Archive | Homeschooling

Happy December!

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Happy Holiday Season! I am really looking forward to the December excitement this year. I’ve finally broken through my resistance to our cold and snowy winter weather (it only took ten years :) – I think our warm wood stove has something to do with my pleasant thoughts of winter).

‘A’ and ‘H’ are at a great age for celebrating the holidays. At 9 and 7 years old, they look forward to the magic of the holiday moments (not just Santa… they love lighting the candles on the menorah, setting up the tree, making presents for their loved ones…). They’re tremendously helpful too, which makes everything so much easier and more enjoyable for me. We’ve fallen into a tradition where Jeff and I set up the tree, I put the lights on, and the girls add all the ornaments. I love it and so do they. Sure, the ornaments are largely at the bottom of the tree, but that makes it more beautiful.

In the past few weeks we have seen a lot of our family! The girls saw all of their grandparents in the month of November, which is noteworthy because they all live several hours away. We met our new nephew, my sister’s son, and he is just as precious as all babies are when they are brand new. We had a low-key and fun Thanksgiving here at home with my other sister and more grandparents.

Now it is December and we are excited for what lays ahead! This month we are going to be making gifts just like we do every December (I’ve been pinning!), and there are some fun homeschool activities we’re undertaking too. We are planning to visit the Mark Twain House while it’s decorated for the season, and if we have time that day to tour Harriet Beecher Stowe’s house, which is right next door, we’ll do that too. ‘A’ and I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin a few years ago and we loved every page of the story. It would be nice for the girls to see where she lived.

We will be taking on robotics lessons soon! The girls have on their wish lists the LEGO WeDo construction set and programming software. This blends two of the things they love right now: LEGOs and programming. The cool thing about this set is that they can program a robot to move around in real space, not just move through a 2D maze on the computer screen. I think this is going to jump start a whole new creative vibe here at the Village Homestead.

One more thing we’ll be doing that is not necessarily fun or exciting but necessary: we are going to prepare and practice a family fire plan. Over the Thanksgiving weekend we were woken in the middle of the night by our smoke detectors (they all go off at the same time and it is loud!), and although we ultimately determined that one particular smoke detector was overly sensitive and there was no danger to us that night, I was a little alarmed at our response to the emergency. I was out of bed and knew I had to wake everyone else, but in my sleepy state I was more focused on finding the “fire” with the intention of putting it out, instead of focused on getting shoes on my girls and calling 911. I guess it’s good that I have a “can-do” attitude and I think I’m capable of handling an emergency, but the middle of the night with the smoke alarms blaring is not the time for me to demonstrate my abilities. After the fire department cleared the house that night, I realized that we have no plan in place. No meeting spot outside, no experience feeling doors for heat, no rehearsed escape route. The false alarm last week was a great first step in seeing how we each react to smoke alarms in the middle of the night, and it’s time to put that knowledge to use and form a plan!

Looking forward to a fun-filled month ahead!

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Project Feederwatch has begun!

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The girls and I participate in Project Feederwatch every year, and it just started up for the season. It’s a citizen science project set up to collect backyard bird counts between November and April, and is organized by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. We select two consecutive days each week and record the highest number of each species that visit the feeder at the same time. It doesn’t sound very exciting does it – I mean, who cares that 7 House Finches came to our feeder today? The researchers at Cornell do. They use our data to record trends and draw conclusions. Earlier this year they determined that climate change is altering the habitats of birds. The data we submit gives scientists a good overall view of bird activity in the US and Canada.

We watch the birds and record data partly because it’s a good idea to be a citizen scientist, but really, we do it because we love to watch the birds. ‘A’ and I could sit all day at the window and welcome all of our feathered friends that come to the feeders. Our Project Feederwatch work provides a good excuse for us to indulge in a favorite activity. It makes me feel less lazy. We have to watch the birds, it’s our job. Researchers are counting on us, we tell ourselves.

In my feeders this year I have black oil sunflower; nyger; safflower seed; and suet cakes. I put the feeders up last week and it took a few days for the birds to start coming. The chickens love to eat any seed that falls to the ground, and when I let them out of their run in the morning, they head straight over to the feeders for a snack. Setting up the feeders this fall was a piece of cake because I was smart enough to thoroughly dismantle and clean all the feeders last spring {finally!}. There was nothing sketchy or questionable about the condition of the feeders when I took them out of storage last week. I love it when I plan ahead and things go smoothly… if I can just remember to do that kind of thing more often!

