Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Long, toxic day

I had hoped to blog a pile of backlogged stuff today. I had also hoped to teach today. None of those things came to fruition. Today we woke to the banging of pipes before our house filled up with smoke and I had to load the kids, rats, and birds into the car and leave. We didn't actually go anywhere, just down the road a bit. Where can you go with a car full of caged pets? Nowhere, really... well, maybe Petsmart. But no, not in Switzerland.

My house was pretty toxic for hours. The workers claimed to be cleaning the boiler or something to that effect in an apologetic broken mixture of English, French, and German. All I know is that it was awful, and so we sat around in the car reading and knitting. It was cold and overcast, so when the sun finally came out the kids ran around and visited the horses. I made trips back to the house to open windows and turn on fans and forage quickly for snacks. I ended up with an insane headache in the process, but by three o'clock the air and smell had cleared enough for us to bring the pets back inside and have lunch. And by then I was too exhausted to do anything.

I had such fun lessons planned for the day... but this is the kind of curve ball that life throws sometimes. Homeschooling is never separate from life. Imagine the kinds of things kids can learn from strange situations like this. Had they been in school, they would have missed the whole thing.

Instead, they learned about the dangers of smoke inhalation, engaged in a discussion about carbon monoxide, and while we've never talked about fire drills, they got to experience one without all the bells and whistles. (Note to self: check batteries in smoke alarms.) And what a surprise that my children can actually put their shoes on and get outside quickly. Some days have left me wondering about that, but now I really know it's possible.

While we were parked down the road the kids watched a horse being trained. They deepened their friendship with the woman who works with horses. Now that their German has improved she appears to be friendlier with them (and me, too). She met the rats and gave us a free outdoor cage for them, and then invited the kids to help groom the horses. Finally befriending this woman, after trying for one year, was a very big deal.

Our local homeschooling friend showed up around 2pm (there is only one other homeschooling family in our state), and she brought me an essential oil mix that I could drink for my fierce headache. I have never actually imbibed essential oils before, so that was pretty strange but also wonderful. I'm looking forward to buying some at the store next time I go to town.

We also learned the German word for parakeet - Wellensittich - and the German word for carbon monoxide detector - Kohlenmonoxid Detektor. We made a cursory search for one awhile back, but we've never been able to find them in the stores here like you can in the US. Now that I know what it's called... maybe that will help, because I think we really shouldn't go another day without one, especially since the oil boiler lives under our daughter's bedroom. And today we learned just how paper thin our floors and walls really are.

Long, toxic day. Thank goodness for unschooling. We learned so much.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Week of lions... and Greece!

Last week, to meet Moonshine's request of more "boy saints," I presented her with a story about St. Jerome and the lion. I wrote her a flute song based on this story, and I was so glad that it was such a hit because I had planned a whole week of lions.

I also mentioned last week that Moonshine is trying out some new behavioral territory. Could it be the nine-year-change approaching already? I'm hesitant to label it as such, but I do know that it's making us all crazy, herself included. She's being antagonistic to everyone and she's not sleeping well. It's a dangerous combination... and well, she rather is like a lion.

I carried over the heart theme from last week, and challenged Moonshine with a poem I wrote just for her. She copied it into her copy book, memorized it, and recited it--- all with great joy! And because she's insisting to write things phonetically and without help, I pulled some words from the poem and challenged her to her very first spelling quiz. She was so excited!! She remembered every single word, and she can't wait for her next quiz.

The poem was very simple, but the message is also very clear:

Fill my heart
with gladness.
Fill my heart
with joy.
Fill my heart
with love
For every girl and boy.

Fill my heart
with kindness.
Fill my heart
with care.
Fill my heart
with tender thoughts
For creatures everywhere.

To extend the heart theme, I invited the kids to watercolor-paint some hearts. Then to extend our lion theme, I went ahead and pulled from my second grade materials and told the story of the Lion and the Mouse. It was a good reminder of kindness as well. --Those of you who have Teaching With the Fables by Sieglinde de Francesca will recognize my attempt to recreate the picture from the cover of her lovely, lovely book.

