Monday, December 14, 2009

December Story Starters

My kids take after their mother -- they love to create stories! Sadly, we have not made much time for this in recent months but we are struggling to work it back into the mix. Below is a list of Story Starters:

1. The snow was falling on Christmas Eve, and we heard some bells in the distance…
2. The presents were all wrapped in pretty bows, except one...
3. The children were asleep on Christmas Eve when...
4. It was an icy evening and I just had a funny feeling...
5. One cold morning, Santa began to...
6. Rudolph was ready to help Santa when....
7. “The toys are all gone,” cried the elves...

We've done this a couple of different ways. One option is to print these on strips of paper, fold them, and toss them into a bowl. Each child chooses a slip and writes their story. Another option is to pre-select one and have the kids write their stories from the same Story Starter. We do both but I think the kids prefer writing on the same topic. It is so interesting to see the different paths their stories take.

Happy writing!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Calling All (Kids) Writers!

Scholastic is sponsoring a Kids Are Authors contest for youth in grades K-8.

From the Scholastic website:

Kids Are Authors is an annual competition open to Grades K–8 and is designed to encourage students to use their reading, writing, and artistic skills to create their own books.

Under the guidance of a project coordinator, children work in teams of three or more students to write and illustrate their own book. The creative process of working in teams helps provide a natural environment to practice editing, teamwork, and the communication skills necessary for future success. All students involved get a sense of pride and accomplishment from submitting the team project.

More info can be found here.

Sounds like a great opportunity to get kids excited about writing -- and learn teamwork along the way!

Westward Ho!

Anyone out there studying westward expansion? We've participated in this for the past two years and have found it to be a fantastic way to learn about the Oregon Trail

Our friends web page with their experience:Toadhaven

Sign-up ends December 15th and the journey begins in February.


Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Accidental Homeschooler

This thread came up recently on one of my homeschool lists. It really made me stop and think about our family's homeschool we arrived at this point and where we are headed.

I never intended to homeschool my kids. If anything, I envisioned myself as the class mom, the PTA president, the mom volunteering with the Scholastic book fairs; you name it, I would have delved in happily. When my oldest was born, we had new neighbors move in next door to us. The father was a Baptist preacher and they had seven children -- and homeschooled all of them. They were kind, wonderful neighbors but I remember thinking they were crazy. Who would choose to homeschool? What could possibly compel parents to keep their kids out of school? I chalked it up to their religious beliefs and, when Hayley turned three, I sent her off to preschool with her best friend down the street.

Preschool was good...and bad. Hayley loved the activities and her teacher but she hated the transition between home and school. And she was terrified by the rough, rowdy boys in her class. She attended three days a week and it would take her entire day off from preschool to decompress. We soldiered on, taking comfort in the fact that her best friend was in her class with her.

Then we moved and kindergarten loomed on the horizon. I struggled with what to do. Her kindergarten would be half-day but it would be every day; how would she handle five days a week? Her preschool class consisted of ten kids; kindergarten would have closer to twenty-five. I called the school and asked if I could observe a classroom and was given a firm "No." It would be disruptive to the teacher and to the children to have an outsider observe the class. That news, combined with the restructuring that was on the horizon for our school district (Hayley would be shuffled between three different schools during her first three years of elementary school) helped solidify my decision. I would keep her home.

Nick turned five soon after and the decision was already made for him. He would stay home, too. Hayley is now in 4th grade and Nick is in 2nd. What has our homeschool journey been like? Bumpy...there have been a lot of potholes along the way as we've struggled to find the style that works best for us. Nick is an unschooler at heart; he hates to sit down and do school, especially subjects he despises. Conversely, Hayley thrives on structure and would be delirious with happiness if I posted a schedule and rang a bell between classes. Throw a rambunctious three year-old into the mix and a mom who is trying to rediscover her passion for writing and it becomes quite clear how most of our days turn into mass chaos.