If you are interested in participating in the project, it is not too late to sign up. I think it’s a good experience for children. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has science lessons available for homeschoolers, and there are so many opportunities for science experiments of your own. We have always been happy with our experience. Happy Birding!

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A Research Project and the IIM Process

4-IIMThe girls and I are doing a group read of The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis, a story about a girl growing up in Afghanistan. The main character has a very different life than ‘A’ and ‘H’ – her home, her freedoms, her opportunities for education, are all foreign to my girls. They want to know more, so we are undertaking a group research project about girls in Afghanistan. We are following the IIM method for this project (we say “double eye m”), which is short for Independent Investigation Method. The IIM program encourages students to put together a systematic plan for conducting research before they even start. That sounds like no big deal, but it really is! If only I had been introduced to this method when I was in school… life would have been so much easier! Research projects can seem as though they are enormous and impossible to undertake, and the IIM process breaks it all down into small, manageable steps. Things like selecting a topic, choosing research tools, and writing out notes are all broken down into small steps with deadlines. Steps with deadlines are the key to completing a research project!

The part I like the best is the system for taking notes. You take simple notes (called notefacts) that sum up an idea, and mark each notefact with a number that corresponds to a source (a book, video, article, etc.). You write the whole bibliography for each source before even writing out the first notefact. That right there is brilliant. How many times was I up late writing out my bibliography? Too many to count. After all the notefacts are written out, you cut them up and organize them. This is the elementary-level system. I don’t know how it works for higher level research yet.

I know, it doesn’t sound like a revolutionary system, but it is when you compare it to how I was taught to do research projects (or should I say, how I was NOT taught to do them). This is coming from someone who has written a lot of research papers. My degree is in history – for a while, my entire life was about reading and writing. I think the IIM process is a great way to approach research projects.

Here is a video that shows you more about IIM: http://vimeo.com/jonmossedtech/tuss-iim. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of good IIM resources online. The website about IIM has links to books for sale, and there are some reproducible pages on another site I found. If you are teaching the method, I highly recommend getting a book with the reproducible pages. Making research as easy as possible is the key to success!

If you have any research project tips to share I would love to hear them!

 

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Warm weather

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Spring weather has finally come to the Northeast. Oh how we have waited for it! Everything seemed to stand still for a while, as if the late-winter season would last indefinitely. The ground thawed later than it has in recent years, the leaves on the trees were slow to form, the air temperature remained chilly… and then one day the switch flipped, and now spring is upon us. In earnest! The days are warm and sunny, and with the nice weather everything has come up from the ground. The dandelions went from dormant to fully grown in a few short days. As I wait for my perennials to come up I see the weeds are spreading out in the garden beds very quickly. I’ve been weeding and applying mulch on as much bare ground in the garden as possible, eager to greet the flowers that will bloom again this year. The vegetable garden is in, seeded and mulched, with more plants going in this month. The usual outdoor chores have started up again: repairing and replacing the fencing; setting up the watering hoses; and gathering rakes, shovels and gloves for handy access.

It feels like we’re rushing to get it all done. It’s necessary to stay on top of the garden projects because they do have the potential to get out of control quickly, but there is something else at work. It’s the shortness of the season that hangs over us and causes us to go outside and dig in the dirt with vigor, because in just a few months it will come to an end.

We have enjoyed our time outside immensely. We had several trees taken down and others pruned heavily. The work was much needed and long overdue. The overgrown trees that came down will be turned into firewood for our stove, and the apple trees that were pruned will (hopefully) produce better apples this year.

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Our days are very full right now, with schoolwork, field trips and house work all jockeying for the #1 position. Volunteer work is coming back in full swing too, as our UU congregation is set to welcome a potential minister to spend time with us for a week so that we may get to know one another. There is a host of work that comes with the excitement and activity. I am looking forward to it. Schoolwork comes in the form of spelling and writing lessons, math work, science and discovery lessons, music (piano and recorder), and so many more topics.

One school project we will be taking on this week is food allergies, specifically what ‘A’s body is doing when she reacts to a food, and what is happening in her body as she starts to outgrow her allergies. We are learning about it because on Thursday we will travel to Mount Sinai hospital in New York for a scrambled egg food challenge. She’ll eat eggs and if she doesn’t react, she will be able to say she’s not allergic to eggs anymore. Her first visit at Mount Sinai was last week. We have been going to Children’s Hospital Boston for a few years, but I decided to switch to Mount Sinai because their research direction is a bit different, and I thought it would be helpful to see someone there. Her new doctor thought she was ready for a scrambled egg challenge as she has been eating pancakes and cookies with egg without any reaction for about a year. I was so happy to hear that she was eligible for the challenge, because I have been thinking the same thing. Any doctors I asked about it didn’t know how to answer, so they replied with a cautious “No.” However, I do think ‘A’ will pass. We will find out on Thursday.

