Monday, April 29, 2013

Chill Day

On the static-y slide at the playground

Good day to take it easy. I've been exhausted have we all. Erik working overtime outdoors, the kids playing soccer in the heat and then going to parties. Preschool is canceled today, so we have extra time.

Turning an orange on its "axis" around a candle flame serving as the sun

It's a nice cool day here but the sun is coming out.

School is done for the day...not a full school day regimen but we learned lots. We were able to compare a bit of ancient China history to a scene in Return of the King ("Lighting of the Beacons"), so: Success.

(I find that when I ease up on school time a little bit, I can easily sneak in more learning opportunities throughout the rest of the day, and everyone has fun with them.)

We planned some more of Nick's upcoming birthday party.

Kids are playing very happily together.

Nick put himself down for a brief morning nap earlier.

Happy times.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Battle

I am having Xander memorize a very short Shel Silverstein poem for his aunt and uncle's visit next month. There is no more perfect poem for my darling imaginative boy.

The Battle

Would you like to hear
Of the terrible night
When I bravely fought the--- 
All right.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Day

We've been seeing plenty of animals lately. On a nearby trail, we spotted a rat snake and a great blue heron among other things. On Sunday, I noticed there were bluejays nearby while I was running. When I got back, we took the whole family out for a "bluejay walk" and did catch a glimpse of one. Plus squirrels, grackles, swallows, and roly polies. We took a saunter down to Goodwill to see if they had any genuine cowboy or cowgirl boots there and then went home.

Yesterday, at our friend's house, we saw a baby possum! It was the cutest big-little thing. It was inching along the back of their house but when we tried to gather the kids to look at it from afar, it stopped and just stared at us. Hope it found its mommy eventually.

Xander was so excited. 

He and I are studying six particular birds this term. We chose turkey vultures, common grackles, Northern cardinals, bluejays, mourning doves, and mockingbirds. These are pretty easy to study right from our back yard.

The days have been gorgeous. Grass is green. Wildflowers are growing: Indian blankets (firewheels), prairie fleabane, prairie verbena, bluebonnets, Indian paintbrushes, pink evening primroses, rain lilies, and more. I hear it is supposed to be a short wildflower season this year, though. Soon our whole area will be brown. I am drinking it in at the moment. It's a great time to be running nearly every day. Breezes are often cool and it's been cloudy or rainy more than usual.

I am also getting some baking in while it's cool.

This morning the kids slept in a tiny bit. Nick was the first one up, after me, at 7:30. So I got to get ready in a leisurely way and run for about an hour. Beautiful way to start the day.

Erik has been in and out, working at work and from home today. The kids and I had a great chore time today. I say great because Xander completed all his chores without stopping, Nick finished his Morning Cards all by himself, and I even got some extra chores done myself. The common area floor is swept, the dining room chairs and table are cleaned, the dining room is dusted and mopped, and I even polished a few pieces of silver.

Later, Erik fixed one of our floor thresholds or moldings. I'm not sure what to call it. It had come up.

Xander and I did school for a while and then he went off to read funny poems from Where the Sidewalk Ends to himself and other people. The kids went outside to play.

I am cooking with a vengeance: a loaf of white bread, a tray of ginger cookies, hard boiled eggs that will be used for egg salad sandwiches, sandwich buns, and then chicken fried steaks and mashed potatoes for dinner. (I found a new website for recipes and it's fantastic: The Iowa Housewife. In the last few days, we've tried the French Raspberry Pie, Farfalle With Gorgonzola Spinach and Walnuts, and Carrot and Pineapple Salad. All winners.)

Now Erik and Xander are playing Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. I will be joining in later.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Time4Learning Review From a Homeschooling Perspective gave us a free month of their online educational program in exchange for posting an honest review of the program at the end of the month.

Their curricula are organized by age. There is a separate login for Lower Level (Prek-3rd grade), Upper Level (4th-8th), and Parent Admin.

Positives: has curricula for many different ages. I was able to use the same site for both our preschooler and our 1st grader. At the same time, the activities are geared toward very specific grade-level objectives. Our children each had a different set of activities to choose from, and in fact a different login from each other. The preschool activities were arranged according to theme and the 1st grade activities by subject matter, then the optimal order in which to do the activities.

As a parent, I loved the organization. You can log in and plan activities for your child for the whole year if you would like. You don't have to. If I had made Xander follow through on all the progressions of activities (which would take a full school year, but no one has to do all the activities if they are using Time4Learning as a supplement), I would have felt comfortable that he had mastered all the age-level material he needed to. On the computer, at least.

