Wednesday, July 28, 2010

MEGA Mathematics

Try this fun site for lots of logic games and math puzzles that are related to real world situations (like the mathematics of knots). It's a great teacher resource! The site is divided into several different types of puzzles, such as a coloring section. There's math involved in coloring in maps and determining the minimum number of colors that can be used. I remember this vividly from elementary school. Born in Mississippi, I chose that state to do a report on in 4th grade. I had no idea Mississippi had so many counties (over 80) and it was a real pain to color in that map. Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Each portion of the website is then broken down into activities, vocabulary, background info, big ideas, evaluation, and even a section relating to the NCTM standards. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

3 from Beatrix Potter

Tomorrow is Craft Day and the girls are being asked to bring anything from home that they'd like to add to their collage craft -- which is a collage laminated to be a placemat. Luckily for us, in my alphabetizing of the picture books by author I discovered some duplicate titles. I love The Little Fish That Got Awayand Andy and the Lionbut we don't really need more than one copy.

Same goes with Beatrix Potter. I discovered that we had three duplicate titles. What perfect illustrations for the placemat collages! I had each girl choose a book and write her name on it with sharpie to take to the Community House tomorrow. I went to great pains to tell them that the books were extra copies and were just going to be given to the thrift store anyway (actually, 2 are pretty beat up and would probably have gone in paper recycling) so it is OK for them to tear out pictures and use them in their collages. I can't wait to see how they turn out; they should be so cute. Here is how it ended up:

Natalie - The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher

Leah - The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin

Rebecca - The Tale of Jemima Puddle Duck

By the way, Jeanette Winter wrote a nice, kid-friendly biography of Beatrix Potter that is interspersed with quotations from her diaries and personal letters, called simply Beatrix I got my copy from the bargain bin at the grocery store, oddly enough, but am so glad I have it because it's a perfect first introduction to biographies.


During the hot afternoon rest times this weekend, I introduced Natalie to Boggle. She's 8, which is the age where a whole new realm of board games kicks in. She LOVED Boggle. I would consider it to be an essential homeschooling game, along with Mancala, Chess, Backgammon, and Scrabble. She developed a version where she played alone without the timer and simply tried to see how many words she could find in the letters. Then she made a list of words she wanted to make and tried to find a way to arrange the board so that those words were possible. It's good spelling practice in a non-practice kind of way. The fact that it's a three minute game also makes it good for slipping into your day in a casual fashion.

Tray Freezing Grapes

The girls came back to me Saturday. We have been tending a neighbor's garden so they had a good time picking fresh veggies. Cherry tomatoes, Romas, and green beans mostly, but there were also a few bell peppers and ears of corn. My neighbor also dug up and gave me all her beets before she went on vacation so we took beets to the community potluck that night. I'm proud to say they were one of the first items finished off. Naturally, I couldn't expect my humble beets to "beat" the hearty Italian lasagna. But we did well. I used the Harvard Beets recipe in the Rodale's Basic Natural Foods Cookbook with apple cider vinegar and two kinds of honey (Colorado wildflower & tupelo).

After the potluck my girls and I took a walk on the beach. We've adapted dusk as our walking time since the middle of the day has been way too hot -- over 100 degrees all weekend.

Sunday was church, watering the garden, resting in the heat of the day, walking in the evenings, and little blood orange frozen sorbets on the porch with candles lit in the lanterns.

Monday was a little cooler so the girls got to go to the beach and the playground. We also went to the library and Rebecca got her first library card! (She's 5.) The books on our shelves now being organized alphabetically by author, Natalie has been asking me a lot of questions about who wrote what and she had a little sticky note with the names of three authors she wanted to read more of. Travers (Mary Poppins series), Baum (Wizard of Oz series), Wilder (Little House on the Prairie series). When we went to the library, the very helpful librarian showed her how to use interlibrary loan to request the titles which weren't available at our local branch. It was a good learning experience. After our move, I can't find the regular library cards that the children have but they each were also given a "keychain" card with the appropriate barcode on it and I was able to find those for some reason. So I made Library Card Necklaces for each child, simply some pretty yarn with the "keychain" card on it. They wore their necklaces and when it was time to check out they simply lifted the necklace off and placed their card on the top of the stack of books.

