Monday, June 25, 2007

B, B and B

Bouncy Ball
Today I am writing at a new computer set-up, having taken the machine off the dining room table (more family friendly) and put it downstairs at my new desk. Oh, yes, we've been moving things around again! Natalie, Leah and Rebecca all in new bedrooms... furniture moving all over the place. Our lives went from horrific to peaceful in one fell swoop, it was amazing. Natalie and Leah used to spend all their naptime and bedtime (until late in the night, around 11 pm) playing around in their bedrooms, sneaking out into the hallway, tapping messages to each other through the wall, talking to each other, on and on... naptime and bedtimes were nothing but me stopping what I was doing every 2 minutes -- literally -- to go ask them to be quiet and please go to sleep. HOURS and HOURS every day of fighting with my kids. Oh, I was beyond miserable. And you can't force someone to go to sleep, so it pretty much puts you in a losing position. Ditto with not being able to force someone to be quiet. You are either pleading with them or threatening them but you can't actually make them do it. So we backed ourselves into quite a corner and everyone was very unhappy. We were actually considering turning their bedroom doorknobs around so we could lock them in (which is an idea that makes me sick to my stomach, but we were desperate) but, of course, that wouldn't stop them from talking to each other. And I'm going, okay, Waldorf says they don't have willpower at this age and they are living in the moment, can't stop themselves. But I don't know what that means... I'm still supposed to parent them. They are not wild animals, they are able to be taught to be human. (Sometimes my ideas about children being in the will stage confuse me. I think I have some things wrong when it comes to parenting in a Waldorf way... I can't wait to see Barbara Dewey and ask her some of the questions I have about this stage).

Seeking help, I asked my mom and she said, when we told you to go to bed, you went to bed. Not helpful! And, thinking about this some more, my kids have never acted like this in any other sleeping arrangement we've ever had... so I don't think they are bad children, it must just be that they simply desperately wanted to be together. So Friday night I get an epiphany and go to Steve and say, maybe we are tackling this the wrong way and we should just let them be together, instead of expending tremendous amounts of energy keeping them apart (they'd never been in back-to-back bedrooms before, usually they were on separate floors). So we moved N and L together to the downstairs room where they have their own bathroom and can run around and whoop and holler without bothering a single soul. There's a concrete floor (carpeted of course) in their room so it's much better than little feet on a wooden floor making me nuts. No one is stuck down in the downstairs room alone (a reason why they each didn't like being there) and Becca is back upstairs (and she couldn't care less). That leaves us with an empty room... a guest room! We moved the TV from the downstairs living room, which had been slowly turning me into a vegetable, and put it in the guest room. No cable access, no eternal TV watching. We have movies in case Jenn wants to watch some. But no more TV for me (the kids are already off it but, in my case, we set it up so I could do exercise videos and it was slowly sucking me in). Now the kids are behaving like perfect angels. No one is getting in trouble anymore! I have a desk downstairs where my TV used to be and I am sitting on my gigantic red bouncy ball (which the physical therapist told me to sit on as much as possible -- apparently bouncing on this thing actually helps to rebuild cartilage in your back!) and blogging away. It's so strange how parenting can be... One minute you're sitting staring down the throat of a huge black monster of despair, thinking "I have no idea what to do in this situation, I am ruining my children for life, I am so miserable" and then you fix the thing that is wrong and suddenly you're relaxed and parenting is fun and easy again. Strange.

Bag Lunch
Natalie headed off this morning for her first-ever day of summer camp. Steve took her so that he can also get new tires put on the van. I got her all packed up this morning and she was soooo excited to take a bag lunch (also a first for her). She was so excited about her lunch that she could hardly eat her breakfast! It was adorable. I hope she has a really good time and I can't wait to see her at 12:30 and hear all about it.

