ton of vegetables.  It's got a long list of ingredients, but it comes together quickly.

1 1/2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
1 tsp. minced fresh ginger root
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 potatoes, cubed (you can substitute cauliflower for some or all of the potatoes)
a few handfuls of baby carrots, sliced
1 (4 ounce) can tomato sauce
2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tbsp. curry powder (you can use garam masala or a mixture of the two)
1 c. frozen green peas
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped - I don't use peppers at my house so I consider this optional
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped - I don't use peppers at my house so I consider this optional
1 c. coconut milk 
1 bunch fresh cilantro for garnish
hot cooked rice
naan if you're feeling adventurous

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onion, and cook until tender. Mix in ginger and garlic, and continue cooking 1 minute. Add the potatoes, carrots, tomato sauce, salt and curry powder. Cook and stir 10 minutes, or until potatoes are tender (I add in a bit of water now and then if it's looking too dry or sticking to my pan). Add the remaining ingredients (but not the rice and naan!).  Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 10 minutes. Garnish with cilantro to serve.   

Serve with rice and naan.  You could add spinach, broccoli or garbanzo beans or pretty much whatever you want.

Black Beans and Quinoa

We've recently discovered quinoa and love it.  This is a fast, delicious dish.  My kids love that they're eating "an ancient grain." Quinoa is sometimes hard to find but most big grocery stores have it.  Otherwise, check your local health food store.

1 tsp. vegetable oil or butter
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3/4 c. uncooked quinoa
1 1/2 c. vegetable broth
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (I don't add this; I sprinkle it on the adult's servings)
salt and pepper to taste
1 c. corn kernels, frozen or canned
2 (15 ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 c. chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the onion and saute until lightly browned; add the garlic the last minute or two.  Throw the quinoa into the saucepan with the onions and add the vegetable broth. Season with cumin, cayenne pepper (or hold till later), salt, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.  Stir the corn into the saucepan, and continue to simmer about 5 minutes until heated through. Mix in the black beans.  Sprinkle cilantro on each plate - my kids won't eat cilantro (I don't know what's wrong with them).  The grown-ups at my house like to sprinkle ours with cayenne. 

November 20, 2009

How I do science...

....or the continuing saga of how I'm trying to figure it all out.

So, we're a Charlotte Mason family. We're supposed to spend lots and lots of time outdoors interacting with nature. Only I live in Texas and during the summer it's hot. Ridiculously hot. So hot that after 5 minutes outside everyone is begging to come back inside. We are all very thankful for air conditioning and fans! Our seasons of outdoor time are consequently flipped. We spend a lot of time inside during the summer and more time outside during the fall, winter and spring. Three of the five of us home during the day also have allergies to all growing things outside. I tend to avoid pollen whenever possible.

And therefore we do lots of science in the house. Ms. Mason would probably shake her head at me, but it is what it is. We do, for the most part, use living science books and lots of hands on experiments. I've been known to use (okay, I've tried to use) textbooks. The Christian Kids Exploring whatever books didn't work for us. I wanted to poke my eyes out with the Exploring Creation With ______ books and my kids ASKED me to stop. (more on that in another post)

After several years of trying to make those books and others work we finally settled on something that fits our style. Is it the best way to do science? Probably not. Is it strictly Charlotte Mason? Not really. Do my kids love it and look forward to science every day? Yes. Success!!!!

I made a list of subjects I wanted to cover in the elementary years (basically before 7th grade). We take turns picking a subject and then check out lots of books and movies about the topic and throw in some hands-on experiments/crafts/whatevers and we're set. Sometimes it takes a few weeks, others a few months. We just go until we're ready to move on. Since I have 3 school-age kids they each take a turn picking and the fourth pick is mine.

We do use the Real Science 4 Kids books - we all love those. You can see how we use them here.  For the rest I pick a 'spine' or guide book for a subject, one that is fairly comprehensive for the subject and then we add in whatever we can find at the library.  I have started buying most of the spines I want because we have always lived in book-poor library areas and often can't find many good living books.  Being the book snob that I am I like to own at least one or two good books on any given topic that we're studying (I typically buy them used though).  But you don't have to be a snob like me.  You can use the library and inter-library loan.