Today was swim lessons, water day at the Community House, and now they are resting for their naps after lunch. I noticed that the grapes are getting to their peak and we probably can't have any more meals out of them so I have popped them in the freezer on a cookie sheet. This is sooo super-simple! Place on cookie sheet in a single layer, not touching, and freeze until firm. Then put them in a freezer bag or storage container and keep them frozen. They are eaten frozen and are sweet and juicy like ice cream. The perfect treat/dessert for a hot summer day. Plus, then you aren't throwing away grapes which have gone bad.

I know I'll be tray freezing halved pitted cherries too, since the cherries are getting a little past their prime. I'm making yogurt today so we can have parfaits with cherries and yogurt with a little vanilla in it. Also mango, cantaloupe... I love the bounty of summer! I recently purchased some kefir and found that it had 10 live active cultures in it, so I'm thinking of trying my crockpot yogurt recipe to see if I can make kefir too.

Otter Creek Wilderness

Last week I went backpacking for the second time in Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. My first trip was to Dolly Sods; this time we visited Otter Creek Wilderness. It was lovely! I felt much closer to God walking along that creek than I did in church on Sunday. I'm not saying that I don't enjoy church. I'm saying that this little bit of West Va. was a holy place.

Trail Maps


We took a bear canister for our food but it was an unnecessary precaution. Although we heard rustling around us at night, the morning light revealed that the bear can was undisturbed. It was a lovely clear bug-free nearly full moon evening and, had we known there wouldn't be many bugs, we would happily have slept under a tarp instead of in our tent. I've been reading a lot about ultra lightweight backpacking and taking a tarp seems to be the way to go. Doesn't work in bug country, though. We camped up on one of the mountains instead of down by the creek. In the morning we went to the creek and filtered water for the day's hike.

All in all, a wonderful trip!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Organizing Picture Books

I'm now unpacking bag after bag of picture books and I've decided to take this opportunity to put them in alphabetical order. Now this is loose ABC order. We are keeping it simple, as in all the books with an author whose name begins with B are in the B section, not Beskow comes before Brown but after Balderdash. To help my girls with this, I am putting dividers between each letter grouping of books.

I got 25 wooden paint stirrers from my local Walmart (cost - FREE). Next I will label them on both sides. A on one side of the stick, B on the other. Then the next stick is B on the left hand side, C on the right hand side. It is like a sandwich.

The dividers look like this if you are facing the shelf:


All the books by Elsa Beskow go between the B labels. The letters on either side are the bread and the books are the jelly, so it's easy for kids to find or to put away a favorite book. Why 25 paint stirrers instead of 26? To make 26 sections you need 25 dividing lines. Same as if you need three sections of brownies you only make two cuts. Anyway, I don't recommend marker to write your letters; Sharpie tends to bleed on paint sticks because the wood is so cheap so I spent $1.00 (also at Walmart) on alphabet stickers from the scrapbooking section. Now I just need to label my paint sticks with my alphabet stickers and I can put the books into sections as I put them away on the shelves. This should save me many hours when I'm searching for the perfect picture book for a teaching lesson... a book which I know we have but which I can't find for the life of me. This is an easy project which kids can do, and you could always put a coat of matte mod-podge over the stickers if your kids are prone to peeling things off.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Crafts Using Neck Ties

The girls recently came home with a craft that was a Snake made from a silk neck tie. I went online to try to find the instructions and found a BUNCH of craft ideas for old ties. Most of them are extremely tacky. But apparently quilters love ties because of the wide variety of patterns that are available. One woman posted on, "I am collecting ties to make a quilt. My grandmother made quilts out of ties and they were beautiful. She would open up the ties and put them on a sheet and then the batting and back piece. I am 60 and have had one quilt for many years. My grandmother died when I was 10 so have had it for many years. My husband loves it on the bed because it is so warm and heavy."

Sounds nice!

By the way, I found directions for the Snake project on a craft website called Skip to my Lou.

