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.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Earth Hour -- March 28, 2009

Mark your calendars for this year's Earth Hour. On Saturday, March 28th from 8:30-9:30, join an estimated 1 billion people around the world in turning off the light switches in your home.

As clarification, I am not on the global warming bandwagon; I think there is just as much scientific evidence out there to disprove the notion as there is evidence that supports it. However, I am in favor of conserving our natural resources and creating a more sustainable future. These are the reasons I support and will participate in this year's Earth Hour.

Check it out and see what you think!

Zeus on the Loose

I bought the game Zeus on the Loose a while ago but we finally opened it up last night -- Nick could not get enough of it!

The object of the game is simple -- create a discard pile (called Mt. Olympus) that totals 100 so that you can "steal" Zeus and earn a point (points are tallied by spelling out Zeus' name so, each time Mt. Olympus reaches 100 and you are in possession of the statue, you earn the next letter in his name -- the first person to spell Z-E-U-S wins!)>

However, there are plenty of "god" cards mixed in with the simple number cards to make this a game of both skill and luck. Some god cards allow you to steal Zeus and be in possession of the statue before Mt. Olympus reaches 100; other god cards change the total of Mt. Olympus (Hera, for example changes the total to 99 and allows you to steal Zeus, almost guaranteeing a win).

It may sound complicated but we learned the rules in a matter of five minutes and Nick was literally bouncing in his chair, he was having so much fun. He went to bed begging to play it in the morning -- I don't know how much more stellar of a review a kid can give!

I like that it is a relatively fast game and it relies on math skills to play; Nick was adding in his head, reversing two digit even has the potential to introduce negative numbers!

Out of 5 stars, we give this a definite 5. Another winning game by Gamewright (and, no I do not work for them or hold any of their stock!).

Friday, February 27, 2009

UNICEF 2009 Holiday Card Contest

For all you budding artists, there is still time to enter! Prize is a $5,000 scholarship and $500 in art supplies for your school (or, as the rules state, your "current educational classroom." I think that applies to homeschoolers!).

So, drag out those crayons, pencils, markers or paints and think back to the holidays -- not too hard to be inspired here in Minnesota as I gaze out at the EIGHT inches of new snow on the ground! This year's theme is "Joy to the World."

Happy drawing and painting!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Awesome, Amazing Adjectives!

Continuing our Parts of Speech fun, we played a game with adjectives today. The kids cut out a bunch of pictures from magazines -- the only caveat was the photographs had to focus on clear nouns (a vase of flowers, a can of soup, etc. -- not, say, a whole crowd of people). They each cut out ten pictures and we spread them out on the table to look at. Then we folded up the pictures and placed them in a bowl.

Each of them took turns drawing a photograph from the bowl and then, using only adjectives, they tried to successfully describe the item they'd chosen. For example, Hayley used these adjectives to describe the vase of flowers:


Nick used these adjectives to describe a jar of nuts:


A snowman was:


and a dress shirt was:


Now, I should say that the kids were not super-successful in generating their own adjectives or guessing correctly. However, by the end of our little game, they showed marked signs of improvement. Best of all, it made learning parts of speech a little more fun, which is all that really matters, right? And since one can only do so many Mad Libs, it's nice to have some variety......

Special Delivery!

It's Girl Scout cookie time! And being Cookie Mom means picking up 1000s of boxes of cookies. Minnesota has a terrific pick up system, I must say! I drove my car and Grandpa followed in the truck, just in case we needed it...we did. We drove to our pick up location, got in line and several nice men loaded all of the cookies into my car...much better than hauling them on my own from the fire station.

Once we got them home, we transferred all of the cases into the house. I'm pretty sure both kids claimed this as WiiFit credit in their was hard work!

We brought them into the house and put them in stacks by cookie type.

And then we got to sort them by order form -- the totals for each Girl Scout. Nick graciously offered to help; actually, he was probably more excited than Hayley. I think he just may have a future in retail.....

