Friday, July 29, 2011

Nature Study: Sunflowers

For over a month now, we have been walking down to the park about two to three times a week.  There are two routes we can take.  We started down one for a couple of weeks and then decided to switch.  When we switched the kids discovered that there were two large stalks growing right next to a Jacaranda tree on the sidewalk.  At first they thought they were just saplings of the tree, but upon further inspection of the heart shaped leaves they were very excited.  Almost every walk since had to be on that street.  Almost every time we drove through the street there was mention of the plant and the differences it was going through.  We've watched the stalk get bigger, fuller and taller.  The kids were right, they were Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus):

We decided to draw the two flowers in our nature journals before they dry.  After our walk, we came home and discovered some things about the flower:

The flower consists of a flower head attached to a very thick course like stem.  The leaves are also very thick, heart shaped and have toothy like edges.  I'd say from the time we started our walks, it took the flower about six weeks to mature to this point.  The most exciting discovery for them (because drawing it for their nature journal required deep observation) was that the head is actually made up of thousands of florets:

My kids absolutely loved this.  We had not looked at a sunflower this closely before.  It was amazing to look at it and discover these pretty little flowers inside a flower.  And of course now they understand what part actually is the sunflower seeds that they eat.   I actually found it interesting  to learn that there have been attempts to mathematically explain the formation of the florets inside the flower head.  Can you see that beautiful pattern? Just amazing!

My seven year old kept saying she felt she was drawing a Mexican sun.  Her specific term really made me curious so we thought we would look up some history.  And she was right.  The sunflower is native to Central America and first seemed to be domesticated in Mexico.   Certain indigenous groups recognized the flower as a symbol of their solar deity.  She probably remembered items around our home that we have collected over the years with the symbol of the sun (that specifically were made in Mexico and Central America) and how much they looked like what she was drawing.  I just love those keen observations and connections they make on their own.

Our visit with the sunflower could not be complete without a few buzzing bees around : )

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Nature Study: Neighborhood Stroll

We've been a little busy this week to take our summer hike, but the habit of keeping up with our nature journals must go on.  I loved Silvia's Nature Study 101 post; I liked that better than saying her ugly neighborhood ; )  Since we can't always go to the beach or hike on trails,  we decided to take our camera on our morning walk to the park. This little 20 minute walk down our hill has been a great source of subjects for our nature journals these last two years.  I'm sure passer byers are used to seeing my kids plopped down on the sidewalk with their journals.  It has become just so inherent for us to look at the abundance on the walk that when there is new flora or fauna we are quick to take notice.  The natural world is anywhere you go, it just takes that all important habit of observation to witness it.

It's hard to get the kids to just focus on thing at a time on this walk, but I try to acknowledge a subject per child.  Each got to pick one thing we would take a picture off; however, the focus of our nature journals were two beautiful sunflowers we've been watching for several weeks now (I'll write about them on a different post).  Here is what we found:

Some pine nuts, my six year old put them in a plastic baggy to compare with the Nuts chapter in Seed Babies.

They loved this bright yellow Lantana, especially since we know how much butterflies enjoy them too.

A chewed green pine cone. My oldest was very intrigued by this.  She said it was very sticky from the sap and just kept wondering what animal enjoyed it.

These are just dog tracks, but what caught my four year old's attention was that they are permanent on the sidewalk.  Some doggy walked by before the cement dried!! He loved and got such a kick of the image in his head.
My three year old kept shushing everyone so I could take a picture of this lizard on a wall. 

A favorite around here: a buzzing bee inside a flower : )

My favorite: California Poppies.  This is a flower my kids point out on every walk because they know how much I enjoy them.  Well, here we are, an hour later at our final destination:

I'm sure those of us whom love the nature study part of a Charlotte Mason education have a vision of where we should look and find nature's beauty.  (Mine is always something like Serena's Casting Pearls: Lobster Trails, I just love her Maine seaside pictures.)  This image, beautiful as it is, might discourage us from even trying;  but one of the wonderful things about nature study is that you can absolutely find it everywhere.  It is easy to look at our own backyards and be blocked because we see it all the time.  It's nice to be a child who can just spend endless time outdoors in the same spot and always find something new.  I love this!

