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what we’re learning wednesday episode 6

Just a short one today, since I haven’t taken pictures of some of our bigger things: we are learning that books hold the answers to our questions! This is such an important concept for a pre-reader! Especially for my pre-reader who asks me questions constantly all day long, this is going to be a significant source of motivation for learning how to read 🙂

Here’s how it went down.

I asked Rondel to shut the back door this evening because he was letting the bugs in. He did so, then asked me why the bugs wanted to come in. I told him that a lot of bugs are attracted to the light. Being his infinitely curious self, he then asked me why the bugs were attracted to the light – and I had to tell him that I didn’t know, that it wasn’t something I ever researched or learned about. He paused for a moment, and then said, “Would a book say why bugs like the light? Do we have a book about bugs?” I wasn’t sure if we did or not, so he went to look through our science crate to find out (and got distracted and came back with a book about elephants, but still).

We never did find out why bugs are attracted to light… a quick Google search in lieu of finding a book only reveals that scientists have conflicting and unproven theories but no answers, so I suppose it’s fortunate that he did get distracted! But the larger concept is something I was so happy to hear from him 🙂

Posted in book lists, family life, information, wwlw

what we’re learning wednesday: episode 6

Due to his love of rain and his constant desire to know exactly when things are going to happen, Rondel has begun to ask me questions about the weather constantly. And because I never properly learned about the weather to begin with, there wasn’t much I could tell him.

So we did what we always do when faced with a topic of ignorance and armed with a thirst for knowledge: we went to the library and came home with books!

There are surprisingly few books about clouds, and no books that I could find at our library specifically about Arizona or desert weather, at least not at my kids’ comprehension level. But these three are not bad, and we’ve learned a lot from them.

Look at the Weather, by Britta Teckentrup, is a beautiful, artistic book, filled with gorgeous atmospheric drawings, leading questions and statements about the personal impact of weather, and interesting scientific facts about weather. Each page tends to have only a few sentences, so although the book is very thick it doesn’t take nearly as long to read as one might expect. It will walk you through the build-up to a storm, for instance, painting the gradual accumulation of clouds slowly, until you almost feel the tension of it around it. But it will also give you tidbits of very fascinating information – I never knew how hail was formed until Teckentrup explained it here, for example!

The Man Who Named The Clouds, by Julie Hannah and Joan Holub, is really more of a biography of Luke Howard, the man who invented the precursor to our current scientific classification system for clouds, than a book actually about clouds – but there is a serious amount of scientific information included. I particularly appreciated the diagram towards the end of the book illustrating the current cloud classification system, and we’ve been attempting to classify the clouds we see when we are out and about each day (we saw mostly cirrus clouds today; Rondel is holding out hope for some cumulonimbus clouds since they are the type of rain clouds we typically get with the monsoons!). Overall this book was a bit above the boys’ heads, and not completely aligned with their area of interest, but by skimming and omitting while I was reading it aloud we managed to get a lot out of it anyways. On a second read through I will probably include more, depending on how it seems to be holding their attention.

Clouds, by Anne Rockwellis probably the book best-suited for answering Rondel’s questions about clouds at his level. But I haven’t read it with him yet! We’ve been distracted with the other books, and he’s caught the virus the rest of us have been passing around so we’ve been a bit preoccupied with that. This book also has instructions at the end for creating a small cloud in a jar, and I’m looking forward to doing that with the boys. From reading the book on my own, this should reinforce the information we gleaned from The Man Who Named The Clouds, and be a short, easy way to soak up more weather-related knowledge. The Let’s-Read-And-Find-Out series, of which this is a part, has been in my experience a good source of basic knowledge on any science topic we happen to have questions about.

While we continue enjoy these books, I’m going to continue searching for books about our local weather; we live in a fairly unique ecosystem, and I’d love to learn more about the weather patterns and seasonal changes specific to the Sonoran Desert. Please let me know if you have a good resource on this!