We still have gobs of boxes to sell at cookie booths, etc. so if you are hankering for a Girl Scout cookie, let me know. The organization is being -- unfairly, I think -- blasted in the media by decreasing cookie sizes and quantities this year. After conducting a survey, GSUSA decided that, rather than increase the cost per box to deal with increased production costs, they would trim the size of the cookie and the units per box. Nothing was reduced by a significant amount -- no box was reduced by more than .5 ounces! However, this news, coupled with the recession, have really wreaked havoc on sales and guess who is suffering? Not the nationwide organization.....the GIRLS. Girls who have their hearts set on reaching sales goals and prize incentives, girls who have ambitious plans for community service projects, and girls who want to plan a fun, end-of-the-year event with hard-earned cookie money.

If you haven't purchased a box of cookies this year, please think about doing so. When you see those girls setting up cookie booths at grocery stores or other locales, please consider buying a box -- if not for you then as a donation to the local food shelf or nursing home. $3.50 goes a long way toward helping these girls reach their goal...each and every box helps!

Enjoy those cookies!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Growing Sea Monsters

Nick got this kit for his birthday last year and we finally have a stretch of time to devote to growing these little guys.

According to the package, these triops live in small lakes and ponds, not oceans (so sea monsters are a complete misnomer). The eggs can survive in soil for up to nine years, requiring just a tiny bit of water to hatch. We got the tank ready by washing the Chinese sand -- really, why does the sand have to come from China? Don't we have enough sand here in the U.S.? -- and filling the tank with distilled water (thanks for the water, Grandpa!)

It was finally time to eat (I mean, add the eggs). The package of dirt and eggs clearly says "Do not eat" which Nick found incredibly humorous.

We'll update when we have hatchlings!

President Obama's Address

It's hard to watch a Presidential address at 8 o'clock at night with a punchy three year-old. We decided to make it into a viewing event, popping some popcorn and snuggling in for the address. Julia still managed to talk through the entire thing but the parts I did hear left me encouraged, resolved, and inspired. I think we finally have a fine, strong leader at the helm.

Julia really got into the spirit and joined members of Congress with the repeated standing ovations -- it was her favorite part!

How is this for rapt attention?

Sentence Structure Fun!

We decided to have some fun with making sentences today. The kids know what nouns and verbs are and, although they usually write full sentences, we still have the occasional run-on or incomplete sentence. I thought creating some silly sentences would be a fun way to reinforce basic grammar.

I cut strips of paper and asked the kids to write down the names of people they knew -- friends, family members, etc. Then, on different sheets of paper, they wrote present tense verbs (laughs, kisses, complains, poops -- remember, I have an 8 year old boy!).

They folded these up, mixed them in the bowls and took turns drawing a noun and a verb. The sentences were obviously very simple: Nick laughs. Hayley eats. We talked about how these could be considered complete sentences because they had the naming part (noun) and the telling part (verb). Then we talked about adding descriptive information -- where does Nick laugh? What does Hayley eat? On more blank slips of paper, we wrote some descriptive phrases (at the fair, only on Tuesdays, etc.) These went into a third bowl and they proceeded to make new sentences.

The one above reads "Audrey listens during the tornado warning." Other ones that had the kids in hysterics were: "Max drives only while eating orange Cheetos." and "Uncle David kisses when scared."

Hayley's comment: "If school was this fun, I'd want to go every day!"

After playing this for well over a half hour, Hayley then sat down to practice writing guided paragraphs. Nick continued making sentences!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Some of Hayley's poems

Hayley dashed off a couple of poems the other day. I thought they were quite good!


Basketball is fun
Bouncy, bouncy ball
Orange and black
Dribble, jump, shoot
Free throw!

Our team is in
the lead!


Blue ocean
Blue sky
Birds and fish
Blue jeans
A lot of blue --
Blue everywhere --

Comet Lulin tonight!

I'm hoping to keep the kids up for this one -- the sky is ink black, the stars already twinkling. Comet Lulin is due to exit our solar system for good -- bon voyage!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Games We Love

We are a game-playing family; our overflowing cupboards and shelves will attest to that. We have them in hallway cupboards, stuffed under the couches, in the living room ottomans, upstairs on the bookshelves, etc. I'm wondering, how many games do we actually own? I'm not talking video games or console games; good old-fashioned board or card games. I think I'll ask the kids to estimated the number and then go around and count them all. My guess is going to be 75.