Bean Art
Meanwhile, back in the jungle, Leah and Rebecca and I are hanging out this morning sans Natalie and I decided to get out the bag of dried beans I had been saving and have us do a dried bean collage. This is really inexpensive and super-simple. A piece of construction paper, a variety of dried beans (just get a bagged bean mix), and glue are all you need. To make it easier, I gave the kids a small paintbrush each and put the glue in an old ashtray. They had the glue between them and dipped the brushes in, put it on the paper, and chose a bean (they each had their own tray of beans -- just put the beans into an old cookie tin and pour out a selection onto the lid, when you are done, pour all the beans back into the tin and pack it away). I like to use an ashtray instead of another kind of small dish because 1) I don't care if it gets ruined and 2) they have little dips in the sides where the cigarettes used to go and those dips are perfect to rest your paintbrush in when you are not using it. The brush isn't dripping on the table and it isn't swimming in the water or paint or glue or whatever. Rebecca loved this project -- she had an absolute blast.

Friday, June 22, 2007

String Art

Today was Spiders Spin Webs and making our nail boards for our string art pieces. I thought that instead of making the boards up in advance I'd give the kids the opportunity to help. They loved hammering the nails in (with help). This was Natalie and Leah only -- Becca I think is too little for a hammer and real nails and too young also to manipulate the ball of yarn to make patterns. After making our nail boards I gave Natalie a small ball of yellow yarn and Leah a small ball of orange yarn and sent them off to make designs while I made lunch. Leah's string art turned out to be really beautiful, I was somewhat surprised. We kept it simple -- and really cheap. The frames were old picture frames that Steve found on freecycle, the finishing nails and hammer we already owned, and ditto with the yarn (another example of the usefulness of my stash of odds and ends of craft stuff). If you're making this at home, I recommend a picture frame that is at least 1 1/2 inches thick so that it doesn't split when you put the nails in. Keep them spaced pretty far apart also. We used three nails each for the long sides of the frames and two nails on each short side for a total of 10. If the children were older I'd probably have us do more nails to allow for more complicated patterns.

This afternoon is a special Spider Snack. I had planned to use MaryAnn Kohl's recipe but decided instead to make No-Bake Fudgy Oat Cookies with chow mein noodle legs and a web drawn on the plate with chocolate syrup. Should be fun!

Tonight my prep for tomorrow's lesson is to make Little Miss Muffet, her bowl of curds and whey, and a spider. I can't wait to sink my hands into wool again. I love love love needle felting and it's been a while since I've done a project... not since Little Bo Peep.

The organizational streak continues. I washed all my handwash-only dishes (a HUGE feat) last night, and have been sorting through misc. boxes again today. I found two boxes of shells, which I consolidated into one, and went through and organized all my vintage sewing stuff, as well as my quilting supplies. Hurrah! I bet that right at the time that the garage is all cleaned out and everything has a home, I'll be moving again. Oh well. It's still worth it to try, I guess. :-)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ticket System

This has been our most successful week ever of homeschooling. I don't know why, perhaps it's because of being more organized (and having a better idea of what we can realistically do in a day), perhaps it's because I am leaving the house every evening to prepare for the next day's work instead of assuming I'll have time the next morning, or perhaps something clicked over in my head. We've done everything on the list for three straight days which has NEVER happened before. And the kids are having a great time! I am too, actually. Today's branch web project came out beautifully. I used a ball of yarn I had rewound from a partially done knitting project that my Aunt Betty left behind... waste not, want not. It's a nice multicolored rainbow yarn and looked beautiful on the branches. We went over to Jefferson Patterson Park and the kids collected clover flowers, fallen leaves, and small sticks to add to their branches. Then they ran around in the field by the visitor's center for a while.

I have been on a real cleaning and organizing streak this week... today I went through three more boxes (still didn't find my passport) and I've been restlessly walking around the house picking things up and putting them away. Never stop moving, that's the secret. I am having to wear shoes in the house because my feet hurt.