Nick, as a young preschooler, loved He did not know how to work the computer on his own when we started trying out Time4Learning a month ago. Within a few minutes of using Time4Learning, he had learned the basics of using a mouse to do the activities.

I have been enjoying using Time4Learning to keep Nick occupied when I am working with Xander. However, he still needs help sometimes, so it can be a bother even when he is keeping busy with it.

Time4Learning is an ad-free site I felt comfortable with. I did not worry about what the kids were doing when they were on the site, though I was generally in the room and overseeing their activities.

Possible Issues:

Xander wasn't quite as interested in the activities on Time4Learning, and he is the child I am most concerned about mastering particular material. Because we are homeschooling him, he needs to learn certain things one way or the other. He did enjoy some activities sometimes, but did not always want to do them.

That leads to another issue. I'm not sure how much of their learning time I want to take place on the computer. I am fully in support of using the computer and the Internet as a tool. We often watch PBS kids shows or the Nature program and they seem to be valuable parts of our kids' education. I am happy about the progress Nick has made on the computer. They have both learned at least a little in the one month we have used Time4Learning.

Time4Learning can be used any way the family wants to use it. It can be used as a supplement, after school, during the summer, or during portions of a homeschool year. It can also be used as a full curriculum, so it is a very flexible program.

At the same time as trying Time4Learning, Xander asked to try out because of a commercial he saw. We were able to compare the experience between the two sites. As a parent, I liked Time4Learning better because I could see what learning objectives they were mastering, especially in the 1st grade curriculum. I could easily see the whole year's worth of academic subjects and topics. The ABCmouse site is super cute, though. As a preschooler, Nick liked Time4Learning a lot. He liked just as much. The kicker was ABCmouse's hamster area. Kids were able to take care of a cute virtual hamster in a cage. They could feed and water it to keep it happy. They earned tickets by doing learning activities which could then be used to buy accessories for their avatars or their hamsters or fish in an aquarium. Both Nick and Xander spent more time on the hamster than the activities. When they had enough tickets, that is. As a first grader, Xander loved ABCmouse very, very much, but the thing is that ABCmouse is solely a preschool/kindergarten site. I'm not that excited for him to work on kindergarten skills at the minimum level just to earn some tickets so he can play with the hamster again. That said, they loved being on the site, and they did do valuable learning activities there, albeit at a kindergarten level at the highest. The activities were attractive, pretty easy for kids to do from a mechanical/physical standpoint, and educational, but the hamster cage and aquarium sections were almost too exciting. Our kids were getting on in the hopes of spending the most amount of time playing with their hamsters.

I would not compare the two programs in terms of using them for homeschooling but only in terms of the fun of playing with each site. ABCmouse, again, is only for preschool and kindergarten material.

My Summary:

I think the ABCmouse site is less expensive per month, but it's not really offering the same service as Time4Learning. You could use Time4Learning as an almost complete curriculum for preschool through 8th grade. The only things you would need to add in are mechanical skills, outside time, social time, and hands-on subjects like art, drama, physical education, and musical instruments. It's priced pretty low for an all-in-one curriculum. I never liked the idea of having the kids' education based mostly on the computer, but things come up. I had to take on more paid work in the home, so I was looking for something to help me with the homeschooling part of our day. Time4Learning could help in situations like that, as supplemental learning, or in families of kids who do very well learning on the computer. Our kids enjoy computer games, videos, TV, Leapster games, Angry Birds, and the like, but they are not as into screen time as some other kids. It is not as important to them over the course of a full day. I could picture kids who love to be at the computer (and who will do their - fun - work before playing on it) doing really well with Time4Learning.

It will be interesting to see if they ever offer anything more for even higher grades (high school). I have seen several online programs offering high school courses. Often, they are free through state funding. This could be valuable as subjects get more complex and it becomes harder for a parent teacher to cover all homeschooling subjects.

There are online writing tutorials for elementary, middle, and high school students at We did not take a look at those.

At this time, I think we will not subscribe to either site we tried. I will continue to evaluate whether or how much we miss them. As long as I can continue to find time to homeschool as the teacher myself, I will try to use Charlotte Mason methods as well as some other helpful resources. Charlotte Mason education as laid out on the Charlotte Mason Help site appeals to me on a deep level.

One of the factors that makes a difference is our budget. We are striving to spend just about zero dollars on non-necessities, for the time being.

