Friday, October 30, 2009

Are we nature study drop-outs?

No, we're not drop-outs. I'm just a bad blogger. You've probably noticed a lack of weekly reports as well. Sigh. Nevertheless, nature study has been the best thing we've added to our schooling. Go figure, I spend all kinds of money on curriculum and it's the thing that doesn't cost any money that is our favorite. Well, maybe not Ryne's favorite, but he still really enjoys the walks. I had planned on completing the first 10 Outdoor Hour Challenges, but around Challenge #5 we started to get distracted. That was because Barb started posting her new Autumn Challenge series and it looked like so much fun. We've completed at least three of the new challenges. Sometimes we've gone on our walks with an agenda and sometimes not. But each time has given us a greater appreciation for God's beautiful creation.


We actually spent several weeks on cattails. We took a walk in our backyard, thinking we might find some near the creek. There were no cattails to be found, but we ran into one of our forest friends (see picture at the beginning of this post). Later, we took the world's shortest nature walk (if you can even call it a walk). I remembered seeing some cattails near a storm water retention pond outside a swimming complex where Anna had a swim meet late this summer. It certainly wasn't the most scenic spot and we got some odd looks as we jumped out of the car to take a quick peek, but we did find the remains of some cattails. Gracie called them "roasted cattails"! We picked one of the roasted cattails and inspected it at home. About a week later we noticed tons of cattails growing along the highway exit we take everyday to get home, so I snapped some pictures and prayed we wouldn't get hit by a car. Then we combined our cattail study with an art assignment from
Artistic Pursuits in which they were supposed to use water color crayons to make their own picture from a photograph.

By the time we wrapped up our study of cattails, Barb was already posting Fall Challenge # 5 - Pumpkins.


Every year our family goes to the same pumpkin farm that is not far from our house. We've learned from past years that pumpkins are very dependent on favorable weather conditions. A couple of years ago, we had a late spring freeze which wrecked all the local pumpkin crops. So when we got out to the field full of beautiful pumpkins we were very surprised, until we realized that none were attached to their vines. They had all been shipped in! But not this year. The field was full of beautiful pumpkins, still attached to the vines. Makes for a much better nature study!


The following week, I let Ryne and Grace inspect a small pumpkin a little closer. First we looked at, felt, and even smelled the outside of the pumpkin. Then we cut it up. Both kids made drawings for their nature journals. Barb provided some discussion topics and my favorite comment was when Ryne said the seeds looked like raindrops.


Yes, I can count -- there's a reason I'm posting the challenges out of order. As we were taking our hay ride back from the pumpkin patch I noticed some large clumps of yellow flowers. Normally I'd have no idea what they are, but I remembered reading Barb's post about goldenrod. So we went to inspect more closely what the Handbook of Nature study calls "golden cities." The next day I noticed some goldenrod next to the church parking lot too, so we picked a stem to bring home. Gracie made a sketch for her nature journal.

There have been other nature walks too, but not specific to any of the challenges. And I never was able to get OHC #4 of the camera card that won't work in my printer.

Perhaps the best was when Marc took Ryne and Grace on a walk last weekend to the same state park we went to for our first challenge. Daddy doesn't get to participate much in our homeschool fun, so I was glad he had this opportunity. The fall color had peaked a few days before, but it was still glorious. Now, I've complained at least once on this blog about my husband's lack of talent with a camera, but I think he redeemed himself with these pictures.


So even though I haven't been posting much about our nature studies, we have been learning so much and having a lovely time. I am "sold" on how important this is in a child's development.

The mother must not miss this opportunity of being outdoors to train the children to have seeing eyes, hearing ears and seeds of truth deposited into their minds to grow and blossom on their own in the secret chambers of their imaginations. (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1 p.44)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Composer Study: Franz Joseph Haydn

Last week we completed our first of four composer studies for the school year. I thought I'd share the resources we used in our study of Franz Joseph Haydn.