We also implemented a new discipline strategy today. Previously it was a behavior chart on the white board by the front door consisting of three signs for each child. Every morning we replenished the signs which, throughout the day, got erased for bad behavior (after a warning was given). Then, at the end of the day, each sign equaled a bedtime story. This is because Steve wanted something concrete he could do when redirecting didn't work (and we are trying to avoid spanking at all costs) and the main reward we wanted to give them was extra time with Mom and Dad. The signs worked for a while but we found some problems. First, once you've lost all three there are no more consequences for the rest of the day. Second, once you've gotten your bedtime stories, there's no reason anymore to be good. We had lots of problems after they went down to bed!!! So Steve came to me asking for a change and now we are trying that age-old classroom standard: the ticket system. He came home with a big roll of tickets last night (you can get them at WalMart, Office Depot, etc) and I went to Michael's and bought three quart jars and three sheets of stickers (heart, fish, butterfly). We hashed out the whole thing in a long phone conversation and came up with exactly how we wanted it to work. This morning I made a chart with drawings of three tickets on the left hand side (all the kids can already count to three, since there are three children, so I don't think it's too much math) and all the things you can "buy" with 3 tickets. An extra story, a special food, one-on-one time with Mama or Papa, and a bubble bath. The other column shows a full jar. If you save up until your jar is full, you get to go to the Zoo! We wanted, in part, to see if they would learn the value of saving to get something you want (something I've never seemed to manage). This morning when I introduced the system, Natalie immediately started talking about which treats she wanted to buy as soon as she got three tickets and Leah stated quite emphatically that she was saving for a full jar so she could go to the Zoo. :-)

Anyway, the idea is a steady stream of positive reinforcement and we'll see how it goes. I'll keep you posted!

After this weekend, life gets very busy. The first three days of next week are Natalie's first summer camp (mornings only, at Kings Landing Park). I think I'll do a "Recycling" theme with the two who are home and I'll plan those activities in a minute. Gini Newcomb suggests topics of Food Chains, We Can Help Animals, We Can Help the Earth, Endangered Species of North America, and Endangered Animals of the World for this week. We'll just do "We Can Help the Earth." Then some time off from school for the 4th of July festivities, which go from June 29th through July 4th. We'll head over to the little cabin to be closer to the action. (That means no internet connection, no blogging.) On July 5th Jenn arrives and she leaves the morning of the 8th. So after the early part of next week, I don't anticipate writing school plans until the week of July 9th. In that week is Leah's summer camp (also mornings only, this one at Battle Creek Cypress Swamp -- it's a Hand in Hand camp and she'll go with my mom and my Aunt Janet) and so I'll have to have fun plans for the kids who are remaining at home. Our curric. states that Australia is the theme for the early part of July (which is nice since we were planning on going to the National Aquarium in Baltimore when Jenn is here -- a field trip where I definitely need an extra pair of hands -- and they have a new exhibit on Australia) and Oceans for the latter part. Really nice! Lots of time at the beach. Hurrah! August is Antarctica and the Arctic Circle. I don't know if that is going to happen. At some point I'd like to move back into being more Waldorf-y. Maybe August is the time for that. I'm going to Barbara Dewey's Early Childhood teacher training which should prove super-inspirational.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Marine Museum Visit

We had a very nice field trip to the Calvert Marine Museum this morning. First we visited the paleontology section and got to touch lots of sediment and fossils close up. The children weren't at all afraid of the giant Carcharodon Megalodon skeleton. Here's a photo with the lead paleontologist standing in front of it:

Oddly enough, this photo (which is of the exhibit we went to) is one of the top three links that came up when I searched for the correct spelling of the scientific name for the extinct Great White Shark (much bigger than his modern-time cousin). I guess this museum is pretty well known. It's hard when a museum is right in your backyard (and you've worked at it, your mom has worked at it, and your brother has worked at it) to realize that it could be famous.

After paleo we went through the series of estuary aquarium tanks, starting from most salty (the Ches. Bay) and progressing to least salty (freshwater marsh). The children liked the blue crabs, hermit crabs, jellyfish, and seahorses the best.

Next the outdoor exhibits. We saw the river otters and then did the marsh walk. It was a really really high tide so we didn't see much -- just the periwinkle snails and a red-winged blackbird. At the gift shop I sprung for two more Folkmanis puppets (our collection now numbers six): the crab and the octopus.

