Polar Bears

The third week in January we continued our Antarctic/Artic animal studies  with Polar Bears.  We followed a very similar plan to Penguins.

First Molly read books and worked with a CAN/HAVE/ARE graphic organizer.  I had a really hard time finding books about Polar Bears on the iPad, and actually didn’t end up buying any at all.  We used NatGeoKids and this website.  If I had had time to go to the library I would have looked for:

Polar Bears, by Gail Gibbons

MTH Polar Bear Fact Tracker

Big Fuzzy, by Caroline Castle

Tundra Animals, by Dayton

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We chose our facts and wrote them on post-its.  (I have been using JotNotPro to make copies of these for their portfolios, since we are doing them on a jumbo notepad.)  Lucy (K4) really gets into this part.  She loves contributing facts and really retains a lot of what she hears while we do this.

Then Molly picked 4 facts and wrote her report.  This week we talked a lot about the importance of a clever title to draw your reader in. 😉

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For art we did this project from that artist woman.  Hers are definitely better than ours. 😉  We also don’t have the same tempra paints that she does, so I just watered our tempra down a bit.

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Last but not least, we did the blubber glove experiment.

You need:

2 gallon baggies

shortening (I used a block)

a bowl of ice water

Put the shortening in the first bag and squish it around.  Then put the second bag inside that and try to get some of the shortening on all sides.  Let the kids put one hand in the “blubber glove” and one hand in the ice water by itself.  They will quickly discover the bennefits of blubber!  Polar bears can have up to 10 centemeters of blubber.  of course we got out the ruler and measured on our arms how far out that would go. 😉

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Here is another experiement about how Polar Bears stay warm that we didn’t do this week (I couldn’t find it!) but we will, probably this weekend.

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Penguins

Just one week into our second semester we had one of those weeks.  You know the ones.  The ones where you think you have everything under control and then somehow… you don’t.  Luckily we caught up, but our Penguin unit lacked art of any kind, which always makes me sad.  It also lacked pictures.  But not ideas!

We used Nat Geo Kids, this book and this book (but paid way way way less on iBooks) as our resources.  There are of course 100 other great penguin books out there.  These are the ones I could find on my iPad, but if I’d had time we’d have gone to the library.

We’ve started using Can/Have/Are graphic organizers (there is one here, though we just made our own), which Molly really likes a lot.  She had to work on it on the fly (hence the convenience of iBooks books…) but it really helped her pull facts from the text. (if you click to zoom in you might be able to see what she is working on…)

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We then made a big chart of all the facts we knew about penguins to use to write a penguin report.  Basically we wrote a post-it note for each fact we learned.  They then chose 4 of the post-its for their report and wrote a closing sentence.  I encouraged them to make the report their own.  My hope is this is the beginning of writing to inform… not just what she learned but also what she thinks.  This process went ultra smoothly, and we are using it again for both Polar Bears and Whales later this month. (BTW- you might notice enrollment is up at Tiny Spark Academy!  With all the “snow” (really just colder-than-bleep) days we’ve been having we’ve been lucky enough to have some of our public school friends come hang with us for school.  We all love it.  Shakes things up a bit!

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We also kept on keeping on with our regular curriculum, of course.

Frozen

Are everyone else’s children as obsessed (and I mean that in every sense of the word) with the movie Frozen?  I wouldn’t even say we are a family who gets super into Disney movies, but man… this one caputured our hearts.  I think its the sisters.  🙂  Using that obsession, we kicked off our second semester with a month of all things FROZEN.

Anyway, as a New Years resolution (of which I have one… PLAN.) I sat down and planned all of January.  And seriously?  Life is so much better when I plan.  I’ll do a little post on planning soon.  For real.  Stop laughing.  I’ll do it.  You can plan on it.  (Get it?  Plan on it…. nevermind.)

So here is the January line up:

Snow

Penguins

Polar Bears

Whales

Be Awesome.

Just kidding on that last one.  But that is pretty much how it felt to have an entire month planned, with shopping list, ready to go.  BAM!

I didn’t take many snow pictures, but we did lots of fun stuff. 🙂

We read Over and Under the Snow and talked about hibernating animals and the subnivean zone.

We made these adorable snowmen.

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And this fun snow art.  (I got this idea from someone else, but I can’t remember who…)

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We tried the Borax snow crystals but it didn’t work.  We need to try again!

We talked about symmetry and drew the owl from Draw Write Now.

We also did paper snowflakes, again talking about symmetry.

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We read Snowflake Bently and talked about the uniqueness of snowflakes, why they would be hard to photograph and their structures (all snowflakes have 6 “legs”).  We also looked at this website and watched the short movie.

We drew a big snowman on the chalkboard and filled it in with adjectives for snow.