So if you are hunting in a thrift store and find a nice silk tie (or you are the kind of person who is starting to make your Christmas gifts now), consider the possibilities.

Here's my absolute favorite idea:

One woman wrote, "I've done dyeing the Easter eggs using silk ties. Wrap the egg(s) in silk tie using rubber bands. Boil eggs for hard boiled eggs. The pattern on the tie will be on the tie. And I found that each tie will make 10 eggs." So cool!!!!

Quicksand Search

Here's another Summer Fun game that I wanted to pass along. This one is especially appropriate for birthday parties. And honestly, out of all the games the girls played this week, this one was the most successful. Even the hard-to-please older kids liked it best. One word of warning: don't play this game with kids who are under 5, since they may put the marbles in their mouth.

You will need:
two containers of sand
two buckets or other empty containers
200 or so "gems" (flattened glass marbles or other pretty things)
a stopwatch or clock with a second hand

To prepare, the adult hides half the gems in each container of dry or wet sand. Wet sand is messier, naturally.

To play, divide the children playing into two teams. Each team will stand in front of one container of sand, with an empty bucket at their feet. Stand them in a straight line and place them some distance away from the containers of sand. Younger kids can be closer to their sand. When you say Go, the first child in line runs to the bin and the stopwatch begins. They get 15 seconds to find as many gems as they can. When time is up, they run back to the line, drop the gems in the bucket, and tap the next person.

We had only three children in each line so they played three rounds before we stopped the game and counted the gems. Whichever team gets the most gems wins! I'm sure you can come up with a cooperative way to play this game, with just one bin (maybe make it a big kiddie pool filled with sand and gems) and the teams racing to find every gem in the bin. Then they could hide the gems again, repeat the game, and see if they can find them all again in less time than before. Trust me, they will want to play again.

This makes a nice birthday party game because the gems can then be carefully washed (the kids will want to do this too) and given out in little baggies as party favors. Or, you could wash the gems and then use them in a craft project, such as making stepping stones for each child to take home.

You could also use handfuls of smooth river stones, or other pretty things. Or you can use fewer gems but have them be of a nicer quality.

Friday, July 16, 2010

For Perfectionist Moms

I'm not one to dog-ear the pages of books, having been raised that this was pure sacrilege (something akin to stealing candy from a child or punting a small dog across a field), but I ran across a passage in Barbara Kingsolver's novel The Bean Treesthat really hit home with me and, sure enough, I found myself bending over the corner of that page, saving it to read again later. This little bit of dialogue comes when a mom is trying to decide whether to fight for custody of her daughter or give in and just turn her over to the state since her claim for the child is legally shaky. She didn't exactly expect to be raising a child and she isn't sure if she's up to it or the best person for the job. Now, my daughters all came to me in the traditional way but I still have my struggles with my high expectations for myself... I know that Waldorf families seem to be more prone to guilt than others! So I'm sure I am not alone. Today, for example, we had a wonderful two hour play date at the pool with some friends. I took the girls for lovely new haircuts. We had time at home to read the new library books, rest, and listen to some opera. I made potato pancakes for lunch and we had a nice sliced cold chicken breast, potato pancakes, and applesauce. The children and I did laundry and we sorted and put away a bunch of clothes that had been packed. I cleaned the loft and organized all the camping stuff up there. We went to a lasagna dinner at the church and had our final session of VBS this evening. When I got home I worked on a new color-coded system for organizing my paperwork. Still, there is a loooong list in my mind of what I didn't get done and how I "should have" spent my day. So here's the part I found so inspirational:

    "You're asking yourself, Can I give this child the best possible upbringing, and keep her out of harm's way her whole life long? The answer is no, you can't. But nobody else can either."

    "So what's the right thing to ask?"

    "Do I want to try? [emphasis mine] Do I think it would be interesting, maybe even enjoyable in the long run, to share my life with this kid and give her my best effort and maybe, when all's said and done, end up with a good friend?"