When Natalie wakes up from her nap we'll do the Carnival of the Animals: Aquarium piece. I went out to the car to preview it. I really love the piano "waves" and the glockenspiel "sunlight" shining on the water. So cool. I don't know much about music but I try to expose my kids to a bunch of stuff. Maybe someday they'll have a real music teacher.

Today I've been on a bit of an organizing streak. I typed up a list of all the foods in my fridge, freezer, and pantry, grouped by theme (such as "Dried Fruit and Nuts"). Then when the kids went down for their naps, I started searching through boxes labeled RNM SORT hunting for my passport, which I think is about to expire. I found plenty of stuff but not that. My college acceptance letters and SAT scores, as well as commencement programs, Leah's sonogram pictures, a photo of my belly when I was pregnant with Natalie, lots of old photos, letters (including all of the monthly letters my mom sent me when I was in college), my box of screwdrivers (?), my plane tickets to different places I've traveled to out of the country, and so on. Lots of stuff from when I was a kid, like little sketches I made that came out really well so I saved them, favorite quotes, letters that I wrote from summer camp but never mailed because I thought they were dorky... Plus my wedding photos! Haven't seen those in a while. I was really worried about losing the children's sonogram pictures so I'm glad those turned up. Wish I could find my passport though. Gotta have it, you know. Maybe someday someone will surprise me and take me to the South of France. :-)

The Weather Tree

Yesterday evening we set up our weather tree (from All Year Round, page 122). Finally! This is something I've been wanting to do with the kids for a long time. I chose the color key in advance; I want the tree to develop from blue to green to yellow to orange to red to purple (clockwise from bottom left) when it is all done. So I chose colors to help make that happen and which represent the feelings of the seasons. I took a "before" photo and hopefully we will keep up with it and there will be an "after" photo in June of 2008 to compare it to! My color choices (in case you also have a box of Lyra Color Giants) are

Sun - Red - 90027

Rain - Green - 90070

Snow - Blue - 90051

Mist - Yellow - 90007

Wind - Orange - 90013

Frost - Purple - 90038

Birthday - Pink - 90032

And the border is green construction paper (90067). I would recommend if you're as anal retentive as I am that you sketch out your palette on some blank paper first to make sure that the colors are a pleasing combination, and then assign each color to its type of weather. I put a lot of effort into this -- sure hope it turns out great!

Today is our field trip to the Calvert Marine Museum to see some of the fish and other animals that live in the Bay. The kids have been asking me questions about what lives down at the beach, since we've been playing there so much, so I think this is the perfect way to answer them. It also goes well with our Summer theme.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sun Prints

Today went swimmingly with all things proceeding as planned. We did a Nature walk to find Summer items, added a small vase of hydrangea blossoms to the Nature table, and the children set up their sun art pieces. Leah picked a large hydrangea blossom, Natalie chose a handful of small pebbles and some clover blossoms, and Rebecca went with a single large rock. We used regular construction paper but you can also buy special photosensitive paper. I had some when I was a kid. It makes beautiful crisp prints -- the construction paper ones are kind of blurry -- so if you're studying botany in depth (5th grade Waldorf) you should spring for the special paper. We're not that picky, obviously. :-)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Planning In Spite Of Myself

Well, here I am, planning ahead in spite of myself. (Those of you who know me know that I am always in this quandry... do I plan in advance and then be disappointed that we didn't do it all, or fly by the seat of my pants and know that I'm doing way less than I could and should be.)

Booklist for the Week:

Summer Is... by Charlotte Zolotow

The Nature Corner: Celebrating the Year's Cycle with a Seasonal Tableau by M v Leeuwen

All Year Round by Ann Druitt, et al.

