Architects Abound

This week we wrapped up our unit on the Middle East by learning about Lebanon and Jordan.  Although the tabbouleh and hummus would have been enjoyable for me I know my children well enough by now to save myself the money and effort.  For our unit study this week we chose architects which was great fun for everyone.  We were finally able to pull the mountain of boxes out of garage and start turning them into fun things.  Since this is the time of year we are putting our garden to bed we also had a plethora of available bamboo.




We read the architectural version of the three little pigs and were motivated to make our own wolf-proof lodging.  Fortunately we live quite far away from Yellowstone.  This book had many Frank Lloyd Wright references and it was a fun game for the kids to try to pick them out.  We learned about him in a biography earlier in the week so they were ready.


The dwelling was for mini kids ages 2-5 only.  And you were under no circumstances allowed to bring a cat.


We enjoyed the book Monsters Under Bridges by Rachel Roellke Coddington.  It is about the bridges of the Pacific Northwest and the creative monsters that live under them.


Of course we had to try our own bridge after that.  We went with tongue depressors and painter’s tape.  I thought those would be relatively frustration free.


Building shapes out of the tongue depressors and clothespins was also quite fun.

Each week we try to compose a thank-you note or letter that we send through the post office.  This helps reinforce our address and the concept that most people we know have an address where they can be reached.

Health is one of the categories we need to keep track of in our homeschool portfolio.  This week we purchased a Brushyball brushing guide and timer through Amazon.  $30 seemed like a lot until I considered a lifetime of poor brushing habits.  We have brushed three times today already and it is 2 in the afternoon.  Big success.  Different sections of teeth light up as you are guided through the session. It also talks and plays music (LOUDLY) but if brushing is as much a chore for you as it was for me……pay the $30.

We squeezed in a hayride at the pumpkin patch.


We got to observe a couple of animals.

Our daughter has now had enough cutting practice and is ready to graduate to functional cutting.  Therefore she is now in charge of prepping her own reading lesson games.  This is very helpful to me as I scramble around getting the rest of the lesson ready.  She is also showing signs of wanting more responsibility so we are working it in wherever we can.


Of course we also had plenty of time for recess.


Next week we travel to China.  We’ll send you a postcard!



Learning about the Middle East: Iraq and Israel

If I thought that starting school again after a week off was going to be a walk in the park I must have been delusional.  It was awful.  Really really awful.  We had lost the flow- no one could stay on task, I felt unprepared despite the break, the three year old forgot how to behave himself and none of us seemed able to find the groove again.  Unfortunately it continued this way all week.


The Jaffa orange tree of Israel

Some weeks are just like that I guess.  So we tried to incorporate some fun things to help ourselves readjust.  A large component of the readjustment plan was decorating for Halloween and another was dress-up.

We also played in the mud and looked for crabs.

Many of the things we did this week never got photographed, we were just off our game.  But we did read a couple of great books- The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter and Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors by Hena Khan.

Outdoor painting class was a fun highlight of the week.  My husband built this double-sided easel a couple years ago and it has been wonderful.  If you plant to build your own you might want to try to make it collapsible since it takes a lot of space to store.  But it does make a wonderful gift and the holidays are coming……

After reflecting on our week back to school I think that math and writing went more smoothly post break, there was certainly less complaining about them.  Next up: Lebanon and Jordan- may they command our full attention:)

Six Weeks On, One Week Off

Our first break from homeschool since our summer vacation was glorious. This time of year the weather is at its best (minus Hurricane Matthew) and we spent all week outside.

Maryland has about 20 playgrounds that are considered “imagination playgrounds”. Included in this is the Wizard of Oz playground in Upper Marlboro which was previously the only one of them we’d been to. It is fabulous by the way.  The Medieval Dragon playground and the Viking Ship park weren’t quite as impressive but we were happy to finally get to see them.

The Dragon’s Nest, Bowie, MD

Comparing feet

Despite all the rain last weekend we braved a muddy corn maze and did not have to leave our boots behind.

On Wednesday we met up with one of our favorite local groups: Little  Explorers at Historic St. Mary’s City. This week’s theme was, “What’s Bugging You?” The bug hunt was highly successful.