Some of our favorite books related to nature study very close to home include:  Nature in the Neighborhood by Gordon Morrison, One Small Square: Backyard by Donald Silver, Discover Nature Close to Home and Discover Nature Around the House by Elizabeth Lawlor.  These and our very handy Comstock's Handbook of Nature Study are always great sources of inspiration close by.  Sometimes our strolls or simply our homes can be great places waiting to discover nature; it just means we need to be good observers and appreciate the natural world great or small.  Read Silvia's post for some great beginners tips.

BTW If you haven't read Charlotte Mason in the City, take a peak.  Her nature study posts always remind me of this very thing.  Nature is everywhere!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Broccoli Trees

Tonight's dinner was teriyaki chicken with steamed rice and broccoli.  This is a pretty routine meal around here.  However, my 6 year old turned it into a poetry feast.  While we were enjoying our dinner my sons were commenting on how big each others broccoli were.  One turned to the other and said, "they look like broccoli trees."  My oldest daughter and I looked at each other and had the same thought.  I immediately went to one of our bookshelves and pulled out one of her favorite poetry books.  I remember she would have me read this over and over to her, before she ever even started any official schooling.

Perhaps you've heard of it: The Bookworm's Feast by J. Patrick Lewis.  I'm so glad we pulled it out tonight, it has been years for us; but the kids enjoyed listening to a few poems tonight.  My oldest immediately decided to retrieve with it after her dinner time chores.

The poems might not be Shakespeare, but certainly captivating enough for my young crowd (especially my silly boys).  This is the poem that started the feast tonight:

Green Willy

An Onion named Willy ran off to the ocean,
Rented a raft from a Carrot named Dick,
Set out to sea but the rocking-chair motion
Turned him as green as a Celery stick.

Green Willy, Green Willy, Green Willy, they called him,
Bobbing along on the Vegetable Seas.
Cucumber green was the sail that hauled him
Off to the Island of Broccoli Trees.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Seeds, Seeds and More Seeds

A month ago we were invited to a BBQ lunch for my sister's birthday.  We were to bring pinto beans and Spanish rice (BTW my husband makes great Spanish rice).  I put the beans in the crockpot with water to soak overnight, so that in the morning they would cook in time for the BBQ.  Well, the very non culinary person that I am, put too many beans and they had filled the pot to the rim.  I had to take some out and set them aside; thinking that I would cook them later.  I didn't (I forgot) and my oldest later that week called me over to point out that some of the beans were starting to sprout.  I've never seen that happen, so we threw them out.

Here is where the science and nature picks up.  She took a botany class with a lovely retired couple at our local Botanical Gardens about two years ago.  She remembered doing an experiment with beans to show their development.  You put the bean in a soaked paper towel and then in a plastic sandwich bag (it definitely helps to presoak the bean first).  The bag is set near a window that gets sunlight.  This is the result:

Right after my bean incident, I decided to look for something to read to the younger kids because they were so intrigued by my presoaked beans and wanted to do the experiment right this time.  It turned out great.  How do they do that? That's what's inside?.... Last year, after planting our garden, we read A Seed is Sleepy , Oh Say Can You Seed,  and others we borrowed from the library.  I really wanted something different this year.  I found a great book reprinted by Yesterday's Classics written by Margaret Morley called Seed Babies; it was perfect.  The language is simple but very informative and appropriate.  It starts, none the less, with a bean and a little boy.  The bean takes the boy through the cycle of the bean and what it needs to grow.  The book continues with the little boy and his brother learning about other seed babies like green beans, pumpkins (which we planted back in May), and a few others.  There are also a couple of chapters on other type of seeds:  frog eggs, bird eggs, and bumble bees.

I knew this was my kind of book when I opened the first page and it reads,"It will add very much to their interest in seeds if the children have peas, beans, nuts, etc., to look at as they read about them."  I'd say that sounds like a great living book teaching through observation as well.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Nature Study: Summer Ocean Breeze

We took a break from our weekly trail hiking today.  After our swimming lessons we decided we'd head towards the ocean.  The kids were more than excited.  We loaded our van with boogie boards, towels and plenty of snacks.  We also brought along our nature journals.  We had plenty of time for fun, but we also had moments to admire a few birds, ocean items and land marks we are not used to seeing every day.  There were plenty of sea gulls:

My attempt at capturing the pelican.

