Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Nocturnal Project - Living Books Part 2

My previous post on nocturnal books highlighted our favorite children's stories that were also great non-fiction and educational books. Today's books are purely fictional, but both you and I know, there is plenty to learn from fiction too!

Papa Please Get The Moon For Me (Classic Board Book)Papa Please Get The Moon For Me by Eric Carle

The interactivity of this book is engaging as children help the father retrieve the moon for his daughter. The board book format makes it more accessible to Mei too. The only drawback is that Tey keeps asking me to bring him the moon, and I'm having a hard time explaining that I can't!

Bears in the NightBears in the Night by Stan Berenstain

The repetition of this story is perfect for Tey as he is learning to read from it. Bean enjoys reading it to him too, which I love. They both think it quite humorous that little bears would be so mischievous as to seek out at night without a parent, but the best part is hooting when the owl is discovered.

Kitten's First Full MoonKitten's First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes

The kids' hearts break for poor kitten who thinks the full moon is a bowl of milk. We enjoy her perseverance through numerous challenges and are glad that it is rewarded in the end.

StellalunaStellaluna by Janell Cannon

Ah, Stellaluna...this books will never get old. A family favorite, both my boys are drawn to this story time and time again, even before our nocturnal studies. It has a powerful message about fitting in and trying your darnedest to be something you are not. It is a good intro to how bats and birds are similar and different and the color pencil drawings are beautifully life-like.

What are you favorite picture books about the night?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Night Owls

No study is complete without field trips. This week is chuck full of them, kicking off with a guided night hike at the Middle Fork River Forest Preserve. I was hesitant to go given that it was cold (and I don't like cold), it's in the middle of nowhere (country roads after dark still sometimes creep me out despite living out here for over a decade), and I had a slight fear that we'd be attacked by a wild animal (but I didn't tell Bean that). Despite my initial hesitation, it was a night I don't think we'll soon forget.

Screech Owl
Photo by Angela Bartels
From our family, it was just Bean and I and he was totally in his element: skipping around in excitement, asking a lot of questions and rattling off his knowledge of all kinds of owls that he's been learning about. It wasn't long into our hike that the guide called a screech owl with a recording. It sounds like a UFO, then like a horse whinnying. Off in the distance, we heard it reply . Then the call got closer and closer. When the guide turned on her light, there it was right beside us up in the closest tree! So amazing and beautiful! Bean got to see it too. I think that was the best part of the night.

For the rest of our hike, she also attempted to call a barred owl, which sounds like someone asking, "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?" but nothing ever responded. Still, we got to see an animal's burrow, some coyote's poop, and a deers' path. We also got to hear the rushing water of the Middle Fork River which was pretty high due to all the monsoon-like torrential rains we've gotten in the past couple days. There was something so peaceful about being out there in nature, yet also so sad that even though we were 45 minutes away from Champaign, you could still see it's light pollution in the southwestern sky.

Right before we left, the guide attempted a couple times to call the great horned owl, the largest owl in Illinois. She called the owls in order of smallest to largest, to better coax them out. The great horned owl responded very, very far off with a deep hoot, but only once and it never came close. Only she and I heard it. Then the wind soon picked up and it was difficult to hear anything. Bean didn't seem too bummed about not hearing it. He had a great time and we picked up more info to do more night hikes again.

On the way home, we were only 10 minutes into the drive when Bean fell asleep. It was only 8 o'clock. I guess the only night owls here are the ones at the forest preserve. :)

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Continuing on with our studies of all things of the night and learning more about space and celestial bodies, today we read a REALLY old book of children's poems called "Poetry for Space Enthusiasts." Yes, really, there is such a book. We came across this rare gem among a bunch of books that a local middle school was giving away earlier this fall right when we were making the decision to home school. I found that many of the books they were getting rid of were a little biased because of their perspective on history, outdated about science, or perhaps had a too strong emphasis on God for the taste of public school. Because of that we barely picked up any history books unless it was a biography and most of the science we chose was about life sciences and especially not technology. The God thing we can deal with.