(And if you were curious about how hail is formed, here is what Britta Teckentrup has to say:

“Hail is caused when the wind sweeps raindrops up into higher, cooler parts of a cloud before they get a chance to fall. They freeze in the cold air. When the ice droplets begin to fall, sometimes the wind catches them and sweeps them to the top of the cloud again. They can cycle up and down inside the cloud several times, adding layers of water and ice as they go.

“Eventually, the ice balls become too heavy for the wind to carry upward, and they fall as hail.”

So the stronger the wind, the bigger the hail can get! Now I understand why we typically only see hail in our craziest, most intense storms – only they have strong enough winds to lead to the formation of hail.)

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what we’re learning wednesday: episode 5

This week, we’ve been playing math games!

While Aubade takes her naps, I’ve introduced the boys to dominoes (just the number matching beginner version – they aren’t quite ready for the multiples-of-five scoring version yet, but I wanted to lay the foundation for it as it is one of my family’s traditional games) and to war with playing cards. For war, we mess with the rules a bit by either playing addition war, where we pull two cards at a time and the person with the highest sum wins, or subtraction war, where we again pull two cards but the person with the smallest difference wins. (Multiplication war – highest product wins – and division war – smallest remainder wins – are other possible versions of the game but Rondel isn’t able to do that math quickly enough yet for the game to stay engaging and fun.)

I thought it might just be a fun novelty, but the boys have both really enjoyed it. Handling the cards, especially with our old sticky set, is good fine motor work, and the game itself is great math practice since the symbols on the card allow the boys to count to the answer if they need to. I also spent one game writing down the rounds in math language, to introduce the boys to symbols like “-“, “+”, “=”, “>”, and “<“; they liked the greater and lesser than signs the best, of course, because they are alligator mouths trying to eat the bigger number!

When we play games like these, Limerick gets super excited every time he figures out what his sum or difference is, and Rondel gets super excited every time he wins the round 😛 It’s interesting to see Rondel developing a sense of competitiveness, though I’m definitely grateful that he still has no negativity associated with losing. It’s also interesting to see how little Limerick seems to care about who wins or loses: he just loves the process of playing the game, and I wonder if that is connected more to his age/developmental stage or to his personality.

A note to add is that we don’t approach these games as a “math lesson” or as “doing math.” It’s just a way to have fun together – to incorporate Rondel’s newfound love of games (thanks to speech therapy) and Limerick’s passion for numbers. Especially at their age, it is far more productive to follow their interests than to try to force them into something they don’t want to do or aren’t ready to learn yet!

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what we’re learning wednesday: episode 4

Rondel and Limerick are very different academic beings. Rondel’s first love is stories – he tells them, he listens to them, he invents them, he demands them, he constantly (since before he could talk) brings us books so he can hear their stories too. He soaks up facts about animals, and then populates his worlds with monsters generated from conglomerations of the different animals he loves. Limerick, on the other hand, has always been intrigued by symbols and patterns. He knew all (and could write most) of the letters and numbers by 18 months, spent a good 6 months nearly inseparable from a Duplo pattern board he created, and currently puts a lot of energy each day into creating symmetrical designs and exploring the world of numbers.

When we introduced Cuisenaire rods (a really great math manipulative, by the way – I grew up using these with the Miquon math curriculum and have always felt that they gave me a strong conceptual foundation in mathematics) for the first time this week in preparation for more kindergarten-type activities, this difference in their inclinations was immediately evident.

Limerick went through each color rod, noticing how long each one was as compared to the small white unit blocks. When he reached the longest rod, he began to line up the smaller rods next to it, to see how he could split it up. Ten is ten groups of one, he realized, and five groups of two, but when you try to split it into groups of three you end up with one empty space.

We made squares (one group of one, two groups of two, three groups of three, etc.) and talked about the difference between the perimeter of a shape (how long all the edges are, put together) and its area (how many white unit squares could fit inside it).

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Meanwhile, Rondel was using different sizes and color of blocks to retell the story of the Three Little Pigs with house-building fleas and a predatory lion (I think he chose fleas because they are too small to see, and he didn’t have any prey animal toys on hand to use with the lion figurine). He went through all the steps of the story with sound effects and drama, creating and destroying as necessary, completely immersed in his imagined world.