To be sure, not all of them are played very often. And some come into favor for a while, are played daily, and then slip quietly back into oblivion. But we do have some that stand the test of time, that are played over and over again. Long-standing favorites at our house are:

The kids absolutely love this game. One person is selected to be the Whoozit and the rest of the players are dealt four cards. Players have to select two cards from their hand that they think the Whoozit would most like. Once the cards are handed, face-down, to the Whoozit, s/he then ranks them in order from least favorite to favorite, assigning chip values to each. Players receive the chips that their cards are placed in front of. Play moves to the right, so each player has a chance to be the Whoozit.

Why we like it: It is fun and fast-paced -- we can usually finish a game in 15-20 minutes which is important with a 3 year-old running around. However, we love learning more about the people in our family, their likes and dislikes and why they choose to rank things the way they do, and we also find it personally insightful. I mean, how often do you have to decide, " I like hamburgers or puppies better?"

I played this as a child and liked it but my kids border on being obsessed with this game. They play it at least three times a week, sometimes more. I don't mind -- is there any better game out there when it comes to learning map coordinates?

Blokus is an amazing strategy game and we DO play it the right way occasionally. However, what we like to do best is assign ourselves one of the colors and then, using all of those wonderful, odd shapes, try to build a perfect square or rectangle by carefully fitting the pieces together. Not as easy as it should be and completely addictive. As an added bonus, my 3 year-old also loves this game and will sit for a good twenty minutes placing the tiles on the game board in various patterns. Must be a geometry lesson in there somewhere, right?

The Clue card game is incredibly fun and fairly fast-paced. Instead of racing around a board game, asking clues, players are dealt a hand of cards with suspects, getaway vehicles, and locations. On a player's turn they can either draw a card and ask that question of an opponent (Show me all your red vehicle cards or Show me one suspect card) or, if they have all of the information needed, make their Accusation. Again, we like it because it doesn't take nearly as long as the original board game and because, although there is quite a bit of strategy involved, you also sometimes get the luck of the draw with really good cards (Show me ALL your suspect cards).

Nick received Othello for Christmas and was on a run of playing it for a long time. It is not as easy as it looks!! One player is white, the other black and play commences by placing tiles on the game board. If you "sandwich" another player's piece, that piece becomes yours and you flip it to your color. However, the piece can be flipped again and again as more tokens are placed on the game can lose an entire row of tokens if you don't strategize! A deceptively simple game that we have fallen in love with.

This is our newest find. Hayley got it for Christmas and we just started playing it. We are all addicted, especially me. All the letter tiles are placed face down on the table and each player grabs a pre-assigned number (we start with 15). Players then proceed to build their own crossword puzzle out of the letters. You can rearrange your crossword throughout the game so as new words occur to you, or new letters arrive into your pile, you can incorporate them. Once your original 15 letters are used up (or any one's), that player shouts out Peel! and everyone has to take another letter. If at any time you are stuck with a letter you cannot use, you say Dump! and return it to the pile -- but take 3 new letters. Play continues until the draw pile is gone; whoever uses all of their letters first, wins.

Why we love it -- well, spelling, of course! But, I like it because we are each building our own crossword and, unlike Scrabble, there are no points assigned to the letters. So, a kid focusing on spelling mostly three-letter words has just as much chance of winning as an adult. I think it provides a more even playing field for kids and parents to play together. Now, that being said, I do still help the kids. Often times, I will help them find their first word (it helps to start with a four or five letter word for obvious reasons!) or help them in the middle of the game if they're feeling stuck. But I have already seen some impressive words being formed by my kids, and that is exciting!

We're Baaaackkk!

We had a fabulous time in California -- eleven days of non-stop visiting with family and friends and seeing the sights. Even though we visit 2-3 times a year, we always find something new to do. This year we found a lot of great places in the Los Angeles Area -- the zoo, Griffith Observatory, Santa Monica Pier, the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, etc.