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The new chicks are growing just as fast as I remembered chicks to grow, which is fast. When you consider that they develop from egg to chick in only 21 days, it’s not surprising to watch how quickly they grow the first few months. I am not ready to say definitively who is rooster and who is pullet, but the telltale signs are emerging and it looks as though 50% are going to be female. I’ll know for sure in a few weeks. Some are clearly roo, with their tall, fighting stance, and their big, red combs. Some are clearly pullets, with their feather coloring and their docile nature. Some are up in the air still, as they look like hens but get tall around the roosters and go eye to eye. Peg, our injured pullet, is not healing well. She’s not in pain and she gets around on one leg all right, but the injured leg sticks out to the side and gets in her way. She was in a separate pen in the coop until yesterday, when I took her out and put her with the other chicks. I’m glad I had her separated the way I did – with only chicken wire between her and the other chicks. They were used to seeing and hearing her, and they accepted her right away. Time will tell what happens to her. If she can get around on her own, we might keep her, but if there is any doubt, she will go with the roosters when it is their time. The roosters are going to go to a friend who processes chickens on a small-scale farm. Time will tell. This hobby farm life isn’t always pretty.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you! You all came from a mother, and some of you are mothers yourselves. Enjoy the day!

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Chicks in the brooder coop, laying hens on pasture, children playing outside

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The weather got warmer and we had a taste of spring fever here a few days ago. Then it cooled off and snowed. Thankfully the snow melted and I have faith the air will warm up over the weekend. The girls have enjoyed playing outside. The maple sap continues to trickle out of the trees, and I keep adding the new gallons to the pot on the stove in hopes of producing a small batch of syrup. With the warmer weather has come a host of new house projects: installing gutters; moving the woodpile and burning small brush; starting seeds under grow lights; enlarging the garden to move the blueberry bushes into the fenced area. And so on.

Jeff finished the outdoor brooder coop and we moved the chicks in to it. They love it. They finally have room to move around and play. I picked up six more chicks at the store yesterday – 2 silkie bantams and 4 dark brahmas. Supposedly they’re all pullets, but we will see as they grow. All but one of the older chicks have accepted them – Sunshine, the boss of the whole group, runs around and pecks at them. She’s pretty brutal. After she attacks them, the roosters attack her. So is the way of the chicken world, and this is a reminder of why I like having roosters in the flock when they’re little. Roosters keep the peace.

The older hens are out in the yard most every day and they are so happy. It gives me such a sense of pleasure to watch them scratch and peck in the grass.

Have a great weekend. Enjoy these quick shots from our daily life:

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Signs of spring

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The signs of spring are coming quickly now, one after the other. Little changes are rippling through our days. We’re noticing the usual things, such as the crocuses that are blooming (I planted them two autumns ago as early bee food, but alas there are no bees this year to enjoy them); the ground is mostly thawed and I spent time working the garden soil yesterday; the chickens are able to get out and about and forage on grass; ‘A’ and ‘H’ are enjoying playing outdoors without coats, hats and gloves; the Canada geese fly low overhead and honk, honk, honk.

There are other things too that come out of all these spring changes. The eggs from the chickens are a bit different this week – the shells are lumpy and thin. I think it’s the switch to foraging. I have no scientific proof of this, but it makes sense. I think their bodies are adjusting to the change in nutrition and it will take a little time for the egg shells to normalize. The cats are feeling the change in weather. Coco spends much of her day outdoors, and Grace, who is 14 now and looking more frail than ever, paces the house. She wants to stir, wants to go outside, but isn’t ready yet.

The end of the school year is in sight!

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The girls are rounding the final corner in the homeschooling year. My goal is be done with formal schoolwork by the end of May. Their studies are all over the map at this point in the year. They take classes with other teachers (piano, recorder, science and art to name a few). With me they learn French, writing, spelling, history, math, literature, computer programming, geography, social studies, typing, handwriting (printing) and cursive. I allocate a lot of time for quiet reading (Harry Potter, Nancy Drew, Lloyd Alexander’s books and anything that resembles historical fiction are popular choices in our house right now). Now that the weather is warmer, outside play time has increased. Our days are full, to say the least.