We did the life cycle of a snow man.  I don’t think they’ll ever forget the states of matter.  (solid, liquid, gas)  They had a blast singing about Olaf from Frozen while we did this.  😉

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What I Learned On My Kids’ Field Trip

I learned so much on this field trip.   So much that I decided to make a list, so you could learn too.

1) Check museum hours before planning a field trip.  They may be closed on the day you planned to drive 3 hours to get there.  Have a back up, just in case.

2) If driving 3 hours to get to said destination, feed the children in the car.  Otherwise they will want to eat as soon as you get there, wasting an hour of your visit time.

3) Have migraine medication with you at all times.  (My poor friend got one right before our OmniMax movie… torture…)

4) Check museum hours of back up.  They may close a mere 4 hours after your arrival.  If you spend 1 hour eating lunch, 1 hour watching an OmniMax movie and 20 more minutes eating snack… It doesn’t leave much time for, you know, field tripping.  😉

Ha.  We did learn really cool actual information too.  We learned all about monarch butterflies and their annual 3-generation cycle and migration.  We got to see a real life palentologist working on a real life dinosaur fossil.  He gave Molly a good piece of advice:  get a trust fund.  😉   We learned that they use a solution comparable to super glue mixed with water to stabalize weakened fossils.  They had fun exploring and learning, but I really, really wish we had more time!  I was also bummed that our first choice museum was closed.  I’m hoping that we’ll be able to make the trip again, very soon, so we can see that one, too.

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This trip also inspired me to order some new “fun” for our classroom, especially more logic/puzzle based activities for my Lucy girl.  That girl could play Tangrams all day!  I’m also on the look out for Tetrominos.  Its like real-life tetris.  Hit me up if you’ve seen them anywhere… The ones the museum had were little foam magnetic pieces.

All in all a fun day, and lots of lessons learned!

It’s Bloody Good Fun

Our science lab this week was all about blood (this lab can be found in our science curriculum, R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey).  Molly has been eagerly anticipating this one for 2 weeks, while I kept forgetting to pick up lentils so we could complete it.  Finally, this week, we had all the supplies… it. was. on.

First, we discussed the 4 main blood parts:  Red Blood Cells, White Blood Cells, Plasma and Platelets, and their jobs:  carry oxygen to the body, eat bacteria/fight infection, carries food and keeps things moving, and clots blood to stop bleeding.  There are lab pages with the curriculum that include a drop of blood drawing, with clues for the student to use to identify each part in the drawing.  She then colored it and labeled it.

Now it is time to mix up the blood!  Supplies needed:

1/2 karo syrup

1/2 c red hot candies

5 lima beans

1 tablespoon lentils

wide mouth jar, spoon

First measure and pour the karo syrup into a wide mouth jar and idetify it as the plasma part of the blood.  This is what keeps blood viscous.  Next add the red hots, which are representing the red blood cells (RBC).  Then the lima beans, which represent white blood cells (WBC), and the lentils, which are acting as our platelets.  Stir!

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Molly really enjoyed this and learned the 4 parts, no questions asked (I know because I told her I was writing this and forgot them… thank goodness for her help.  😉 )  While the model doesn’t do anything exciting, I think the hands on experience and reviewing what each thing was as we dumped it in really provided a fun way to learn.  Afterwards there was a lab sheet to fill in and also a space for her to draw the lab.  She has since made me promise we could keep the model until my birthday.  I’m calling this one a success!

 

We’re Breeding Executives

Duh.  Our children are beyond brilliant and will run companies.  That’s what we mean when we say we are working on “executive skills”, right?  Not so much.  Though I do think they are brilliant.  😉  I’d like to share what I’ve learned about executive skills.  I am in no way an expert (or even close to it), but I think the information is incredibly important for all parents (not just homeschoolers).

After coming across the book Smart But Scattered  (which appealed to me for obvious reasons), I realized that not just for kids with attention issues, but for ALL kids, executive skills are something that are easily ignored, but perhaps at a major disservice.  We all know the joke about the helicopter mom:  the one who does everything for their kid and can’t just sit back and let them try things and make mistakes.  It is so easy to do, and frankly, I am definitely a helicopter mom in some ways.  I will always hover, to be sure my children are being polite, kind and respectful individuals.  I will always scoop them up to give them hugs when the get hurt, physically or otherwise.  And I will always be willing to help and to scaffold whatever it is they are doing.  I won’t always be willing to make their beds, do their laundry, and make sure they work up to their potential.  There are things I need and want them to know, in the core of themselves, and knowing they can take care of themselves and do their best work possible are some of them.

At this point you may be asking yourself “That’s all great, but what in the world are executive skills?”.  Since I am so nice I will save you a Google search.