Carnival of the Animals -- I like the version by Barrie Turner (comes with CD)

The Summerfolk by Doris Burn

"I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly"

The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle

Good Earth Art: Environmental Art for Kids by MaryAnn Kohl

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

Spiders Spin Webs by Yvonne Winer

Cooking Art: Easy Edible Art for Young Children by MaryAnn Kohl

"The Itsy Bitsy Spider"

Be Nice to Spiders by Margaret Bloy Graham

"Little Miss Muffet"

So, there you have it. Two days on Summer and three days on Spiders.

Day One: Read Summer Is..., do a sun print (you can use special paper for this or just place items on regular construction paper), set up the Nature table for Summer, begin the weather tree from All Year Round - page 122

Day Two: Field trip to Calvert Marine Museum, read Carnival of the Animals book, listen to "Aquarium" piece, read The Summerfolk

Day Three: Sing "I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly", read The Very Busy Spider, branch weaving project from Good Earth Art - page 130, begin Charlotte's Web as nighttime read-aloud (Natalie only)

Day Four: Read Spiders Spin Webs, nail board with string project from Montessori curriculum, Sweet Spider Web snack from Cooking Art - page 140, "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" fingerplay

Day Five: Read Be Nice to Spiders, "Little Miss Muffet" puppetry, field trip to The Big Draw at the National Building Museum OR drawing with sidewalk chalk at home

I guess that's my guilt for being questioned about my methodology. :-)
It made me think about how school is going for me and what I want to change. Primarily I realized that, even more than I want to be Waldorf-y, I want to be more organized in advance of teaching. This is actually very logical since you must learn to be organized first and then work on being more in tune with your desired philosophy second. But you can't be a Waldorf teacher if you're in "fly by pantseat" mode. (Unschooler, yes. Waldorf, no.) So if that's the direction I want to head in, I have to kick the laziness out of me. And witness the effects of this introspection! It's good for everyone to be poked with a stick once in a while. Thanks, Robin.

Summer & Spiders

So, this week in Gini Newcomb's book is Summer & Spiders. I had a good friend (who has known me for a long time and purchased much of my Waldorf curriculum work) write to ask me why I had given up on my own preschool units to use someone else's work. The answer is multifaceted, but part of it is that I need to claim A Guide for the Montessori Classroom as my official curriculum for Natalie's kindergarten year when I do the paperwork for homeschooling her and so I need to have documentation that I'm using it. I need to show that my lesson ideas are following the curriculum outline. Also, I will admit (frankly) it is easier than using my own curriculum because I am a huge perfectionist. When I write an idea and I have a plan in my mind of how it will go with my children, and it is less than perfect, I lose my temper very quickly. I'm ashamed to say this but it's true. When I am adapting other people's ideas I am much more flexible and relaxed. Another reason is that doing Waldorf is HARD and I'm a little bit lazy. Memorizing the verses and stories, doing puppetry, baking bread from scratch, preparing for watercolor painting... I'm not perfect by any stretch of the imagination and sometimes I'm just too tired. Of course, I wish I could do more and that I was closer to the ideal Waldorf parent. But I console myself with the thought that a Waldorf kindy is merely designed to mimic the experience of staying home with Mom, and my kids ARE staying home with Mom so there you go. I work hard to give them consistent rhythms (daily, weekly, seasonally) and to allow them to live in the will stage undisturbed (not asking, Leah, why are you working so hard to drag that huge log down to the water?) and I think my children are turning out well. It's not perfect, but my husband and I have agreed that the Montessori plans (minus the academic "work" that she recommends) have been good for us overall. I am perfectly aware, however, that just taking out the academic work from a regular preschool program does not equal Waldorf, since there is so much in a Waldorf program that is added in to make it richer and more holistic. I would have to say on a scale of 1 to 10 about how I feel about school right now, I am at a flat 5. Could be better, could be worse. I have always tried to say on my website, right on the homepage, that my goal is to talk honestly about how it goes for us as we learn about Waldorf and not that I'm a perfect model to go by. However, if you're down on yourself for not doing Waldorf right and you feel like everyone else is doing it but you and you're about to give up, come read what I'm going through and know you are not alone. I've never seen any studies about whether doing Waldorf imperfectly is better or worse for your children emotionally and academically than putting your kids in public school, but I would wager to say that even Waldorf wrong is better than that. And if I'm wrong, I'm wrong, and I just have to live with that in the future. Our main family goal is a school situation in which there is a firm plan, clear documentation, and a teacher who is not excessively stressed out (which I'm not). So I guess that's my answer to her, and I hope it's not coming off sounding too defensive.