Our website has all the photos:

Thursday, January 29, 2009

James & The Giant Peach Day 2

Today we started our paper mache peaches. We are going to use them as props for a play so we need a whole peach for some scenes and a half peach for others (when James is inside the peach).

As we began readying the ingredients, I had a "guilty mom" moment as I realized that my kids have never done paper mache...and they are 8 and almost 10 years old. Ugh. Oh well...we are doing it now, right??

Hayley got right to work measuring ingredients; we used the standard flour and water recipe (1/2 cup water and 1 cup flour) and squirted in some white school glue to strengthen the paper mache just a bit.

Nick offered to help, cutting strips of newspaper into long, 1 inch wide strips.

Then it was time to build the peaches. Not surprisingly, Hayley balked at this. She is not a fan of wet, goopy substances. Come to find out in talking with DH last night, he never liked paper mache, either. No matter...Nick loved it and eagerly offered to help!

It took us nearly an hour but we finally got the first layer of newspaper on both balloons. Don't they look beautiful? We'll do the next layer tomorrow morning and are hoping that, if we place them near the heater, they'll dry quickly and we can throw on one last layer in the evening. Then comes more fun -- painting them!

James & The Giant Peach Day 1

Hayley is reading Roald Dahl's James And the Giant Peach, a classic fantasy book for kids. I haven't come across a single person who hasn't read this little gem of a book, but for those who haven't, here is a short synopsis:

Seven year-old James is forced to live with his cruel Aunts Sponge and Spiker after his parents are eaten by a rhinoceros. A mysterious old man appear in the garden and gives James a bag filled with magical crystals, a gift that will change his life forever as he embarks on a fantastic journey involving a gigantic peach and some unusual new friends.

We have been working on a couple of fun projects related to the book. Yesterday, Hayley created her own character who might benefit from the old man's gift of magic crystals. A good lesson in creative writing, she wrote a biography of a young girl who ran away from her cruel mother, choosing to live alone in the mountains with her cat as her only company. She then drew a picture of the old man and the girl. When this was done, we added the magic green crystals.

After scooping a small bit of rice into a plastic container, she added a drop of green food coloring and shook it well.

Voila! Magical green crystals. She applied them with glue to her story and left them to dry.

In her story, the girl could use the magic crystals to return home without her mother seeing her. Ah, the gift of invisibility!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sparta & Athens

We kicked off our study of Ancient Greece by comparing the city-states of Athens and Sparta. It is hard when you teach history -- do you do things chronologically or do you focus on the stories and times that appeal to you and your kids? After much deliberation, I've decided to go with the latter. We've been reading the Percy Jackson series and this has sparked a huge interest in Greek mythology and Ancient Greece, in general. Yes, we could have started earlier than 300-400 BCE and delved into the Bronze Age and the Dark Ages of Greece but I'm not sure how long the kids' interest will last and I really wanted Ancient/Classical Greek to be the focus.

So, we spent a little bit of time talking about the two great city-states of the time, Athens and Sparta. We learned that Sparta was a difficult place to live and that people there proudly shunned all of life's luxuries (the term spartan originates from this culture of belief). The kids were amazed that boys were removed from their homes at the tender age of 7....with a cloak and nothing more, relying on their wits to steal food and clothing to survive. Girls were not soldiers but were taught how to read and write and could participate in sports. Women were often left in charge of their homes as men were off fighting wars -- and even when they weren't at war, they lived in military barracks -- so they needed skills necessary to protect themselves and their property.

Children in Athens had a far more peaceful existence. A boy's education began around the age of 5 and they were given a classical education. Girls were not educated unless their fathers hired a private tutor for them; instead, they were taught domestic arts such as spinning and weaving. They were not allowed to participate in sports and, as women, were married off to a man of their father's choosing and became that man's property. They could not vote and could not own property (unless their father had no son, at which point property could pass to a woman and her husband).

We talked about food, too -- the kids were fascinated with the Spartan's food of choice: Spartan broth which consisted of pork, salt, vinegar and...gulp!....blood. The Athenians embraced all manner of foods, as well as other luxuries such as theater, poetry, etc.