Executive skills cover two major areas:  response inhibition and working memory.  Essentially kids (and adults) need to be able to think before they act, make a plan and then hold the plan in their mind long enough to execute it.  That is the most basic of basic ways I can think to explain it.  Essentially if you say “Excuse me, dearest of dear children of mine, please go put that sock in the drawer” (that’s how we all talk, right?) and your adorable lovey walks up the stairs without the sock and begins playing legos… That sweet little pumpkin head is lacking executive skills.  And you may get the most teensy-bit-angry and wonder “Will this child ever listen?!” and the answer is that they can learn to listen.  Just as they can learn to walk and talk, they can learn  to listen to directions and think them through.  But when your child was 9 months old, did you just start demanding he/she started walking?  No!  You put them in a device to help them strengthen their legs.  You bounced them on your lap and giggled as they “jumped”.  You held on to their chubby little fingers while they toddled between your spread out legs.  You helped and encouraged their learning!  And that’s what we are trying to do with executive skills.

A list of Executive Skills:

Response inhibition

Working memory

Emotional control

Sustained attention

Task initiation

Planning and prioritizing

Organization

Time management

Flexibility (the ability to revise plans)

Goal directed persistence

Metacognition (the ability to self evaluate)

(I pulled this list from here.)

So, if you are like me, you want to run and pin your kids down and start building these skills rightthisveryminute.  But if you follow the teachings of Charlotte Mason at all, you know the best way to attack a list like this is to pick one (or a skill set) and focus on it for 6 weeks.  At the end of that 6 weeks, the hope is that they have developed a habit.   So look at the list and pick one, and then you are ready to begin.  Good luck!

Just kidding.  (See!  No one likes a lack of direction and information!)

Again, I am no expert, and I can only share our journey as we try to teach our children these important skills.

Here’s one of my dirtiest secrets:  I lack some of these skills myself.  Before I had kids, I was a super organized person.  I knew what I was eating for the day before I woke up.  I have planners in my basement filled with deadlines, details, reminders, etc.  I had a file folder for everything.  After having kids I spend more time feeling like I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off.  Please, please tell me you feel the same.  And if you have more kids than I do and manage to keep it all in check, spill it!  I applaud you and want to know your tricks!  Anyway, I do still keep a planner (paper, please!) and Molly noticed and asked for one of her own.  This sparked the idea of supplementing our normal “calendar” time (which is really more for her little sister, anyway) with a more “grown up” version of calendar time, which would really provide some good practice for planning and prioritizing.  So each Monday, Molly takes our her planner and writes all of her activities for the week.  She has already filled in her friends’ birthdays, so she can be sure to be considerate and call them that day.  The rest of the week, our first task of the day is to take our her planner and review what is coming up.  Sometimes she may have conflicts and we’ll talk about how we should settle them.  Skip an activity?  Let them know she’ll be late?  Whatever the case, she is in on it.  In the next few weeks, I’d like to back off a bit on helping her fill it in, and let her see what she can do from memory (piano on Mondays, ballet on Wednesdays…) so the task is almost complete in her circle of responsibility.  She really enjoys using her planner, and lo and behold, her 3 year old sister wants to start using one, too.  I do remind her to use neat handwriting, but the fact of the matter is that this is HER planner.  I wouldn’t appreciate someone telling me how to use mine!  If she writes sloppily and runs out of room or can’t read it later, that is a good lesson for her, too.  I’m all about natural consequences. 😉

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About 6 weeks ago, we started the rule that before they come down stairs they need to get dressed and make their beds.  That was modified a bit to “after breakfast, get dressed and make beds” because it drove me crazy to have food on their clothes before we even started their day.  😉  However, Molly struggles with making her bed.  She has a really hard time remembering to pull up her sheet, and so it is usually hanging, sloppily out at the bottom of her bed.  What to do?!  I don’t want to hover and critique her every move,  but I *do* want her to learn to do it properly.  Peg Dawson (author of Smart but Scattered) suggests making lists and having them available for kids to see (with words or picture cues), as well as staying in the room to provide support for staying on task and providing encouragement along the way at first, and helping to solve any problems that arise.  We made a picture card map for cleaning her bedroom awhile ago, and it does seem to help, so I made one for making her bed, too.  I simply whipped one up in Photoshop (a word processing doc will do just fine),  laminated it and stuck it to the wall rightnexttoherbed, so when she tells me “I don’t know hooooooowwwww”, I can tell her, “oh yes, you do.”  😉  Because this is in very clear, direct and numbered steps, she also has a very clear guideline of when her task has been completed.  Peg Dawson is a huge advocate for forms of any kind (check lists, tables, charts, etc) to give kiddos visual cues and provide clear plan making guidelines.  There are lots of reproducibles in the book, however I think you could easily make them custom for your specific circumstances.  We have several lists around the house, including our school day in the order it will be done, so that she knows exactly what comes next.

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That’s all I’ve got for this huge undertaking so far.  I’d love to hear how other parents are attacking teaching these skills.  We’ve dabbled a bit with making plans (“can you please draw a picture of what you are going to do with your free-time today?”), but I think that is our next step.  We definitely need to practice our forward thinking around here!