Today we went out to the beach first thing (which you would think would tire the kids out so that they sleep well for naps but it doesn't seem to be working -- they're at the "too tired to sleep" point). I love going to the Bay! It was my favorite thing to do as a child, walk the beach. Now I have to sit still and watch my children to make sure no heads go under the water (95% of children who drown are supervised at the time) but I still enjoy being outdoors and warm. I'm not sure what we're going to do this afternoon. Monday is Housecleaning Day so the children will probably help sort and put away the clean laundry. I'm sitting at the computer now looking over the plans for this upcoming week and making sure that I'm organized. I try to not post what we will do, and stick to what we did do, so you'll have to wait until tomorrow to hear what exactly we'll be talking about & our theme activities. I think it'll be a nice week, though.

Sudoku Victory

Today I completed -- correctly -- the weekly sudoku puzzle in the paper FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER. Hurrah! I'm so pleased with myself. When I was at Mount Holyoke I played in weekly Trivial Pursuit contests. At Smith it was a crossword puzzle every night before I would start my homework. (Not always a plan for success in academics.) But lately I've not been doing much to keep my mind sharp. Enter sudoku. Although I always make mistakes I try gamely each week. I started this newest one Saturday morning but got stuck and had to give it up. Then this afternoon I decided to return to it after my shower and demolished it within half an hour. :-)

For those who feel such a short-lived victory is hardly worth celebrating, I offer up this thought (and my new motto):

Happiness makes up in height what it lacks in length.
Robert Frost

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Stone Soup

Today for Father's Day we made Steve some Stone Soup (having first read the Marcia Brown version of this classic story). We filled our pot with water, set it to boil, added a clean stone, and then cut up and added vegetables we had around the house. We used onions, carrots, potatoes, summer squash, garlic scapes, sugar snap peas, and barley, as well as three cubes of vegetable bouillon. The children had a wonderful time. The soup is pretty self-explanatory but if you'd like a recipe, you can find one in The Waldorf Kindergarten Snack Book. Having all the children bring in vegetables on Tuesday and making a class vegetable soup is pretty standard in Waldorf kindergartens. It works better the greater variety of vegetables you have. Another note: I like to put the stone in the dishwasher first so that I'm sure it's really disinfected. After naps I took the older two to the beach and that was also a ton of fun.

Our Insects unit did not end with seeing a movie -- we changed our minds at the last minute. This is probably better, since movies are not very Waldorf-y, but I had really thought Microcosmos would be a good one. Maybe I was swayed by my own personal feeling that I wanted to see it. Anyway, Fortune intervened and we had to be happy with our decision to skip the film. And then She smiled on us again and gave us the perfect ending to our Insects unit... and it didn't cost a dime! When I was washing the kale for dinner tonight I found a cluster of insect eggs glued to the bottom of a leaf. Several dead caterpillars were also in the bag (things don't always come prewashed from the farm) so I am guessing that there is a caterpillar/butterfly which lives among the kale. We took the eggs, still stuck to the leaf, and placed them in our Butterfly Pavilion. Now we just have to wait and see what happens. The eggs may not hatch, from having been under refrigeration for several days, but it is fun to try.

