Posted in learning together

learning together: biomes

While the kids were playing together, I set up an activity for the next lull in their imagination. Pulling out two of our giant whiteboards, I quartered them and placed a biome card (from our Waseca materials) into each of the eight sections: Oceans, Wetlands, Tropical Forests, Temperate Forests, Grasslands, Desert, Mountains, Polar Regions. Pulling out the box of toy animals, I began sorting them into the biomes: zebras in Grasslands, tigers in Tropical forests, dolphins in Oceans.

It wasn’t long before Rondel came out and was instantly engaged, asking if he could help sort the animals. So we sorted together, talking about which biomes would make the most sense for animals which are domesticated, for example, or adapted for a range of habitats. When we had at least a few animals in each biome, I brought out the biome question and answer cards.

There were six questions altogether (asking about temperature, moisture, soil, plants, animals, and humans), and each one had an answer for each biome, so Rondel’s task was to match each answer to the correct biome after I read the card. He only needed help on one or two of the cards, and showed a good conceptual understanding of how the environment differs between biomes, how plants and animals have adapted to different biomes, and how humans have interacted with biomes in different ways (both positive and negative).

I noticed that our animal representation was heavily skewed towards African grasslands and oceans; the Waseca teacher’s guide recommended using animals cutout from magazines, which would increase the diversity, but I didn’t have any that I was willing to cut up. I may just need to buy a big batch of old National Geographics or ZooBooks off of Ebay – old magazines can be really useful craft and learning supplies!

This activity was a good summary of the information we’ve learned about biomes as well as a good overview before diving into more detail on any one area; I think we’ll explore animal adaptations next but I have a lot of ideas.

Posted in family life, sqt, wwlw

{sqt} – because limerick loves numbers

If you ask him, Limerick will tell you that his favorite thing in the whole world is numbers. More than milk, more than cookies, more than hugs – numbers are the best. So I thought I would capture seven ways he shows that love for this week’s {SQT}! Join Kelly for the rest of the linkup 🙂

  1. Limerick’s favorite numbers of all are 1, 11, 111, and so on – anything that is all 1’s. So the other day as we were skip-counting back and forth together the way we do, he decided we should count by 11. When he got to 1111 (and he was the one who got to say it!), he was so happy that he stood up on his chair and clapped his hands together while laughing for joy.
  2. This past week he’s been asking me to make number coloring pages for him, where I’ll draw the outlines of numbers on a page and he’ll color them in. Well, for one of those pages, he decided the best way to color them in would be to fill all the little spaces with smaller versions of the number he was coloring – very meta 🙂

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    Limerick’s coloring page – don’t be too critical of his handwriting! He is only 4 after all 🙂

  3. In addition to coloring numbers, Limerick likes me to make skip-counting number boards for him – this week alone we’ve made one that counted by 499, one that counted by 999, one that counted by 4, and one that counted by 1 but had all the multiples of 3 drawn in a different color. After a board is made we’ll play a game with it once or twice but then it is on to the next one! I sometimes think he just likes watching the numbers appear on the paper as I write them…
  4. Speaking of watching numbers, Limerick’s favorite book, You Can Count On Monsters by Richard Schwartz, gives him plenty of chances to do just that. He will sit for hours poring over every page of the book, noticing how the focal number of each page breaks down into its factors and figuring out how the accompanying monster illustration incorporates those factors (or the number itself, if it is prime). He’s been through it at least three times this week, taking 2-3 hours each time, and it doesn’t seem to be growing old yet.countonmonsters
  5. I pulled out a math workbook for Limerick this week also, thinking he might be interested, and so far he has just been turning the pages looking at all the numbers and math problems and shapes. He isn’t interested in writing anything down, but when I ask him about any of the problems he knows the answer instantly, or knows how to figure it out. There are some fractions later in the book that would be more of a challenge for him, though, so maybe that will catch his attention eventually. It’s a bit of a tightrope balancing between guiding him towards new information and allowing him the joy of freely exploring numbers without pushing or interfering.
  6. I did, however, get to explain different base systems to him this week! I just sat down at the table and started counting in hexadecimal on a piece of paper, and he glanced over and was immediately intrigued. We discussed what place value means in the context of the various base systems, and ended up writing out 1-32 in decimal, hexadecimal, binary, and base 6. I think binary was his favorite because there were so many 1’s and the numbers got long so quickly!
  7. One other fun book we’ve read through a few times (though not as recently) is Bedtime Math by Laura Overdeck. It’s been a great introduction to the application of numbers, and a challenge for Limerick to translate the words into the more familiar arithmetic. He’s actually quite good at tracking along with the question as I read it, deciphering the logical connections, and doing the math in his head – he can for most of the stories do even the most difficult problem on the page already!

