Thursday, December 31, 2009

Final Exams were actually fun!

Z-Man took his first-ever final exam this semester. It's not what you might think. We did it "Charlotte Mason-style" even though our homeschooling style is really a combination of CM and unit studies and whatever else works. I guess that's eclectic.

The idea is to give the student a chance to show what they know, as opposed to what they don't.

Here are some of the questions:
  • Label a map of Europe with everything you can remember.
  • Tell what you know about: Galileo, Monet, Bach.
  • Who was Corrie ten Boom? What do you remember about her?
  • Read aloud for 5 minutes from The Adventure Bible.
  • Sing one of the hymns we learned this semester.
  • Choose a memory verse and recite it.
Z-Man dictated to me as I typed. Here's one of his answers:

Monet by Z-Man

Monet was an artist. A very great one, too. Though he didn’t think so. He painted water lillies sometimes. Of course, that was when he was older. When he was younger, he wasn’t very famous. He also went to war. He didn’t like that because he got sick. I’m not sure what kind of sickness it was but when the country (France) got back in war again, he went to England so that he wouldn’t have to fight and painted there.

Of course, when he was older, he was famous. When he got older, he got a lot of money so that he could buy a garden with a pond of lillies and a japanese bridge. Of course, probably most of you know about the japanese bridge. His wife, Camille, died and he remarried a woman named Alice.

But even though he wasn’t famous at one point, now people will pay thousands of dollars for one of his paintings. His style of painting was just dots of paint. Now you might think, “oh, that’s not a bright way of painting” but you are right when you step in close to the painting, but when you step back, you are wrong. When you step back, the dots make a picture!

He's a pretty funny kid.

The best part of this type of exam was that we really saw how much we had covered. It was actually quite encouraging for both of us.

For those with older students, here is a great example of this type of exam for high schoolers at Harmony Art Mom.

And now, on to South America!

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A new nativity!

We own several nativity sets, each cherished for its own unique qualities.

This one was given to us early in our marriage and shares a place of honor on the sideboard with our Christmas cards.

This stained glass set was made by a talented friend and is beautiful with lights behind it.

And our new addition, created by Z-Man and displayed proudly on the mantel! I'm sure you could figure it out, but I thought I'd put titles in, just in case.

And didn't these paper nativity scenes turn out adorable? You can print one (use card stock) at

This week: baking, grocery shopping and hopefully some caroling! I hope you are all enjoying a blessed and peaceful Christmas season.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas book science

Last week was a light week here, well, school-wise anyway. We always focus on Christmas-type studies for the two or three weeks prior to Christmas. Things that aren't directly related to our study I try to tweak to make them a little more festive (such as practicing cursive by writing a Christmas list.) I also found a great download of Christmas critical thinking pages - it was only $1.99 at Curriculum Click.

But mostly we just read and do fun stuff. Yesterday, we read this:

Well, not that exactly. We read it in english. The Christmas Train by Ivan Gantschev. Apparently it's out of print and if you wish to buy it through Amazon, it will cost you $252.68 (or $98.84 if you can read German). Wow. It's good, but not two-hundred-dollars-good. I'd check the library first.

ANYway, it's based on a true story (LOVE that!) of the author's aunt in Bulgaria who, as a child, bravely and selflessly made a signal fire of her own Christmas tree on Christmas eve to warn an oncoming train of a rock slide, saving all inside. Her father always said that if there was an obstruction on the tracks, make a signal fire 400 yards ahead of it. Z-Man realized that this is the equivalent of four football fields and we got talking about momentum and why it takes a train so long to stop. Aha! Sounds like a science experiment!

We made a ramp out of a table leaf and a "brake" out of an empty box at the end of the ramp. We sent our little tykes truck down the ramp and measured how far it pushed the box (32 inches). Then we added weight - 3 heavy bolts, one at a time. Each made our truck take a little farther to stop. The most impressive result, however, was when we added speed - starting our ramp on the kitchen chair instead of the small step stool. And, you guessed it, the high ramp (speed) and the three bolts (weight) sent our truck the farthest - almost seven feet before it stopped!

I'm so thankful that we found the Five in a Row curriculum when Z-Man was younger. This book isn't in it, but I credit FIAR with enabling me to find lessons in the other childrens books we read. Before we started FIAR, I just didn't think that way. Thank you, Lamberts!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Sad Day

Our precious friends left today. They are moving to Idaho and that is a long, long way from here. They have been such a blessing to our family and we miss them terribly already.

