Archive for November, 2011

November 29, 2011

Worthy Reads & Blog Update

BLOG UPDATE

  1. My first blog update is that I’m changing the title of “Good Reads” to “Worthy Reads.”  This is because I realized that sometimes I find articles or videos on homeschooling or other subjects that I don’t necessarily think are good, but perhaps they are worthy to share and discuss.
  2. My second update is that I’ve added a Table of Contents to my blog!  In my attempt to make my blog more user-friendly, I’ve listed my more popular posts by subject.  You can click on the tab at the top of the page to see it.  And if you have any thoughts on what I can add to my blog to make it better, please tell me!  I would love suggestions.

WORTHY READS

Homeschooling

  • Dr. Drew on Unschooling – a video from CNN.  Someone shared this on a homeschool list I’m on, and I have mixed feelings about it, but basically I think these short news clips do nothing more than stir up controversy.  They don’t give the interviewees enough time to discuss the issue, and it’s a shame.
  • A Case Against Homeschooling, Really by Homeschooling Atheist Momma offers an honest look at what anyone who is thinking about homeschooling needs to realize and be ready for, if they choose this lifestyle.

Teaching Aid

Getting Kids Into Nature

We love nature, and it doesn’t take much for us to get out into it, but I still enjoyed perusing these links, and there are some very interesting books on that book list I’d love to get!

Parenting

Recently I began to read a little bit about “Positive Parenting,” and I think there’s a lot of wisdom in it.  Here’s a couple of worthy articles I found:

Have you found any interesting or worthy links this lately?  Please share them with me in the comments section.

 

November 26, 2011

November & Thanksgiving Activities With Small Children

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I wanted to create history lessons around each holiday this year.  In addition to this, I want to do general activities to celebrate each season.  However, I still feel the need to keep things extremely simple with my boys.  At ages 5 & 2, they just aren’t ready for big projects or crafts.  When I do initiate crafts, it’s usually me doing most of the crafting, or the boys take over by making it a cutting-up-paper-into-tiny-bits session.  Whether it’s their ages or that they are boys, long sit-down lessons and activities don’t work for us.  (And this also goes for just the five-year-old when the two-year-old is napping too.)

So here are the simple things we did this November to celebrate autumn and Thanksgiving:

  • We had a gorgeous autumn in Georgia this year, so I wanted to celebrate those beautiful leaves.  We collected leaves and laminated them.  Last year I tried ironing them between parchment paper, and it looked awful.  I asked my sister – a first grade teacher – what she recommended.  She said she just laminated the leaves.  Guess what?  It works great!  After laminating them, I strung some up over our window and the doorway into our activity room.  I tacked the others up to our bulletin board, and I labeled the leaves that I knew.  (Tree identification will come when they’re older too.)  (This it the laminator I purchased over a year ago – a worthwhile investment.)
  • We planted bulbs.  And garlic.  I’ve never planted garlic before, so I’m excited to see what will happen.  Planting seeds is a favorite pastime of my five-year-old, which I have written about extensively in this post.
  • We read our Thanksgiving books:
    • What Is Thanksgiving? by Harriet Ziefert – A sweet, lift-the-flap book about a mouse who asks his parents “What is Thanksgiving?”  It’s very simple and dedicates only two lines to the history of the holiday.  It’s mostly about what we do now to celebrate Thanksgiving. I would only recommend it for very young children.
    • The Story of the Pilgrims by Katherine Ross – I highly recommend this book for the approximate ages 4~6 or anyone needing a beginning lesson on Thanksgiving history.  It starts in England and talks about a group of people call Pilgrims and why they left, their journey in the Mayflower, their first difficult winter, the encounter with the Indians and what the Indians taught them, and it ends with the big feast.  It’s simple enough for youngsters but full of interesting details.
  • As we talked about Thanksgiving and what we give thanks for, I used A Child’s Book of Animal Poems and Blessings (collected by Eliza Blanchard).  My boys love animals, so these poems and prayers were fun.  The illustrations are beautiful.  It teaches respect for animals, and it gave me a chance to talk about praying and poetry.  Needless to say, this isn’t a book I will use only for this season.
  • The night before Thanksgiving, I told my five-year-old a story about Jack and Piper and the big Thanksgiving feast they hosted in the forest.  All the forest animals were invited, and on this day, there was no bickering or squabbles.  One by one, each animal said what he was thankful for.
  • Besides these simple activities, I have spent as much time outdoors as the weather permitted.  We visited Ft. Yargo, the Botanical Garden, and spent lots of time in our own yard.