Joseph Haydn: Merry Little Peasant by Opal Wheeler

We love this series of stories about famous composers and plan to use Wheeler's books for all our composer studies this year. I highly recommend buying the accompanying CD, unless you are musically gifted. The books have snippets of various compositions scattered throughout, and your children will inevitably ask, "How does that one sound?" This book received the Blue House Academy rating of five out of five stars. *****

The Farewell Symphony by Anna Harwell Celenza

My library system has every Celenza composer story except this one, so I ended up buying it through Amazon and I'm glad I did. The kids loved the story of how "Papa" Haydn and his musicians bid farewell to Prince Esterhazy. The story is included in the Wheeler book as well, but the Celenza book has the entire symphony on its CD (included with the book). We also watched this clip on You Tube so the kids could actually see the musicians walk out. *****

Franz Joseph Haydn: Great Man of Music by Carol Greene

We just read this simple book last week, and it turned out to be a great review of the main facts we learned about Haydn. ****


If you're looking for Christmas gift ideas, take a look at the Beethoven's Wig CDs. My kids love, love, love them, and Ryne has developed a passion for classical music because of the four CD's. If you have the CDs or can find them at your library, there are a couple of tunes you should include in your Haydn study: Vol. 1 tracks 6 & 17 (Surprise Symphony) and Vol. 3 tracks 13 & 29 (Minuet & Trio from Concerto in D Major). The latter is actually from Franz Joseph's younger brother, Johann Michael Haydn.

We also enjoyed singing severals hymns that use music composed by Haydn. The numbers are from the Trinity Hymnal.

#12 - Exalt the Lord, His Praise Proclaim

#17 - The Spacious Firmament on High

#269 - Welcome, Happy Morning!

#345 - Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken

#396 - Come, My Soul, Thou Must Be Waking

And from his brother, Johann Michael...

#2 - O Worship the King

#165 - Ye Servants of God, Your Master Proclaim

The highlight of our Haydn study, however, was Ryne learning how to play the Surprise Symphony on the piano. First, some background...

[Haydn] was puzzled to know what to do with the ladies who nodded sleepily when the concerts began. He supposed too much dinner was the cause and he wondered how he could make them listen well to his music.

"Ah, I shall surprise them," he thought to himself with a twinkle in his eye.

He began to compose a symphony. The music started slowly and quietly, and now everyone would be settled comfortably for a nap. Then he wrote a sudden sharp chord. "The ladies will jump there," chuckled Haydn to himself. (The Merry Little Peasant, p. 103)

Ryne loved this story, so one day during a practice session we decided to do a little role play. I pretended to be one of the sleepy ladies in the audience who is startled awake by the clever Haydn. Ryne was so tickled! Not only did it motivate him to learn those tough chords a little quicker, but it provided us with some great opportunities to work on joint attention skills. In the following clip, Grace acts out the role of the sleepy lady. It was a spur of the moment type video, so please forgive her crazy outfit and messy hair. Ryne also didn't play his best, but you can tell he's having fun with it.

By the way, here is the piano book Ryne used to learn the Surprise Symphony. I found it at a homeschool convention, and it has been a wonderful addition to his piano studies.

My First Book of Classical Music by Bergerac

Other: You can find more great resources at the Classics for Kids website.

Both kids really enjoyed our study of Haydn, and I'm glad we decided to spend a whole quarter on him. Last year I planned on doing a new composer every month, but I always felt too rushed and then felt guilty for not being on schedule. This year feels much more relaxed and enjoyable.

Now we are looking forward to getting better acquainted with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Iditarod Project Part II: Making the Map

One of the best things about doing an Iditarod study is that you will certainly not be alone. Homeschoolers and classrooms all over the world will be joining you, many of them sharing their fabulous ideas. If you have a student in grades K-8, you can join The eIditarod Project, a yahoo group that provides structure, resources, and guidance in your study. Your first assignment after registering with The eIditarod Project is to study the trail and create a wall-sized map. This was one of our favorite activities of the whole event -- and probably the most useful. Physically moving your musher from checkpoint to checkpoint gives you a real sense of what the musher is encountering. There are instructions and ideas for making your map here. Don't have enough wall space? No problem! There is a picture of a class that made a floor map out of masking tape!

