Thursday, February 25, 2010

A little bird told me...

astronomy can wait.

Our science plans for this year were to complete our study of earth and space from last year. We were doing pretty well, having completed our study of weather, and then we excitedly began our study of astronomy. But in January we got distracted. By birds.

In the winter our bird feeder is constantly busy, and it is easier to see our little feathered friends without all the leaves on the trees. It got to the point that I was taking more pictures of birds than my kids.

But it got worse. We've been using Adventures in My Father's World for our history studies, ignoring the science and Bible portions (because we were already doing our own thing for these subjects when we started Adventures). But in January, I noticed that the science portion had a birding unit that fit in well with the study of the 50 states. I also knew that The Great Backyard Bird Count was coming up and wanted to be better prepared than we were last year. The final push was when we purchased the Winter Nature Study ebook that had a section devoted to bird watching. I decided it wasn't going to kill us to put off astronomy a little longer. It just makes my planning for next year a little easier! Apparently it was a great decision, because both kids have really enjoyed our bird studies, and I thought I'd share some of the great resources we've used.


Here is a list of the books we have read (or are currently reading), with our Blue House Academy rating (5 stars = highest rating):

Bird Songs, Les Beletsky (2006) *****

State Birds, Arthur Singer (1986) *****

Our Yard is Full of Birds, Lizzy Rockwell (1992) ****

Fine Feathered Friends, Jane Yolen (2004) ****

Crinkleroot's Guide to Knowing the Birds, Jim Arnosky (1992) *****

Robin at Hickory Street, Dana Meachen Rau (1995) *****

My Spring Robin, Anne Rockwell (1989) ***

Birdhouse for Rent, Harriet Ziefert (2001) *****

Cardinals, Robins, and Other Birds, George Fichter (1993) ****

Birds, Brian Wildsmith (1967) ****

Owls in the Family, Farley Mowat (1961) still reading, but so far it's a five-star


A Beka Birds of North America Science Flashcards I bought these used last year, and have found them very helpful in reviewing the birds we have studied. We are using the 50 States set that includes notebook pages on each of the 50 state birds. The kids color a new picture of a state bird every day. They use the Arthur Singer book to see how the birds look, but the A Beka flash cards are also great for this. also has notebooking kits more specific to birding.

Olive Plants I've sung Dawn's praises a few times -- her blog is one of my favorites -- but I doubt you'll find many families more into birds than hers. Her sons compete in (and win) birding competitions. Dawn has some great birding tips, and I especially love her idea of making silhouettes of birds to improve identification skills.


Now here is where I reveal that despite all this preparation, we're still not all that great at actual bird watching. But we are improving! As with last year, we only participated in the count on the final day. We spent most of the morning counting the birds that visited our feeder. It was pretty much the same birds all day long -- the same birds we see on a daily basis, but they are still a joy to watch.

Our count:

Northern Cardinals - 11 (curiously, all males on this day)

Dark-eyed Junco - 5

Blue Jay - 1

Red-bellied Woodpecker - 1

Downy Woodpecker (or maybe Hairy Woodpecker) - 1

Tufted Titmouse - 1

It was a chilly day, but in the afternoon Grace and I took a walk in the woods to try to spot more birds. Just like last year, we saw nothing except one hawk flying high overhead. If we looked up the hill, we could still see the same birds hanging out at the feeder, but that was it. Maybe we should have participated in the "Great Backyard Deer Count" -- we saw three. It was still a nice walk though.


We had a lot of fun completing the bird-themed activities in Adventures. Ever wonder how many worms a robin can eat in a day? Try 40 feet worth!!! We cut a 40 foot piece of yarn to see just how amazing that is. We also learned a chickadee weighs the equivalent of four pennies! And, best of all, we made edible bird nests. Messy and yummy -- what more could a kid ask for?


The kids memorized a couple of darling poems from the Jane Yolen book, with this one about a woodpecker being their favorite:

Wood/Peck by Jane Yolen

Wood peck, peck, peck

Up the bark, bark, bark

In the day, day, day

Not the dark, dark, dark

Time to work, work, work

Flick and fleck, fleck, fleck

Look for bugs, bugs, bugs,

As I peck, peck, peck.


So, I'm not sure when we'll return to astronomy, but for now we're enjoying our little detour. And we continue to learn. A week after the count, we saw a trio of birds we hadn't seen before. It took a while (and a lot of googling) for us to find out that they were European Starlings, actually a pretty common bird across North America. But they only have these spots in the winter, which is why we weren't recognizing them in any of our books or on the internet.

