Wednesday, October 4, 2017

September Wrap-Up

We're starting to get into a decent routine with school and it no longer feels like we're still trying to figure things out.   Mostly.  Okay, maybe we're still working out history, science, art, music, writing, and health.  But math, literature, grammar, reading, PE and nature study are going great.

The kids start their morning with their one hour of required reading.   This allows them time to wake-up slowly, enjoying their morning chocolate milk.   Squidy is working his way through The Lord of the Rings, while Vicki is on the second book of The Mysterious Benedict Society.

Once the kids finish school, they usually have some time before they are allowed on screens.  We've been playing lots (and lots and lots) of board and card games.  Their favorites right now are Aggravation and Pokemon Headbanz (both birthday gifts), and the old favorite Uno.

 I got fed-up with chasing dice and having to get them away from the dog so now we use the "dice monster" to hold the dice.

We haven't started our formal nature study yet but we've taken quite a few nature walks.  We even managed to find a geocache that we couldn't locate last year.

I finally got brave enough to take the kids to the top of the Tourne.   We've gone there before but just on the lower paths, because I wasn't sure about tackling the route to the top which is steep and long.  We went with some friends (so another adult along just in case) and gave it a try.  It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be and there's a great view of NYC from up there.

We studied some mycology, both in our backyard and on our hikes....

and we did some caving.

Squidy has been doing some science as part of his 4-H project for this year.  He's been asking for a fish tank for his room for a while so we decided to finally get him one.   We are currently working on getting the Nitrogen cycle properly set-up, which involves lots of water testing.  He has been keeping records on the test results and once he gets his fish (a Betta), he will continue keeping records on its care.

We are continuing with our 4-H STEM club this year.  Our first meeting we worked on a cup stacking challenge, using rubber bands on strings to stack cups.   Because one of the set-ups used index cards between the layers, they were allowed to touch the strings and the index cards.  Vicki's group mainly used the string/rubber band set-up but it didn't take Squidy's team long to figure out to use the index cards like gloves to touch the cups.   They declared themselves "Team Loophole".

Since we are still working on Ancients this year, but we haven't done much over the summer, we are reviewing what we've done so far (Paleolithic, Mesopotamia) by watching the first few episodes of The Great Courses - The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World, and reading through our DK Ancient Civilizations book.  We will start on Egypt in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

What Are We Doing?

We have made lots and lots of changes for our new school year.  The kids are getting older (Squidy is in 7th grade!?!?!), things that worked for years aren't working anymore, and we seem to have (finally!) found a set-up that should work for the long-term.

First, our set-up.  The kids have been doing most of their work using storage clipboards sitting on the couch or chairs.  While this worked for some things, for others (like Geometry using a compass), it was not an easy way to function.    The kids had a table with their computers on it, side-by-side, and theoretically the keyboards could slide under the monitors and they would have a space to work.  But this really wasn't a lot of room.  We bought a second table to put on the opposite side of the living room and now each kid has a table that is 1/2 their computer and 1/2 an open workspace.  Much much better workspace for school.  Each of them has a 3 cube shelf next to their table to hold all their school books and notebooks.

I also finally have my own desk, where I can plan school, 4-H, Sunday School, science classes I'm teaching, and all the other fun stuff I do!

So, what kind of school are the kids doing this year?   We've made a few changes which resulted in a lot more of their work being done with textbooks (part of the reason a better workspace was needed) and less being done with worksheets.


Squidy is doing Algebra I (!!!) using Foerster's Algebra.  So far it's going well and he's finding it pretty simple.   We're combining it with Interactive Notebooks to use as a reference guide.  He's using the 7th and 8th grade notebooks, which covers most of his Algebra text.

He is also finishing up Hands-On Geometry, using Prodigy to practice math facts, and Code Combat to learn coding.

Vicki was really struggling with Math Mammoth last year.  The pages were too busy and the writing too small for her.  Even knowing she didn't have to do all the problems didn't help.  We ended up giving MathUSee Gamma a try since I thought she needed extra reinforcement with multiplication.   This ended up being too easy and she didn't like doing the same thing over and over and over again.  We are finishing up MUS because she does need the extra practice, but we are using Scott Foresman enVision Math as her primary program.  

We used the 4th grade workbook for a little while last year as reinforcement because we were able to access the textbook and videos through our local public school.  The set-up worked well so we're going to give the whole program a try this year.  I bought a used textbook from Amazon, as well as the workbook, and so far it's working great.  This program is colorful, spiral, and has good explanations.   The only hitch came when I forgot to tell Vicki that she didn't need to write in the textbook and she got upset at the lack of space to put answers.  