When the boys play together, I see these inherent differences leading to growth in each of them. Rondel’s love of imagination draws Limerick along with him into wildly creative and unrealistic pretend games, while Limerick’s fascination with numbers and patterns motivates Rondel to learn the vocabulary and concepts of math also. It makes me glad all over again that they have each other to grow up with.

So what are we learning, this Wednesday? We are learning about how numbers work together, how they split apart and recombine in consistent ways. We are learning about the trial and error it takes to finally build a house that can keep out a powerful lion. And we are learning about each other, and how we can help each other learn in grow in different ways.

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what we’re learning wednesday: episode 3

Today we went to the grocery store and learned about the way peaches smell when they’re ripe and good to eat (and also plums). I learned that Limerick will pull the leaves off of strawberries before he eats them, while Aubade will eat them leaves and all.

We learned about the strength of the wind in a storm when we saw huge branches torn off of trees by the monsoon that came through last night.

We learned about the hiddenness of the wind, how it can only be inferred by the consequences of its presence, last night as we watched that storm crash down the street and read Christina Rosetti’s poem about the wind:

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

Rondel wondered at how we can feel the wind when it presses against us even though we can’t see it coming with our eyes.

Today, we talked about how scary things can be when they are new and unfamiliar and unknown, when really they are good and beautiful things, because we discovered some books on that theme at the library: Tiny’s Big Adventure by Martin Waddell, What Do You Do With a Chance? by Kobi Yamada, and Little Frog and the Scary Autumn Thing by Jane Yolen.

Earlier this week we made a 10×10 number chart and discovered that if we covered up all the odd numbers with flakes (all the numbers that can’t be split into two groups, as the boys say), the even numbers that were left all lined up in neat columns and had 2, 4, 6, 8, or 0 in their ones place. We also spent a lot of time figuring out which numbers would be visible if we covered up the ones that couldn’t be split into three groups, but we didn’t discover a reliable pattern yet for those numbers. (Limerick loved figuring it out for each number though, so I’m sure he’ll find the pattern pretty soon).

Rondel watched a documentary about the Galapagos islands and learned about an iguana that laid its eggs in nests of volcanic ash and so couldn’t leave the volcano summit of one of the islands, and also learned about the blue-footed booby for the first time and was impressed by how blue its feet really are!

And I learned that the best way to turn around a bad day is to apologize directly for my irritability and impatience, instead of just hoping it will go away and be forgotten.

Those are our recent highlights! What have you all been learning and discovering in your lives lately? What riches of knowledge and adventure have your curiosity and hunger to learn unearthed for you?

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what we’re learning wednesday (episode 2)

Limerick is currently in love with numbers.

He counts everything he can, comparing amounts and sizes: he counted all the straps on the plastic pool chairs at the public pool Saturday afternoon, at least ten times in a row; he makes long chains of flakes and counts them over and over again as he builds to find out how long they are and which color is the longest; he counts the number of bites or slices on his plate and recounts each time he eats one. Essentially, he is spending time with the numbers and quantities, becoming friends with them, getting to know how they interact with each other and discovering their unique qualities.

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Limerick figuring out how many sticks could fit on the length of our big wooden cutting board – I think it was somewhere around 40.

He will break numbers down into their component groups: if he builds a tower with fourteen wooden blocks, he will tell me proudly that it is two groups of seven. When he expanded his tower to eighteen blocks, I asked if it could split into two equal groups and he lined them up into two equal lines and counted each one to make sure that they both contained nine blocks. When I then asked if it could split into three groups, he made many little groups of three blocks and found out there were six of them – so, six groups of three and three groups of six. Since he’s been doing this on his own anyway, I introduced the vocabulary of “even” and “odd” to him.

“See this group of seven? I can’t break it into two groups of the same size – one of them is always bigger than the other. Numbers like that are called odd.”

Limerick pondered, then declared, “But eight is two groups of four!”

“Exactly! Numbers that can be split into two groups of the same size are called even!”

“Nine would be five and four,” Limerick told me with a slight frown, “but ten would be five and five!”

“So nine is odd, and ten is even!”