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Home Alone

This morning the girls and I went to their swim class. Then we hit the library, the grocery store, and the Calvert Marine Museum. We went to the museum to place the 14 cents that I had left over from last month's grocery money in the Vortex to help feed the river otters. The girls love watching the coins swirl around and around. The library was another big hit and the girls were allowed to browse to their little hearts' content. The only rule is, you can't get more books that you can personally carry. How can this be? Oh -- we've finally worked out a system where a special small bookcase in the living room is Library Books Only. Three shelves, one per child. Put Your Library Books on This Shelf!!! You lose it, you pay for it. I can't even tell you how difficult the library things has been for us over the years since I have hundreds of children's books of my own and many of them are ex-lib, so the usual rules about protective plastic or back pockets don't apply... it could easily still be one of our books. The real library books gets mixed in with the others and aren't found for months. For a long time, we didn't even go to the library because the quality of the books there (not so great) weren't worth the hassle (HUGE). Now we have a New System and I have my fingers crossed that it will work. My two older girls are into chapter books so I no longer have enough to feed their hunger.

Interestingly, I saw a sign at the library that got me thinking. It said you can leave toys alone but not your kids. It had a picture of some sad looking dolls on a shelf and was posted prominently by the entrance/exit door. Yes, I know I can't leave my kids unattended. Duh! But at what point can Natalie ride her bike all around the community or walk to a friend's house? Surely there is some age where she can explore the woods, take a walk on the beach, or decide that she doesn't feel like going along with what we are doing and would rather stay home and read. What if she wants to go draw with sidewalk chalk on the tennis courts? So I looked it up when I got home.

Here's what I found: Latchkey Kids Age Limits Listed By State. Interestingly, most states don't have laws about the age that a child can be left unattended. Maryland does, pursuant to the Maryland Unattended Children Law. And the legal age for leaving children unattended in my state? 8 years old. So, although this doesn't mean that I'm booting her out into the yard to fend for herself, it is nice to know that she is legally old enough to take a walk.


The girls and I learned a new water game at VBS this week. It's called "Bucketheads." The children were soaking wet and they had a great time so I thought I would pass it along. Perfect for summer!

You will need:
four plastic bowls
two large bowls or containers
several kitchen sponges, cut into small pieces (the more sponges the better)
two plastic bins or other containers
two jump ropes or lengths of rope
paper/pen or chalkboard/chalk for counting

To prepare:
Glue two plastic bowls bottom-to-bottom side. Repeat with the other pair of bowls. This makes a "buckethead" hat -- the child sets one bowl on his/her head as a hat and the other bowl is then facing upwards to form a container for the sponges to get thrown into.

Cut the kitchen sponges into small pieces. Divide them evenly between the two plastic bins or other containers, which are filled with water.

To play:
Divide the people playing into two teams.

Each team gets one "buckethead" hat, one bin of water + sponges, one large bowl, and one jump rope.

One person from each team is the Counter. One person is the "Buckethead." The remaining people on the team are Throwers.

Arrange the jumpropes or lengths of rope into two circles. One person from each team stands inside a circle and puts on the "buckethead" hat. (For older children, you can lay the rope out straight to make a line and have the "Buckethead" stand behind it. This rope is simply the barrier to keep the people throwing sponges a reasonable distance from the "Buckethead.")

Set the bin of water + sponges by the Throwers. Set the large empty bowl by the feet of the "Buckethead."

Set a timer for one minute. The Throwers from each team reach for and throw the wet sponges at the person inside the circle (or behind the rope line). The goal is to fill the bowl of the "buckethead" hat with sponges. Once the hat is full, the "Buckethead" dumps it out into the large bowl by their feet and the Counter counts how many sponges have been dumped, then carries those wet sponges back to the plastic bin for the Throwers to keep on going. They have a full minute. At the end of the minute, the Counter from each team announces how many sponges were successfully thrown into the hat. The team with the most sponges wins!

The children then switch places so that someone new gets to be the "Buckethead."

It's fun to "accidentally" throw the wet sponge at the person instead of into the hat. And everyone gets nice and wet and cool.

