Nature Watch: Oakworm Moth

One morning I went out to water our garden, and I found this beauty on the green bean leaves. Curiously, I had also seen this moth on our porch one evening, but the colors were much more muted. I don’t know if this is a slightly different species or the sunlight was making it shine, but I couldn’t get over the colors in it. And it wasn’t until I viewed my photos later that I noticed the wings are translucent!

This is an oakworm moth, and I think it’s the pink-striped oakworm moth, but it’s very hard to tell it apart from the orange-tipped oakworm moth, so I’m not sure. (If you know, please tell me.)

My son became fascinated with moths a while back, and while it’s not what I’d call an active project (that is, he’s not researching information about them or creating any representations anymore), we still get quite excited when we find a moth we’ve never seen before in the yard. We have been lucky enough to find the Polyphemus Moth, Luna Moth, and the Tulip-tree Silkmoth, and I think we’ve seen the Imperial Moth too, but I don’t have a photo of one. We still haven’t seen a Cecropia Moth in the wild, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed!

As a little bonus, I want to share this photograph I took on one of my summer morning walks. It was a wet and foggy morning because it had stormed the previous day, and the dew made hundreds, maybe thousands, of spider webs visible in the trees. I marveled at how many there were, and luckily I had my phone with me, so I took a photo of this one, which hung on a branch by the road. Spider webs are amazing.

I hope you’ve enjoyed making some nature discoveries lately too, and I hope you’re staying cool throughout this brutal summer!

 

What the Summer is Boiling Down to

Photo taken from Brasstown Bald, the highest mountain in Georgia. You can see all the way to the Smoky Mountains.

I am sitting here wondering where the summer is going. It’s already late July, and here in my county, children will start back to school on August 1st. Luckily, we’re homeschoolers, so I can start our new “school year” any time I want. On the official paperwork, I pick September 1st. But in reality it’ll be sometime in the beginning half of September.

Both my boys were born in late August, exactly one week apart. I didn’t plan it that way, but it’s turned out to be convenient. It’s at the end of our school year, so we take time off, and when the celebrations are over, it’s time to start a new year. There is a catch, however. Since the local schools start school August 1st, some of our outside appointments begin again in August. So we will be getting busier just as I’m planning birthdays, winding down one year and thinking about a new one. Oi.

This summer has not turned out to be exactly as I imagined it would, but that’s not all bad. I always think of summertime as a time to be outdoors, but we’ve been having the hottest summer that I ever remember living through in Georgia. (I’ve lived here for twenty years.) Starting in early June, temperatures soared to the high 90s and it’s stayed there. Most afternoons it’s between 95-99 degrees F. That’s way too hot for the boys to play outside. So we’ve been inside almost everyday, all day long.

Except for one day last week. We drove up to Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia. It was very cool on top of the mountain! Hopefully we’ll take some other day trips soon too.

It’s a very steep .6 mile climb from the parking lot to the top of Brasstown Bald.

I have tried getting the boys outside to play early in the morning, but 1) they like to sleep late, and 2) if they have to do lessons, they want to get them over with in the morning. Sometimes I just skip lessons and make them go outside, but would you believe it, my six-year-old is going through a phase where he really doesn’t want to be outside. So he’ll pout on the porch for a long time and then finally start playing just as it’s time to come back inside.:/

Despite being inside most days, I am actually enjoying the summer. (At least, after I finished the terrible cold I had in June and the heart-breaking task of euthanizing my cat.) I get up early in the mornings before the boys, and I either take a walk (nice and cool then!) or I do some yoga and write.

I water the garden by myself on most mornings and evenings. There was a time my boys fought over who got to water the garden, and it makes me sad they aren’t interested anymore, but it’s also quite peaceful standing outside watering all by myself. We’ve been having some good rain this year too, which has made growing flowers and vegetables much easier.

I feel good when I can keep my early morning schedule up. I am finally digging my heels into a medium-long writing project, but I will tell you about that another time.