A tiger swallowtail caterpillar on fennel

On Thursday we had an out on the town artist date. We met Henri Rousseau inside a picture book biography. Then we attempted to paint jungles the way he did: using our imaginations. Rousseau couldn’t afford to travel to a real jungle so instead he used house plants as models and created the most organized jungles ever. This date was really fun because it helped us understand that learning can take place anywhere. We can and should be mobile learners. I am now going to keep some staples in my trunk for this purpose.

On Friday we had a big play date in the morning and called it a great week.

I also had some extra time to start on the Halloween costumes, put in my library book requests, and get organized for the next six weeks. Tomorrow we’ll start on Israel.

It was a wonderfully refreshing week off!

From Ethiopia to Kandinsky

On this final week in Africa we traveled through Ethiopia and studied the few savanna animals we hadn’t yet discussed.  We watched, “The Lemurs of Madagascar,” narrated by Morgan Freeman which was quite relaxing until the children transformed into lemurs in my living room.  Then things fell apart.  Literally.


A Lemur House

We enjoyed reading The Full Moon is Rising by Marilyn Singer which is full of poems about the moon.  Many of these are focused on Africa, and we finally got last week’s Morocco book through the library request program- My Father’s Shop by Satomi Ichikawa.  It is about a boy who falls in love with a carpet in his father’s shop. It has a hole in the middle and when he wears it on his head through the village he attracts the attention of a rooster. I highly recommend this one for the K-2nd grade crowd.

img_8197The artist of the week was Vasily Kandinsky.  He is known for being one of the first painters of abstract art, a topic that five year olds can really sink their teeth into.  We chose him because although our library biography section is somewhat limited, particularly in the area of artists, we were able to find The Noisy Paintbox by Barb Rosenstock.  It is highly appealing to the elementary crowd and provides a solid  framework for those of us not familiar with this artist.  We were able to use his work as inspiration for numerous projects this week and all of them were a hit with the kids.

On Tuesday it poured so my daughter and I took advantage of the Calvert Marine Museum to learn some facts about the creatures living in the Chesapeake Bay and our local rivers.  We touched a horseshoe crab, examined a dogfish egg case, and learned what a burrfish looks like (puffer family).



Unfertilized dogfish egg case


It is thrilling to announce that we are finally getting started on some famous women in history.  Don’t ask what took so long- I’m already feeling like a failed feminist.  This week it is Amelia Earhart.  We have a small collection of library books and a free printable Earhart mini-unit that we found online.  It provides some writing and copy practice and it is a nice break from the writing we have been laboring through lately.


This is the best time of year to study apples so we made sure to get out to Forrest Hall farm to snag some.  They don’t let you pick your own but you can at least spot the orchard up on the hill.  We paired the trip with a study of three library books about apples that collectively covered pollination, botany, grafting, the spectrum of varieties, and uses.

To celebrate our completion of Africa (where we have been for a long time now) we will be heading to the National Zoo this weekend to see the savanna animals up close.  Although we have taken the kids to the zoo before they will be going this time armed with much more knowledge.  Bring it!



Morocco,the Five Senses, the Urinary System, the Digestive System, the Central Nervous System, and a Monarch Hatch-Out

One of my favorite topics for kids is the five senses.  There is much fun to be had guessing at paper bag items by touch, smelling spice canisters, and shaking plastic eggs to make sound matches.

On this second week of studying the human body we were able to label a poster of what we’ve learned.

We went in depth into the digestive system because it’s everybody’s favorite.  Oh, it isn’t?  Well, it’s our favorite.

We also did the Bread in the Bag simulation of the digestive system.  It was effective in demonstrating the steps of mechanical breakdown in the mouth (child rips up bread with fingers), the breaking down of the food in the stomach (add water and squeeze for a while), the absorption of water by the large intestine (pour water out of one corner of the bag), and the waste passing out of the body (squeeze all food out of one corner of the bag into the sink).


Labeling pictures has quite a bit of value for our daughter- it helps her retain new vocabulary words, encourages her to practice writing (which is not her favorite thing to do), and provides her with a finished product to present to her dad at the end of the day.

We had several field trips this week.  This one was to the Little Explorers Program at Historic St. Mary’s City to learn, “How to Stay Well”.  The kids put together a vegetable soup out of ingredients that were around during the colonists’ stay in Southern Maryland.