 I didn't even realize that there was a homeschool version of this program available.  

Vicki is also using Interactive Notebooks, grades 4 and 5 cover her text, and Prodigy for extra practice.


We are using Mosdos Press Literature again this year.

Squidy is using Jade, while Vicki is using Pearl.  This actually skips a level for Vicki but I decided she could handle Pearl, which Squidy did last year so we already had it, when it looked like Mosdos wasn't going to be available.   I decided against the workbooks this year and instead we are using a literature Interactive Notebook I bought from Teachers-Pay-Teachers, combined with going through the vocabulary in each story and a few questions from the end of the story.   Vicki loves doing the IN, while Squidy doesn't care for cut and color so I'm allowing him to just write the information in his notebook.

We are also going to try a literature unit from Moving Beyond the Page.  I bought the guide for A Wrinkle In Time, and we will go through it together when the kids finish their current reads.


For writing, we will continue with Write On! and do some BraveWriter projects.


We will continue with History Odyssey Ancients Level 2.  We will be adding some Great Courses to our plan.


Science is going to be units this year.   We are continuing with our 4-H STEM Club twice a month, I will be teaching other science classes that the kids will participate in, we have Spangler science club kits that we still need to work through, Vicki is going to do a Marine Biology project for 4-H, Squidy is doing a fish tank project (setting up the nitrogen cycle, water testing, etc.) for 4-H, we will be doing twice weekly nature study, and we might do some work from the Big Fat Science Notebook.


For health we are going to work on Internet Safety, nutrition, exercise, and development.


We are going to continue with Getting Started with Spanish, along with some Interactive Notebook stuff.

Physical Education

We are continuing with Tai Kwan Do and yoga.  We are also doing more hiking, and will try to go at least once a week to lap swimming.  We have stopped swim lessons since the kids weren't really learning anything new.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Camping in North Carolina

Our big vacation for this year was two weeks camping in North Carolina.  Daddy used to live in Research Triangle Park and wanted to head down to visit with old friends and check out old haunts (which he found had changed quite a bit in 20 years ;-).

Unfortunately I forgot my nice Canon Rebel T3i with the zoom lens and was stuck taking pictures with my cell phone the whole time.

Jordan Lake

We started out at Jordan Lake Recreational Area in Apex.  We had a lovely site right on the lake, with coves on two sides.

We had a blue heron (that the kids insisted on pronouncing here-on just to bug me) that was nesting in the cove.  We saw him every day we were there.

We also saw a bald eagle a few times.  He was eating a fish on the shore opposite our campground.  Unfortunately it was too far to get a decent picture with my cell phone.  :-(

The weather wasn't overly cooperative but the kids did manage to get in some swimming, including a couple times swimming in actual rain showers.   But we also spent a bunch of just playing games at the campground.

Evidently we were there at the height of frog mating season, and a certain species of tree frog sounds just like a baby screaming.   A really nice sound to hear in the middle of the night.  There were also a ton of toads hopping around each evening.   As always, Vicki was our critter kid and was catching them for a closer look.

Then came what the kids called, somewhat hyperbolically, THE DISASTER.

We dealt with quite a bit of rain while we were at Jordan Lake.  The first night, it was a light shower and we had some minor leaks in our sleeping tent.  This was the first time it ever leaked (and we've camped in thunderstorms before).  We pulled off the fly, sprayed the seams with some waterproofing spray and put it back on.

The next night it leaked a little bit more, so we picked up a tarp to put over the top of the tent.  The first night that worked great.  The next night we got to see the negative side to that lovely lake view - strong thunderstorms included a strong wind coming right across the lake.   A wind that picked up that tarp and pulled the tent stakes right out of the ground.  Three in the morning and Daddy was holding up the tent long enough for us to get out and run to our Suburban to spend the rest of the night.

After looking at the damage in the morning, we debated whether to cut our trip short and head home.  A couple of the tent poles were broken, the canopy frame was bent, everything was wet (and I had already spent a few hours at the laundromat this trip!).  But we decided to stick it out and headed to the Blue Ridge Parkway to Davidson River.

Davidson River

Davidson River is in the Pisgah National Forest, part of the Appalachian Mountains.

With the help of lots of duct tape, we were able to set up camp at our new home-away-from-home.  Since we were in the middle of the woods, we figured we shouldn't have to worry about any strong winds.   We did tell Squidy that he could sleep in the truck if he felt nervous at any point. 