I like to think we have found a good balance these days. We participate in a weekly co-op that is structured enough for Hayley but hands-on enough to keep Nick happy. They each have found separate activities that they enjoy: Nick is in Cub Scouts and takes piano lessons once a week and Hayley is in Girl Scouts and gymnastics. They both participate in 4-H and can be as involved as they want to with the various activities and events; Hayley dives in head first into everything available.

Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. Not a week goes by that I don't worry I'm not doing enough for my daughter...or that I'm doing more than what my son wants. Will we homeschool forever? Nothing is forever...but if that's what they want and it continues to work, then that's what we'll do.

Do I sometimes long for eight hours of uninterrupted time for myself, to go the grocery store without kids or shop for shoes or spend the whole day writing? Of course! But someday -- all too soon, it seems, as I watch these kids growing up before my eyes -- I will have more than enough time to do those things. And I will long for the days that I did spend with them, taking field trips, going to the park in the middle of a weekday afternoon, and snuggling up and reading books for hours on end simply because we want to. I might even miss those trips to the grocery store.

So we'll soldier on and I'm sure our journey will continue to morph as the kids grow and their needs and interests change. I'm happily along for the ride!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

IMAX movies

The Science Museum of MN is in their final days of their annual Omnifest and we have been taking full advantage of our recently renewed annual membership. The Omnifest is a movie festival; the museum extends the hours for their IMAX theater and shows several different movies during the six week festival. We've seen two so far and are planning to go back at least two more times to catch a couple more. Each family member receives one free IMAX ticket per visit with museum membership -- how sweet is that?

Movies we've seen are:

Wild California
-- Hayley fell in love with the sea otters and Nick liked the giant sequioas, especially the part where the scientist studying these giants descended 300 ft. into the tree. But the hole was near the top and he looked as though he was was amazing!

Lewis & Clark The Adventure Westward -- this film was spectacular! I learned so much about their near three-year journey, the trials they faced and the many instances of sheer good luck that made their journey the success it was. We all left feeling inspired and Hayley asked to learn more about the journey -- I call that at a success!

Monday, March 9, 2009

World Thinking Day -- India!

Our Girl Scout Service Unit celebrated World Thinking Day yesterday with a Passport Adventure. Several troops hosted tables featuring individual countries and attending Girl Scouts participated in a whirlwind tour, reading displays, tasting ethnic food and making crafts or playing games.

Our troop chose to learn about India. Hayley was sick the day we were supposed to put our display together but the girls did a wonderful job of researching on their own and bringing items (and knowledge) to share with the other girls.

Some things the girls found particularly interesting:

  • More than 80% of the people living in India are Hindu. They worship many gods and goddesses.
  • The cow is sacred -- not because the people have an affinity for cows, but because they believe their gods and goddesses often take the form of animals when they visit their people...and the cow is the form most often chosen.
  • The Ganges River is a sacred river and is actually considered a goddess. People who bathe in its waters are washed free of their sins.
  • The peacock is the national bird.
  • The Taj Mahal was built as a memorial for an emperor's dead wife. It took 20 years and 20,000 workers to complete this massive, beautiful structure.
  • The average worker in India brings home an annual salary of $884. The average U.S. worker brings home $45,000.

Building A Suspension Bridge

This was such a neat activity -- the kids learned the science behind suspension bridges -- and then tried their hand at making one of their own! First, they built the supports from PVC piping, then used heavy-duty twine to create the suspension cords that are anchored to the ground.

After recruiting some of the kids to hold these anchors (this is what Hayley is doing in the above picture!), the other kids started looping string around the wooden plank and the twine suspension cord....and guess what? It worked!

We are surrounded by bridges in Minnesota thanks to our many lakes and rivers, but none are suspension bridges. This is because suspension bridges are used to span long distances across relatively deep water....not something we have here. Still, it was very interesting to learn the engineering behind these beautiful, magnificent bridges.