All in all, I just have to echo Limerick and say that he really does love numbers the best 🙂 And he has, honestly, since he was 18 months old and would sit on the driveway drawing them in wide circles around himself until he was familiar with each one, and since he was 2 years old and would count the bites remaining on his plate at dinner and practice subtracting them as he ate. I’m looking forward to watching this love continue to grow with him in the years to come!

Posted in family life, musings

social learning through play

When I first read Peter Gray’s Free to Learn a couple years ago, I was struck by his descriptions of young children playing together. In the interactions he transcribed, these children were negotiating social hierarchies, defining relationships, experimenting with emotional expression and response, making small talk, and learning to understand the thoughts and feelings of other individuals – all through the context of undirected, independent, imaginative play with each other.

At the time I was both impressed and discouraged: impressed at the ability of the human mind to use pretend play as a means of acquiring important social skills, and discouraged at the thought that I hadn’t yet seen my son engage in pretend play with another child in that way. He could parallel play with his baby brother, and that was about it; other children overwhelmed and even frightened him.

But lately I have watched him playing with Limerick, roaring and yelling and screaming at each other, and when I cautiously peek around the corner they quickly assure me that it’s all part of the game, and their characters are angry, not actually them. Their pretend animals ask each other if they can come in, or share space, or help with something difficult. The boys ask each other, outside of the game, about what they are each comfortable with and what the other one’s preference would be for the kind of game they play, back and forth until they reach a compromise.

I have watched him playing with Aubade, laughing and wrestling and generally being silly, until suddenly she pretends to be sad with a pouty frown and a slump of her shoulders, proclaiming that she is sad, and he instantly changes his mood to match her emotional expression, curling up next to her to give her snuggles until she decides she is happy again.

While his understanding of other people’s emotions may not be as intuitive, and while social norms and niceties may always be more of a second language, he still has the innate desire to connect and belong with others. And so with the people he loves, he works hard to understand them, to compromise with them, to adapt to their wants and feelings. We’ve done a lot of “play coaching” with him and his siblings over the years, to get to this point, but now, every time I see him bend and adjust, every time I hear him ask what his siblings would rather do instead of demanding things go his way, I am so encouraged by how much he has learned, and by how much he can do without any adult around reminding him. Those hours of play have really been effective in helping him pick up and hone his budding social skills – and I have no doubt they will continue to be.

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.)

Posted in wwlw

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.

Posted in family life, musings, quotes

wonder

Watching my children play, I am reminded of the wonder and beauty of small and simple things. There is enough joy in a glass of milk to send a three year old dancing around the kitchen; there is enough beauty in a well-done coloring page to keep a distractible, active four year old still and entranced watching it happen; there is enough passion in a stuffed animal to occupy the full attention and imagination of the one year old who walk around snuggling and protecting it. Continue reading “wonder”

Posted in family life

going to the zoo!