My camera ran out of battery before we could take a snap shot of some amazing acrobatic Pelicans.  The kids loved how they dove straight into the water without warning.  Hung out and then flew right out.  There were plenty of thoughts on why they were doing this.  We also found some seaweed, different pebble rocks, some broken shells and tiny crabs.  I think we'll be pulling out some beach books for the rest of the week.

I was able to take some hazy horizon shots of two of the eight islands that make up the Channel Islands in CA.  These are the same islands in the book Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell.  We learned that only five of them were made into the Channel Islands National Park.  We would really like to go there some day.  My oldest read the book last year and was very intrigued.

It was a wonderful day.  This next shot was my absolute favorite.  I did not have the kids pose, but you have them run around the ocean and sand for a while; then call them in for lunch and they were as still as they could be:

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Musings of A Full Moon

I couldn't wait for July 15th.  Did anyone catch the full moon last night?  We have been talking about the moon with the kids.  We've been patiently waiting to start our moon phase charting and reading some nice pictures books. Some of our favorites so far: Kevin Henke's Kittens First Full Moon, Eric Carle's Papa Please Get Me The Moon For Me, and of course, Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon.

We asked Dad to borrow his binoculars and brought out our telescope.  It took a while before the moon was high enough for us to enjoy, but in the mean time ... The boys had a great time looking at stars and three airplanes in the sky (my oldest preread this and said I should add satellites too). 

We started out at the bottom of our yard, then went up one level (of our tiny hill) and before we knew it we were on the last level's wood deck.  In complete darkness, mind you.  The moon was finally there.  My four year old immediately said, "it looks like cheese!", others' chimed in: "how pretty", "it's yellow", "how big",  "can we go there".   But my favorite was when I finally got the telescope adjusted and they all had a turn looking through it.  The image was so nice and clear.  It didn't look yellow anymore, but white and gray.  The craters were very visible and each one of them had one word: "WOW!"

I see the moon, And the moon sees me.
God bless the moon, And God bless me.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Faith & Trust; It Works!

Over the weekend I hosted a showing of the Simply Charlotte Mason All Day Seminar dvd.  When there is nice food and lovely company any gathering is sure to be pleasant and wonderful.  I know we all enjoyed ourselves, for our very cozy number of four moms, this experience was perfect.  Each of us unique and at different stages of our home schooling journey we really could appreciate the information received.  I hope that even though I still consider myself an absolute novice in all things Charlotte Mason, my brief and amazing experience thus far was evident during our gathering and the moms left feeling how wonderful I believe this philosophy of education is.  I can't wait to get together again.

I have to admit that I pretty much could nod my head at most of what Sonya talks about in the seminar and can say with confidence we are practicing implementation of the subjects as she prescribes.  There was one key phrase she uses in the third disc which I felt summarized the emotion we all need when we start down this road.  She was referring to grammar, but I think it very fittingly describes living our education the Charlotte Mason way:  " using her method requires faith; you have to trust her method is going to work!"  (exclamation my own)  This statement, to me, was one of the most important ones in the whole seminar. 

When you start learning about Charlotte Mason everything sounds wonderful and gentle.  For those of us who have read Karen Andreola's Charlotte Mason Companion or Pocket Full of Pinecones, lets face it, her writing emits a very romantic and nostalgic way of thinking.  Why would anyone want to home school any other way?  I can attest to being very nervous thinking that I could educate with just the simple methods I was reading about.  It is very easy to start questioning methods and ideas when we are programmed to think otherwise.  But Sonya's words summarize what we, new moms, educating our children in this fashion must  do and feel. 

First we have to agree that there is gentle way of educating our children and to think of them as capable people, while feeding the whole of them not just parts.  Second we have to believe and trust that this is going to work.  It would be difficult for us to take just one year of a complete Charlotte Mason education and then switch to another train of thought and not say, what a waste of time that was, it didn't work.  Although, I argue and challenge, if you whole heartily took the time and implement her philosophy you would not want to switch at all. With even some more time you would be amazed at the rich living education the children are receiving.  

