Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Natural Science Adventures for Homeschoolers: Too Many Legs!

Today we made our way out to Sunol Regional Wilderness to attend the first of four monthly sessions in a fall series of Natural Science Adventures for Homeschoolers. Today's topic was "Too Many Legs!" a spider exploration.

First we went around the room introducing ourselves and mentioning tidbits of information on spiders, while dispelling rumors and admitting fears.

Next, our naturalist, Katie Colbert, introduced us to two of the visitor center residents, tarantulas, Harry and Harriett. The two tarantulas were allowed to walk around in the people circle we had formed.

In preparation for passing Harry around to the braver souls, Katie collected Harriet in her hands and slowly walked over to her box. When she bent down to place the spider in the box, Harriet was gone! Startled, Katie asked us if we had seen her crawl away. As we had not seen her drop to the ground, we guessed that the spider must be crawling around on Katie. Katie turned around a few spider. It was then that we assumed the worst... Could it be inside her shirt?

It turned out that in only a few short seconds, Harriet had managed to crawl into Katie's button-down uniform shirt! The kids were shocked and amazed when she came crawling out, back into Katie's hands!

After everyone calmed down, it was time to pass Harry around the circle. Those who were brave enough to allow him to crawl across their hands were afforded the opportunity! Natalie, Madeline, and I took the challenge! Max watched.

Following all of the spider excitement, we went down to the dry creek bed to look for spiders of our own. On our spider hunt, we used acrylic bug boxes with magnifier lids for observation purposes. The kids enjoyed looking underneath rocks for the speedy little creatures, and we found many Wolf Spiders hiding in the cracks and crevices.

As our adventure came to an end, we released our captive pets and spent the remaining time using spray bottles to mist the webs along the trail that took us back to the visitor's center.

Before we left, Katie made sure to show us two Black Widow Spiders so that the kids and parents would be better able to identify the common and highly poisonous California species.

For me, it was interesting to see how my children's personalities are manifested in their reactions to potentially fearful things. Madeline, is no doubt, the most fearless of my three kids when it comes to taking action. Natalie has a willing and cooperative, yet timid soul. Max steers clear of discomfort, but loves to read all about it in books!

Can't wait until our next class in October!
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Monday, September 28, 2009

Caesar's Seizures

Natalie has been studying Ancient Rome this school year, so I checked out the award-winning Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, from the library. I was busy at the computer when Abe came in from watching the movie with the kids in the living room and told me that Natalie had just said the funniest thing.

Natalie had asked Abe, "Why do they keep putting that stick in his mouth?"

Abe said, "Apparently, Julius Caesar had seizures, so they put a stick in his mouth so he wouldn't bite his tongue.

Natalie replied, "Oh, so that's why they called him Seizure!"

I love my kids...they make me laugh!
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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend...

This evening we bid farewell to an old friend of ours from church, Georgene Moffitt, as she prepares for her move to Wisconsin. The girls and I made some "ants-on-a-log" snacks to share and went to an open house for Georgene at Lynda Chapman's house.

Georgene has been like a grandmother to us in Fremont. Over the years we have enjoyed spending Friday night dinners with her at Lynn's, hearing of her latest and greatest travels, musical performance, or Jack Russell Terrier adventure!

We are continually amazed at her energy, good health, and fitness as she commits many hours to her church calling, orchestra rehearsals, and women's book group.

After deciding to move closer to family, Georgene bought a beautiful home on an acre lot in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. It took Georgene only 4 days to sell her lovely home in Fremont and she has been packing ever since. Brodie, her JRT, is looking forward to riding underneath her seat on the plane and, as Georgene has shared, he practices sleeping in his travel crate every night!

We will truly miss Georgene and her valiant spirit as she presses onward to Wisconsin--we love you, Georgene!
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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Handprint Spiders!

Today we made some festive t-shirts and treat bags with a spider theme. As we have been learning about spiders on our fieldtrips, I thought it would be fun to incorporate our newfound knowledge into a craft project for the kids. Nothing like spiders to help get us into the Halloween spirit!

Last week, Michaels was having a special on t-shirts--5 shirts for $10--so I picked up the shirts, neon-orange fabric paint, eyeballs, fabric glue, and 3 treat-sized black bags.

We used a foam paintbrush to coat their palms and four fingers, leaving their thumbs unpainted and then stamped each hand to make the spiders. When the paint was dry, we added eyeballs. Max gave his spiders 8 eyeballs each; our other spiders sported multiple eyes as well.

The kids had a blast getting their hands painted orange and making spider prints all over the shirts...and they can't wait to wear them!
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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fieldtrip to Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in Oakland, CA

Today we went on a fieldtrip to Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in Oakland, CA with other homeschoolers from the San Francisco Bay Area. Our East Bay Regional Park District naturalist, Tara Turtle, facilitated our awesome Bay Discovery adventure!