We’ll see if he remembers – he tends to hold a new word to himself for a week or so after he learns it, before he brings it out for everyday use.

Emboldened by all the math talk going on, I pulled out one of my favorite math tools from my own childhood (one that I believe my mom created, and that she now uses in her job as a remedial math professor at the community college):

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It’s a physical representation of place value – the numbers on the cards in front show what the number would look like written down, while the buckets hold the appropriate number of craft sticks. In this picture, there are three single craft sticks in the box on the right, six bundles of ten craft sticks each in the middle box (the tens place), and nothing in the box on the left (the hundreds place).

We pulled out some huge foam dice and decided to take turns rolling and adding the number we rolled to the number already in the buckets:

Sometimes the boys knew right away what the answer would be; other times they would line up all the sticks to count them to make sure, and to bundle up the new ten-pack if needed.

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Limerick verifying that the three bundles of ten sticks in the tens place bucket really did equal 30 total sticks! I liked how he lined them up in groups of ten instead of just all in one big pile.

Before this we hadn’t done much with written numbers – the boys know all the digits, but they didn’t understand double digit numbers. So it was a bit confusing at first for them, but by the time we stopped I think they were beginning to understand what the numbers meant and looked like, which is really cool!

Math tools and games like this aren’t necessary for learning math – Limerick has certainly been picking up on concepts ranging from quantitative comparison to division (with even a touch of fractions) just from everyday conversations about the numbers around us – but they are definitely helpful for illustrating a specific concept, challenging the mind to use a concept in a new way, or just having fun together with numbers! And since all you need for this particular tool are buckets, sticks, and paper, it doesn’t get much easier 🙂

 

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what we’re learning wednesday: episode 1

As a way to document our unschooling journey in case we need records or information for doubtful friends and family, as well as for our own memories, I’m going to showcase once a week some of the things we’ve been learning. It may be through conversations, books, TV, exploration, or more (and I’ll try to mix it up week to week!), since our goal is to be whole-life learners. Hopefully it may also provide some ideas for others, especially when I’m sharing resources we love!

 

In a search for a new animal documentary that Rondel “hadn’t even seen one of yet!”, we discovered BBC’s show Hidden Kingdoms.

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I know this show generated a bit of controversy because it is more scripted and less observational than a typical nature documentary – but almost because of that it is an excellent introduction to these animals for people (especially young children) who may not have enough background information about them to appreciate something purely observational. These episodes showcase the unique abilities and challenges faced by its “stars” in a very compelling way, while still remaining biologically accurate. And the extra feature at the end of each episode, explaining how they filmed parts of the show, is fascinating in its own right!

Some of our favorite facts:

African sengis create trails in the grass for themselves to make it easier to run away from predators or catch prey – it is essentially a maze that they know by heart. (All of Rondel’s current imaginary animals are now building trails for themselves in the grass too.)

Arizona grasshopper mice are immune to scorpion venom and will fight, kill, and eat scorpions! They also howl to claim their territory, somewhat like wolves. (All three kids will now run through the house howling in a very high and squeaky way, telling me they are grasshopper mice.)

When chipmunks fight, they move so fast that the human eye can barely make out what is going on, but in slow motion you can see incredible twists and turns they are performing in midair. It’s absolutely amazing.

Marmosets (monkeys small enough to sit in your hand) who live in cities are often pursued by street cats, but are typically agile enough to escape. (Rondel uses stuffed animals to imitate this, constantly telling me how so-and-so escaped through his “amazing agility”.)

All small animals move at a much faster pace than large animals. They run faster compared to their body size, their metabolism is faster, and so on.

Without dung beetles, the African savanna would be pretty disgusting! It’s so neat that a creature exists whose purpose is simply to clean up (and eat) other animals’ poop, making the world better for everyone. They may appear small and lowly, but they are determined, strong, resourceful, and crucial for the ecosystem. Hmm… that may be a good object lesson someday 😉

What have you been learning this week? I’d love to hear about any fascinating, weird, exciting, or unexpected fact you’ve learned – or about any great resource that has facilitated your learning!