Good bye, sweet friends!

Christmas books we love

We just read the most wonderful, inspiring book! It's moving to the top of my list of beloved Christmas books.

Through a series of God-ordained "coincidences," a pastor and his family help bring about the reunion of an elderly Jewish couple separated decades earlier in the holocaust. It really drives home the point that God is in control and that He cares about us.

Another great Christmas book we found last year is Bright Christmas: An Angel Remembers, the Christmas story told from the perspective of an angel.

One we just found this year and I'm so glad we did:

One Wintry Night by Ruth Bell Graham. A boy gets caught in a snow storm and ends up spending the night in an old woman's home. She tells him the Christmas story - from the beginning - as in Adam and Eve! This book basically summarizes the Bible up through the birth of Christ. One caution: the illustrations are very well done but a couple (Goliath in particular) might be a bit too intense for very young children.

And finally, the utterly hysterical and ultimately heart-warming The Best Christmas Pageant Ever! Oh my. We just love this book. Our whole family looks forward to reading it. Last year, we read through it twice (only 7 chapters).

Happy reading!

Countries and Cultures Lapbook

If you are doing (or planning on doing) a world geography study, I think you'll want to take a look at this. I can't believe I didn't find it sooner! It's a complete, free, printable country and culture lapbook! You can print one out for every country you study or simply print out the pages you need. She has everything: religion, famous landmarks, wild animals and plants and much, much more!

Wow! What a find!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Visiting the sheep

Sometimes the planets align and a perfect field trip opportunity just pops up at the right time. We read A New Coat for Anna this week as we studied Germany. (More on that later. I promise.) They never actually say where it takes place, but I think it's post WWII Poland. There is still no money after the war and the shops are empty but Anna desperately needs a new coat. It's a sweet story (based on a true one and you know I love that!) of a mother who, over the course of a year, trades some of her precious possessions to buy wool and then have it spun, woven and finally sewed into a new coat for her daughter.

Well, today we went to a sheep farm open house and visited the sheep, just like Anna did! How fun is that? We stood agape at the shearing. The sheep just go limp and the men who are shearing them just haul them around like a sack of potatoes. (The kids thought that was hysterical.) They don't hurt them, but still, you'd think they'd put up a little bit of a fuss. Interesting note: there are special pants made for sheep shearing. Seriously. There's a niche market for you.

The naked sheep are then put in the "naked sheep pen" (our term) and the fleeces are put on a table where debris is picked out and discarded.

After it's washed and dyed, they run it through this huge carding machine. (Anna and her mother carded theirs by hand.)

Look at those colors! Almost enough to make you want to re-learn how to knit. Almost.

The boys each received little pieces of colored wool as a souvenir. You'd think they were gold. They're storing them in the little wooden gingerbread houses they built at the Lowe's kids program this morning.

Oh, and they had the biggest angora rabbits. Chickens too - we bought some eggs.

If you can't get to a sheep open house, you can still order this wonderful, free sample booklet from Pendleton. It describes the 8 steps from sheep to fabric and gives you a little sample of the product of each stage - even a little vial of lanolin!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sheet rock and revelation

Things haven't been going as well as I'd like here lately, friends. I've been a little discouraged and overwhelmed. Since I want this blog to be positive and, hopefully, helpful to fellow homeschoolers, I just haven't posted. I figure there's enough negativity in the world already, I certainly don't want to contribute to it. On the other hand, I do want people to know that not everyone's homeschool is as perfect as their blogs make them look! So if you're overwhelmed too - hey, at least you're not alone!

Having said that, I do think I've finally hit upon one of the reasons that I lost my blogging enthusiasm. It's so simple I can't believe I didn't realize it earlier. Here's the thing - when I plan lessons, I over-plan. I mean, really over-plan, like by about 100%. Knowing this, I always know that, at any given time, we will only cover about half of what I've planned. And I'm mostly OK with that. But it's all really good stuff. SO - if I blog about it AFTER we do it, I end up looking at all the really cool stuff that we DIDN'T do. Kind of depressing. If I blog about it BEFORE we do it, it's still exciting and full of possibility. So there you go. I will have to change things up a bit.