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The new chicks are happy in their brooder box, and when Jeff is finished building the new coop, they’ll love living there. I’ll be happy to have them out of the house at that point. They still need a warm environment and they cuddle under the heat lamp. The lamp will move outside to the new coop with them. The new coop has two primary purposes: 1. It’s a brooder for new chicks and a home for the young females who aren’t laying yet. When they begin to lay eggs, they can move to the main coop and join the older hens. 2. It will serve as an infirmary for sick chickens who need to be quarantined or isolated. When Laura got sick last fall, I realized that I didn’t have a good place to put sick chickens while they recovered. This new coop is smaller than the current one, with lower roosts (younger and ill chickens don’t have to jump very high to roost), and it will have an attached run, where the chicks/chickens can go outside but still be safe.

New chicks: male or female?

I took some of the chicks out to photograph them today and I noticed that some crouched down low, as if to hide, while others stood tall and proud and eyed the camera. I have heard you can spot the difference between males and females by observing their body language in situations like this. The males stand tall while the females crouch down. See how the chicks in the photos below are standing differently? If this method works, it looks like I have 7 females and 8 males.  Ultimately it doesn’t matter right now how many males and females I have, because I plan to raise them all until they are ready for their next stop on the chicken train. When the males start acting like roosters (crowing), I’ll give them to a friend who will process and eat them. The hens will stay with me, and if I have enough, a few will go to another friend who is looking to grow her chicken family.

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You learn something new every day, don’t you?

 

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First day of Spring

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The first day of Spring doesn’t feel very “springy” this year. There’s still snow covering the ground, the air is cold, and we’ve even seen a few snow flurries today. However, there are spots of bare ground here and there, where the snow has melted. Time and patience are required now. We have had a couple of warmer days and the girls have enjoyed spending time outside without coats and hats.

The Spring Chipmunk comes to our house the night before the first day of spring. It’s our version of the Easter Bunny. It came last night and hid eggs filled with jelly beans around the house. It left a few gifts for the girls and – surprise! – a bowl of jelly beans for Jeff and me. Yum. The girls each got a copy of the book Don’t Eat This Book and they love it. It is a book that encourages the reader to be interactive with the book. It makes you stretch your imagination and test your boundaries. It’s a good way to read and write. I’m glad they like the book!

We have a number of ongoing projects here at the Village Homestead. I have 23 chicken eggs in an incubator and the target hatch date is March 29 and 30 (Saturday and Sunday). I will post about the incubation process another time, after I candle the eggs one more time to see which are viable.

I wrapped up a knitting project and finally got it blocked – yay for me! The Honey Cowl I started in the fall has been put into use and I’m so happy with it. Now I’m starting work on my first knitted hat, with cables too. Two big firsts for me. Stay tuned.

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‘A’ had a baby tooth extracted to make room for her adult teeth – she did a great job at the dentist’s office. Schoolwork is moving along nicely. I started teaching the girls French this week. I’m not fluent, but I know enough to get them started. The girls are involved with a lot of different school projects. Their favorite subjects right now are WW2, Harry Potter, nature journaling, and they LOVE learning French.

Those are some quick updates.

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New Project!

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We have a new project underway here at the Village Homestead! Photography class! Woohoo!!!

You can read more about it here. Every time I post photos from our outings, I’ll put a link on this site to let you know.

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Happy Autumn!

Happy first day of fall! I haven’t been around much, have I? Things here have been good, and are moving along at a good clip. One of the dominant themes in our household this month is time management. All of us have so much going on (both individually and as a family) and we need to get a better handle on how we each manage our time. The girls are still young, but at 6 and 8 years old, they are capable of learning about completing tasks, assessing priorities, and about delayed gratification. As for me, with several years of parenting experience behind me, I am finding that the next step in my personal development involves sharpening my time management skills.

My weekly calendar includes homeschooling, house stuff (chickens, bees, garden, orchard), church volunteer work and fun stuff. There is a lot to do and to keep myself on track, to stave off the guilt of not getting everything done, and to keep a smile on my face, I am now allocating specific days and times for specific tasks. Everything has a time slot now. If it doesn’t fit on the calendar, it can’t happen. Deep down I’m not someone who enjoys keeping to a schedule, but I can see how it’s helpful for me and my family at this point in our lives.