Our goal is to continue working on identification skills and keep better track of who visits our yard other times of the year. And hopefully next year we can participate in the count more than one day, maybe visiting an additional location to see what other feathered friends we can find.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

My Desk(s)

Andrea at Heritage Academy had a cute post showing her not-so-organized desk space, laughing about some of the random items found there. She encouraged her readers to post their own pictures so we could laugh together. I think I've been pretty "real" on this blog, so hopefully I won't be disappointing anyone in revealing just how imperfect I am!

My desk has actually multiplied over the last several months. When I got my new laptop in August, I moved my workstation over to the nearby craft table because we still had the desktop on the desk. The desktop is all but dead, just waiting for me to transfer some files. Meanwhile, Grandma (Marc's mom) and Grandpa (my dad) got the kids a new laptop for Christmas, so until I get rid of the desktop I've set up a card table for the kids to use for their computer. Got that? So... triple the desk space and triple the clutter!

Here's a quick tour:

1. That clock still hasn't been changed from daylight savings last fall. If I get up there to change it though, I won't be able to ignore all the dust, printer paper, Webkinz codes, and the baton I have stashed up there.

2. That's the all-but-dead computer that needs to find a new home. Think of all the space I will be able to fill once it's gone!

3. No, it's not a dead animal. Just the cattails from our nature study a few weeks ago.

4. My workspace. Some of the random objects you'll find here: my old cell phone, my mother-in-law's earring that I still need to get in the mail, neat-looking software handed down from my sister-in-law that I can't get to work on either of our new computers, a stack of water colors Grace painted, the basement plans I still haven't blogged about, a Little House on the Prairie book I mentioned in my last post because I wanted to make sure I was right about that reference, and a very sharp piece of wood that broke off our Math U See block holder.

5. The card table/temporary workspace for the kids. The stack of children's choir music from the Christmas program is sitting there. It had been sitting on the desk, but I finally decided it was time to put the music away. I must have got distracted. {sigh} And even I can't explain why there's a toddler beach hat sitting on the table. I'm a little embarrassed about all the library books under the table. I actually have a great system for storing library books, but these are special books for our Around the World fair next week that wouldn't fit in our normal library book spot. What better place than the floor?

6. Ah yes, I have such a great system for filing our completed lesson plans -- that's the one from two weeks ago on top of the Handbook for Nature Study, under the table, next to the Sunday School posters Grace brought home this week that I have no idea where to put.

7. Anna's workspace. As you can tell, I am training her well.

Monday, February 1, 2010

What to do with an extra hour every day...

Isn't it the dream of every mom -- more time in the day? Thanks to my wonderful husband, as of Saturday, I now have an extra hour in my day! He installed our Christmas present to each other.

Okay, so it's probably not the most sentimental gift we've given each other over the years, but I haven't been this excited about a new appliance... ever. I have been without a dishwasher for about two years, and really it wasn't much of a dishwasher before it died. But we kept putting off buying a new one because there always seemed to be something more important to spend our money on.

Besides, if Ma Ingalls can wash her own dishes by hand, I should be able to as well. When I'm trying to be practical I often think of Ma Ingalls -- deep down I really wish I had grown up on the prairie, I just don't think I would have been very good at it.

But see, here's the difference. They didn't have dishes. In Little House on the Prairie we learn that Laura and Mary had to share a tin cup when they made their move from the big woods . My kids would rather die before having to share a cup. Sometimes Ryne even gets grossed out if Grace's cup is too close to his cup. Ma Ingalls would probably faint if she saw how many cups we have.

Oh, I know, some people really do live without dishwashers just fine. Apparently, I'm just not one of them, so I finally gave in to my husband's pleading. And I love it! I don't even need to rinse before putting the dishes in!!!

So now I have a whole extra hour (or more) added to my day!!! Sadly, I really need an extra 24, but this will do for now. What should I do with that hour? Hmmm... maybe I could finally be consistent with blogging. Or clean the laundy room. Or sort through old photos. Or come up with some neat projects for the kids workboxes. Or work on the basement project. Or...

Now I'm starting to get depressed. Why does an hour seem so long when you're washing dishes, but so short when you you're trying to figure out how to fill it?

What would you do with an extra hour in your day?