Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I've Been Feeling a Bit Guilty This Month

You see, we've done little to no home schooling since Thanksgiving.

And I felt really guilty about all of this, until I realized that even though we haven't cracked open the books in a while, and the notebooks and pencils are collecting dust on the desk in the living room, we have indeed had great learning experiences.

I've discovered that the Holidays have offered so very much to my family, giving us opportunity to use the season as our textbook. Annika has been busy practicing for the church pageant (in which she volunteered for a speaking role) and rehearsing a solo she will sing with the adult choir on December 24 (and yes, I am VERY proud!). Our family continued our tradition this year of adopting a charity for Christmas. This year, we chose to give to the Crisis Nursery, and all of the kids really got a lot out of picking out presents, clothes, and toiletries for needy kids and their families. I was absolutely astonished at their generosity and genuine interest in the charity, and I know they will remember how proud they all felt as we dropped off our packages long after the Christmas season has ended. For the first time, Annika and I also volunteered our time ringing bells for the Salvation Army. Although she seemed a bit embarrassed that her mother kept belting out Christmas carols to the shoppers passing by, she thoroughly enjoyed the time we spent together and asked if we could volunteer again next year.
We've spent many mornings baking Christmas cookies to give to neighbors, putting up decorations, stringing popcorn garland for the tree, and stuffing envelopes for our family Christmas letter, and we've spent just as many evenings curled up on the sofa reading books like The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (highly recommended) and retelling the story of Jesus' birth.
Now I know what you're thinking, and yes, many of you do all of these things and more, and still manage to send your kids off to school each day or successfully continue your schooling at home throughout December.

But for me, taking it easy on the traditional schooling has really allowed our family to admire all the magic this season has to offer and gives pause to what it is we are truly celebrating this month, and I refuse to feel an iota of guilt over it.

Besides, I figure we have plenty of snowy January days to revisit those textbooks.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Lies I Told My Daughter

It's Thanksgiving week, and we've been busy over here at Walnut Grove. We spent the majority of last week creating turkeys, listing all of the many things we are thankful for, and reading books about the first Thanksgiving. Yes, we've been reading all about how the Wapanoag tribe, led by Squanto, saved the pilgrims from starvation by teaching the good pilgrims how to grow corn, hunt, and fish, and to show their gratitude, the pilgrims celebrated that first harvest by inviting their new Native American friends to a 3-day feast of peace and harmony.

Therein lies the problem. I sort of have a problem with that version of the story.

Don't get me wrong. I love the holiday and what it represents. Thanksgiving is a time of reflection, when we can all get together with family and friends and appreciate all it is we are blessed with in our lives. From preparing the Thanksgiving menu to watching to parades on television, it's a festive day that our family truly loves. There is even a very small part of me that enjoys the reenactments and retellings of that first Thanksgiving. I think this is because it is a story that is so deeply rooted in American History, passed down from generation to generation.

Or perhaps I enjoy it because deep down I wish that that was the way it really happened.

But authors like James Loewen know better, and he has worked very hard to amend the very sanitary version that teachers have taught for years. And I find myself, as a first year homeschool teacher, at a crossroads. Do I tell my innocent five-year-old the true story? Do I tell her that by the time those pilgrims arrived at Plymouth rock in 1621, most of the Wapanoag Indians had died from diseases passed to them by Europeans? Do I tell her that these pilgrims recorded prayers they gave thanking God for wiping out all of "savages" so that they could start their lives in America alone and in peace? Do I mention that even though Squanto and the other Indians did indeed help them survive, the pilgrims repaid them by stealing food and items from many of their camps?

Because that, my friends, is what really happened. And although I know this, and the minority inside of me was screaming to tell Annika the truth, I didn't.
I just read that lovely story to my very innocent 5-year-old...because I didn't want to tarnish the image of a holiday we will celebrate in four days.

Did I do the right thing?

Friday, November 09, 2007

More Friday Fun!

Does this qualify as phy-ed???

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Week Of Over Extending Ourselves

This past week we tried to home school...tried being the key word here.

We were a busy bunch this week, with 3 field trips scheduled. On Monday, we visited this apple orchard again, but this time we were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour, where we learned all about the cider press and the machines that sort the apples that go to the store. It was very cool.

On Thursday, we visited this bakery for a group tour. Mark, the baker, showed the kids all the neat things about his bakery...the milling stone was especially interesting, as he could show the kids how flour is actually milled from the wheat berries.

The neatest field trip by far though occurred on Wednesday, when we drove up to the Mall of America for a trip to Underwater Adventures Aquarium. The kids really learned a ton of information in the shells class, where they were able to handle lots of different kinds of shells and learn cool facts about shells (did you know that shells are made out of calcium and that the sea creatures grown them like bones?) and create cute lobsters out of paper plates.

Following the class, we took a tour of the aquarium, which the kids LOVED.