Sunburst and I worked on Greece, Greece, and more Greece. And math, of course. I also tossed another wondrous geometrical form her way, shown at the top of this post. She is lapping it up.

This is our rendition of Helios and the sun chariot with Prometheus stealing fire to give to the humans:

We also worked together to copy out the amazing family tree from the front of D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths. It was a challenge, for sure, but we worked at it little by little over the last two weeks, and it's already helping us to keep all the Greek mythological gods and goddesses sorted. Greece is definitely a lot of fun!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Back to lessons

Last week we got back to lessons. I didn't anticipate how busy we would be, nor that the girls were going to have their own ideas about how things should go, so it was a bit hodge-podge. Despite what I had planned, Moonshine desperately wanted to add Saint Catherine of Siena to her saints book. In fact, her only other request was, "Please, can we do more saints!"

I wasn't planning on doing any this year! We had saved the last few pages in her book for memorabilia from our trips (pictures, postcards, bookmarks, pamphlets), but instead, she wanted to do some more "boy saints." Apparently I didn't give the boys fair coverage in our block this past spring. It's a good thing I still had a few more up my sleeve!

I finally found chalkboard paint this summer, repainted my boards which were in terrible shape, and got them hung back up. It had been so long since I had drawn on the chalkboard, so I was happy to put up my rendition of Saint Catherine gazing at the sunset. Moonshine took one look at it and declared, "Oh, that's just how I imagined it!" ... Whew!

I drew Sunburst a geometric form to wonder about (yes, the heart in the middle is covering up my imperfections... but it's also serving as a reminder to put our hearts into everything we do-- an important reminder, especially given some new behaviors Moonshine is trying out). With chalkboard drawings up and stories to tell, we were off and running.

We also reviewed some math and worked in two German lessons-- I'm trying out a new approach this year, and it seemed to be a big hit. Yay! We also worked in some reading practice, copywork/memorization, and quite a bit of handwork. All that and full afternoons, too!

All in all, it was a good first week.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Viva Italia: Day 4 - Ancient Rome

When you drive into Rome, the first thing you notice are the umbrella pines. And the bug guts on the windshield. :( But mostly, it's the pines.

And then the sun... it's different in Rome, if you can believe that. It was radiant and spraying everywhere. It felt like a sign... as if we had finally arrived somehow. I let myself imagine that the sun always looks so radiant in Rome. The haze of pollution had nothing to do with it, I'm sure. Ahem.

We were a little naive to think we could just drive to Rome. It's a major metropolitan city. Sure, we had driven in other major cities in the past, cities where we had been advised not to-- New York City, Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin. We had just driven around Florence a couple days before, so why would driving in Rome be such a big deal? I mean, it's just driving, right?

Wrong. To drive in Rome you need to have a death wish. And you need to know where you're going. We were sort of lacking in both departments. We barely made it alive to our bungalo, and that only involved driving in the large loop that went around Rome. The crazy drivers in N. Italy have nothing on the ones in Rome. It was completely nuts!! That, and Wrong-way Rhonda, our GPS, was practically no help whatsoever. Apparently she has never been to Rome either.

The first thing we did was make it to our bungalo, which in reality turned out to be a mobile home, only a ten minute walk from the Mediterranean Sea. It was so nice to not have to set up the tent and start a campfire! The first thing I managed to do was walk into a tree and give myself a bloody nose. Can you imagine?! I had only reached into the car to grab out our travel books, and when I turned around-- WHAM! I had forgotten exactly how close we had parked to that tree.

After we all stopped laughing, and of course I stopped bleeding, we made dinner and combed through the travel books in attempt to plan our day-- our excursion in Rome had been reduced to one single day--- and there was way too much to see. I kept reminding myself that because Rome had not been built in a day, it therefore could not be seen in a day. But of course we had to try anyway.