One of our first stops in Pisgah was Sliding Rock.   Sliding Rock is a 60 foot long waterfall with a sloping boulder that can be slid down like a slide.  

Squidy took one look at it from the stairway down and gave a firm NOPE.

I found out how cold the water was and I gave it a Nope as well.  Vicki went down together with Daddy and didn't care for it.   The coldness and the drop at the end left her feeling like she couldn't catch her breathe and that seriously freaked her out.

 We went for a visit to Looking Glass Falls, one of the many waterfalls in the area.  It was a little bit chilly.

Our campground is named after the Davidson River that runs along one side of it.  The river was EXTREMELY cold but the kids still were brave enough to do some wading and some tubing.   While tubing they sang some lovely songs about the "icy river of death" - just a little morbid.   Daddy went with them once and I went with them once.  Other than your butt hitting rocks at time, it wasn't a bad trip at all. 

We did some hiking and found a cute, little Methodist church in the woods along the river.  

And went to visit the Pisgah Ranger Station.   The ranger station had exhibits about local wildlife, maps and information on local hikes and waterfalls, and a store.   Squidy bought a fox hat and a little stuffed hat, while Jade and Vicki got wolves.

Since it was chilly, Squidy decided he wanted something that he could use to cover his mouth when it was cold.  Something made of soft, warm material but not a scarf.   On one of my trips to the local Walmart, I ended up grabbing a fleece remnant and making him a bandanna.

And once he had a bandanna, he wanted an eye patch.  For himself and his fox.  Then Vicki wanted a poncho.  And one for her wolf.  And Jade wanted a scarf.  And one for her wolf.   I love that fleece is super-easy to work with - just cut and your done.

I figured there would be lots of science and nature learning on this trip, but we were also able to throw in some history with our visit to the Cradle of Forestry.   The Cradle is an American Heritage Site for the Biltmore Forestry School, the first Forestry School in North America.  

The education center had interactive exhibits about the school, later developments in forestry, and conservation.  Outside there were hiking trails that took you among the buildings from the forestry school. 

I was mean, and to make sure the kids actually read some of the informational signs and didn't just race through, I had them take notes about interesting facts. 

Back to science - the hills in this area were known as the Pink Beds, due to the large numbers of rhododendrons.   They were easy for us to identify since we have a couple sitting right in front of our house.

One of the things we asked about at the Ranger Station were simple hikes with waterfalls.  We ended up choosing Graveyard Fields as a not too long, not too strenuous hike.  It was a beautiful day for hiking, sunny but not too hot.

We went first to the Lower Falls.  These were the stairs we had to walk down to get there, which means we had to walk back UP them to continue on our hike.  The falls were worth it.

We fond this grouping of trees that the kids called the "Narnia tree".

Lots of little creeks to cross over, and lots of muddy parts in the trail.  Vicki still is unable to resist stepping in every body of water or mud she sees.  She lost her shoe in one muddy area, then I lost my shoe helping her out of another.

We made it to the Upper Falls and stopped on a nice flat rock to eat our lunch.

The troll blocking the bride.  ;-D

On our way back from our hike, we stopped at some of the scenic overlooks along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  You definitely want to make sure your brakes work well driving there.

Back at our campsite, we caught a glimpse of the elusive white squirrel (another time I really wished for my zoom lens!).   We had seen a sign about the white squirrels on one of our trips out to Brevard, which was the closest town to the campground.  According to local lore, the white squirrels were escapees from a carnival truck that overturned.  These squirrels are not albinos since they have black eyes and are sometimes streaked with grey.

We took a trip to the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education.

Outside the center were two swallow nests with babies in them.  

Inside, we watched a video on the Hellbender Salamanders.  

and walked through exhibits about various other wildlife found in this area of North Carolina.

We fed the trout out at the fish hatchery.

One of the highlights of our trip was going to be an all day caving and rafting adventure.   We got up early in the morning and headed to Tennessee, where we waited at this little outpost for our guides to arrive.  And waited.  And waited.  And tried to call but no one answered.  Finally, we reached someone at their main office and found out they had lost our reservation.  And wouldn't be able to get anyone their for a few hours.   

We were not happy to say the least.   They, of course, were going to refund out deposit (but we still haven't seen it!) and sent a voucher for a rafting trip.  

We were able to book the rafting trip for the next day, lucky for us since we were only in the area for two more days.  It was supposed to be a Class 2/3 trip but our guide thought we hit some Class 4.

Despite some set-backs, we had a great time on our trip in North Carolina.  The kids survived two weeks without Wifi, although still had too much time on screens, IMO.