Now, there is some good news - actually great news! My very kind Mom (hi Mom!) got a little tired of looking at our partially completed back room. It's a 14 X 14 room that managed to get itself framed and mostly insulated a while ago and then progress came to a screeching halt. Over time, it became a repository for all the things we had no clue what to do with. (It also functioned as a walk-in cooler during the winter.) My Mom gave us a gift that enabled us to hire my friend Joy's husband to sheet rock and now it actually looks like a room!! The best part is, it's going to be a school room - yippee!!! This means, among other things, that we will not have to clear projects off the table in order to eat dinner and that we will no longer have a computer and printer in our dining room. There may even be a place for all the books I compulsively accumulate, but I think that's unlikely. And if Little Man is playing in the same room with us, I may be able to catch him BEFORE he paints the couch with bright green tempera paint. Sorry, no pics of that episode. But I do have these:

Ah. Progress. A good thing.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

What's better than Greek food?!

So. We're doing Greece this week and, as a special treat, my sweet, wonderful husband took us all out to a Greek restaurant that we LOVE. I say "we" as in, he and I. (They catered our wedding - way back in 1990.)
Now, I know that I am sometimes prone to unrealistic expectations. I mean, Z-Man sometimes talks like he's 21 but he is, after all, an 8 year old boy. So, this evening he finds himself surrounded by all manner of mouthwatering greek cuisine and he orders...

chicken tenders and fries.

I managed to do some quick expectations-adjustment and we all had a lovely time. We saw a traditional greek costume, some pottery, artwork, photos, etc. He recognized the parthenon and had one bite each of souvlaki, thracian chicken and galaktoboureko. And Mark and I enjoyed our meal immensely. So we'll call it a successful field trip.

I'd show you pictures, but I forgot my camera too...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Trading Places

It seems that, at this time of year, at least where we live, attitudes start a bit of a downward spiral. It may be that it's getting colder (first snow today!) and we spend a lot more time indoors. It may be that the newness of the school year has worn off and we start getting into a bit of a rut. It may be that it's almost completely dark (ugh) by dinner time.

Whatever the cause, we've had more than the usual amount of whining, bickering and unpleasantness around here lately. I was pretty discouraged about it one day and, in thinking over possible remedies, I came up with the idea of switching places with Z-Man for a day. (Actually, I came up with a lot of ideas but that was, ahem, the only productive one.) Guess what? He was really excited about it! Actually, I think he viewed it as his opportunity for parent-sanctioned dictatorship but, hey, he was excited and sometimes you'll just take that, you know? He immediately started planning his lessons for the next day and filling mine and Little Man's activity boxes.

We had a great day! Z-Man came up with some great ideas! Here's my first activity box:

We're on Italy this week in our trip around the world (I'm way behind in blogging about it, but I'll get there.) Z-Man gave me the assignment to draw a map of the canals in Venice from Papa Piccolo. I think I did a great job, if I do say so myself.

My next box was a collaborative effort between Z-Man and Mark - thank you SO MUCH for the long division, Honey.

But he did have Z-Man work out the answers for his "teacher's answer key" so they got a little math in under the radar. Love that.

My third box was actually one of HIS assignments that he hadn't completed the day before. In order to complete it, I had to read chapter 4 of Daniel so naturally I read it out loud. In fact, I did the whole assignment out loud and then asked Z-Man to check it to make sure I had done it correctly.

Z-Man had Little Man sing the ABC's through twice with him for his first box. His second was this:

Little Man had to count the balls. Notice the smiley faces saying "yes" for each one he got right.

His third box was a treasure hunt! All these toys were hidden in his rice box (our version of an indoor sand box.)

After our work was done, we were assigned a game of football in the living room and then we watched a movie. Later in the day, I heard him telling his friend on the phone how awesome it was!

I think we'll definitely do this one again!

What are some other ideas for combatting bad attitudes? Comments are always welcome!

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Netherlands, Part 2

Let me first officially apologize for taking so long to post part 2. I'm finding it difficult to get everything done and still have time for blogging. I'm sure I'll find a routine that works though, so don't give up on me!

And now, back to the Netherlands, as promised!

In our Hero Tales books, we read about Menno Simons, the man who started the Mennonites - his story is very interesting and Z-Man found it more so since we have Mennonites living in our area and he has asked about them before. We also read about Corrie ten Boom and we both found her story fascinating and inspiring - especially when she and her sister thanked God for the fleas in the concentration camp because it meant they could read their bible without interference from the soldiers. Oh my! Her home is a museum now and you can look at it here.

We studied Van Gogh during our time in the Netherlands because he was born there and, well, France is already pretty full with the Impressionists. We enjoyed this book:

and spent some time just studying some of his paintings. We also attempted some Van Gogh projects. I'll tell you about the successful one first.