I wanted our map to be in our school room, but we have very little wall space, so I removed a picture from the wall and hung our map in the hallway outside our school room. It was the perfect size and still accessible enough that we made good use of the map.

To make our map I first made a copy of a trail map on transparency film. A group member shared this link to a great trail map on the Cabela's website, so this is the map we copied. Obviously you will need some large sheets of paper for your map, but before you go out an buy some big expensive roll of paper, please check to see if your area has a Freecycle group. I was able to get a huge stack of sturdy 2x3' sheets of gray paper from a preschool teacher -- for free! I taped four sheets together to make our map, and it worked perfectly. We took our paper and transparency to church and used the church's overhead projector to project the map onto an empty wall. After tracing the map onto the paper, we took it home to outline in permanent marker and color with Prismacolors. I do have a confession to make -- we never fully completed our map. We intended to label major bodies of water, mountains, and other areas of interest as well as more information about the musher we followed, but never got around to it. The kids still learned of most of those features through our reading, and we were able to compare our wall map to several maps we found in books. God even arranged for some volcanic activity from Mt. Redoubt during our study, so we were able to point out the mountain on our map and review some of our science from earlier in the year.

So here is the map we made:


Some general information about the trail:

Chart to log our musher's checkpoint arrivals and departures:

A little personal touch:

Pictures from my dad's trip to Alaska from a few years ago:

I made a tiny photo of our musher and her team and put some sticky tack on the back so we could move her along the trail. How exciting is was to finally place her on Nome!

Stay tuned for the final post in this series: picking a musher and following the race.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Plan now to avoid winter blues!

For any who followed my blog nine months ago, you might remember that I had a hard time getting back into a good rhythm with our homeschooling after the Christmas break. I was burned out and discouraged, and at times it rubbed off on my kids. We did recover, and the damage was minimal, but I learned a few lessons from the experience. One is that it is good to plan ahead for a winter slump. Just as it is wise to save our pennies for a rainy day, start saving some ideas now to pull out when you wish you had never heard of the word "homeschool." I did not do that planning last year, but by God's grace, a couple of special projects fell into my lap, and one in particular rekindled our love for learning and added some much-needed spark to our homeschooling.

Mush! The Blue House Academy Iditarod Project - Part I

I first heard about using the Iditarod dog sled race as a unit study from The Old Schoolhouse magazine (Winter 2007-2008). It contained a great article with many resources and suggestions, and that issue can still be purchased here (print copy) and here (digital copy). Unit studies kind of intimidate me, but this time I was very interested. We once had a Siberian Husky and before I became a mom I spent many days having her pull me on cross country skies (an unknown sport called skijoring). She ran away several years ago, but the kids still talk about her all the time and are naturally drawn to anything related to huskies.

Of course, it always takes me months to read a TOS issue, so Alaska was welcoming spring flowers by the time I read the article, and an Iditarod study would have to wait for another year. I almost forgot all about it until fellow homeschool mom, Donna, posted about her Iditarod study at Go Alongs (she's now blogging and digital scrapbooking at Tootlebugz). Donna is much more creative than me, even making her own notebook pages. Plus, she truly made it into a unit study, covering all subjects, whereas I mostly used it as something fun and extra.

Our study consisted primarily of three parts:

1. Reading

2. Creating a map of the Iditarod Trail

3. Picking a musher and following the race online

Today I'm going to share our literature selections and will cover the other two parts over the next week. The TOS article has some reading suggestions, but I also relied on an incredible list at the official Iditarod website. Their list broken down into fiction and non-fiction books for adults, children and young adults, plus a special section for teacher resources. Each book is assigned an approximate grade level. We found several books we just adored and a couple will probably find their way under the Christmas tree this year.