First, Tara used a felt board to introduce us to the bay creatures we might see and discussed the food chain--the kids learned that the ecosystem of the bay is dependent on several basics--sunshine, water, air, and soil.
We discovered that the bay is a home to leopard sharks, fish, barnacles, crabs, plankton, worms, sea lettuce, eel grass, clams, snails, snowy egrets, terns, moon jellyfish, and many other creatures.
Then, we were able to view previously collected specimens (a crab and clam) from the estuary, in magnifier viewing containers.
Next, the kids paired up and received a plastic bucket and viewing container to share with their partner on our specimen-hunting expedition.
We headed out to the rocks, mud, sand, and water to find snails, barnacles, worms, jellyfish, and crabs.
We even found a small dead octopus, which Miss Turtle said do not typically inhabit the bay!
On the way back, we collected trash from the beach area and deposited it in the trash receptacle at the park.
On our trip, were able to discover the wild animals and plants who call the San Francisco Bay Estuary home through hands on activities, guided discovery and exploration along the shoreline. We also discussed how this habitat is connected to our lives and our role in protecting and caring for this important space. Thanks EBRPD!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Out and About with CAVA

Today we went to a CAVA teacher-organized outing to Great Jump in Milpitas. For our $9 entry fee, we each got to jump for 2 hours (mom included). There were two trampoline courts available--one for free jumping and the other for dodgeball. The kids were ecstatic--they hopped, skipped, flipped, chased, and bounced with other homeschoolers all afternoon! I would actually have more photos of the fun if I hadn't been jumping right alongside them. Madeline was the star on the dodgeball court since everyone felt bad about throwing a ball at such a little girl, that she just bounced up and down on the trampoline and seemed to avoid most of the efforts to tag her out! Overall, we had a great time jumping and plan to go back in the future with our friends and family in tow!
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Boys Will Be Boys...

The scene...
The damage...
The weapons...
The suspect...

While busy making dinner last night in the kitchen, I heard a chopping sound coming from the backyard. Thinking Max was probably just trimming the bushes for me, I thought nothing of it. Then, this morning, when I looked out the back window, I took note of a quite extensive trim job to the large-leaf, tropical plant growing along our fence. On the positive side, that plant does grow quickly, so it will be back to its normal jungle status in no time. I wonder if Max will have a future career as a landscape architect? Only if he can use a double-edged sword and scimitar as his pruning tools!
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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Back to School

As of today, we are officially four weeks into our 2009-2010 homeschooling year! After spending two years homeschooling through Connecting Waters Charter School with Natalie, we decided to try something new. Max is now in Kindergarten and Natalie is completing second grade through a virtual public charter school called CAVA (California Virtual Academy) that uses the K12 curriculum....and so far, so good!

The lessons are engaging, the kids are excited about learning, the program successfully employs technology in reinforcing concepts, and, best of all, I don't have to spend countless hours selecting and ordering curriculum, lesson planning, and scheduling our learning. Much of the administrative tasks are handled virtually through the CAVA website. The curriculum provides multiple opportunities to connect with the content through visual, audial, kinesthetic, musical, mathematical-logical, and naturalistic learning modes.

The most difficult thing about starting a new program has been getting the kids into more of a regimented schedule. After having had so much freedom with their time during their early years, it has been a struggle to spend several hours completing "schoolwork," however, we are trying hard to complete our required work before noon so that we have afternoons and evenings free to read, play, and explore individual interests.

Two weeks into the curriculum, we switched to block-scheduling so that we can devote more time to a given subject for one day each week. We continue to do language arts and math daily, but now have history Mondays, science Tuesdays, art Wednesdays, language Thursdays, and music Fridays. With block-scheduling, we still have time for weekly fieldtrips, library visits, park days, nature hikes, art lessons, 4-H, Cub Scouts, music lessons, church activities, community service projects, and Victory Sports League. Our lives are rich with stimulating educational and social activities that contribute in the character development of each of our unique family members!

This year, Natalie is taking a Spanish language course provided by PowerSpeak. She has enjoyed creating an avatar and earning virtual dollars when she completes her lessons. She can then use her earnings to purchase clothing and hairstyles for her avatar. Natalie uses a headset to record pronunciations of rehearsed vocabulary which is then graded by a real person who responds to her assignments.

Max's favorite subject is math, however he claims he loves all of his subjects. So far he has traveled to Australia and Spain in history, explored the five senses in science, studied portraiture in art, read several wonderful fairy tales and poems, and has been singing up a storm.

Although not enrolled in the CAVA music curriculum, Natalie's favorite subject is music. Aunt Krissy comes over once a week to teach Natalie piano, and Madeline and Max join in to learn about rhythm, beat, and other introductory musical concepts. All three delight in music...and their cheerful aunt!

While Natalie and Max are busy working, Madeline runs wild in the backyard, plays with the animals, performs gymnastics on the swing set, and schemes in her playhouse. When she gets tired of the outdoors, she comes inside to do puzzles, clay, paints, computer games, or join in on the science experiments. She is a patient child who delights when her older siblings are available to play with her. We joke that Madeline is 3 going on 13 as she seems so mature for her age and insists on playing with the big kids, not the "babies."

It will be rewarding to see how much the kids grow and develop this year--we are grateful that I am able to stay at home with our children and offer them a rich and varied education from our home.
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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fieldtrip to Tilden Nature Area in Berkeley, CA

Today we visited Tilden Nature Area in Berkeley for a Wildlife Interactive Hike on spiders!

First, our East Bay Regional Park District naturalist provided a short orientation on the basic characteristics of spiders--8 legs, up to 8 eyes, 2 body parts, and spinnerets. Together, we made mini-booklets to guide us in identifying webs from the most common spiders of the Tilden Nature Area.

Next, she illustrated how a Pie Spider would spin its web and provided us with interesting information about the spinning and hunting habits of each type of spider.

Then, we headed outside with spray bottles in hand so we could mist the webs and see their construction patterns better.

As we hiked around the Visitor's Center, we found webs from Orb Weavers, Pie Spiders, Garbage Web Spiders, Labrynthian Spiders, Sheet Web Spiders, Funnel Web Spiders, and Halo Web Spiders. We even spotted several live spiders perched in their webs.

The kids have always been fascinated with spiders and now they are even more aware of these phenomenal creatures and their role in catching pesky insects. Thanks EBRPD!
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