I’m also enjoying the light lessons. We either do some science or practice multiplication tables, or the boys work in their apps. I have some workbooks I do some days with the six-year-old, but I’ve been lenient on this. It’s nice to not worry about accomplishing anything and just move along through our lessons like a meandering river.

I’m reading Old Yeller to my nine-year-old, and the six-year-old sometimes listens too. We also read about the great composers, and this week, my boys have been wanting to paint and draw again! I had noticed their enthusiasm for my “Art Fridays” was waning (to say the least), but one episode of Bob Ross on Netflix and I have little artists again! **Yay! Thanks, Bob Ross!**

One day this week we all drew/painted while listening to classical music. Another day, I read Old Yeller while the boys drew. I would love for every homeschool day to be just like that!

The nine-year-old is pushing ahead in his piano lessons as well. He is doing solid intermediate work now, so our days are filled with music. I can’t express how good it feels to walk around doing chores as I listen to my own son play so beautifully on the piano! His dedication awes me.

This summer we had the opportunity to try a new piano teacher because our current teacher received a scholarship to study in Europe for a few weeks. (Yay, him!) The summer teacher came highly recommended, and her experience and expertise were impressive. She was very impressed with the nine-year-old, saying it was remarkable how far he’s come in such a short time. We liked her so much that we seriously considered switching to her permanently. But ultimately, the nine-year-old said he wanted to stick with our current teacher. We are not sure whether this is the right decision, but we felt it was important to honor his request, especially when we haven’t been with the current teacher that long. After all, piano is his thing. We want him to own it.

So summer is boiling down to art and music and literature. How can I complain about that?

We’ve also had a couple of great play dates with friends, and the six-year-old and I are playing Uno and Yahtzee together a lot when my nine-year-old practices piano. We also baked chocolate chip cookies one day, and I’m still trying my hand at baking bread from scratch. (More about that soon.)

As I move into fall, I hope I can somehow retain this feeling of easy days. I know our appointments will build up, and I’ll get harried and worried about making progress, so when that happens, please, Someone, whisper in my ear, “Be a meandering river. You are a meandering river.”

May your homeschool days be like a meandering river too.

 

find me elsewhere

We’ve been doing a lot of painting & drawing this week! I’ll write about that soon.

I have neglected to update you on my posts over on the home/school/life blog these last few months, so I’ve got a lot here for you to read over the weekend. (If you want to!)😉

Citizen Science Project #2: The Great Backyard Bird Count

Citizen Science Project #3: Budburst

Citizen Science Projects #4 & #5: Project Noah & iNaturalist

Citizen Science Project #6: Citizen Science Soil Collection Program

Stuff We Like: 4.15.16

Stuff We Like: 7.15.16

At Home With the Editors: Shelli’s Kindergarten

At Home With the Editors: Shelli’s 3rd Grade

Don’t Cut the Screen Time — Just Make Sure It Counts

Getting the Education I Didn’t Know I Craved

The Music Gap That Filled Itself

Summer Has a Mind of Its Own

If you haven’t been to the home/school/life website in awhile, I urge you to take some time there. The Summer 2016 issue is out, and it’s full of great stuff! Besides a blog that Amy is updating every weekday, there is a store with some free stuff (and some stuff for sell and more stuff will be coming!), a podcast that I’m having a lot of fun listening to (it’s perfect for geeky homeschool moms!), and some online classes! That’s right. Amy has lined up some spectacular folks to teach some really interesting classes to homeschool students, and there will be more where that comes from. So please check it out!

Homeschooling 3rd Grade Language Arts

Some of this comes from my larger post about our 3rd grade schedule and curriculum, but it goes more in depth on how we did language arts this year. I’m going to try to do at least one post each year on math and language arts because I know focusing on one subject can be helpful to some people, and it helps me think about how I want to move ahead in these areas.