These are the topics we're going to try to hit over the next few years, hopefully at least twice, at different levels:

Dinosaurs - because we have a houseful of boys
Physics (using the Real Science 4 Kids books)
Sound and Light
Electricity and Magnetism
Forces and Motion
Simple Machines
Chemistry (again, using the RS4K books)
African Savanna
Ponds (including reptiles and amphibians)
Sonoran Desert
Rocks and Minerals
Woods (forests and mountains and all things in them)
Human Body
Tropical Rain Forest
Weather (including natural disasters)
Oceans and Coral Reefs
Arctic Tundra
Swamp, Wetlands and Grasslands
Backyard (including birds and insects)
Farms (animals and crops)
Technology and Inventions
Community (like 'where does garbage go' and such)

We usually do animal study as relates to the specific area. If we were studying the ocean, for example, we'd study jellyfish, whales, sharks, etc.

What have I missed????  I'm sure there is something I forgot.  Or somethings.

Some of these we've already done and I'll post about them soon.  Others we have yet to hit.  For now, this is working for our family.  What works for yours?

Nicolaus Copernicus

Nicolaus Copernicus: The Earth Is a Planet
This was a lovely little book about Copernicus.  The illustrations were colorful and done in an "old-fashioned" style which made the book feel authentic.  The information was interesting and easy for the kids to understand while still explaining clearly what he thought and discovered.

I thought it sufficient for the elementary grades.  My fourth-grade boys really enjoyed it, but I almost wished it had been a little longer and more detailed for them.  Almost.  Any older and you'd probably need a different book.

There are not many children's books on Nicolaus Copernicus.  Fortunately, this is a great one.  Highly recommended for your study of the middle ages or astronomy.

November 17, 2009

Getting Kids to Clean

As I've mentioned in a previous post, cleaning the house is not my favorite thing to do. Here are a few fun things I invented to help my boys clean their junk without complaining.

Secret Ninja
For this game I whisper their mission, "Secret Ninja, go pick up 8 toys." They give me a little bow and quietly run off to pick up 8 things and then return and report, again with a little bow. I keep giving them different numbers, all whispered, and they keep running off to do it. The goal for them is to be so quiet that I can't hear them leave or return.

The younger boys get smaller numbers, and the older boys get up to the 20s. The beauty of this is that they'll clean for hours and I can do other things like wash dishes, fold laundry or lay on the couch reading a book. I'm not sure how to adapt this for girls. Perhaps they'd like to be secret ninja princesses.

Draw a number
We started this when the oldest boys were 5ish. I wrote down the numbers 0-10 on separate pieces of paper (I made two sets) and put them in a small box. When it was time to clean they would draw a number then pick up that number of toys. The number was put back into the box and they'd keep drawing until the room was clean.

As they got older we added the numbers through 20. Just make sure you have that zero in there because there's nothing better than getting that 0 and watching your brother put 13 things away!!! After doing this a few times they were able to run the system on their own. I just handed them the box and they cleaned the room by themselves.

The picture chart
It was/is often overwhelming for the boys to enter a completely trashed room and know where to start. A shovel? Bulldozer? Move to another state? I made a simple chart with pictures of various items with the written word next to it. For example, there would be a picture of "books" then the word "books". They would start with the first item listed and put all of those things away, then move to the next item listed.

I sometimes cut pictures out of magazines, printed them off the internet or drew them by hand. We had pictures for Books, Action Figures, Balls, Cars, Trains, Animals, Clothes and Magnetics. Everything else I would help take care of because a) it was mostly clean by that time and b) the chart was for the little guys and they were usually pretty tired by the end.

As the boys got older they didn't need the chart anymore. The 9-yr-olds are golden now, but the almost 6-yr-old still needs some direction.

What fun things do you do to get your kids to clean?

November 12, 2009

Books on Charlotte Mason

I was introduced to Charlotte Mason over 4 years ago, before we'd "officially" decided to homeschool. We were just going to "try homeschooling for kindergarten" and well, we got hooked. Wait, I have to back up. A wonderful friend made the startling confession one day that she was homeschooled. My husband and I gasped. But...but...she was normal. Homeschoolers weren't normal. (or so we thought at that point in our young lives) So I started asking questions and one day her mom was in town so I started asking her questions and this lovely woman said, "Charlotte Mason." Well, I started reading about Ms. Mason's ideas about education and knew it was what I wanted for my family.