Schoolwork the first thing that goes on the calendar, and subjects are addressed a few times each week. Cursive instruction occurs on Mondays and Wednesdays and we all are reminded of this because it’s written out on the calendar. This helps ‘A’ the most because she loves to practice her cursive handwriting and if she knows there are two days every week devoted to it, she is happy. Freewriting is something we incorporated into our routine this year and I just love it. The girls were not so sure at first, but now they like it too. I picked up the idea after reading the Writer’s Jungle materials written by Julie Bogart. I like her approach to reading and writing quite a bit and am finding that it works very well with both my reluctant writer and my eager writer. The idea behind freewriting is that the girls each write about a subject (or whatever pops into their minds) for 10 minutes. Then they have the option of reading it aloud to me. Regardless of their choice, the written piece is placed in an envelope (I don’t look at it) and after several written pieces are amassed the girls choose one piece to revise and expand. What I love most about the freewriting exercises is that my reluctant writer is comfortable opening up within those 10 minutes and is able to put words on the paper. Seeing the transformation in her attitude and willingness to write is heartwarming.

It’s the end of summer and the garden is still producing, the apple trees are full of apples ready to be picked and processed, and the chickens and bees still need attention. I have a lot of homesteading maintenance to take care of, and when that is done I have homesteading planning and preparation to address. The garden will need to be tilled, the chicken coop will need to be winterized, the bees will need to be treated for mites and fed some sugar syrup.

We’re busy. I miss photographing my days and I miss writing here. This has to come back into my routine. See you soon!

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Getting Organized for the School Year

I’ve been spending a considerable amount of time this week getting organized for the upcoming year, and all I have to show you are photos of our new cat, Coco. She’s little isn’t she? The vet estimates her age at 13-14 weeks. I wouldn’t say she’s cute, as I think she looks like a bat (and I don’t think bats are cute), but she does have big ears and strong legs, she’s fearless and frisky, and I think she’ll make a fantastic mouser.

Like I said, I’ve been getting organized. Now that I’ve got 8+ years of parenting under my belt, a few years of homeschooling complete, and I’ve been living in this house for a year and a half, I decided it was high time I reorganize our stuff. No more looking for the music bag or the art smock and notebook as we’re running out of the house: the bags will be hung on designated hooks by the door. No more wondering where to put this or that; where to find this or that… things now have a home. Every room in our house is being overhauled. It’s a big job but I’ll tell you, it feels good!

I started by thinking about my roadblocks & bottlenecks. The big ones are laundry (it gets washed and dried but after that it piles up. Literally.); holiday decorations (they are always so hard to drag out and so hard to put away); and my desk. I started with those three bottlenecks. As I dealt with them, a number of other smaller organization projects popped up and were handled along the way.

Laundry: I used to take clean, dry laundry out of the dryer and pile it into a laundry basket. Everyone’s laundry was in there, all mixed together. I would bring the laundry basket to my bedroom and expect the laundry fairy to fold and sort, then put it all away. I don’t have to tell you what happened. Piles. Piles all over.

If I can stop the laundry pile from forming in the first place, I’m in good shape. So I purchased four milk crates in different colors and set them in the laundry room. One for each of us. As I take laundry out of the dryer I immediately fold it and put it in the owner’s crate. Each of us is responsible for bringing our crate to our bedroom and putting the folded clothes away. My girls are old enough that they can do this. So far, so good!

Holiday Decorations: I do like to decorate, but the decorations are so hard to pull out and hang up when they are stored deep in a closet on the third floor of the house. I asked myself why I keep decorations in the attic when I don’t use them up there. Why? It’s hard to lug the bins up and down the narrow, steep staircase. No wonder I’m so slow to decorate and put them back where they belong. It’s because they don’t want to belong there.

I want the decorations to be stored on the main floor of the house. They are going in a closet and will be easy to access. To make room for them in the closet, I had to clear out boxes and boxes of old files that we had moved from our former home. After going through all those files I tossed about 90% of what was there and kept only a few important papers. That felt great!

My Desk: My desk is a catch-all for me. Anything that needs to be handled or filed goes in a pile on my desk. After a while, my desk becomes one big pile. To deal with this I set up a few places near my desk where things that have habitually gotten thrown in a pile will now have a permanent home. My camera; artwork; 4H projects; craft supplies; library books. I cleaned out the desk drawers and purged everything that was old or not used anymore. I labeled the closet shelves and assigned places for everything.

In the kitchen I have our family wall calendar and I added a place for active papers, such as current class schedule sheets and paperwork that needs to be dealt with before it can be submitted or filed. Now those papers are off my desk and on the wall for easy viewing!

To help me get organized I have been re-purposing a few things and I will show you when they are up and ready! I am so happy that I’m streamlining things around the house. It’s about time!

One more of Coco:

 

 

 

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