"Poetry for Space Enthusiasts" seemed like it might be a fun way to add poetry into the mix of our current topic. From first glance it had some poems with humor in it, which I thought would engage the children if the other ones didn't. And if nothing else, it would would be corny and Bo and I would get a good laugh.

We read a handful of them today, but this one really struck me.


by a million
wings of fire -
the rocket tore a tunnel
through the sky -
and everybody cheered
only by a thought from God -
the seedling
urged its way
through the thickness of black -
and as it pierced
the heavy ceiling of the soil -
and launched itself
up into outer space -

by Marcie Hans

Talk about profound for a children's book! We are so quick to ooh and aah at the marvels of what humans have made, but take for granted the miracle that is God's creation. We definitely need to reflect on this more.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Nocturnal Project - Living Books Part 1

As per the Bean's request, we've been deeply engrossed in all things nocturnal at our homeschool since the start of the new year. I've learned so much and we're still going strong, so figured I'd better start blogging and just do it in segments.

Thanks to our amazing local libraries, we have a shelf full of informative books about the moon, the stars, and nocturnal animals. Here are some of our favorites that are children's storybooks. The kids are easily engaged in learning night time facts from these living books because they all have amazing illustrations, captivating text. Without further ado, they are presented in Bean's rank order.

On the MoonOn the Moon by Anna Milbourne

This is a great first book of moon exploration. It introduces new ideas and facts about the moon with simple vocabulary. The combination of real NASA photos with cartoon drawings is creative and engaging.

Zoo In The Sky: A Book of Animal ConstellationsZoo In The Sky: A Book of Animal Constellations by Jacqueline Mitton

This book tells memorable, brief stories for many of the common animal constellations. The pictures of the constellations include reflective material for the stars, which vary in size depending on how bright they appear in the sky.

Where Are the Night Animals? (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 1)Where Are the Night Animals? by Mary Ann Fraser

Beautifully and realistically illustrated, "Where are the Night Animals?" tells the story of several North American nocturnal animals (i.e., barn owl, opossums, tree frogs, skunk, coyote, raccoon, harvest mice) on a typical evening. In additional to contrasting diurnal and nocturnal animals, this book discusses how each of these nocturnal animals have adapted to survive in the dark.

The Goodnight CircleThe Goodnight Circle by Carolyn Lesser

Beginning with "day animals" going to sleep, this richly descriptive and poetic story continues through the night and ends with day break. This is a perfect bedtime story as it is highlights the silent times: first when day animals have gone to sleep and before night animals have awoken and second when night animals have gone to sleep and before day animals have awoken. Repetition of saying "good night" and "good morning," encourages participation of even non-readers.

There Once Was a Sky Full of StarsThere Once Was a Sky Full of Stars by Bob Crelin

This book will raise your awareness of light pollution. It not only whites out the natural beauty of our night sky, but also it has detrimental effects on the planet and animals. Environmentally conscious readers will find the suggestions helpful and imaginative readers will enjoy looking for hidden images in the illustrated moonlit night, just like they probably do in real life!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In addition to the birthday breakfast, we've been learning a lot about Dr. King and his life and tragic death. Bean has been copying some of his famous quotes and in doing so has unintentionally (on his part) memorized some too. Funny story, after he wrote one, I asked him what he just wrote and his first response was, "I don't know; I can't remember all that." Then he recited verbatim, "Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend." He was surprised by that. What a Sneaky Mommy I am! :) More importantly, we talk about what these quotes mean on an ongoing basis, throughout the day and over the past couple weeks. I really like the practice of reflecting on great thinkers thoughts.

As recommended by Charlotte Mason, for any subject, we rely heavily on living books. By far our favorite about MLK was this beautiful, poetic and short book.

Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

It is a perfect introduction book for all my kids because it begins with Martin as a child forming his ideas about equality from his parents and the Bible. It has the author's words in black text and Dr. King's words in other colors. This made it fun to take turns reading with Bean (this was his idea). It emphasized for him the "Big Words" that were Dr. King's non-violent weapons in the fight for equality.

From it we were able to talk about the fairness of segregation laws, the courage needed to stand up for one's beliefs especially if they are against the current law, and the sadness of Dr. King being murdered. It's deep stuff, but we just touched on it. Here is Bean reading his favorite quote in the book, and the second one is another that he memorized from copywork.

Bean and I also worked together on this vocabulary sheet that highlighted a lot of the words we read about but don't hear very often, like "nonviolence," "boycott," "speech." Through conversation, I related the words to his everyday experiences and now we try to use the words more often to talk about the civil rights movement and other topics as well.

Bo and Tey also watched the "I Have a Dream" speech at home and Bean and I went to a public viewing of it followed by a discussion. At this point it is hard to assess what Bean took away from that experience. He asked a few questions during the viewing, but after was not actively listening to the discussion. Still, I participated in it and he was exposed to that, so it at least conveys the importance of reflecting on Dr. King's words and how to engage in dialogue about it while respecting the opinions of others.

I'm excited about Saturday because at a local performing arts center there will be a celebration in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. When we went two years ago it was an absolute blast, though I don't think my kids remember it now. This will likely wrap up my "lesson" so to speak on MLK, but the values we learned over the last view weeks will be carried on and we will continue to emphasize the virtues of Dr. King that are worth emulating for character development.

Funny things my kids have said in relation to MLK:

Tey: [After someone says "Martin Luther King."] "Martin Luther King, JUNIOR, maybe."

Bean: [Narrating to me a historical fiction story about Martin Luther King as a child and quoting what his mother said.] "Some white folks (which he pronounced "fox" until he asked me what it meant) believe that they are better than we black people."
(Yep, he actually said "we" in reference to being black, but then corrected himself.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Happy Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

As is our family tradition, every birthday is celebrated with a special birthday breakfast, usually picnic style in the bedroom of the birthday person. This Christmas we extended it to a celebrate the birth of Christ...all warm and cozy in front our fireplace. And today, you guess it, our family enjoyed a special breakfast (for dinner) in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. around the dinner table. In addition to the delicious food pictured below, we enjoyed some fun conversation inspired by the food, which was inspired by this important holiday.

It has come to be expected by our kids that birthday breakfasts include cinnamon rolls (we usually for the Pillsbury kind with orange glaze). Because this is now a staple celebratory pastry and I really want to reduce the amount of processed foods we eat, it was on of my bucket list of recipes to learn for this year. I followed this recipe and love the use of orange juice and orange zest. Buh-bye Pillsbury.

With some of the leftover juice, I sprinkled it on our fruit salad. We usually do one very "fun" fruit for birthday breakfast (like mango), but a fruit salad teaches us a lot about appreciation of diversity. The different shapes, colors, textures, and tastes of all the fruit are what makes fruit salad so great! I didn't  mention this to the kids, but it makes me cringe to hear the US referred to as "the melting pot." It sounds like we're all supposed to be exactly the same...kinda like if you pureed my fruit salad. Then you can't appreciate all the unique things that each fruit contributes!

Next going clockwise is a fried egg. You've probably heard of the children's activity where you show them a brown egg and a white egg and talk about how we make look different on the outside, but inside we're all the same.  I can see this going wrong...another "We're-all-the-same" "Our-differences-don't-matter" type-thing. In my opinion, differences do matter, and we should recognize them and appreciate them. So we did. Quite simply, different hens make different eggs, as do ducks, geese, etc. Then Bo transitioned to the more complex issue of judging by first appearances and also brought in MLK's famous quote, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." We couldn't tell much difference between the two hen eggs based on what was on the inside. The colors and sizes were slightly different, but both kinds were good enough to eat. Once we cooked them, we couldn't tell which was which too, but everyone gladly ate what they were served.