My biggest problem at the time though was time. I needed to start right then. In fact, I needed to start several weeks before I started. I didn't have time to read Charlotte's six long volumes. So I took the cheater way's out and read books written by people who had read Charlotte's works.

And this is what I thought about those books....

A Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levison

I love this book. The author takes the essentials of the Charlotte Mason method and organizes them into easy to understand sections.

This book doesn't go through and discuss all of Mason's works. It's just the facts, ma'am. And it's exactly what I wanted. I already had a pretty decent understanding of CM and needed to figure out how to implement it

The topics in this book are things like science, math, history, narration and poetry, along with a good many more.  Levison walks you through each subject and helps you understand how to approach it using the Charlotte Mason method.

This book has an honored place on my shelf and I refer to it regularly.

More Charlotte Mason Education

This is the second book by Catherine Levison. Like the first book, it is more a how-to manual than a discussion of Mason's philosophy. I appreciate how the book is organized. It has just the information I need without having to dig around. I love this book too and use it often.

The topics discussed in this volume deal more with, among others, planning your semesters, choosing books and using short lessons.

A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola

I had such a hard time getting through this book. It was slow and touchy-feely and was way too much work to figure out what I wanted to know. I was looking for the answers to "What did Charlotte think about this or that" and "How did she suggest teaching __________?"

I like the Catherine Levison books so much better because they're easier to read and give the basic information quickly, in an extremely organized fashion - no need to flip here, then there, then somewhere else.

This book might work for someone who really wanted to take a lot of time thinking through guided questions.

Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home by Elizabeth Foss

If you're familiar with Charlotte Mason, this book will largely be redundant. If you're not familiar then this is a nice introduction.

I found a few ideas that I'd like to implement and a few reminders of things I'd read previously and had forgotten about. It's not a book I feel like I need in my permanent home library though.

I did enjoy the personal stories and examples of how to make things work with a larger family. It can be a bit 'bossy' at times though so you just take what you want and leave the rest.

The book is written from a Catholic perspective so there is a lot of material which would only relate to Catholics. I didn't mind this as some of the scripture quoted is applicable to most Christian faiths. I did get a bit irked at sentences similar to "Catholic homeschoolers sacrifice more than any other homeschoolers" and other such treats. I don't think Catholics have a corner on the market of sacrifice. I think most homeschoolers sacrifice a lot of their time and energy to educating their children.  In fact, most moms do, no matter their religious beliefs.

I do think it's worth checking out from the library, before you buy.

Some day I'll get around to reading all of Charlotte's works. Some day I'll be caught up on laundry too. For now I use the aforementioned books.

Now, off to do laundry.....

November 3, 2009

Timer School

I am not a natural born housekeeper.  I know how to do it, I'd just rather not.  I'd much rather be reading or sleeping or getting a root canal or languishing in a prison during the French Revolution than do housework.   I should have a better attitude about it, I really should.  And I'm grateful I have a house and that it needs work.  But the honest truth is I hate cleaning it, and it always seems to need to be cleaned.  So more often than not my house looks like a tornado, or four, blew through it.  Some weeks days I just pray nobody will drop by.

When things reach the point of mom's-going-to-blow-if-things-don't-get-picked-up (that's the scientific name for it) we do Timer School.

As a rule I'm opposed to using a timer during school.  I think it's artificial and turns learning into "school".  But for Timer School we use a timer.  And I'm okay with it.  In fact I love it and just might marry it.

We set the timer for anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes.  I usually use 15 minutes because it's long enough to get stuff done without being too long.  We rotate between school, play and clean, in whatever order I feel like that day.  Yesterday we did clean, school, play.  Every 15 minutes the timer would beep and we'd immediately stop what we were doing and move to the next thing.  Most lessons were completed within that 15 minutes, but if they weren't we'd just finish them during the next round.

By the end of the day (3ish) the house had gone from disgusting pigsty disaster to pretty darn clean.  All the school work had been finished and the boys had had almost 2 hours of playtime.  I'm always amazed at how much we accomplish on Timer days.

The beauty of this is that the kids know playtime is coming so they don't complain about having to clean.  And they know there is a time limit on cleaning so it won't go on forever (which has been known to happen in this house).  I typically work during the "play" hour too, or spend it with the 3-year-old if he's needing special attention.

Today we did Timer School again to finish the house.  I'm very pleased with where we are now and think I just might be able to stay on top of it this time.  Famous last words.....