***

My eldest son began to read well when he was eight-years-old. I can’t tell you how happy I am that we are homeschooling. If he were in school, he would have been pressured to read much earlier, and to be honest, I was trying to teach him to read since he was five. He knew the alphabet and all the sounds before he turned two-years-old, so I thought learning to read would be easy for him. I was wrong.

I probably pushed him to read too early, but I didn’t put nearly as much pressure on him as traditional school would have. As I made my way through trying (and failing) to teach him to read and then discovering that voila! he just knew how to read one day, I learned that this is typical of many boys. Of course, it’s not typical of all boys, and it can happen to girls too, but in general, boys can be slower to learn to read. It has to do with how their brains develop.

So I was glad that even though I made a few mistakes, I didn’t make reading torture for him or make him hate reading. By homeschooling, I was able to make our reading lessons short and less stressful, and I spent more time reading to him. I believe if a child is read to often and in a loving way, then he’ll eventually see the beauty of books.

Even though my son is reading on his own now, my goal this year was to read a lot of literature to him. And I did. And I’m happy about this. Briefly, here is some of what we’ve read:

  • At the beginning of the year, we finished The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh, which was a big book and took up most of last year!
  • My Father’s Dragon
  • Charlotte’s Web
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  • The Story of Dr. Doolittle
  • On the Shores of Silver Lake (part of the Little House books)
  • The Long Winter (part of the Little House books)
  • several books about the Lewis and Clark Expedition
  • Only the Names Remain (regarding the Cherokee Indians and Trail of Tears)
  • Alice in Wonderland (We read most of this but didn’t finish it, and that’s my fault. I hated it and just couldn’t swallow anymore.)

Right now I’m reading Little Town on the Prairie and Old Yeller to him.

(Note: My younger son listens along to some of these too, although they’re more at my nine-year-old’s level, so he can get bored. He still loves storybooks, so I read a lot of those to him.)

I know homeschoolers whose reading lists are so much longer than ours, but that’s okay. Neither I nor my boys are the kind of people who want to spend long periods of time reading. We’re too restless. (Maybe I’m a boy in an alternate universe? Come to think of it, I hate shopping too! Okay, I digress…) I still love reading, but I read very slowly, and I think that’s okay.

My goal was to bring back our morning read-a-louds this year, and I did that! Yay!  **Patting myself on the back**

My son doesn’t seek out books to read silently to himself on a regular basis (frankly, there’s not much time in our busy day for it), but he does love to read and re-read the three big volumes of Calvin and Hobbes that we own. They sit on the kitchen table with our newspapers, and he reads them throughout the day. Aside from this, he’s been reading the Battle Bugs series, which he seems to enjoy too, but when he reads those, it’s usually because I set time aside during lesson time and not because he felt like reading on his own.

As for other language arts nitty-gritty:

We finished All About Spelling Level 1! Can’t say my son loved it, but I thought it was a great program, and it showed us both that he can spell, if he thinks about it.

For handwriting, we switched from Handwriting Without Tears to a calligraphy set. My son still loathes writing with a utensil, but it became a little more bearable with a calligraphy pen. I let him pick a sentence of his choice to write in calligraphy. Later in the year, he did less calligraphy, and we went back to writing with a good ‘ol pencil.

This summer, I stumbled on a wonderful app that combines both spelling and handwriting. It’s the 3rd grade 24×7 Digital Teach Me app. With this app, he is learning to spell 3rd grade level words, and he writes with his finger. And he doesn’t seem to mind this! In fact, he likes it! ***Jumping for joy!!*** He seems excited that he’s learning to spell words like “beautiful” and “almost.” The app is quite sophisticated and requires him to write the letters correctly in order to get it marked as a right answer. I can’t tell you how happy I am to have found this app! (My younger son uses the 1st grade version.)