A second field trip was to a local college in order to touch a human brain.  This was a pretty amazing experience for a 5 and 3 year old to get to have.  It is good to have friends.  We made some brain hats before we left and discussed the central nervous system as well so we would be prepared.  We also watched several Youtube videos on how the brain works.

We were able to compare the sizes and weights of a rat, sheep, and human brain.

Our final field trip was to the home of friends who were lucky enough to attract a large group of monarchs with their orange butterfly weed.  The new monarch caterpillars built chrysalises all over the front of their house- under the porch railing, at the top of a picture window, on the front plants, and one in the carport.  We visited a couple weeks ago and admired their beautiful green and gold homes when they were newly made.

We went back when we heard they were starting to hatch.  Sure enough we found the individual above drying off.  We also discovered that many of the chrysalises were becoming more transparent.   In this one you can see the veined wings peeking through.  SO AWESOME!

We did mini unit studies this week on both monkeys/apes, and lions.  The paper plate lion masks, though not impressive, were fun to wear until I got tired of being a gazelle.  Too many predator/prey books……..

Target is currently selling plastic brain molds- we made this as our dinner centerpiece on “Brain Day”.

Our Africa study is winding down- only one more week to go.  This week we covered only one new country- Morocco.  We’d been waiting for this one for a long time.  The picture book above is called Mirror and it was a really great find.  It tells two side by side stories of a boy from Australia and a boy from Morocco on a typical day in their lives.  There are no words, only pictures and they are highly detailed.  Tomorrow we will attempt to write our names in Arabic and continue with Nelson Mandela’s Favorite Folktales.  It is another excellent book although geared more toward a 2nd or 3rd grader. The vocabulary level is really high and the subject matter can be intense.

Thanks for reading, that was a peek at our week.

Africa Week 3: Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Desert Animals, the Savanna, Predator/Prey Relationships, Human Body Systems, Seed Dispersal, Onomatopoeia. Boom.

This week we started a two week unit on the major body systems.  One of the homeschool components in Maryland is health and this seemed like a nice way to get started.  We are using several library books to guide our studies including a very nice one on the human senses.  

You can see here that I started to include the reproductive system and then thought better of it.  This is because my daughter is five and I’m not ready for her to start telling the whole world how babies are made.  And that’s exactly what she’d do.


We used grab bags to do a sense of touch activity in which we had to guess what various household objects were without using our eyes.  This was a lot of fun and has turned into a daily game.

The silhouette animals for this art project were printed, cut out, and applied to a watercolor savanna with double-sided tape.


Over the weekend we stopped by the Calvert Marine Museum on Solomons Island, MD.  They currently have two baby otters there and it is now possible to view them from inside the museum as well as outside.  Below you can see the outdoor viewing spot.

The new baby otters as viewed from the indoor area.

After spending some time learning about desert animals who live near sand dunes we created our own “Dunes in a Jar” using colored salt.  To color the salt we simply rubbed leftover stubs of sidewalk chalk on a pile of  table salt until the amount of pigment was right.  You could also use a cheese grater-that’s probably much faster.


To make the design around the edges we used a skinny paintbrush handle which forced the salt downward.

Earlier this summer my daughter decided her North American research animal would be a velvet ant.  I knew they could be found locally because a friend saw some next to our public library but we were unable to find any ourselves.  As luck would have it a college student recently found this one (below) and we were able to look at it.  It’s nice to have closure. *Note: It is dead which is the only reason we are touching it.


This is the time of year when many trees drop their seeds.  Since we are aiming for a deeper understanding of nature it seemed like a good time to introduce the science behind the seeds.  I love the series of nature books by these authors- they’ve also written A Nest is Noisy and An Egg is Quiet.  All of them are excellent.

As it turned out we collected a hatful of early acorns the very next day.


We delved into predator/prey relationships this week since the savanna has so many prime examples.  Our daughter’s favorite was the caracal and the monkey.


Additionally, we covered onomatopoeia this week.  It was included as part of our Around the World curriculum and tied in nicely with a story in our reading curriculum about a pony.  We picked some of our favorites and illustrated them.  We also played Onomatopoeia Detective by scanning poems by Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein.