Lastly, we had bacon. We made no significant connection there. It's just another special treat for a special day!

In a future posts, I'll review what we have been doing for the past week or so to teach about Dr. Martin Luther King and also emphasize of the importance of this national holiday. I hope you had a great day off, if you did! If you didn't do something meaningful to you or to your family in honor of MLK yet, I encourage you to do it. It's not too late! It doesn't need to be grand either. Let's just somehow recognize the impact Dr. King has had on this country and the civil rights movement. Let me know how you celebrated too! I like getting new ideas.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Little Whine, Lots of Wine...Lots of Whine, LOTS of Wine

There are two instances in which wine are necessary in the evening after the kids go to bed. The first is when so much seems to have gone wrong, I wonder if I'm doing anything right, and I just need a break. The other instance, like today, is when most everything seems to fall into place, or at least I can see fruits of my labor, and it calls for celebration. Luckily we have more of those days like today, especially this week and last week. So, after the kids were in bed, I poured myself a Riesling, and remembered the happy moments.

The weather was gorgeous today, so all of us spent a lot of time outside. I didn't even wear a jacket! Usually if it's pretty cold, I'll just send the boys out and I'll stay with Mei inside watching from the window. She was thrilled to be outside and was especially excited to finally get her hands on the lawnmower she always sees her brothers play. He also seemed like she was intentionally kicking a ball around, but I dunno. 

Another great moment was that at lunch my boys actually ate rice. Bo made a curry dish with chicken, eggplant, and bamboo shoots. The boys ate it, but weren't thrilled about it. But they ate RICE! Being 1/4 Chinese, it's kind of an embarrassment that they don't usually eat it. Well, the funny part was that Tey then made himself a spinach salad with cheese and cranberries because he didn't want to finish his lunch and I told him I wasn't making anything else until after I had fed Mei-Mei. I tell you, he's my little chef!  

As it was getting closer to dinner time, both boys were getting hungry. I heated them up a bowl of peas to share (just before then they were squabbling upstairs, so this was my plan to encourage them to get along). Sneaky Mommy! They had fun. Here's a pic, but I can't get the video to load for now. :( Wouldn't you know, Tey then made himself another spinach salad after this pea extravaganza!

After dinner we went on a night hike as a whole family. The weather was perfect and it was quite an adventure finding a spot to see the full moon rise over the eastern horizon. The kids were so excited when we finally reached a good viewing sight and right there before us was a big orange moon. No joke, it was like Christmas and the kids were thrilled. I was thrilled!

There's the moon, right over Mei's stroller, looking like a street lamp.

Our camera doesn't do it justice. It was just stunning. We also identified several constellations and are learning more and more each day. I'm glad we squeezed this night walk in today because a cold front is on it's way in. It might be months before we see another full moon as crisp as this.

I now raise a glass to myself for a job well done today. And to my hubby who is putting the kids to bed. Tey is whining about something. Ok, screaming about something. Good thing I'm off duty :)

How to Eat a Thin Mint

My husband once told me that he really appreciates how well I stand my ground being convinced that I am right and building a solid case even when I am completely wrong. I'm blessed he has patience for that character flaw or else our marriage would be in trouble.

This is one of those cases where I will not stand down and this time I really know that I'm right. Thin Mints are the BEST Girl Scout Cookie ever baked.

Even if you have tasted one before and still do not agree with the above statement, I'm pretty sure it's because you have likely not eaten said cookie in the proper way.

The best way to enjoy a Thin Mint is to enhance the mintiness of the cookie and to reduce its crunchiness. How you ask?

Step 1: Before eating, your Thin Mints should be chilled. The cool temperature of the cookie enhances the cool minty flavor. Cool, huh?

Before you proceed, know that the following steps must be carried out with exact precision or else you will be disappointed with the cookie by your own fault and I still rightly get to make my assertion that Thin Mints are, in fact, the best Girl Scout Cookie.

