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?