Maybe next year I’ll get around to baking, more crafts and more history lessons.  Or maybe we’ll just spend more time outside.

What’s your favorite activities for November?

November 23, 2011

Creating New Family Traditions

 

There’s a time when old traditions need to die, a time for new traditions, and a time when old traditions can be reborn with new meaning.

In years past, I have always felt a little lonely during the holidays.  I wished I had a big, happy family that didn’t live so far apart, so we could all come together and eat a lot of food, play games, and exchange stories.

My husband and I are usually invited to a relative’s home each Thanksgiving, and we’ve always gone, but this year I did an uncomfortable thing and turned down the invitation.  It’s because I began to think about what kind of memories I want to create for my two boys.

Except for my dad and step-mom, we rarely see our Georgia relatives during the year, so for my boys, it would almost be like visiting a stranger’s house on the holiday.  What do I really want for them?  I want them to remember the holidays in their childhood home with their loved ones.

So this year we’re going to have a cozy Thanksgiving at home, and we’ll make a big meal (big to us, that is), and we’ll start the tradition of stating what we’re thankful for at the dinner table.

This time of year has got me thinking about family traditions in general too.  A few years ago, I had a conversation with my brother (who is also starting his family) about how we need to create our own family traditions, especially since so many of our traditions were blurred by divorce and moving from state to state.

Shortly after having that conversation, my brother and sister-in-law sent me some books about creating family traditions as a Christmas gift.  The Book of New Family Traditions by Meg Cox and Together Creating Family Traditions by Rondi Hillstrom Davis and Janell Sewall Oakes are beautiful books that have given me many good ideas.

Yet I’m aware that the best traditions spring forth spontaneously.  I have to be careful about stating, “Here is a new tradition we are going to start…” What if I’m the only one on board that boat?  Traditions need to be something the whole family enjoys.

We all have traditions whether we realize it or not.  Religions give us many of our traditions.  My family follows the Christian traditions of observing Christmas and Easter, and we’ll continue to do so.  Traditions can also be unique to each family.

In The New Book of Family Traditions, I read about a family that every month during the full moon, they go outside and roast marshmallows in the moonlight.  By coincidence, my family took a moonlit walk the other night.  We showed our son where Jupiter was and looked for constellations.  It was so much fun, I’m wondering if I could make that happen every month.  (Or almost every month?)

Traditions can be simple daily exercises.  Some people say grace before mealtimes; others enjoy a slow cup of coffee in the mornings (that’s me).  Come to think of it, I have already started the ritual of telling my five-year-old a story every night. Even if I feel uninspired and tell him a boring tale, he seems to love it, and I know that somehow this is imparting my love and beliefs to him.

And this is what traditions do at their best: They give a family or community a reason to come together and share their love and commonality with each other. This in turn gives an individual a sense of belonging.  I want my boys to feel that being part of this family is important. When life gets tough I want them to have a place to come to and feel loved.

This is why we’ll have Thanksgiving and Christmas at home from now on, and I’ll be looking for ways to expand our old traditions, making them more meaningful to us.  I’ll also be thinking about new traditions I can add throughout the year.

What are your traditions?  Old or new?  I would love to hear what your family does because it may give me ideas for my own.  Please leave me a comment.  And in the future, I’ll write about what kinds of traditions we have started or renewed.

Note: This column was first printed in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, November 23, 2011.  You can also view it online here.

And I hope all my American friends have a happy, warm, loving Thanksgiving!

November 20, 2011

Where to take kids on a rainy day in Athens, Georgia

A few quick ideas:

If you don’t mind driving, there is also:

If you know of any other options, please leave them in the comments section!

***

1 2 3 Jump in the Georgia Square Mall

I’ve never been a huge fan of malls, but ever since I had kids, I am more than grateful for them.  Although we prefer the outdoors, sometimes you need a different place to go, especially when the weather isn’t ideal.  Once I wrote about our excursions to the Mall of Georgia in one my newspaper columns.

But the Georgia Square Mall in Athens is more convenient, so we go there sometimes.  My kids love 123 Jump, which is a place with toys and several inflatables.  I like it because it’s low key, quiet (that is, no music playing), and if we go during the week, there’s usually not many other kids there.  

The cost:  $3.50 for 15 minutes, $4.50 for half an hour, and $5.50 for an hour (per child).  What’s nice is that we can pay for half an hour, and then if the kids are having a lot of fun, we just pay an extra $1 for another 30 minutes.

If we’re up to it, the Georgia Square Mall also has a train ride ($3 per person).

Maybe we just haven’t found them yet, but I don’t know of many other places to take kids in Athens during rainy or cold weather.  The exception is Pump It Up, but we haven’t been there yet. It looks like from their website that you have to book a group to go.  If you are a homeschooler, there is a homeschooling group that goes on the second Friday of every month.  You can join the Athens Homeschooling list to receive updates about that.

It’s not in Athens, but if you’re willing to drive to Gainesville for a special day, you may enjoy the Interactive Neighborhood for Kids museum, which is also indoors.

If you know of other places to take kids on a rainy day around Athens, please let me know in the comments!  

November 17, 2011

I Love My Boys

When I grow up I want to be a little boy. ~ Joseph Heller

November 12, 2011

The Importance of Play in Children’s Lives

 

Note: This column appeared in the November 9, 2011 print edition of the Barrow Journal.  Almost two years ago I also wrote a column about the importance of playing make-believe and the research on how it teaches self-regulation to children.  You can read that column by clicking here.

Sometimes I’ll get the question: “How’s homeschooling going?” and I get a little taken aback because I feel as if I should answer: “It’s great!  We’re doing reading, math, science, art and going on lots of field trips!” At least, that’s what I think people want to hear.  After all, if my child were in Kindergarten, he would be getting a daily dose of the above.

Truth be told, though we do a little of that stuff, and I’ve written about it in my columns, my main directive for my kids is “Go play.”  Because when I consider what the most important mission of a five- and two-year-old should be, it’s PLAY!

Play is one of the main reasons I am homeschooling in the first place.  I don’t want my children to have to spend their day at school and then have most of their evening hours consumed by doing homework, eating dinner, taking a bath and going to bed early because they have to get up early the next morning to go to school. 

I’m not saying that schoolchildren don’t play, but I do think that play is at a lower priority when we have to stick to schedules and get homework done.  And from what I hear, Kindergarteners are not excluded from these pressures anymore.

The American Academy of Pediatrics wrote a report on “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds.”  I recommend that parents read it.  It issues a concern that a “hurried and pressured lifestyle” may be having ill-effects on our children.

It does not say that all activities or after-school programs are bad for children.  In fact, they have clear benefits.  But it does say “…the balance that needs to be achieved will be different for every child on the basis of the child’s academic needs, temperament, environment, and the family’s needs.”

As I watch my boys grow and my eldest nears his elementary years, I increasingly feel that he needs the right balance between structured activity, academics and playtime.  Playtime should take up a much higher percentage of his time.

In “The Case for Play,” Tom Bartlett describes several researchers attempts to bring old-fashioned play back into children’s lives.

He explains that these researchers believe: “The emphasis on standardized testing, on attempting to constantly monitor, measure, and quantify what students learn, has forced teachers to spend more of the school day engaged in so-called direct instruction and has substantially reduced or eliminated opportunities that children have for exploring, interacting, and learning on their own.”

I want to homeschool for exactly those reasons cited above: so that my children can explore, interact and learn on their own.

In a wonderful New York Times opinion piece titled “Play to Learn,” Susan Engel lists what an ideal classroom daily schedule would entail for a third-grade class.  Besides being immersed in storytelling, reading, discussion, practicing computation and giving the children a chance to devise original experiments (just to name a few), they would also have extended time to play.

She writes, “Research has shown unequivocally that children learn best when they are interested in the material or activity they are learning. Play — from building contraptions to enacting stories to inventing games — can allow children to satisfy their curiosity about the things that interest them in their own way. It can also help them acquire higher-order thinking skills, like generating testable hypotheses, imagining situations from someone else’s perspective and thinking of alternate solutions.”

Reading this makes me very excited about homeschooling because this is the kind of school I want to create.  At home, I can teach my children the basics without drilling them or making them work on assignments they have no interest in.  I can give them hours of leisure time to play, or I can plan some outings and interesting projects that they’ll enjoy.

Reading the latest research on play has renewed my enthusiasm for teaching my son and has reminded me to keep asking him questions, engage him in conversation, and, most importantly, encourage him to create his own make-believe world.

Susan Engel also writes, “Scientists know that children learn best by putting experiences together in new ways. They construct knowledge; they don’t swallow it.”

At five-years-old, spending time and money worrying about a curriculum should not be on my to-do list for my son.  Instead I should be outside toting sticks and playing with him.

How important do you think play is for children…and adults?!

November 12, 2011

Good Reads

For a while now I’ve been wanting to add “good reads” to my blog.  That is, sometimes I find interesting articles or tidbits around the web, and I want to be able to share them with you.  So occasionally when I collect a handful of interesting or thoughtful articles, I’ll share them here in “good reads.”  I hope you’ll come back and tell me what you think.

If you’re a Mama of young children, you might enjoy these:

Interesting Reads regarding homeschooling:

And, I loved this op-ed over at The New York Times, which I found while doing research for my latest column (and which I’ll share with you soon):

Have you found any good reads lately?  Please share them in the comments!
November 9, 2011

Knee-High Naturalist Class at the Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens, Georgia

This autumn, my five-year-old and I have been enjoying the knee-high naturalist class at the Sandy Creek Nature Center.  It takes place every other Wednesday from 3:30-4:30p.m.  Children ages 3-5 are eligible and must be accompanied by an adult. Click here for more information.

In the class the children have met and touched several live animals, and many times we go outside too.  My son was in his element during the “creep walk” when we waded through a stream in search of critters!  We’ve learned about the cardinal directions and how to use a compass and also about recycling, just to name a few of the activities.

 

“Miss Sarah” is a wonderful teacher/facilitator.  Her patience and ability with kids is amazing, and once she talked an extra twenty minutes with just my son after class because he had questions about snakes!  (Thanks, Sarah!)

 

I took a lot of good photos during one of the classes, but I don’t want any parent to be mad at me, so I’m only sharing photos of the backs of heads of the other children.

 

Below my son is awaiting to get his jar filled with compost in hopes of creating a mini bug habitat in a jar.

 

We have also been attending the Homeschool Science classes at the Nature Center, and we love those classes too.  If I take any photos during one of those classes, I’ll be sure to share.

What classes/activities do your children enjoy around town?

November 6, 2011

The Eastern King Snake & Our Snake Project

An Eastern King Snake.  This photo is courtesy of Bill Peterman.  Check out his wonderful herpetology photos by clicking here.

One of the main reasons I want to homeschool is so that I can allow my child’s interests to guide us in the learning process.  As if to test me on this philosophy, my five-year-old son has taken a keen interest in snakes.

I have never been particularly fond of reptiles or amphibians, but truthfully I just never gave them much thought until I met one of my best friends who is a herpetologist.  She shared her love of frogs, salamanders and snakes with me and though you still won’t find me out trying to catch any, I have a respect for the little critters.