Yesterday was my Day Out (Steve watches the kids one day a week so that I can have a break) and I went up to D.C. I walked around Chinatown, which was interesting, and then discovered a museum I never knew existed: the National Building Museum. They had a super-cool exhibit on Green Houses (sustainable architecture, not the agriculture kind) which I really enjoyed. There were several other exhibits but none were as good. I picked up a flyer about the new exhibit opening next week called "David Macaulay: The Art of Drawing Architecture." His books are terrific; when I was a girl I loved poring over Castle for hours on end. He'll actually be AT the museum for the exhibit opening (how cool!), and there will be tons of neat stuff going on there Saturday from 10 am to 4:30 pm, including community art projects that kids can participate in. The whole thing is called "The Big Draw." If you live in the D.C. area be sure to check it out!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Library Books

I've been wanting for a while to get back into my old habit of typing our library book selections into my blog. These are not here as recommendations, necessarily, but to help me when I am thinking back to a certain book but can't remember the title. Yesterday when we were talking about fireflies it made me think of a library book we got some time ago, where it was the day before school started up again and the boy and his friends decided to spend one last perfect summer evening. I think there was something about fireflies in it. But you can hardly Google something like "a boy and his friends decided to spend one last perfect summer evening, fireflies" and get a book title! So scanning the titles of past library book lists can be very helpful.

Anyway, here goes:

Ebbie by Eve Rice

Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys by H.A. Rey

Curious George by H. A. Rey

Platypus by Chris Riddell

Aren't You Coming Too? by Eve Rice

The Ladder by Halfdan Rasmussen

Come to My Party by Judith Richardson

Berry Magic by Teri Sloat

Tiger, Tiger by Dee Lillegard

The Stars Will Still Shine by Cynthia Rylant

Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present by Charlotte Zolotow

Animal Poems by Valerie Worth

Curious George Flies a Kite by Margret Rey

The Dot by Peter Reynolds

My Very Big Little World by Peter Reynolds

Cherry Pies and Lullabies by Lynn Reiser

Mud by Mary Lyn Ray

Today is our final insect "study" and we are doing the honeybee. We'll be heading out soon to visit Battle Creek Cypress Swamp and see their live honeybee hive exhibit (complete with a tube in the wall so the bees can get out and hunt for pollen, then return to the hive). Then we'll have something with honey in it for lunch, take naps, have snack, do some beeswax modeling (this is actually one of Gini Newcomb's suggestions -- go Gini!) complete with the beeswax verse from A Child's Seasonal Treasury by Betty Jones, page 29. It also helps to tell a story to the children while they sit and warm the beeswax in their hands, so I am going to do "The Fairy Weaver" (from the Wynstones Press Summer book). The story is on page 76 and there's also a song version of it in the book with lyrics on pages 34-36 and music on page 36.

Tonight is the showing of Microcosmos, to top the unit off (Natalie only).

Steve affixed the Ladybug Ranch to the side of the children's play house yesterday so today I will plant our rosebush, as well as to put lavender seeds all around our butterfly house. I always put lavender and honey together in my mind; I don't know why (I even wrote a newsletter topic about just these two things, it is on the website, called "Sticky Sweet"). Today just seems like the perfect day to plant all these things and then Sunday is Father's Day and Tuesday we start learning about Spiders!

Thursday, June 14, 2007


We get the choice of mosquitos or fireflies for today and I picked fireflies (if you're interested in doing mosquitos, try Why Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ears).

Who doesn't love fireflies?

And it's a perfect way to spend a summer evening. My thoughts are to have us play all afternoon at home, then read the "Firefly" poem (by Elizabeth Madox Roberts) from Animals Animals, which is beautifully illustrated in Eric Carle's inimitable style, and tell the kids that we are going out to hunt for fireflies after dinner. Eat, then go to the field behind the Community House and wait for the fireflies to appear! I don't think my kids are old enough to catch them and put them in a jar without squishing them so we won't do that. There's a song in Sing Through the Day called Firefly, where they set the words to the Elizabeth Madox Robert's poem to music, so we can sing that while we watch them. Then we'll come back home and read Night in the Country by Cynthia Rylant, then go to bed.


Our school week is going to be rearranged a little bit because of Father's Day. Instead of taking Sunday and Monday off for our "weekend", we are going to take Saturday and Monday off. We will make our Stone Soup, bread and butter (Gini Newcomb's plans for Friday of Week 2) on Sunday for Steve's special Father's Day Lunch. Our weekly field trip is therefore moved from Saturday to Friday evening, and this works really well since -- amazingly -- I just discovered that Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary is showing Microcosmos at 6 pm.

