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: