Thank you, Wild Republic

Something really neat happened to the six-year-old this week.

As I’ve mentioned before, he loves birds, and he has a huge collection of Audubon birds — those stuffed birds that make the real bird sound when you squeeze them. He was saying he wished he could get a golden-crowned kinglet because that’s his favorite bird, and they didn’t seem to make one.

My husband suggested that he write to the company and ask them if they could make a golden-crowned kinglet. Well, six-year-old liked that idea, so one day, he and I sat down, and I wrote out a letter for him. He told me what I should say, and then I had him sign the letter. We also included a photo of him with his bird collection and a picture of a golden-crowned kinglet.

About two weeks later, he received a package in the mail. I thought the company might write back, but we weren’t expecting two new complimentary birds — a great blue heron and downy woodpecker! They also wrote and said they would keep his suggestion in mind as they are always expanding their collection.

It really made our day! The six-year-old was so thrilled to have two new, beautiful birds to add to his collection, and I greatly appreciate Wild Republic for their generosity.

Here’s the letter we sent:

Kindergarten is the Easiest Grade to Homeschool

I just read my last post about Kindergarten: Homeschooling Kindergarten for the Second Time. I’m glad to see I’m still on track with what I wanted to accomplish with my six-year-old, though there have been a few tweaks.

I wrote that this boy was growing – in body, intellect and creativity – by leaps and bounds. That remains true! He’s come so far in just a few months. He is talking all the time, playing by himself in the most creative ways, and he’s the sweetest, most adorable child. He’s very affectionate, and he’s a caretaker – he reminds his older brother to pick up his plate and return it to the kitchen or wash his hands when he comes in from outside! I remember when my eldest was seven I thought that was the best age ever. I think this kid will prove that true as well. (Not that nine isn’t wonderful too! But it’s different.)

Schedule

At the beginning of the year, as I mentioned in that first post, I was working with my six-year-old on his lessons right after lunch for about an hour. This worked well for a time, but soon it became clear that it conflicted with the optimal time for my older son’s piano practice. (He likes to practice right after lunch and dinner.) So, I switched this to an hour right before lunch. (If you read my post about 3rd grade, you’ll see this is why I cut out Spanish.) I also try to wake the boys up a little earlier in the morning too. (You don’t have to feel sorry for them, though. I’m waking them up at 8:30ish.)

My six-year-old is also able to join the nine-year-old in the mornings for readalouds, practicing the multiplication tables, and sometimes I give him a math or handwriting worksheet that he completes by himself. See below for more details.

A little composer? Hmmm.

Curriculum

Language Arts

My six-year-old enjoyed listening to My Father’s Dragon and Charlotte’s Web. He also listened to Only the Names Remain and several other books about the Cherokee Indians, though I’m not sure he enjoyed those as much. In the evenings, we often read from various storybooks of his choice. Right now he has me reading Calvin and Hobbes to him.

As I said I might in that first post, I quit using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons for now. It got too hard for him. I went back to the Kindergarten Brain Quest Star Wars workbooks, and he completed all of them! Now we’re working with Starfall.com and using a Starfall Level 1 Reading and Writing Journal, which I received from my sister who is a teacher. (Thanks, Terri!) He loves the computer portion of Starfall.

Also, he has no problem using the Handwriting Without Tears “My Printing Book.”  However, since the Starfall workbook requires plenty of writing practice, I don’t always make him do both workbooks at the same time. (I’m extremely grateful this kid doesn’t mind writing, which I attribute to his love of drawing. Though for the life of me I can’t get him to hold the pencil right! Complete opposite of his older brother in every way!)

Math

I’m still using Singapore’s Primary Math Texbook 1A with Home Instructor’s Guide (U.S. Edition) with great success. I really like this program. I’m slowly going through it, and I’m not trying to finish Level 1 in one year. I just want to make sure we do every exercise, worksheet and most of the games. My six-year-old doesn’t love the worksheets, but he likes the games and activities. And really, he doesn’t give me any problem doing any of the work except for a little groaning before lesson time.

It’s funny because if you ask my six-year-old if he likes math, he’ll say no. However, his actions speak louder than words. This kid has always loved numbers, and ever since he could count out loud, he’s been counting things obsessively. This year, I have seen a marked increase in his interest in numbers. A week doesn’t go by when he doesn’t ask me questions like “What’s 120 + 120?” or “What’s 30 + 30?” He also will count things and let us know how many there are. When we watch Netflix, he’ll announce the length of the show. “This show is 54 minutes and 22 seconds.” “We have watched 23 minutes and 6 seconds and there is 13 minutes and 2 seconds left!”

Recently I began to teach my older son the multiplication tables, and I started with the 3 times tables. Every time we do lessons, we’ll take a few minutes to go over them, and I time him to see how fast he can recite them. My six-year-old asked if he could try this too, so he’s learning the multiplication tables already!

Not like math? I don’t think so!

These are his favorite birds: “Chick,” a black-capped chickadee and “Chirp,” an American goldfinch.

Science, Social Studies & Art

 I’m lumping these together because (except for art), we’re not doing any formal lessons in these areas yet. My six-year-old follows along with any science project or documentary-watching that my older son does. He listens to the articles on News-O-Matic, and he participates when we do some art. I doubt he’s behind in these areas!

His drawing has decreased a little bit in the last few weeks (he used to draw everyday!), but he just started coloring again in his bird-coloring book. Also, he has benefitted greatly from his older brother’s piano playing because he’s been learning about music through listening and observing.

Projects

His bird collection + 2. And I think a few are missing!

He has not done any kind of project lately that warrants a blog post of its own, but I should note that he still loves birds, and we continue to observe them through our windows – he knows the names of the most of the birds who visit our yard. His trusted friend “Chick,” the black-capped chickadee, is by his side throughout most of the day and night. He occasionally draws birds, makes a nest out of clay, or I read a book about them to him. I can definitely call this a long-term interest, and I try to feed it however and whenever I can! But I also don’t force him to do anything with it. You can read about some of the projects he did on birds in Project-based Homeschooling: Birds & Feathers.

As mentioned above, drawing and coloring was always a keen interest of his, though he took a break from it for a while. Just recently he started coloring again, though, in (of course) his bird-coloring book.

Last but not least, his favorite pastime is playing on his tablet. He particularly loves the games Minecraft, Hungry Shark, and Jurassic World Lego.

I would say that dinosaurs remain a huge interest of his as well, and small projects pop up now and then having to do with them. Most recently, he began dictating a story to me about some dinosaurs. I’m looking forward to seeing if he keeps that up!

We visited the Cherokee basketry exhibit at the Georgia Museum of Art after reading about the Cherokee Indians and Trail of Tears.

So that’s the nitty-gritty on how kindergarten (and third grade) has been going this year. I’m planning to wrap up the year very soon. Although we’ll do some work during the summer, I plan to make it lighter and more interest-driven.

Please tell me how your year has been shaping up!

Waiting for Brother

An evening I’ll fondly remember when the boys are grown.

This little guy will sigh and ask, “How much more does he have to play?” Older brother used to have more time to play, and quite honestly, he still has lots of time to play, but that doesn’t make it any easier for a six-year-old to wait patiently through an hour (sometimes hour+!) of piano playing twice a day. And he needs to remain somewhat quiet.

But he’s so good. And really, he is patient. He steals my heart.

He used to sit on the floor playing with his dinosaurs, and while a little noise doesn’t hurt, the banging and roaring of dinosaurs was a little too much. So then he began to draw on the art app on our iPad while his brother played piano. After months of that, he grew tired of it, so he moved on to other things. When the weather warmed up, he decided he’d  go outside to swing and play with our dog, and he still does that often. Sometimes he sits in the kitchen and looks over our Calvin and Hobbes books. Sometimes he just curls up with me on the sofa and waits.

Sigh. “When’s he gonna be done?” (After the first piano practice, the boys get to play games on their digital devices, so it’s especially difficult to wait for that.) But he does.

I was kind of sad when he stopped drawing because for the last few years, he loved drawing and coloring, and he often occupied himself doing this. But then he stopped, and I wondered if that interest was fading.

But the other day I suggested we color together in his bird coloring book. (I had suggested it in the past, but he always said no.) This day, he said yes, and ever since, he’s been coloring in that book on his own every time big brother plays piano. I snapped this photo the other night because I wanted to remember the moment, and I love his expression as he colors. He takes his work very seriously, as you can see.:)

I love this photo also because it nicely wraps up the boys main interests right now: for the nine-year-old, piano, and for the six-year-old, drawing/coloring and birds.

I know someday they may move onto other things, but I hope not. I hope whatever they choose to do with their lives, they’ll always love classical music, and they’ll always love birds. And maybe the six-year-old will continue drawing too, even just for fun.

Today, the six-year-old brought me his coloring book to show me which birds he had colored, and he told me that for now on, he would color in it while his brother plays piano. Then he hugged the book to his chest and said, “I love this.”  He steals my heart.

(And then I went and ordered two more bird coloring books.)

Homeschooling Kindergarten for the Second Time

I’m so proud of my boy who just turned six-years-old. He is growing — in body, intellect and creativity — by leaps and bounds. He is becoming more independent, and he’s in a constant state of “play.” He plays well with his brother or by himself. He loves playing with his toy animals and dinosaurs, and he spends hours building creatures or vehicles with Legos or Zoob pieces and then lining them up in perfect formation. He fills the house all day with the sound effects of his make-believe creations. He loves playing Minecraft with his brother or any other game on the tablet for that matter. He loves to draw, and he has an eye for color and design. (See photo below.) He still supplies me with all the affection and adoration a mother can need.

Now that I can call him an official kindergartener, I am feeling pretty good about homeschooling kindergarten. Unlike the first time, I have tread these waters before. I know I can relax because Kindergarten is easy-peasy. If you want to see my philosophy on it, read this. Although it’s about preschool, I feel the same way about kindergarten. However, I am doing things a little different with my kindergartener now. He does have more lessons to work on. I’ll explain what we’re doing below.

Schedule

I spend about one hour doing lessons with my kindergartner after lunch. This is because I’m doing 3rd grade with his older brother in the mornings. This seems to work well for him because in the mornings, all he wants to do is play. There are exceptions when I have an activity or game that I want both my boys to do. He’ll join us sometimes in the mornings for that, and sometimes he likes to watch, although that’s rare. I’m really glad he likes to play by himself because my main goal for a child his age is giving him plenty of free time for unstructured play.

As I explained in Homeschooling 3rd Grade: A New Venture, we have a lot of outside appointments this year, so for my kindergartner, the one-hour lessons tends to be on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. I don’t worry about making him do more than that.

Curriculum

Language Arts

Although I’m sad to say I don’t make it a daily ritual anymore, my six-year-old listens to many readalouds with his older brother, and in the evenings before bed, we often read books, but for a long time, he was more interested in looking at the bird app. (See Project-based Homeschooling: Birds and Feathers.)

I started Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons with him in September, and we’ve finished over a quarter of the lessons. This is the same reading program I used with my eldest child, and I didn’t know if it would work with my younger one, and up until Lesson 25, it went well. Just this week, however, I feel it’s too challenging for him. I’m going to try either splitting each lesson in two, or switching to some other workbooks. Last year he did really well working in Brainquest’s Star Wars workbooks, so I may go back to those, and give 100 Easy Lessons a rest for awhile. We’ll see. Keeping the lessons lighthearted and not too stressful is important to me.

Math

I am using Singapore‘s Primary Math Textbook 1A with Home Instructor’s Guide (U.S. Edition) for my kindergartner. This may surprise you because I’ve spent so much time writing about Life of Fred, which my older son loves. I tried Singapore after looking over a friend’s copy, and I liked the approach. Since he’s not as good of a listener as his older brother (right now), and he likes doing, Singapore’s short worksheets and games work better for him right now. What is especially helpful is that I can use the games with both boys for review and practice. I sometimes give my nine-year-old the mental math problems from Singapore to practice on too. I will probably use elements from both curriculums interchangeably with boy both boys over time. Again, I don’t worry about rushing through this curriculum. We started it last year, and I do one lesson in the textbook, a worksheet or game at a time, but I’m very thorough about going through everything before we move on. This curriculum definitely takes some time to prepare, especially when it comes to collecting or making materials for the games.

As I mentioned above, last year we used some Star Wars Workbooks, and my six-year-old (then five-year-old) loved those. He still has some of his kindergarten math workbook to finish, so I’m using that on occasion, and I plan to continue to use the Star Wars Workbooks for extra practice, as long as he continues to like them. (Unfortunately, they only make them for up to the 2nd grade.)

Standing under his own creation at Greenville’s Children’s Museum.

Science & Social Studies

If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know that science is a favorite subject in this house because my nine-year-old has always been fascinated with all things nature/science/technology. His younger brother follows along and learns so much from him. We watch documentaries, go to museums, read science books, do science experiments, and frankly, I’m not going to worry about doing a formal approach to learning about science or social studies for awhile. (My husband is a history professor. We’ve got history covered.) The wonderful thing about homeschooling is that these subjects can be built into the fabric of our lives. Foster curious minds, and you’ll cover these subjects, especially for a kindergartner.

Art

My kindergartner loves to draw, so I’ve done a few things to help encourage that. Read Project-based Homeschooling: Mama’s Sketchbook Habit, Project-based Homeschooling: Sketching at the Botanical Gardens, and Art Fridays: Homeschool Art Lessons for more information.

The School of Ants

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, July 24, 2013.

This past school year, my son and I participated in the School of Ants project.  Any adult, child or classroom can participate in this fun, educational project, and by doing so, you can help scientists collect data on ants that live in urban areas.

When I told my six-year-old about the project, he couldn’t wait to do it. All we had to do was collect some ants in our yard and send them to North Carolina State University where the scientists identified the ants and labeled a U.S. map, which you can view on their website. If you live in Florida, you’ll send your specimens to Dr. Andrea Lucky’s lab at the University of Florida. She heads this whole project.

The School of Ants has already helped scientists identify an invasive Asian needle ant in samples from New York, Wisconsin and Washington.  Other rare species have been found too, such as the Bigfoot ant, which is North America’s rarest ant species. It had been discovered in the 1940s and never seen again until a North Carolina State University student found two of them under a rock outside his apartment. He took pictures of them and then released them, not knowing that they were so rare!

Though it’s easy to do the project, participants must make their own kit and pay for postage.  You’ll need 8 3×5 index cards, 1 pen, 2 Pecan Sandies cookies, 8 1-quart zip-lock bags, 1 1-gallon zip lock bag, and 1 envelope plus postage for submitting your kit.  You’ll also need to sacrifice some ants.

My son and I took four of the notecards and labeled them “green.” These had to go on a lawn, garden or forest about one foot apart. We left a quarter of a cookie on each card for one hour in the woods beside our house.

On the other four notecards, we wrote “paved.” These had to go on a paved surface for one hour, so we put those on our driveway.  After an hour, we were instructed to quickly dump the card, cookie and any ants we collected into a separate plastic bag.

The cards we left in the woods had plenty of ants on them, but the cards on the pavement only had a few tiny ants. They were just beginning to find the cookies.

We collected what we found and put all the baggies into one big gallon-size bag, and then put them into the freezer overnight. Supposedly, this is a humane way of killing the ants.

We had to fill out a small form, register our kit online and get a confirmation code, which we mailed with the ants.

When we did the project, I read that we would be e-mailed within a few weeks about our ants. We never received an e-mail, and it took several months, but we finally found our ants listed on the School of Ants website.  According to their site, we found three different species. The two in the woods were common ants, but the tiny ants in our driveway were not so common, so there’s not much known about them. Pretty cool, huh?

I asked my son if he’d like to try to find those ants again and observe them for a while. Perhaps we can make a small contribution to science. My son was excited about that, so maybe we’ll try it. That is, if we can find them again.

If you’d like to participate in the School of Ants project, go to www.schoolofants.org to get detailed instructions and additional information.

Come back on Thursday when I post a letter from the School of Ants answering my question, “Why is it important to study ants?”

2nd Generation Butterflies

{Raising Painted Lady Butterflies} {Butterfly Life Cycle}

A. 2nd generation butterflies

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on June 26, 2013.

If you read my column regularly, you may recall that we raised Painted Lady butterflies this spring. We ordered the larvae from an online company and watched them grow, pupate and emerge into adult butterflies. Then we got the crazy idea to keep the butterflies, watch them mate, lay eggs, and raise a second generation.

I had visions of my house being invaded by tiny caterpillars, but I persevered thinking that at any time, I could throw the whole thing outside. I thought we’d just try it and see what happens.

We kept our first generation in our butterfly habitat, a roomy mesh cage about the size of an aquarium.  Four out of six larvae made it to maturity, and when we observed them mating, we figured out only one of them was a female. She may have been overworked, but she was determined to carry on life, and she laid dozens of eggs on a small hollyhock plant that I had dug up and potted from my yard so that I could put it down into the cage.

Butterflies don’t live very long after they mate, so when we released our first generation, I’m not sure how much time they had left. For one, it was real quick – before it reached the tree in our front yard a bird came out of nowhere and snatched it up. My husband and I weren’t sure whether to laugh or cry. We were all sad, but fortunately, my six-year-old “little biologist” understands how nature works. My three-year-old didn’t seem to notice.

There are a few plants that Painted Lady butterflies will feed on, including hollyhock, and by sheer luck I had some growing in my yard because I had received the seeds for a present. The female butterfly will only lay her eggs on these plants so that once the larvae hatch, they can start eating right away.

The eggs are smaller than the point of a pin, and they’re a beautiful aqua blue with vertical lines that look like the longitude lines on a globe. We looked at them twice under a microscope. I had read that you can see the tiny caterpillars inside them, but we never observed that.

The eggs were tiny and scattered over the leaves of the hollyhock, so I’m not sure how many there were. I decided to put the plant on our front porch to avoid an “invasion,” but I left it in the mesh cage to protect it from predators. After about a week and a half, we found the tiniest caterpillars you can imagine wiggling on the plant leaves. They were less than a millimeter in length.

At this point, we clipped the leaves with the caterpillars and put them into a big mason jar. We covered it with a coffee filter and secured it with a rubber band. Punching holes into the filter is not necessary because the caterpillars don’t need a lot of air – the filter lets in enough. We added a fresh leaf from our hollyhock plants every other day.

Then we watched them grow and grow and grow. And eat and eat and eat. And poop and poop and poop. This is the life of a caterpillar. After six days, they were the size of our first generation when we received them in the mail. They moved so fast that I never bothered to get an accurate count, but I know we had at least 24 of them.

When they got a little bigger, we let some of them go in our garden, and I wished them well.  I feared we wouldn’t have enough hollyhock to continue feeding all of them.

We kept 16 and divided them into four big mason jars to give them extra space. Of those, only ten of them survived to the pupa stage. All of them emerged or “eclosed” into adult butterflies, but, sadly, one of them was not fully formed.

2nd gen butterflies!-2

The most troubling part of the whole process, however, was discovering that one of the butterflies went missing from our cage.  Did they push open the cover? Did our cat get it? Did the three-year-old open the cage when we weren’t looking? Was I going to find a dead butterfly while vacuuming under the sofa?  I was baffled.

It was even more troubling the next day when two more went missing, so we immediately took them outside to release them, only two days after they eclosed and while we were still waiting on two more to emerge.  Luckily the case of the missing butterflies was solved when I lifted the paper towel from the bottom of the cage – three of them had crawled into the folds of the towel, and luckily they were healthy and strong and flew away as soon as I released them.

After that, it wasn’t long before the last healthy butterfly was born, and we discovered that last one was not healthy enough to fly away.  We released the healthy one, and the other rests in peace.

Raising the butterflies from eggs to adult and witnessing the entire life cycle was a wonderful experience for my whole family. It showed us how fragile and beautiful life is, and while trying to help the butterfly with miniature wings, I thought of a line in my favorite poem by Mary Oliver.  “Life is infinitely inventive,” she writes.

We hope some of them survive and are creating a third generation right here in Barrow County.

***

I hope you enjoy the following gallery of the butterfly life cycle! Click on an image to enlarge. To view a slideshow of the cycle of our first generation of butterflies, click here: Raising Butterflies