I really hope this doesn't sound too preachy but rather an affirmation of how much I believe and enjoy making "Education (is) an atmosphere, a discipline, a life" for us.  I didn't dive into this from the beginning but over the last four years have been making adjustments and changes to enjoy a full living education.  I can honestly say though, that I do wish I had.   I am amazed every year at how much the children have learned; how much they love to learn.  All it has taken from me and my husband has been a little faith and trust;  it does work!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Nature Study: Summer Trails Part 3

This mornings nature hike was a bit overcast and very comfortable as far as weather is concerned.  The kids were looking forward to it.  They've been wanting to hike to this great Teepee set up in the middle of some trails.  It wasn't the longest hike there, which was a good thing, because we didn't have much time today.  Two weeks of swimming lessons started this morning at 9:45, so our time was on a clock.  I asked the kids to look for living creatures today, specifically insects and bugs.  This is what each one discovered:

Bush or Brush Rabbit (Sylvilagus bachmani)

 Please forgive me,  this area of classification of the animal kingdom, I admit to be pretty bad at.  Just never really got into insects and such.  (do you smell a phobia, I'm getting better, I'm really trying) We're definitely working on figuring these out.
Bee (you know someone had to spot it)
If anyone knows what these are, please let us know.  My son couldn't get enough of it, especially its color.  I don't even know how to begin to find out.  : (

We spotted a blue bird that landed on this tree.  I wish you could see it better.  It really was very pretty.  My son said "Oh, where was he last week, we needed blue!"

On the way back, we decided to take a second trail that also led us to the entrance.  It was definitely more adventuresome.  We had to go through some of these:
And these:

The last time we went through here, my 18 month old was only an infant and my husband had to carry a stroller for my now 3 yr old.  We had no idea they were there.  No stroller this time : )

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Summer Astronomy !

Here we go.  It took some time to get this going.  I did some research on telescopes and realized that I really didn't want to spend over $100 on a beginner scope, but didn't want to waste my money on inexpensive toy store ones either.  This is an introduction for us and we hope that it will spark some stargazing enthusiasts and upgrade in another year or so.  This site has some great advice on beginner scopes and was very helpful in trying to pick something.  Another great book introducing me to stargazing is The Backyard Astronomer by Alan Norse.  I've never owned a scope or star gazed and really had no idea how to begin.  I started reading this and have found it very helpful in giving me some tips to pass on to the kids.  We decided to go with the Celestron 21024 First Scope and accessory kit (it includes additional lenses, very useful).  Dad has also agreed to let us use his heavy duty binoculars, it's recommended you start with no scope and gradually get familiar with the night sky.  Our first time using the Celestron was about a week ago and the kids were pretty impressed.  I still have a lot of playing around to do with it.

A week ago one of the moms at our big homeschool group's park day brought over her used curriculum for sale.  I was very intrigued by R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey, particularly the Earth & Astronomy packet.  I decided to give it a try and we are using just the Astronomy units this summer.  I made two  booklets for each set of older sister and younger brother; to work together as teams.  I like this because it makes my first grade and kindergarten boys feel like they are participating with their older sisters' big kid work.  Back to why it intrigued me.  We love reading and just naturally creating as we go along, but I also know that my kids were wanting some more structured type labs/experiments, if you will.  I thought this would be a nice short and prepared way of having some notebooking style pages and activities to do as we read our way through some picture books and both H. A. Rey The Stars & Find the Constellations as well as my sons favorite: A Child's Introduction to the Night Sky.

We just started reading about the moon and look forward to gazing and tracking the different moon phases soon. Kris at At Home Science has a yahoo group and just linked to this great planet size comparison site that my kids enjoyed so much.  I'm sure will follow the R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey plans this summer (it's saved me time putting things together) and use what we like; the kids can't wait to get to the Make A Solar Oven lab soon.  I'm also hoping that the night sky gazing will become an ongoing appreciation and observation through out the year.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Nature Study: Summer Trails Part2

This mornings nature study hike started at 7:30 a.m..  We were ready to go and hoping to avoid the heat.  Our object was to look for some red, white and blue in honor of our nation's independance celebration, here's what we found:
This is a native CA shrub with smooth toothy like leaves, red berry clusters and in the summer it blooms white flowers:
Toyon CA Holly Heteromeles arbutifolia

We found this interesting, white lichen all over the rocks on our trail:

And sadly we could not find anything blue on the trail but there was an abundance over the trail: 

Another great hike.  Now we're off to enjoy some cool swimming and BBQ lunch at our friends house.