I went through some of my home magazines and pulled out full page pictures of rooms - preferably some with a little wall space. Then I called the boys in and, armed with these stickers:

I said, "this is a very pretty room, but I think it could really use a Van Gogh, don't you?" and I stuck one on the wall. It was very funny to me to see where they thought a Van Gogh would look nice (particularly Little Man) - there was one over a dog bed, one on some kitchen cabinets, one on a dust ruffle - but they had a good time!

On a different day, we attempted to imitate Van Gogh's Starry Night painting using oil pastels on black paper. For some reason, neither boy was into this. At all. sigh. Some days are just like that. But don't worry! I didn't let that keep me from doing my own! And at the end of the week, we did the project at our co-op and it went MUCH better.

Here are the masterpieces of Ellie, Emily and Marylyn (1st/2nd grade). Aren't they beautiful?!

Lastly, we watched some online videos of the Netherlands that we found on Jolanthe's wonderful blog, Homeschool Creations. She and her family are also studying the countries of the world but they are much further along in their journey, having started last year. There are SOOOO many great ideas - plan to spend some time if you head over there.

And now, off to Spain!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Netherlands, Part 1

What a fun week studying the Netherlands!

First off, did you know that, technically, it is incorrect to call this country Holland? True - Holland is actually just a small part of the Netherlands in the southwest. It sounds like the Dutch are pretty laid-back though and don't take too much issue with this common error.

So here's our week:

Our absolutely favorite book:

What a joyful story! A destitute little girl in post WWII Holland receives a series of gifts from a little girl in America and makes the decision to share with her whole town. Based on a true story - the American girl was actually the author's mother! So inspiring.

In relation the this book, we talked about generosity (2 Cor. 9:6-8) and thankfulness (1 Thes. 5:16-18), worked on fractions using a chocolate bar and learned how to write a friendly letter. Little Man learned the four seasons and we talked about sending our own boxes overseas via Operation Christmas Child. There is a wonderful unit on this book at Homeschool Share.

We also enjoyed Father, May I Come? by Peter Spier. It's a tale of two courageous sea rescues off the Dutch coast - 300 years apart. And this amazes me - since 1824, the Royal Netherlands Rescue Society has saved more than 30,000 lives! It is completely funded and manned by volunteers. My boys loved this book!

Of course we had to read the story of the heroic little boy who saved the town by plugging a hole in the dike with his finger. Ours was in Around the World in 80 Tales but there is also a version in The BOOK OF VIRTUES by William Bennett. We were amazed to find out how much of the Netherlands has been reclaimed from the sea. And there are plans underway to reclaim even more. We learned how the dikes are built and then the water is pumped out - initially by windmills. We had to make some:

Now, how cute are those? The plans are here. And can I just say that I LOVE crafts whose materials list is limited to "printer, paper, toilet paper roll?" Yeah - I can do that.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Beautiful FREE Autumn unit study!

I just finished downloading this unit study from The Old Schoolhouse website and I haven't even finished looking at it yet - I just had to come here and tell people about it!! What a wonderful little unit study! There are links for lapbooking elements, links to online videos, a HUGE book list (you can read whatever you can find at your library) and all kinds of activities, work sheets, etc. It also looks like it will be very easy to include multiple ages - and you know that's big with me. WOW!!!!

Without further ado:

Friday, October 9, 2009

We want to go to Ireland!

We really, really do. In fact, we're planning our trip with the help of the lovely travel catalogues that I requested at Hey, it could happen. Opportunity favors the prepared, right?

Here is our travel poster showing our preferred destinations:

We even put a golf course on there for Mark! But we'll be skipping the seaweed baths. Yuck!

The travel literature was our favorite resource this week but we also loved:

We also read a great story about the Giant's Causeway in this book:

And we watched several segments of the Globe Trekker DVD on Ireland (those that were kid-appropriate). We found a great video of the finale of a Chieftans show (love youtube! well, most of the time) that had it all: solos on the celtic harp, fiddle, Irish whistle and bagpipes, a bodhran, a song in Gaelic and step dancers! Whew! The kids watched it multiple times and showed it to everyone who happened to drop in. It also inspired much leaping, kicking and fancy footwork. Grandma M. came over and told of her Grandpa, a rather large irishman who was the best dancer in the county. Only one woman could keep up with him when they had "dance downs." So there you go. It's in our genes.