With all that said, summer is coming up. I might be looking for more educational activities online in a couple of months! Time4Learning is something I will keep in mind during those super-hot summer months. Nick was very sad when I said we did not have access to Time4Learning yesterday.

These opinions are all my own, in my own words. I received a free month of Time4Learning for both kids in exchange for writing an unbiased review.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Seven Years Old

Xander turned seven. Above, see him on the morning of his birthday reading a jokes and riddles ebook on my phone that was his first present of the day. As a proud mom, I am giving you his newly-turned seven-year-old vital statistics.

47.5" (3 feet 11.5 inches)

48.5 lbs.

He's actually almost average height and weight for his age! That hasn't been the case for most of his life.

Xander hasn't napped for over four years. The times when we catch him asleep on the ground or the couch are getting more and more rare. He goes to bed at 9:00 right now. If he was going to public school, this would have to be so much earlier to leave time for adequate sleep, getting ready in the morning, eating breakfast, and walking or driving to school. This new later bedtime seems to suit him better and gives us more family time each evening. I start waking him up around 8 or 8:15 in the morning if necessary.

He and Nick have just moved in together, sharing the bunk beds. It's been a week now and the adjustment has been quick and easy. So far.

I haven't noticed growth spurt eating in Xander in a long, long time. But I have noticed him growing. He does not have the appetite that Nick does. He will eat almost any food if we encourage him to try at least a bite, but he has definite dislikes (any beans other than green beans, mushrooms, eggs). Both boys eat greens and salads willingly and eat plenty of fruit. And sweets. I often bake cookies or similar treats and they have gotten used to having dessert most nights.

Main Interests:
Still Lego. He loves the minifigures and the brochures especially. He has an attachment to his things and feels nurturing about his stuffed animals. He loves to draw pictures of warriors or play fight with Nick. The Muppets have become an interest as well. He will pore over books for hours.

Favorite Books:
Anything Lego, some Star Wars graphic novels, Usborne Internet-Linked Ancient World, James Herriott stories.

I have observed Xander maturing. He can interact with neighbors, friends, and his brother while keeping his cool a lot more of the time. When I watch him play with friends, he often has a peacekeeping insight to offer during disagreements. This is not to say that he's perfect at it. He and Nick get frustrated and annoyed with each other almost every day. But I can see the growth in this area, too.

He loves animals. Grandma Bonnie gifted him with a week-long summer camp where he will learn all about taking care of dogs - with live models, of course! He will be in seventh heaven.

Soccer season has started. We usually only do one sport per year, not counting swim lessons. Xander still seems to keep up with skills pretty easily even though we don't practice a lot at home. He still seems to like it, too. He could use more force with his kicks and his game play. I am convinced he holds back because he will not let himself hurt anyone.

Rough Schedule:
8:00 breakfast, school warm-up activity
8:30 Morning Cards to get ready for the day
9:00 sibling playtime
10:00 school checklist and read-alouds
11:00 outside break, maybe drills or a run
11:20 finish school checklist, spend time with Sandy
12:00 lunch and clean-up
12:30 do the day's chore(s)
12:45 Sustained Silent Reading time
1:15 independent playtime or reading 
2:15 walk to mailbox, maybe playground
3:00 snack or tea time

3:30 do next stage of laundry together or practice recorder
4:00 outside or TV time (Wild Kratts, Electric Company)
5:00 a couple of pre-dinner chores, help me cook or clean up kitchen
6:00 family dinner
7:30 family activities or sibling playtime
8:30 start getting ready for bed
9:00 bedtime

And more pictures:

Xander's recycled robot from library story time on his birthday

Nick is wearing his robot (named Kerman)

The boys and their robots (we met friends at story time)

Before the boys' soccer games

Half the kids felt like this about the soccer game

The 3-year-olds line up

As many parents as kids on the field

Now for the 1st/2nd grade team
Xander in action 

One of Xander's handicrafts this year

Lego brick cakes
Lego minifigure cake

Grandma Lucy made the picture using Lego Castle figures

Playing at the party

Lego creations
Pinata time

Head is off

Communal present-opening

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Easter Pics

Have to have somewhere to post all our Easter photos!

Xander and I dyed eggs

Lovely back yard flowers from the boys

Thanks, Grandma Lucy! He shook in anticipation and then ate the whole thing.

Bunny by Xander

And guess whose birthday is tomorrow???????!!!!!!!!!!! Shhhhh, don't say anything. I am already having to save the cake layers from being picked at by little hands, and answering lots of questions about what we will do for the next little Munchkin's birthday in June.