Friday, July 1, 2011

Reflection on "Habit is Ten Natures"

I have to admit, it took me quiet a while to get through the third section of Volume 1 Home Education: Habit is Ten Natures.  With summer fully upon us and end of the year school activities, I had a hard time finding the time to fully absorb and appreciate this very important part.  Or maybe it was because this was an area in which I had to reflect on myself and what I conceive to be my biggest weakness when it comes to Ms. Mason's philosophy on habit formation and training.  I don't want to make excuses for myself, but lets face it; I have four very rambunctious little boys (all age six and under) full of energy.   Just this week we had to cut our walk down the hill to the park short.  Why? I had to make my first trip to the ER for stitches; after one of the boys ran down the hill and kissed a fire hydrant with his chin.  Who?  My three year old precocious bundle of 100% all boy. 

I do whole heartily agree with Ms. Mason's philosophy of habit training and more importantly the nature of children:
The nature of the child - his human nature - being the sum of what he is as a human being, and what he is in right of the stock he comes of, and what he is as the result of his own physical and mental constitution - this nature is incalculably strong. Volume 1 pg 103
Now, here is the catch:
Habit, working thus according to nature is simply nature in action, growing strong by exercise. Volume 1 pg 105
And: perceive that it rests with parents and teachers to lay down lines of habit on which the life of the child may run henceforth with little jolting  or miscarriage, and may advance in the right direction with the minimum effort. Volume 1 pg 107
This is my weakness.  I humble myself to our Lord and pray everyday for guidance, grace and patience to instill proper habits in all aspects of my children's lives.  How can I pass along the virtues of good habits to my children so that their nature always guides them down the right path?  This is the area where I always know I need to improve.  I am not perfect and I have weaknesses that I must overcome myself.  If I can never remember to water the plants, I'm certainly not going to be able to train my kids on that habit.  If I can't recognize a wrong doing and apologize, how can they know that is the right thing to do?

No matter what the habit might be, this is the one area where our success relies first on evaluating our own nature.   I try my best to provide my children with an atmosphere that I think will aide in the formation of good habits.  I have to admit my husband and I have become loving partners gracefully reminding each other when there is a fault we could use some improvement on.  It isn't easy to see when you have a fault, but sometimes its much harder to tell and listen to someone else.  I am grateful that we have each other to do this for.  Then, it is only with a humble spirit, prayer and service to the Lord that we can improve our nature.  We make each other better people, at least we hope we do.  I know that this is also true with our children.   We should always strive to make them good people;  loving God and all its creation.  They are still very young, but it is important to start now.  I can't wait for them to be old enough to understand. That day may never come or they might just not be willing to listen. 

With this in mind and being dedicated  to a living education, I decided to add one more of Ms. Mason's subjects to our school year.  We have always had faith & religion studies and they will forever be on our schedule, this will certainly guide our children down the right path.  In addition, however, we will also have a specific time slot for Habits & Virtues.  I am planning to have one day a week devoted to this area; as a purposeful part of our education.  The little ones will listen and have weekly copywork (for my 1st grader) from:  A Treasury of Goops by Gelett Burgess, Manners Can Be Fun by Munro Leaf, and Manners in God's House.  My third grader will be working her way through Queens Homeschool, Copywork for Girls and listening to the little boys read alouds.  My oldest, a sixth grader, is receiving a special virtuous girl packet from me later this summer.  It will include a beautiful rosary, Beautiful Girlhood revised by Karen Andreola along with the companion book and her very own KJV personalized Bible.
All this to say that I am mindful of the importance of good habit formation and the nature of our children; especially knowing that it is my responsibility to lead and guide.  I'm hoping to read some more on this area and become more comfortable with the process Ms. Mason describes in the latter part of this section.   This will be an ongoing process around here.