Step 2: Gently nibble off just the slightest amount of chocolate edge of the Thin Mint and continue around about 1/2 of the circumference of the cookie. This will expose the inner cookie.

Step 3: Using a pair of chopsticks, hold the Thin Mint with the exposed cookie part upright and then lower into a glass of milk until completely submerged (you can also use your fingers, but then they too will be chilled). You should see bubbles rising to the top of the milk. This is a sign that your once crunchy cookie is slowly but surely becoming soggy.

Step 4: Once the bubbles stop forming, it is likely that your cookie is now filled with milk. The chocolate rim edge that you left on the bottom half will hold all of this soggy goodness in place. Lift the cookie out of the milk and eat. You can thank me later.

If done correctly, the outer chocolate shell will crack when bitten and the soggy cookie will ooze out. If not done correctly, your soggy cookie will fall apart making a mess of your milk and you'll have to drink the dredges later. If you drop your whole cookie in your milk you can hopefully rescue it carefully without obliterating the delicate cookie and also quickly enough so that is doesn't completely dissolve in your milk. Another note, if when eating the cookie, you realize that you have sadly reached a part that is still crunchy and not perfectly soggy, you can resubmerge the Thin Mint. If your cookie is too soggy however, and falls apart, there is little you can do to salvage it except helplessly watch it become soggier and soggier. Err on the side of crunchy because you can always make it soggy with a few extra submersions.

So, now that Girl Scout Cookie season is upon us, support your local troop by buying a box of Thin Mints, trying out this method of eating it and let me know how it goes. I'm willing to field questions and also promise to have an open mind to those of you *might* disagree.

UPDATE: As requested, I made a video tutorial about how to do this. I didn't think it was that hard.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Knitting and Filling in the Holes

One of the perks of homeschooling is that we can feed the children's curiosity wherever it may lead. At this point in our homeschooling, I try to keep to a minimum the things I structure and schedule: the things that I choose to teach and that I actively teach them in a way that what most people would consider "teaching" (my knitting). There are plenty of opportunities to let them take the reigns on their own learning (letting them fill in the holes). Through self-education, they are a whole lot more interested in learning, we can cover the topics for much longer each day because they are engaged in the topic they chose, they are more likely to take time to learn independently above and beyond the teaching I lead, we are able to delve deeper into each topic, and we can draw connections to other areas of our lives and in our learning.

Now that we are "back to school," I asked Bean what he wanted to learn. Bean had no hesitation when he said he wanted to learn more about the night, like nocturnal animals and the night sky. Our challenge then is to place before him resources and experiences to help him explore that topic. Bo got a bunch of books from the library after a church meeting this Wednesday night, and I picked up some additional ones this afternoon. We also have more on hold waiting to be picked up from another library. That's a good start. Bean, in particular, learns a lot from reading non-fiction. At times, Tey enjoys listening to him read and he enjoys reading to him, so this helps them learn the topic together and independently too. I try to connect what their interests are to other things they are familiar with. For example, when we ate the star fruit earlier this week, we talked about why it might be called a star fruit, and then talked about stars from what we had learned about in books we had read.

Right now I feel like my biggest area of weakness is exploring the arts with the kids. For this topic, I tried to run with the nocturnal theme. We listened to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, thinking about what he was thinking and feeling when he composed it, what he was hoping that we would feel, and what of this song reminds us of moonlight. If you listen closely, you might be able to hear the owl that we thought we heard. 

Then we listened to the song and painted with water colors. The boys painted Van Gogh's The Starry Night. At nap time/quiet time, I wanted to take a stab at painting Delaunay's Simultaneous Contrasts: Sun and Moon. It was really relaxing. I need a creative hobby. But I digress. Bean saw what I was doing, was really impressed and asked to take over. "Sure!" It was also my secret ploy to get him to paint something more difficult and to try to copy the details. It worked! Too bad this video is so short, I ran out of batteries. I know, I'm horrible at recording :/

If a week ago I had shown Bean a picture of Simultaneous Contrasts: Sun and Moon and asked him to paint it, he never would have. Or maybe he would have, but he would have dragged his feet...likely because he would have doubted if he could do it or because it would have seemed like a random, pointless assignment. Certainly, we would not have enjoyed it as much as he did.