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring LegoLand, trying out a couple of rides in the amusement park, and dining out at Rainforest Cafe. As we leisurely strolled back to the van to head back home, I realized what it was I liked about taking these trips with my kids this week. I truly enjoyed myself. And I enjoyed seeing my kids enjoy everything that day brought. We never had to rush, we never had to follow anyone's schedule, and I got to be a part of every aspect of those learning experiences. And that is one of the many reasons I feel so good about educating my children at home.

And although we didn't have a ton of seat time this week, I think all of us learned a lot, beyond cider presses, wheat berries, and crustaceans.

Especially me.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Writing tests in Linux

# $SENT1 is a variable meaning "Sentence 1"
# Not sure what PS3 means.
# Could be a good start for a program that would make tests for Annika.

PS3="Choose the number of the correct word to fill in the blank: "
echo "The emergency brake let go and car rolled ______ the hill"

select SENT1 in up down along beside


if [ "$SENT1" == "" ]; then
echo -e "You need to enter something\n"

elif [ "$SENT1" != down ]; then
echo -e "Sorry. Incorrect\n"
echo "1. Incorrect" >> eoiexam.dat

elif [ "$SENT1" == down ]; then
echo -e "Great!\n"
echo "No. 1 - Correct" >> eoiexam.dat



Sunday, October 07, 2007

Annika's Presentation

The home school co-op we belong to has been really great for the kids. In addition to art, science, and physical education, the kids get to work on their public speaking skills. On Friday, Annika had the chance to give a short presentation. She chose the topic "leaves," and spent much of the week collecting, pressing, and preparing different fall foliage from our neighborhood.

Throughout the week, she practiced speaking in front of different family members and friends, and although she professed nervousness a few days before, she gave a flawless presentation.

At the end of the presentation, the presenter must field questions from the audience. As you view this, you may notice that the kids are still having a difficult time mastering the art of asking relevant questions, which is to be expected since they're only in Kindergarten, but Annika handled the comments, as well as the questions, with poise.

She's already looking forward to her next presentation after the holidays. As of right now, she believes she will research "horses."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Wanna See What We Did Today?

It's Field Trip Thursday!

Click here to see what we were up to.

Monday, September 17, 2007

This Evening's Activities


  • Annika wrote out the numbers 1-10 pieces of paper towel.
  • Boys made a "bean bag" out of flour and 2 small plastic bags.
  • Lined up the numbers and saw how far we could jump.
  • Boys went to bed.
  • Scattered the numbers and threw the bean bag at each one, playing "Number Golf" to see how many throws it took to reach each number. This game could be expanded upon to include fractions and things like small letters, music notes, colors, etc...

  • Examined a phonograph and record to see how they worked.
  • As the needle was broken, Annika figured out why the sound would not work, and thought of ways to fix it. (Make a new needle or buy one.)
  • Found zooms of phonograph records online. (See at right.)
  • Played different songs on Windows Media Player and watched the visualizations to see what different songs look like. She noticed major differences between songs from Neil Young and more driving songs like T.A.T.U.'s All the Things She Said.
  • Downloaded and installed Audacity, a free open source sound editor. When songs were loaded in it, we could see their WAV patterns, and we experimented with slowing songs down to see what difference that made.

Ended the day by reading a Chapter in Beverly Cleary's Runaway Ralph.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Our First Week

Here's a few photos from our first week of home schooling.

This is a model of an ear the kids built out of ordinary objects to show how sound travels through it. It included an auditory canal (play tunnel) ear drum (balloon stretched over an oatmeal container), hammer, anvil, stirrup (cookie sheets), cochlea (bowl of water), and auditory nerves (telephone wires).

Annika is busy designing a stop sign for the driving course game we played the next day.

The results of an "Adjective Find" we conducted one afternoon.

The driving course game.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I'm A Little Nervous About This School Thing

I know I don't really have a right to be, but I am.

For the past week or so, I've had opportunity to witness friends preparing their children for their first day of school. I've listened to many of them talk of their angst over the unknown -- what will the teacher be like? Will their child adjust to a new environment? More importantly, how will they adjust to their little baby leaving for the big, big world called school? And I have listened to all of this patiently, feeling extreme empathy for my friends, while at the same time content in the knowledge that I made the right decision to home school my own children, just as they have made the right decision to send their children off to school.

But there was one thing I didn't count on. Like these friends, I too am getting the jitters. For the past month or so, Kurt and I have been busy preparing for our own first day of sorts. We've converted the "toy room" into a more friendly space for Walnut Grove, complete with white board, supply cupboard, small table, and easy-to-get-to educational toys. We've hung a map and a large blank calendar, and we created a space to display our art. We've placed a large clock on the wall to help us learn how to tell time, and we've stocked up on paints, paper, and every art supply under the sun.