Finally, I went over some grammar and parts of speech with my son this year with a test prep book and some posters I have because I knew these would be part of the test he had to take. I can’t imagine a worse way to foster a love of writing (unless a child likes it) than teaching kids the parts of speech at this age, and for the life of me, I don’t know why he needs to know this right now. (I am more in line with Patricia Zaballos’ method of teaching writing.) I really hated having to teach it, and I hated having to test him. (But grateful we are homeschooling considering the ridiculous testing they do in schools these days!) Anyway, we got through it, and I’m going to be doing some research on materials to teach this stuff in a more palatable way.

So, please tell me, what are your favorite resources for teaching language arts and parts of speech and all that fun stuff? (That is, fun for us English majors.)

I am not much of an activist

I am not much of an activist. You will not find me writing about politics and whom I think you should vote for or what I think you should believe in. I am not going to promote many causes on my blog except for treating your children respectfully and supporting their ideas, and I may also urge you to respect wildlife. This isn’t to say I’m not going to ever share any of my other beliefs and ideals, but at the same time, I usually remain neutral on the big issues. This is because I choose to let this blog focus on my family and our daily life. The simple things.

If you like it this way, then I invite you to stop reading this post. It’s probably going to be the closest I ever get to writing about current affairs that isn’t about education or nature. But I am thinking about what I keep reading in the news and how that affects my children. I wonder what I have to teach my children now to help them navigate such a complicated and sometimes tragic world.

On the morning that I started writing this post, I read headlines telling me about many people who died in bombings overseas, and this made me sad and fearful….I don’t take for granted that I live in a relatively safe place. Not long before that we had a tragic event happen in Orlando, and while I let this post brew inside a folder for a while, we had even more tragic events occur last week. You know what they are. And now there’s Nice, France….I need to post it before I have to add more to this awful list!

I have a hard time following the news when these things happen. I cannot wrap my mind around it, and I feel so horrible for the loved ones who are still living and dealing with these tragic events. While I don’t want to read the news, I make myself read and look at photographs. I’m not in a position right now where I can do much to help other people, but I can try to understand what is happening. I can send out a prayer and hope it touches someone.

There is part of me that cannot understand why it’s not easy for other people to see that we are all connected and that all humans have similar needs and desires. Why do any of us feel the need to kill any other person or group? No matter what you believe in, what ethnic group you belong to, what your sexuality is, or who you want to vote for, you have to get up every morning, use the bathroom, eat, drink, find shelter, and figure out how to make a living. No matter who you are, you need love and companionship. No matter who you are, you will experience happiness, love, disappointment, failure, and sadness. Why can’t we help each other instead of making things harder?

We all have the same needs, but, of course, there are people and groups who experience extreme hardship while others don’t. For example, I can’t begin to understand the racism that black people deal with. (Though I got a tiny dose while I lived as a foreigner in Japan. That was good for me.)

For some reason humans insist on separating themselves from each other. To feel different, better, other than them. Does it really make us feel all that better? None of us can control what circumstances we are born under.

I see the great divides of culture and beliefs, and I understand how deep those currents run and how emotionally connected we are to them. I see how we set ourselves apart. I see how disappointment, anger and fear can rule our judgments. I understand that it can be very hard to put ourselves into someone else’s shoes. I cannot always do it either. I’m sure I say and do insensitive things without meaning to because I haven’t experienced another person’s pain. For all our similarities, we have vast differences too.

Sometimes I get angry. I cannot understand for the life of me why anyone would vote for a racist and misogynist or hold beliefs that uphold ignorance. Or, worse, supports selfish actions. People do not see or think clearly. They think with their emotions and imaginations. They believe what they want to believe. This burns me up.

But what tempers my anger and humbles me is that I know I’m human too. If any other person is capable of those things, I am too. Whatever another person is capable of doing, I am capable of doing that too. Sometimes it’s best to sit with that thought for a while.

As I navigate the headlines and realize that someday, somehow a tragic event may directly touch my family, I wonder what I want to teach my boys. I cannot control outside forces, but I hope, through my example, that my boys will never play a role in bigotry, terror, or wrong-doing. I hope that they will grow up to be kind, loving and gentle, yet I hope they can stand up to injustice, if they ever find themselves in a position where they can do something.