Now my son is into them, and thanks to the Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens, he gets to see and touch them quite often.  We are taking classes out there, and we’ve been to snake day twice, and recently we went to Scary, Slimy, Oozy Day, which was their Halloween festival.  It definitely satisfied my son’s slimy, oozy side.

A while back I bought my son two posters for his room at the Nature Center.  One features photos of snakes and the other frogs.  “Snakes of Georgia” hangs on his wall right next to his bed.  Sometimes I wonder what I was thinking when I bought that poster, but seriously, I’m thrilled when he wants to learn about anything, snakes included.

And it’s funny how you can get used to “slimy and oozy” just like your nose gets used to bad smells.  Now I’m kind of fascinated with snakes or at least one in particular: the Eastern Kingsnake.

I saw my first Eastern Kingsnake several weeks ago in our yard.  I thought my cat was going after a lizard, and when I approached her to save the lizard, I saw it was really a baby snake.  It was black with yellow strips – pretty, as far as snakes go.  Unfortunately, the snake disappeared under a thick layer of leaves before my son could see it.

Curious, I ran upstairs to look at my son’s poster and found out that it was an Eastern Kingsnake, and I was relieved to note that it was not listed as venomous.

Several weeks later, my husband saw an Eastern Kingsnake while he was out jogging.   It was near our house, so he ran to get us, and we watched the snake slither into the woods.  I don’t know if it was the same snake that I saw, but it was also a small one.

Since then I have learned that Eastern Kingsnakes are very good snakes to have around.  The main reason is because they eat venomous snakes, and a favorite meal is the copperhead.  When I was at Slimy, Oozy Day, a UGA ecology student told me that copperheads are on the rise in Athens-Clarke County, and they think maybe one reason is because the Eastern Kingsnake is in decline.

I looked up the Eastern Kingsnake on the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory’s (SREL) Herpetology website, which is a great resource, if you’re interested in snakes or other reptiles or amphibians.  This site describes Eastern Kingsnakes as “shiny-black, smooth-scaled snakes with white or yellow chain-link bands that cross the back and connect along the sides.”

I learned that Eastern Kingsnakes are resistant to the venom of pit-vipers, and they can eat copperheads, cottonmouths and rattlesnakes.  They also eat lizards, rodents, birds and turtles eggs.

There is some concern that these snakes are in decline in some areas of the Coastal Plain and in Florida.  The reason is unclear.  There was once a large population of this snake near the Savannah River Site that has disappeared over the last 20 years.

So please take heed: If you see an Eastern Kingsnake in your yard, DO NOT KILL IT!  In fact, you shouldn’t kill any snake.  Most snakes are not venomous, and they are very beneficial.  They eat rats, mice, insects and other pests.

According to Geoff Stein, author of “Snakes – Good for the Garden,” snakes do not damage the environment at all.  “They don’t dig holes….They don’t chew or damage the landscape….They don’t contribute one bit to noise pollution,” he says.  He goes on to point out that snakes will not bite unless stepped on, picked up or forced into a corner or otherwise threatened.  Usually snakes just want to get away.

There are venomous snakes that we need to be wary of and usher out of our gardens, and if you’d like to learn more about those, the SREL website is a good place to go.

So, as scary, slimy and oozy as some of us think snakes are, we need to respect these creatures, who help balance the ecosystem in important ways.

This column was originally printed in the November 2, 2011 edition of the Barrow Journal.

***

OUR SNAKE PROJECT

Since my five-year-old loves snakes so much, I suggested another project for him.  We’re making a “book” about snakes.  We’re using his poster as a guide by going down the list from top to bottom.  Our book is in a three-ring binder.  We look up the snake online, and my son chooses a photo, and he writes the name of the snake on the page.  Then I write in some facts about the snake.  I hope that as he gets older and learns how to read, he’ll enjoy this little resource we’re making.  (I always note where we get the information and give credit to the photographer, if possible.)

While we’re doing this, I read about the snake to my son, and he also likes to watch some video about the snake, if we can find one.

Would you be willing to visit a slimy and oozy world for the sake of your child’s passions?

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