First item on the agenda, after navigating the series of buses and trams to get into the city: meeting an old, dear friend of mine near the Colosseum. Meeting her necessitated walking around the Colosseum. Our eyes were gaping at the sights! And I was grinning a mile wide-- we're in ROME! We're actually in ROME!! It was unbelievable, and it looked like this:

Even the ground was pretty. It seemed like everywhere I looked my brain registered form drawings... ones we had done, or ones we could do in the future. This one we did a variation on last year as fish scales in the story of Atlantis:

It was then that we met up with my dear friend P and her beau. She and I met during our senior year of high school when we were both hired to work the concession stand at a movie theater. We became fast friends and stayed close through college-- we were even roomies at one point. We both moved away, and the last time I saw her was at my wedding. She made a beautiful bridesmaid. When I heard she was going to be in Rome the same week we would be in Italy, we just had to meet up!!

After a brief respite from the heat, and boy was it HOT, we headed back out to explore the Roman ruins. We walked back around the other side of the Colosseum, and I couldn't stop snapping pictures. It was truly incredible!

There was a mad throng of tourists, and although we bought tickets, the line to get into the Colosseum was hours long. Since P had already been a day prior, we decided to skip the waiting and spend time visiting while we meandered around the Roman Forum, also included on our entrance ticket, just up the hill. It was fantastic!! There was so much to see everywhere we looked.

Yes, there was even wedding pictures being taken here in Ancient Rome. It struck me as kind of strange... and yet I couldn't help myself from snapping a picture. I kept thinking how dirty her dress was going to get (am I a mom or what?!!), but I bet they got some lovely pictures.

From the Roman Forum we had this breathtaking view of the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine. I couldn't choose which ones to show you-- I think together they really give a good feel for how immense and impressive these structures actually are.

And walking around just inside the entrance to the forum:

Archaeology in progress:

Above, carving detail inside another arch. Below... the green door with purple columns that had us all enchanted. It's the Temple of Romulus, and it boasts the oldest functioning lock.

Looking back over the forum:

It was truly something to behold all of this! But with only one day in Rome, time was a-wasting. We headed off in search of lunch, shade, and cold drinks.... it was good to rest our legs after such an action packed few days... and so much more of Rome left to see that afternoon!

Next installments: modern Ancient Rome and the Vatican....

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Weekly planning sheets

Now that I've got a yearly planning page that works for me, it was a natural progression that I needed to make a weekly one as well. I wanted simple. Seriously simple. One sheet. Nuts and bolts.

I came up with this one. It's my weekly macro list. This is the one that hangs on the wall so that everyone knows what to expect. I colored it up with pencils to make it easier to read and prettier to look at.

After I did this, I needed a micro list-- one for my eyes only. It has a little more space so I can write what I intend to do. It's still simplified enough to fit on one page, but it gives me enough room to put just enough information that I know what's going on at a glance. I can really feel the week out this way.

Here are the master sheets. If you click on the images below, they should open up large enough for you to save and print out. (They fit fine on my European paper size... hopefully they will translate well enough onto standard letter size, too.)

Fairytale woods

Local schools started back to school last Monday, and hence, so did we.

We started off our week with a bike ride around the farm fields and up to the top of the hills to do a little observation. Everything has been harvested already except the corn and the soybeans. The hay has been baled, the wheat is long gone.... and indeed it's getting colder.

We rode on into the forest where the children were met with quite a big surprise. I told them we were meeting some "friends" in the forest, but they certainly didn't expect these characters!

Einstein and I had discovered them on our last walk... and I was totally blown away at the sight of them. I hear there are more fairytale characters as you go deeper into the forest, but I thought we'd save them for another day. The kids were quite impressed with this group-- they ran around hunting for all seven dwarfs and then "helped" each of them do his work. It was very sweet to watch them at play here.... and that was just the beginning of our week.

Einstein was out of the country all week, and we had obligations every single afternoon--- such a busy, busy week!! But though I didn't manage to post anything, we managed to get a little bit of work done. Hopefully I can share that in the next day or so, but until then, I hope you enjoy these new woodland friends as much as we did.
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