It may sound trite, but I will tell them that sometimes all you can do is the most loving action. Love needs to be their guide. What is the kindest thing you can do?

Understand that movements like Black Lives Matter does not mean anyone thinks any other life doesn’t matter. It just means that these people need to stand up for themselves, and we need to listen and try to understand why.

It means that if someone is different from you, or lives a different lifestyle, you can still be kind. You can still treat them like humans and understand that they want the right to form families and loving communities for themselves. Everyone deserves that.

It means if someone wants to vote for someone I can’t stand, then I need to understand that they have had life experiences that brought them to that decision. What do I not understand?

If another person is willing to live in peace, then live in peace with him. I truly believe that most people want to live in peace. Otherwise, the headlines hitting the news lately wouldn’t be so heart wrenching for us. It’s when people begin to hurt other people – physically or mentally – that we have to take action and stop them from hurting more people. How? I wish I knew the answer to that.

I am not much of an activist because right now my priority is raising my boys and creating a loving and safe home for them, and this takes all my time and energy. I want to give them opportunities in life so that they don’t have to struggle, and perhaps, by doing that, they will grow up to help others not have to struggle.

Perhaps, after all, that is my act.

Time to Say Good-bye (to the newspaper)

3802143004_b8db966c41_b
A photo I took of my very first column in the newspaper seven years ago this month.

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on July 6, 2016. 

It is bittersweet for me, but after writing this column for seven years, I find it’s time to say good-bye.

I started this column when I was pregnant with my youngest son, who will turn seven-years-old this August. Unlike his older brother, he was a much more active baby and toddler. We had to build a cage around our television and speakers to keep him from knocking them over. Somehow I found time to write while he was taking a nap and his brother watched Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Word World.

Both boys have come a long way since then, and neither of them could bear to watch such childish shows as Mickey Mouse or Word World anymore. Changes happen so quickly that I can’t keep up with them. Luckily I have some of it recorded in my columns. Otherwise, I might only have photographs and a few sloppily written journal entries.

While writing these columns, my husband and I decided we wanted to homeschool our children, and I’ve shared our decision making process and the highlights of our experiences. My eldest son has gone from wanting to be a “snake scientist” to a roboticist and now that he’s almost ten-years-old, he’s considering the life of a classical pianist. (God help us!) It’s been a wonderful journey learning about these subjects with him and teaching other important subjects too.

My six-year-old has had only one interest for the last year and a half, and that’s birds. What fun we’ve had with that! I’m sure this will continue on, and I’m sure other interests will come and go. Though graduation is a long ways off, whatever qualms I had about homeschooling in the beginning have died. Keeping the family together and exploring the world together has been the best decision we ever made. Any other issues are minor and can be worked out over time.

For five of my seven years at the Barrow Journal, I wrote every single week (save one or two), and this proved to be a great learning experience for me. I know writers who sit on their work for years, never quite satisfied with it, and fear keeps them from sharing it with others. When you are forced to write something quickly and get it in on time, you let go of perfectionism. You learn to be happy with things that aren’t quite right because everyone will have forgotten about it the following week anyway.

Sitting down to write or create anything on a regular basis is a great discipline to acquire, and just by doing that, you will get better over time. Not everyone will like your work, but that’s not important. What is important is that you have created something of your own. You have used your time wisely instead of wasting it in front of the T.V. or on Facebook.

If it weren’t for writing this column, Amy Sharony, the owner and editor of home/school/life magazine would not have found me. I’ve been working part-time for her for the past few years, changing my role as my life’s needs have demanded.

I helped her launch the magazine, wrote countless articles, managed the social media, and now I’m pleased to see she’s creating so much more than a magazine. There are online classes for homeschoolers, a store, a blog, a podcast, and most of all, a community of like-minded people who offer support to new and seasoned homeschoolers. (homeschoollifemag.com) Because of the work I’m doing there, I have to prioritize my time, so I’m letting go of some things, including this column.