Last year we started rating all the books we read on a five star scale, with five stars being the highest rating (although Anna had to give The Lord of the Rings books six stars to show that they are in a class by themselves). In our system, for a picture book to earn five stars it must have beautiful illustrations, and each of these books are among the most beautifully illustrated we've read in all our studies. So here are the five star books we read for our Iditarod study:

Born to Pull by Bob Cary

This book is your Dog Mushing 101 course. It tells you everything you need to know about the sport in an engaging manner.

Togo by Robert Blake

Most people familiar with the Iditarod have heard of the famous husky, Balto, but this dog's tale is just as worthy. This is one I'd like to add to our personal library.

Big-Enough Anna by Pam Flowers

We had to read this one because of the dog's name! This story is about the author's own 2,500 mile journey across the top of North America.

Akiak by Robert Blake

Do not miss this one! Akiak will have you jumping up cheering at the end of the book. I'm sure my kids will be cheering when they have their own copy come Christmas.

Welcome to the Ice House by Jane Yolen

We actually just read this book last week, but I thought it would make an excellent addition to an Iditarod study. The pictures make you feel like you're taking a nature walk in the Arctic.

In our rating system four-stars are pretty good too, and we had several fall into that category. Also, when Anna reads a book independently, she gets to rate it herself and I think sometimes her line between four and five stars is a little blurry. So here are our four-star books:

Mush! by Patricia Seibert

Black Star, Bright Dawn by Scott O'Dell (IR - Anna)

Storm Run by Libby Riddles

The Mystery on Alaska's Iditarod Trail by Carol Marsh (IR - Anna)

The Call of the Wild (The Whole Story Series) by Jack London (IR - Anna)

The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto by Natalie Standiford

The only book we read that didn't receive four or five stars was Stone Fox by John Reynolds, which Anna gave just two stars, mostly because the dog dies at the end, but she said even without the sad ending she didn't enjoy it as much as the other books. I think others would disagree with her review, however.

We didn't watch any movies with our Iditarod study, but Iron Will is a great choice (my kids have seen it many times over the years). Eight Below is also a great movie, but way too sad for our family. Anna especially is still extremely sensitive over the loss of our own husky, and when she and I saw Eight Below in the theater we were both in tears the whole time. If you don't have quite the emotional connection, I think the movie is wonderful. You can read a review here.

Stay tuned for part two: creating an Iditarod trail map.

winter photo from

Thursday, October 8, 2009

What happened?!

Sorry! I promised you an update on Ryne's big weekend and then...


It's all Marc's fault. Kidding, sort of. It all started with us just wanting to save a few bucks. We both knew that the cable bill was an easy place to start. We get our internet and phone through the cable company too, so it is quite a hefty bill. So Marc headed over to visit with the cable people on Monday and was helped by the best customer service person ever (yes, at a cable company of all places!). The guy helped us slash $50 off our monthly bill. The part our kids are not happy about is that we switched from standard cable to basic cable. So gone are the days of Disney Channel and Cartoon Network. We should have done it years ago.

The cable guy also told us that we really should buy our own router because it will be cheaper than renting from them, and it will work better. Sounds great, in theory. Except that we CANNOT figure out how to get the dumb thing to work. We turned in the old router, so my laptop won't work until we have the new one running. But somehow we managed to goof everything up, so even the desktop won't get an internet connection.

I've spent hours trying to figure it out with no success. Today I decided I would get the thing to work, even if I had to spend the entire afternoon calling the Netgear help line. But then I discovered a new problem... we don't have a cable connection at all. Apparently, when the service guy came out yesterday to switch us from standard to basic, he disabled the whole thing. So now we have no internet, no cable TV, and no phone. And therefore, no blogging.

Now that I've gone into way too much detail on my cable woes, here is the Ryno update many of you requested: HE DID GREAT!!! It was a little hard to get a lot of details out of him, but he did share something incredible. They visited a space museum near Wichita, Kansas and apparently there was a movie or presentation that talked about the universe being billions of years old and that it was started by an explosion. He said he got into a conversation with, I think, an older scout about how it couldn't possibly be billions of years old because God created the world, only thousands of years old. It sounds like this older kid told him that was scientifically impossible, but Ryne argued otherwise. At the Den meeting this week, the leader made a special point in the parents' meeting to say that Ryne did great, and a couple of the dads that were there said he had some of the best questions out of the whole group. That is what we always struggle with on outings like that -- making sure his questions and comments are on topic.