We've even chosen a curriculum, though I have yet to fill my newly purchased lesson plan book with ideas from it -- I'm planning to do that before we leave on our trip. And, as a last-ditch attempt to erase my unfounded fears that home schooling will make my children anti-social, I have enrolled all of them in a home school co-op as well as swimming, dance, soccer, and an ECFE class.

So I guess you could say that I'm ready. But I don't feel like it.

Like my friends, I too feel angst. Though I know my children love me as the mother, I wonder daily if they will like me as their teacher. I constantly worry that I won't know the answers to many of their questions, and I am stressed that the lessons I will plan won't be fulfilling enough. At times, I think I've signed them up for too many extra-curricular activities; at other moments, I think they're not involved in enough activities with their peers. I hesitated to sign them up for a home school co-op, yet admittedly I breathed a sigh of relief when I found out they were accepted into the program (apparently quite a few families are turned away each year), happy that I wouldn't solely be responsible for educating them day in and day out.

Most of all, I'm scared to death of the first day. Unlike my friends, who get teary just talking about dropping their child off at the bus stop or leaving them at the classroom door, my angst can be found elsewhere. I feel dizzy just wondering where to begin.

Just as I've reassured my friends that I know that they will make it through this life changing time in their lives unscathed, I too know that our own experience will be okay, and that my children and I will work to make this leap into home schooling together and weather the bumps along the way.

But I'm still nervous.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Our Mission Statement:

Walnut Grove Home School strives to develop strong character through creative and independent thinking, using a holistic approach that inspires a passion for learning.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Something to Think About This December

Since the kids were born, our family has started a little tradition.

Before the snow melts, I make a point of shaping a number of snowballs for future use. Then, at the height of summer, I pull them out for a little snowy fun. The kids enjoy holding the snowballs, eating chunks out of them, and debating the worthiness of throwing them at each other.

I usually store a small amount of snowballs, but depending on the size of your freezer, you could conceivably provide enough for a good old fashioned snowball fight in the middle of July.

The only downside? Snow doesn't last long in 90 degree heat. But I think that's why my kids find it so wonderful.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Frozen Pops!

Earlier in the spring, I dreamed of lazy summer days spent in our backyard and a calendar free of appointments. But just one week into summer, we're still cramming playdates, swim lessons, family vacations, and summer fun activities into our very busy days.

One way we've found to slow down and beat the heat is to make homemade popsicles. They're easy, inexpensive, and oh so refreshing! Try this recipe out the next time you're looking for a fun activity for the kids. All three had a blast mixing and measuring the ingredients and they gave these rave reviews! Plus, you'll swear they're tastier than anything you can purchase in a box.


2 cups boiling water
1 package (4-serving size) Jello, any flavor
1 envelope Kool-aid (try to match the flavor to the Jello)
1 cup sugar
2 cups cold water

Stir boiling water into the Jello, Kool-Aid, and sugar mixture for 2 minutes or until dissolved. Stir in cold water. Pour into molds. Freeze until almost firm, then push in handles. Freeze at least 8 hours or overnight.

NOTE: This recipe makes a LARGE amount of popsicles. I used 2 molds that held 8 popsicles and still had a ton left over. Oh, and if you don't have popsicle containers, it's all good. Just use ice cube trays. Wrap the tops with plastic wrap and stick toothpicks through the wrap. Voila! Instant mini-pops!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Summer Fun Box: Make a Movie!

Today the Summer Fun Box had declared it was the day to make a movie. The kids created/agreed on the following loose script:

A princess is riding her horse through the forest. A robber steals it. She calls a hero who fights the robber and loses, but then steals the horse anyway. The robber searches "the entire earth" for the horse but never finds it. Meanwhile the hero returns the horse to the princess.

For this movie we ventured up to the local church to film in a small wooded area that seemed perfect for the "riding though the forest and then the horse is stolen" scene. I think it works.


white and black stripe shirt = thief shirt
small piece of vinyl siding trim = sword/walking stick
purple badminton sake = dagger
horse head on a stick = horse
piece of broken tree branch = phone
Duluth pack = thief's backpack

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Found Art

The kids and I decided to make some collages out of all of the items we found during a morning walk around the neighborhood.

Owen focused mainly on green (his favorite color), and chose many large pieces that seemed to complement each other.

Annika went for more splashes of color. She found a nice use for the rubber band that Owen found in someone's driveway. It now serves as a decorative bow tie on the leaf in the center.

Alex went for a more minimalist approach, using touches of red and a simple sprig of pine to highlight his pen and ink drawing.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Summer Fun Box

Here's an idea that our family recently created. It's called our Summer Fun Box, and it's a very fun and economical idea for keeping busy throughout the summer.

First, we took a plain box and cut a hole in the middle large enough for a child's hand to be inserted into it. Then we decorated the box with plain white paper and colored summer type images onto it. Summer-themed gift wrap would work just as well, but my five-year-old is really into art and had a great time drawing and coloring it with me.