You can also find me on my personal blog, mamaofletters.com. I will continue to document our homeschooling journey there as well as all the different parks, towns and venues in Georgia we try to visit each year.

I am very grateful to the Barrow Journal, especially Chris Bridges, for allowing me to babble on for all these years. Chris is a kind person, and he has been great to work for, and it’s been a pleasure to be part of his team.

If you are one of the few readers who have enjoyed my column over the years, thank you so much. I hope you will reach out and find me in other places. I am not gone, just moving on. Have a wonderful summer.

 

Homeschooling 3rd Grade Math

Some of this comes from my larger post about our 3rd grade schedule and curriculum, but it goes more in depth on how we did math this year. I’m going to try to do at least one post each year on math and language arts because I know focusing on one subject can be helpful to some people, and it helps me think about how I want to move ahead in these areas.

***

I am happy about how far we’ve come in math this year, but if you read my post over on the home/school/life blog, you’ll know it was my academic priority. In previous years, I was concentrating on helping my son learn how to read, and of course, that’s still important to keep up with, but this year, I wanted to ramp up on math.

I have tried various resources for math. With my younger son, I’m using Singapore math, and I really like it. But my nine-year-old son just isn’t into math. He can do it, but he isn’t eager about it. But he loves the Life of Fred math books. He’s told me it’s the only way he wants to learn math. So, okay, I decided that’s what we’d use as our main curriculum, and I’d find other ways of supplementing it.

This year we completed four Life of Fred books. (Yes, four! Which puts us at completing seven total.) This year we worked through Dogs, Edgewood, Farming and Goldfish. I have the next three books, which is suppose to take us through 4th grade, and I plan to start them in the fall.

{I should note that the author of the Life of Fred books suggests that you repeat the books 2~3 times until your child has a solid understanding of the material. But Life of Fred books, if you read all of them, does a good job of reviewing material from previous books, which I like, and my son would be bored, if we were to repeat anything he has done before. Second, he did have a good understanding of the math concepts after reading the books. What he needs practice with is memorizing the addition and subtraction facts and multiplication tables, so we continue to do that with games and apps. Also, I think it’s important to teach him how to take tests, and we would do those things in addition to any curriculum we used.}

I had him do some additional practice in a test prep book because this year I had to test him. You can read about our testing experience in My experience with the PASS standardized test for homeschoolers.

I have also begun to require that my son memorize the times tables, and we started with the three times tables. I put a little chart of “the threes” up on the wall, and I covered the answers. We go over it every time we do lessons. To make it fun, I began timing my son on how fast he could recite the 3 times table, and then he tries to beat his time. To my delight, my six-year-old wanted to join in on the fun. (Let me be clear: It’s fun for the six-year-old because he’s obsessed with numbers. Not so much for the nine-year-old, but he’s willing.)

Now that it’s summer and the testing is over, I’m taking a break from our curriculum, and I’m just having the boys practice their times tables. I’ve found some apps to help with this:

  • The first one I found on google play, and I use it on my android phone, but I think it’s also available on Apple products. It’s called DK Times Tables. It’s a very simple car race game where the player needs to answer the equations correctly to get their car to move forward. Players begin with the ones times table & progress through to the twelves and then a mix of numbers. (But you can pick any number to start with.) The game has the player do the times table in order, then randomly & then filling in a missing number, so it’s quite thorough.
  • The second app is on our iPad, and someday I’ll write a separate post about these apps because they are wonderful. It is 24×7 Digital Teach Me apps. Practicing math is just one component. In the 3rd grade edition, I have it set for my son to practice only the multiplication tables and spelling. He really likes it and even asks to play with it! (I had signed him up for Time4Learning, thinking it would make a nice review this summer, but we have been using this app more, so I cancelled Time4Learning.)

That’s the gist of how we’ve done math during my eldest son’s third grade year. If you have any questions for me, I’d be happy to answer them, and if you have some 3rd math materials that you love and want to share with others, please leave a comment!