The boys – especially Rondel – have been deeply interested in dinosaurs for quite a long time now, and are beginning to branch out into animals of all types. It really began with the Planet Earth documentaries that I would put on for them during Aubade’s nap times, and has continued with a short series called Africa’s Deadliest that is just as overly dramatic as the name suggests but which contains some great footage of wild animals as well as a lot of scientific facts. When we found and caught a lizard (well, rescued it from a bowl it had fallen into, to be more accurate) not too long ago, he was entranced: he understood intuitively how to hold it gently and carefully, and let it climb all over him with no fear, and ended up playing with it for 45 minutes before releasing it so it could return to its natural habitat.

So I was not surprised when he asked to go to the zoo this week, nor when he actually showed in interest in seeing the animals instead of just the dinosaur exhibit and the splash pad! And it was a good day to go!

We did of course have to visit the dinosaurs:

Obviously we couldn’t observe any live, wild, natural animal life here – but we had some discussions about the different types of nests made by different dinosaurs (we compared the twig nest of the Citipati – a feathered broody dinosaur – to that of the Diabloceratops, which was too large to brood its eggs and most likely made a mud nest like a crocodile), as well as about how the different types of dinosaurs might react if they saw us!

From the dinosaur trail the bighorn sheep exhibit is also visible, and Aubade got very excited when I pointed them out and told the kids what they were. She leaned forward in the stroller as far as she could, waving and yelling, “Hi!” – and then she turned to me, smiled, and matter-of-factly said, “Baa!” It was neat seeing her make the connection between the distant animal on the mountainside and the fuzzy white blob in her Moo, Baa, La La La board book by Sandra Boynton.

When we left the dinosaur trail, it seemed like a lot of the animals were active and awake – we got to see baboon, mandrills, oryx, cheetah (unfortunately they were difficult to see, but we did manage to spot them), otters, flamingos, zebras, and more! The flamingos were standing right by the fence, so we stood on one leg like they did, and noticed how they could turn their heads all the way around backwards to use their back like a pillow, and wondered why their large beaks only ever opened a very small amount.

Per Rondel’s request, after a cool-down break at the splash pad we visited the Tropical Birds trail, which includes a small aviary. Apparently, it is mating season at the zoo – so all the birds were awake and showing off their finery! The male peacock had his full tail fan extended, and kept shaking it at the peahen, making a surprisingly loud rattling noise when he did so. In the aviary, the male argus pheasant was strutting around on the path, making a call that the zoo keeper told us he only made during this season, instead of hiding in the back corners as he tends to do the rest of the year.

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Rondel was absolutely captivated. He approached the bird slowly and quietly, and held his hands tightly back so he wouldn’t accidentally touch it (he would jump out of the way if the bird turned around so that he wouldn’t end up touching his long tail feather!), and just squatted down gazing at him for a long time, as other groups of people came and went.

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Limerick was a little less certain, but he eventually went over as well. I was super proud of both of them – they are often very impulsive and active kids, and they had no trouble at all adjusting their behavior to what was needed by the animals. We talked a bit here about how a lot of viruses can jump between birds and people, so if we touched the birds we could get them sick or they could get us sick… my molecular biology background always ends up showing itself somehow 🙂

We finished up with the tiger and the Komodo dragon. I had never actually seen the Komodo dragon exhibit at our zoo, but Rondel instantly remembered them from the new Planet Earth series and was incredibly excited about them. They weren’t moving much – just soaking in the sun – but they are impressive creatures. We noticed how it was basking in the sun to soak up the energy it needs as a cold-blooded animal, and counted its claws (five on each foot, just like us, in case you wondered).

And of course we played on the Komodo dragon statue for a while!

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This is what I get when I tell the kids to smile at me… I guess Rondel is somewhat close?

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Playing together – I think they are subduing the Komodo dragon so it can’t fight them.

The most wonderful thing about homeschooling is the ability we have to follow our interests – obviously in going to the zoo for a whole morning instead of adhering to a lesson plan or a class schedule, but also in deciding when to linger at an exhibit and when to move on, when to talk about the details of how an animal lives and when to stick to the basic overview, when to focus on the live animal exhibits and when to simply just have fun. The experience we had today was so real and so rich that I wouldn’t trade it for any classroom I’ve ever known.