Next, our family sat down and brainstormed ideas for activities we could do this summer. Most involve the outdoors, but we threw in some indoor activities as well. Here's a sampling of what we came up with:

Play in the sprinkler
Visit the library
Go on a nature hike, and the chooser gets to be in charge of the camera
Movie night -- chooser picks the film, and Mom and Dad provide the popcorn
Ride a bus downtown
Have a picnic lunch in the backyard
Make a collage with items we find outside
Paint some rocks
Chooser picks dinner
Let's go swimming today
Go on a bike ride
Take a walk through the skyways downtown

These were just a few of MANY ideas we brainstormed, and all are economically friendly and fun for kids. The key to making this activity work is to let the kids come up with the ideas. I offered some suggestions, but for the most part, the kids were really great about coming up with excellent ideas.

For good measure, we tossed in some "Big Ticket" items that were truly special activities:

A Day Trip to the Zoo
A Day Trip to the Children's Museum

We happen to have memberships to both places, so these activities wouldn't cost us too much.

Here's how it works:

Each night after supper, one child draws an activity from the box. Whatever is drawn will be the activity we will do the next day. That way, arrangements can be made and supplies can be gathered by me the night before so we don't waste precious activity time.

Also, you may want to lay some ground rules. In our family, Big Ticket items may have to be put back in the box and redrawn if we already have an appointment scheduled for the next day. Also, have a plan "B" for rainy weather (although most activities can be completed indoors with a little imagination).

A word of warning: This activity requires A LOT of flexibility on your part. If you're a Type A personality like myself, you may have trouble diverting from routine.

Enjoy! Oh...and I'd love to know any good activities your family comes up with!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The World Didn't Come To A Screeching Halt

But I thought it would.

Although Kurt and I decided we would home school our children more than one year ago, I consciously decided not to tell people. But as the school year inched closer and closer to its end, our plan became more and more difficult to hide as questions surfaced. Friends would ask if we'd decided to enroll in the neighborhood school or were on waiting lists for one of those elusive "choice" schools. Clerks at the grocery store would smile at my daughter as they rang up our food and ask her if she was all ready for kindergarten. Relatives, who had heard faint rumors through the familial grapevine, would gently ask exactly what our plans were for next year.

At first, I dodged the questions. I'd reply that we were scheduled for a particular elementary school (not a lie) and had heard great things about it, or that we hadn't yet decided what particular choice school would fit our family's needs. Sometimes I'd just smile and shake my head no as they asked if I was ready to let her go off to kindergarten next year (again, not exactly a lie).

Looking back, I'm not really sure why I was so hesitant. I guess it's because I thought that the minute I spread our good news, things would change. I worried that my friends, many of whom were former teachers, would judge me harshly. I worried that complete strangers would form an opinion of me as being "one of those crazy homeschooling-granola-loving-school-hating" types. But mostly, I worried that others would feel like I was acting superior in some way; that my decision to home school meant that their decision to educate their children in a traditional school setting was somehow inferior.

So for those reasons, I decided to keep our little secret under wraps. Annika, however, did not get the memo.

It started out innocently enough. Family members would tell me how Annika told them she wasn't planning to go to school next year and would learn at home. An early childhood educator asked me about homeschooling after Annika had listed all of the reasons she's looking forward to being educated at home. And other parents started to ask me about home schooling after their children would return home from a play date and report all that Annika had told them. I knew the cat was really out of the bag when Annika's response to the clerk at the grocery store was that she was going to "her own home school."

I'm ashamed to say it now, but whenever the home school issue would arise I answered honestly and then cringed, waiting for the world to stop spinning. I'd stare back tentatively, a smile pasted on my face waiting for words of rebuke or the look of disbelief in their eyes. But that has never happened. In fact, I'd venture to say that most of the responses have been positive, supportive even. Instead of disbelief, my admission has been met with curiosity and admiration. I've received no harsh words, only Wows! followed by lots of questions. Instead of uncomfortable silences, I've been given materials, referrals to great websites, and offers to extend play dates into the next year.

My friends are still my friends. Teachers still think my kids are awesome. And not that I care...but even perfect strangers treat me as they would anyone else.

No, the world didn't come to the screeching halt I had so fearfully envisioned. Instead it has swept me up and kept right on spinning.

The only thing that did change was me and the way I now view the future.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Not to beat a dead horse. . .

but I thought it was funny that in the online reviews of the Robinson Curriculum it states that Zach went on to get a MCD in Chemistry and became a Vet.

Like, duh. His responsibility was tending to the farm animals.

Zachary did all work with the cattle (about 30) and the chickens.
I guess I'm just not that impressed. I tend to think the kids thrived despite conditions. And whose responsibility was it to clean the house and take down the Christmas tree?