So THANK YOU for your prayers. It was so hard being away from him, even for a short time, but it is clear that it was a good thing.

I'm at the library typing this because they have free Wi-Fi, and I have five minutes before they close, so this post is done. I'm sure it is full of typos, so please forgive me. Hopefully everything will be back to normal soon.

Edited to add: I can still get a signal out in the parking lot! I'm glad too, because there were some pretty significant errors in this post. I usually have to make about four sets of corrections on everything I write on this blog. Am I the only one who can't catch these things before I hit publish?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

If you ever had bigger hair than this...

...I dare you to prove it!


Okay, I'll give you a moment to stop laughing.

Why subject myself to humiliation by posting this picture on the internet? This weekend is my 20th high school reunion, so I thought I'd do something in honor of the occasion. I'm not actually going to the reunion because I didn't find out about it until a few weeks ago. Apparently the information was only posted on Facebook, and I still refuse to add one more thing to draw me to the computer, so I miss out on important information like high school reunions.

Back to the picture. Let me explain something. We all know big hair was "big" in the 80's, but I grew up in south Texas where big is taken to a whole new level. I worked hard at that hair. I had to get up at 5:30 a.m. to make sure I had hair and makeup like that every day. I absolutely could not have done it without my best friend.


I really think scientists should study whether there is a correlation between autism and the mother's prior use of AquaNet.

So here's to the Class of '89 -- the best and last of the 80's.

P.S. Thank you for your prayers! Ryne was so excited when I dropped him off, and after a few moments of panic, I am doing fine too. : ) I will update soon...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Prayer Request

This weekend will mark a new milestone in our autism adventure. Ryne will go on a Cub Scout camping trip without a parent. It was not exactly a planned thing, but I'm grateful for how it all came about.

A few weeks ago Marc was at a den meeting with Ryne, and everyone was discussing the various camping trips planned for this fall. When asked if Ryne would be attending this weekend's trip, Marc said no because he planned on running in a 5K with Anna for a school fundraiser. The boys are old enough that they are not required to have a parent with them for camp-outs, but we feel that Ryne still needs adult supervision.

But then the most amazing thing happened. One of the boy's dad said, so matter of fact, "We're taking Ryne." I couldn't believe it when Marc told me the news, and yet I'm not surprised. Over the years I've noticed that people who meet Ryne fall into one of two groups -- the ones who get him and the ones who don't. I don't harbor ill feelings for the ones who don't get him -- autism is a difficult thing to understand. But what a blessing it is when we come across those who bond with him. Several of his therapists from his preschool years fell into that category. So did his first grade teacher, which is why it broke our heart to tell her we were pulling him out of her class. The last couple of years he's had a Sunday School teacher that adores him.

And then there is Cub Scouts. I cannot say enough about how wonderful the scouting experience has been for Ryne. Several of the boys in the den were in Ryne's class when he went to the Christian school, and he really bonded with them. I worried that as they got older they would want to distance themselves from Ryne, but that has not happened. Here are some pictures from day camp last year. Ryne is the one in the blue cap.

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I haven't seen much hand-holding lately, but it is still clear that Ryne has some great friends. And the adults are just as wonderful. People go out of their way to help and include Ryne, and the dad who volunteered to watch over him this weekend is just the latest example.

So I'm asking for your prayers for this weekend. Please pray for safety (the camp is over three hours away), and that all goes well. And please pray for the D Family -- that God would bless them for this incredible act of kindness. Finally, pray that I will have peace while he is gone. I have typical mom feelings of wishing he could just stay a little boy forever. What happened to the days when he held on to my legs for dear life if I just tried to take the garbage out?