After studying Tanzania we made Maasai necklaces of our own.

Earlier this summer we did a unit on butterflies and ended up starting our own collection.  While we were in Ontario we caught a monarch but were unable to find a chrysalis. This was disappointing because we wanted to see the golden spots and the ring around the top. Fortunately a friend invited us to visit her front porch which seems to be a monarch hang-out spot.  It did not disappoint!  This photo is of her front porch railing.  We were able to see about 12 of these scattered around the front of the house!  We hope to go back for the hatch-out.

Buoyancy was the science word of the week.   Foil boats were used to demonstrate this concept and the kids were crazy about it.  We also worked on our counting by keeping track of how many pennies and acorns we could add before the boats sank.  I highly recommend this activity to everyone- it was fantastic.

It’s a great time of year to pick up a Mr. Bones at the Dollar Store.  Very handy for our human body lessons.  Plus he glows in the dark!

This was our model of the lungs.  That’s playdough at the top, a recycled lemonade container, plastic bendy straws, and ghost balloons.

Another great week!

Visiting Mali, Ghana, and Egypt from Our Classroom

It turns out that we will be spending way more time in Africa than I thought.  By which I mean we have 4 more weeks until we move into Asia.  With the Build Your Own Library kinder curriculum the focus countries are chosen for you and they are not necessarily what you thought they’d be.  For instance, no mention was made of Ireland, Scotland, Britain or Spain when we were studying Europe.  This was surprising but not as surprising as the fact that Cuba was given a big focus.  You never know.

We started this week off by creating some stained-glass scenes of animal life in Africa (rainbow Sharpies on overhead projector transparencies).

It was difficult to leave Egypt but it had to be done.  This book,  How Children Lived, seems to be a precursor to Children Around the World (which focuses more on the modern world).  I love them both.  I especially love that I found them at the library book sale last for $1 each.

We don’t post much about our math and phonics programs because they tend to be less interesting than the rest of the things we spend time on.  We are using Singapore Math books 1A and 1B.  This is a change from the Miquon math books we started off with.  They weren’t very engaging for a kindergartner and while we still have them, the Singapore is what we are focusing on right now.  It has clear instructions and leaves nothing to interpretation.  This method reassures our daughter that she will not misunderstand the assignment.

This is a page from our All About Reading Level 2 curriculum.  We’ve been working on dividing words between syllables as well as the “Silent E” and how it can change the pronunciation of words.  Each lesson comes with an activity or game.  In this case we cut and stapled flip books to practice our word endings.

The local Little Explorers program at Historic St. Mary’s City has started back up again.  Programs are every other Wednesday morning through the fall at 10AM.  This week’s program was on weather.

What would the week have been without another ten Magic Treehouse books?  The author of these is so adored by our five year old that she created (and sent her) a dinner invitation.  Will we ever hear back?  I wonder.

Each day we read from many different sources.  It works best at our house to get everything opened to the right pages before settling the kids down on the couch.  If I have to stop and search for anything I lose their attention and it’s tough to get it back.  The pages and construction paper above were for our day on Ghana.  We learned about Ashanti weavings from the folktale “Seven Spools of Thread”, a Kwanzaa story.



Motivated by creating a patterned Ashanti cloth we went on to explore patterns in other ways.  Fortunately we have a multitude of bears and horses.


Our first African research animal is the endangered Aye-aye of Madagascar.

The Usborne International cookbook is a part of our curriculum and this week we went ahead and created the two African recipes.  These were for peanut bread and bobotie.


The peanut bread heading in to the oven plus a mortar and pestle for pretend peanut-grinding.


This is the African Bobotie we made with white bread, milk, dried apricots and raisins, hamburger, and eggs.  It was seasoned with chili powder and curry and was fantastic.


On a visit to the garden this week we were able to watch the butterflies enjoying some of our rotting fruit.  When we studied butterflies at the beginning of the summer we talked quite a bit about how we’d never been able to see this happen in a natural environment.  Our day came.


We fit in two geocaches as well.  This one involved some cliff-scaling and was very exciting.  Our daughter used it as an opportunity to launch herself into the world of Magic Treehouse.  Bet you can’t guess which one of us got to be Annie……..


All in all, another great week of homeschool.  Thanks for reading!