There were a lot of questions and we barely scratched the surface! After our discussion, the kids each chose a city-state to create a travel brochure for. They set right to work.

I was surprised that they each chose a different city-state. As luck usually has it, if you have two choices and two kids, they both pick the same thing. Not this time!

They each gave presentations about their destination of choice. Nick liked Athens because he didn't have to leave home and could eat good food. Hayley chose Sparta because, despite their horrible diet, girls were given more choices (and the fact that they were educated in gymnastics was a huge draw!)

This website has a lot of useful information about the city-states of Athens and Sparta.

Breakfast Bags

We thought this was a great, easy opportunity for kids to get involved in a community service project. The Ronald McDonald house in Minneapolis collects donations of breakfast bags for families living at the house. Oftentimes, parents are in a hurry to return to the hospital and don't make time to fix breakfast in the RMH kitchen. Breakfast bags can be donated and can contain something as simple as a granola bar.

After talking about the many services the Ronald McDonald house provides and sharing different scenarios of people who might utilize the services of RMH (i.e. families from far away with no place to stay or money to afford a costly hotel; families with other children who can take advantage of the discounted rooms but also the other services, such as the RMH school, etc.) we broke out the paper lunch sacks and markers and started decorating our bags.

Each kid brought in a couple of dollars worth of portable breakfast foods -- granola bars, Pop Tarts, instant oatmeal cups, fruit cups, etc. -- and after decorating the bags with uplifting drawings and messages, we filled them with the donated goodies.

We managed to fill 25 bags and will deliver them later this week. Imagine how different these families mornings will be, just by providing a simple, heartfelt message.

Cool, huh?

Community Service -- Outside the Box

I am teaching a community service class at our homeschool co-op. My group is small, consisting of five kids ranging in age from 10-13 years old. Community service is a subject dear to my heart and I am thrilled that these kids are eager and willing to learn more about ways they can help others.

I prefer to see myself as more of a facilitator in this environment as opposed to a teacher. The first day we met I handed out a sheet of paper with different categories of community service and sample projects that would fall under each. For example, I listed Elderly (Meals on Wheels, visit a nursing home, play games at the senior center), Animals (volunteer at the Wildlife Refuge, make catnip socks for shelter animals), etc. I asked the kids to rank the categories they found most appealing to serve as a guide for planning activities. After all, if all of them ranked Animals as their top choice, I wanted to be sure I found a few intriguing opportunities in that category to satisfy what interested them most. Thankfully, the kids were all over the board when it came time to filling these out so it looks as though we will be able to dabble a little bit in each area, something I think is hugely important.

Because, what I have realized while working the last couple of weeks with these kids, as well as with my Girl Scout troop, is they have a hard time thinking "outside the box" when it comes to community service. When soliciting ideas, I can't count how many times "bring food to the food shelf" came up or "go to Feed My Starving Children." These are great service projects but the problem is, most of these kids have done these. Time and time again. And my purpose for offering this class, or service time, as I like to view it, is to help these kids realize that there are so many groups and organizations that want and desperately need our help. Most of them aren't asking us to raise money for them or bring in donations -- several just want our time and energy to help make a difference. And, oftentimes, this is all kids have to offer. I want them to know, to experience, that wonderful feeling of giving of themselves.

We've had a couple of fun projects already and I will post these. Maybe you will find some small inspiration in them, as well.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Our Grand Plans

So I have grand plans for this blog -- to record our day to day activities, to share our traveling adventures (near and far), and to marvel over the serendipity that fills our lives.

But, the guinea pig died this week. And one of our cats died last week. And then the 3 year-old came down with pneumonia. Force-feeding antibiotics down my daughter's throat -- a child who has not had one drop of medicine during her entire 36-month existence -- is not a good time. No way, no how. And now the 8 year old is hacking up a lung...we're on the pneumonia watch with him.

Serendipity is not at play in our household this week...and neither is our usual, jam-packed days. I remain hopeful, however, that things can only get better. Right?