This week, I became even more sold on Charlotte Mason's ideas of self-education. I'm reading more and more of her stuff and I really like her style.
"No one knoweth the things of man except the spirit of man which is in him; therefore, there is no education but self-education, and as soon as a young child begins his education, he does so as a student. Our business is to give him mind stuff. Both quantity and quality are essential." - Charlotte Mason

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Trying New Things

Perhaps nothing scares me more about being a SAHM than taking all my kids shopping. 

You've seen it before at the grocery store: Mom is trying to accomplish a simple task of getting food bought but her kid is crying, throwing a tantrum, running away, pulling stuff off the shelves or otherwise foiling her plans. When you have three kids, my thinking is that the chances of this happening are three times more likely. I may be wrong, but I have not been eager to test that hypothesis.  

Eventually this needed to be done and today was the day. I bribed the boys with promise of letting them each choose one fruit, whatever they wanted and we would eat it as soon as we got home. They were thrilled about this idea. I don't know if it was the free reign of the produce section or the immediacy of eating what they chose that was most exciting. Either way, they clearly felt it was a good incentive for them to use inside voices and stay close to me at the store. No doubt about it, I will be using this tactic again, possibly every time we go to the grocery store.

It was Tey who spotted the star fruit and asked what it was. I told him, and added the disclaimer that I had never had it before. With no hesitation, that was what he chose. Bean, who can be indecisive when faced with so many great choices for something new and usually relies on recommendations, also went along with this idea. 

At home we quickly devoured the two beautiful, juicy, not so sweet, super delicious star fruit, which left us wanting more. Even Mei-Mei, who is generally reluctant about new fruits (or any fruits for that matter), ate all that the boys were willing to share with her. Tey, in particular, was very generous with his. 

I'm so glad we were in a "trying new things" mood today. Because I finally dared taking all three kids to the store, now I am more confident about needing to do it again in the future. In addition, the kids dared to try a new fruit, it turned out to be AMAZING, and now will likely a new staple treat on our shopping list. As a new SAHM, these mini-accomplishments can really add up to help make this transition seem like it has more smooth spots than rough patches. I thrive on these moments.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

I'm the kind of person who either wants to do something the best that I can or not at all. It's generally a good trait, but it also means that many things I should do go undone because it will never be as good as I want it too.

Not so, with our Annual New Year's Eve Party. We promote it as the Back Up Plan New Year's Eve Party: the place to be if you have no place else to be. It's all low key with everyone in their jammies (or otherwise comfy clothes) and a breakfast potluck and usually some random stuff tossed in. 

This year, Bean was convinced that he and Tey were putting on a Christmas show. Tey helped a little with the singing, thankfully with no fights between the two or bossing around by Bean. This is all I got of it because I was running out of memory and had to delete stuff first. I know, bad mommy!

He didn't practice this or memorize anything. I think it's precious that he's nervous and you can tell because he's stroking the microphone string. I'm so proud he took this challenge upon himself. Afterwards I realized that this was a great example of Charlotte Mason's narration at work (in this case, Bean retelling a story in his own words). I've been reading more and more about her method of teaching and it really fits well with our family and how we want to home school for the most part. 

Also new this year was a balloon drop that we did at 8pm for the kiddos for a fake count down. 

This morning Bo the boys and I had a really fun battle with all the balloons in the living room and I haven't laughed so hard in a while. They came up with a bunch of crazy rules based on the color of the balloon. I can't remember them all, I just wanted to thwack everyone. And I did!

From our family to yours, we wish you a very Happy New Year. 2012, bring it!