Monday, July 12, 2010

New House

For those of you who have been corresponding with me, we just finished moving into our new house and I finally have my internet connection set up. Thanks for your patience while I work my way through my inbox.

The children are so happy to be here! Today they met a little child at the playground (who was there with his uncle, a friend of mine from my childhood) and promptly said, come see our house, and they all walked down the street and my daughters gave Oliver the grand tour. It was totally spontaneous and unexpected. I was stunned. Becca just said, let's go, and off they ran together. (The adults came too, of course.) I had told my daughters that our new community would be full of little children -- and it is -- and they seem comfortable with this idea and excited to make new friends. Yesterday at the pool Natalie swam right up to a girl and said, hi, what's your name, how old are you, where do you live, and then began to play with her. Just like I taught her to. I'm so happy for my girls! We have the beach, the playground, the pool, the tennis courts, the Community House... more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Saturday night was the first night here for the children and we went to the Square Dance at the Comm House. SOOOOO much fun.

Anyway, thanks for your patience. I'm happy in this new house too, which you can always tell by how much I cook. I've been making pancakes from scratch, cooking up pots of beef and vegetable stew and dishes of cheesy cornbread, and roasting chicken (from our local CSA, my first local meat share). This doesn't sound like a lot but it actually is when you've only been in the house for a few days and just unpacked your pots and pans and plates and things. I was thinking I'd be doing convenience foods for a while until I got organized, but I'm feeling like I have the new routines down and we've achieved a semblance of order. Which is not to say that there aren't still plenty of boxes in the basement! And my bed hasn't come over from the old house yet. The girls all have their twin beds set up but I have my sleeping bag on the sofa in the living room.

The children and I began our new read aloud story last night, which is Misty of Chincoteague. Happy and cozy in our new home.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

"Flying Tent" & The Importance of Play

It always amazes me how imaginative kids are. Especially when you are a TV-free family. A few days ago, when we were still camping in the backyard and doing our practice nights in it, Leah and Natalie suddenly began to pretend that they had mysteriously arrived in our backyard in a Flying Tent. Poof! Becca and I had visitors. Becca loved this game and proceeded to welcome the "strangers," introduce them to the dog (and to me), and invite the two girls to stay for breakfast. They played this game for the better part of the morning. Becca, who is 5, absolutely loved showing her sisters all around the house as if they'd never been there before. Everyone was having a blast. I got two new people at the table for breakfast (Becca generously told them that I would be their mom too) so it was fun for me. Later I told Natalie that she might want to read James and the Giant Peachnext, since its plot is something along the lines of what they were playing.

The children never cease to amaze me. When we were shopping for easy assembly shelving, and bought a rubber mallet to bang the stuff together with, Leah took to the rubber mallet like it was her best friend. She carried it everywhere, named it Mallet, taught it to dance, had it sit on the car seat with her on the way home, had it pretend to talk to her sisters... all in all, she treated it just like a doll. Mallet even had a necklace to wear. The game lasted for a few hours but was very intense. Play truly is the work of the young child! There was a review in the May 2010 issue of The Atlantic(a magazine I don't actually recommend) for The Evolution of Childhood: Relationships, Emotion, Mindby Melvin Konner. This exhaustive volume deals with the biological evolution of human behavior and, specifically, the behavior of children. Konner is both an anthropologist and a neuroscientist. Guess what he concluded (in a volume over 900 pages long)? Play may be the primary means nature has found to develop our brains!

The reviewer states that
    "Unlike animals that hurtle from infancy to puberty, the humans who have escaped the risks of infancy but not yet embarked on the risks of adulthood experience an sort of mini-transformation during the 'five-to-seven shift,' and emerge with markedly enhanced powers of cognition in a period of slow growth." [emphasis added]

This is something that Waldorf advocates already strenuously defend. A PLAY BASED KINDERGARTEN is most appropriate for the five and six year old child. Early exposure to academic content is not the key to future success.

The reviewer also notes that the smartest mammals are the most playful (think of dolphins) so -- Konner's theory goes -- these traits may have evolved together. Although play is apparently pointless (to those of us who are already past that stage of development), it seems "to have multiple functions -- exercise, learning, sharpening skills -- and the positive emotions it evokes may be an adaptation that encourages us to try new things and learn with more flexibility. It fact, it may be the primary means nature has found to develop our brains."

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Stepping Stone Tips

On Wednesday, Craft Day, my children made stepping stones. I thought that the way it was done worked very well, so I am passing along some tips.

First, set this craft up outside. Inside, using 5 gallon Spackle buckets to mix the concrete, is a bad idea. It's way too hard to keep spills from happening. At the Community House they set up four tables, each covered with butcher paper, in a shady spot under some trees. Not too hot. Perfect.

Second, mix the concrete in a wheelbarrow. A wheelbarrow with 2 wheels in front is preferable, being less tippy. Mix the stuff with a shovel. Set up the wheelbarrow near a hose.

Third, instead of expensive craft-store molds, buy cheap plastic plant saucers (those things that go under potted plants to keep the water from going all over the place). These are usually about fifty cents apiece. You don't need to grease them with Vaseline because you can flex and bend them to get the stepping stone out.

Fourth, BEFORE filling the mold with concrete, write the child's name on the plant saucer with a sharpie.

Fifth, have two adults hold the mold while it is being filled with a scoop of concrete since it is too heavy for a child. The plant saucers are not as sturdy as an official Stepping Stone Mold would be. Then have the two adults carry the mold over to one of the paper-covered tables in the shade so the child can decorate the stepping stone at his/her leisure.

Sixth, you can never have too many decorating options. They had piles of shells in all sizes and shapes, beach glass, little hearts and other shapes, glass pebbles, feathers, sprigs of pine... everything you can imagine. There were bags of all kinds of goodies scattered around on the tables and the children got to decorate to their hearts' content.

Seventh, and this probably goes without saying, clean up the wheelbarrow and shovel with water immediately after you are done. Don't let the stuff harden! On the other hand, set the stepping stones in the sun overnight (since you do want them to harden) and in the morning, twist them to pop them out of the mold.

Have fun!

Cedarville State Forest

I took my children camping for the first time! Not their first time, not my first time, but our first time together. Me plus three little girls. I have only once camped without a man... so there was a lot of Girl Power going on. The children and I spent all week practicing (and I was taking the extra time to get comfortable with my new backpacking stove). Thursday after swim class we struck out for the wilderness. Not wilderness, actually, Maryland's Cedarville State Forest. It was pretty cushy as camping goes. There were bathrooms -- with toilet paper in them -- and hot showers. There was a water pump right by our campsite. There was firewood for sale (8 pieces for three dollars). We stayed July 1st through July 3rd. Cost me $42.00 plus a $3.00 parking pass for the state forest. It was an hour away from home and near the home of a good friend, which was handy since these are the things I forgot to pack:

  • toilet paper

  • bug repellent

  • plates and bowls

  • my sleeping bag

You may look at this list and think, how could you forget all THAT? Especially since toilet paper and bug repellent are about the only things you actually need in the woods. But my children were so excited while we were packing and I was running around helping people stuff bags into stuff sacks and roll up Thermarests that I neglected to pack a few things. Remembered all 3 girls plus the dog, though, which is all that really matters. My friend kindly brought me the things I had forgotten and even lent me his own extra sleeping bag. Did I mention there was cell phone reception there?

Here was our itinerary.

Day 1.
Arrive. Unpack and set up the tent. Get the the stuff Mom forgot. Lunch.
Explore. Hike Blue Trail.
Draw with charcoal.

Day 2.
Hike Orange Trail (I was so proud of my girls for hiking a 7 mile trail!!!)
Finish read aloud story (Tal: His Marvelous Adventures with Noom-Zor-Noom).
Play with bubbles. Draw with charcoal.
Lie around in the tent. Play Hangman. Play I Spy. Take another nap.

Day 3.
Wake up and pack. Breakfast in the car.

It was a marvelous time. I didn't look at a clock, not even once, from the time we ate lunch on Thursday until this morning when I had to make sure I returned the girls to their dad at 9 am. It was wonderful.