June 15 - Friday Night at the Movies: 'Microcosmos'. An evening in the Wetlands Center watching this fascinating film about insects. Afterwards, a discussion about the movie. 6-8 p.m. Free. Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, 1361 Wrighton Road, Lothian. For more information call 410-741-9330 or visit

There is a book that goes along with this movie as well. Beautiful! You can get a copy used on Amazon for three bucks. Jug Bay was also doing an insects walk throughout their property (it was today actually) but I had to nix the idea of going to that since it was from 10 am to 1 pm and I didn't think that we would be up for it. Especially Becca; her little legs get so tired.

Ladybugs and Butterflies

Yesterday Natalie and I read Casper, the Caterpillar by Celeste Foster and Waiting for Wings by Lois Ehlert. We didn't do anything more than that, though. The plan is to install our Ladybug Ranch in the yard and plant a rosebush underneath (I got a miniature rose at the grocery store while I was doing my shopping, it is called "Karina Parade"). You can purchase ladybugs and set them free in your yard but, according to the directions that came with the habitat, they won't hang out in their Ladybug Ranch during the summer; however, they will come hibernate in it over the fall & winter if they have seen it around and gotten used to it. As far as attracting butterflies, Lois Ehlert's book gives a list of plants to put in your butterfly garden. I also really like her book because it shows a variety of types of caterpillars and butterflies, instead of just one. I think sometimes kids are inadvertently given the impression that that monarch butterflies are the only butterflies that exist. Money is tight for homeschool projects right now though, because I am saving up for the Waldorf teacher training Barbara Dewey is holding this summer, so I think that an extensive ladybug/butterfly habitat in our yard is probably not going to happen. Instead we will move on to the other insects recommended for our study this week: mosquito, firefly, and honeybee. Next week is Spiders. The final week in June is supposed to be the Food Web/Recycling but we have a houseguest coming so I'm not sure what we are going to do. Most of the ideas given in the curriculum are more academic than what I like but I know Jenn is going to want to see some school, and I don't want to lose momentum. We'll probably do a lot of Good Earth Art. I love that book! It will be nice for Jenn to see and participate in some projects, and it gives us the flexibility to also go to the beach, the park, the aquarium, etc. when she feels like getting out of the house and doing stuff. Last time Jenn came down I asked her if she wanted to do anything and she said no so I sat down and started to knit and continued to carry on with life as usual for a while and a day or so later she came to me and said she was bored. :-)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Yahoo Green

I just idly clicked on a Yahoo headline (about Canadian businesses turning their summer AC up to 79 degrees and encouraging business people to ditch the suits and dress more casually, to save energy) and discovered that Yahoo has a new homepage option: Yahoo Green. It's a nicer homepage than their standard one (which contains depressing violent headlines and a ton of ads) plus it has lots of links to interesting articles about climate change. Personally, I think the air conditioning idea is a splendid one (Japan is already doing it) and I wish that American businesses would do the same thing. Not only is it good for the environment, and would save them money -- which in my mind makes it a total no-brainer -- I think it's nicer to shop without getting goose pimples. I hate having to carry a sweater or jacket in the car on a ninety degree day in case I'm going into the grocery store, not to mention that you feel SOOOO much hotter if you go back outside, having adjusted to an artificially cold environment. Steve and I watched Who Killed the Electric Car? the other day and it was very interesting. I was always under the impression that it was a battery problem (the cars couldn't go far enough on one charge to allow an average person drive the amount they need to in one day) but it isn't and, as Steve said, once consumers buy a product, if they don't think it is good enough, the technology rises to the occasion. Look at how small phones have gotten and all the features they have! Apparently, although most of the electric cars were pulled off the streets when their leases came up, those which were sold to consumers are still around (which the documentary fails to mention). I think the newest trend is converting hybrids to be plugged in to household current. Steve has done a lot of research on biodiesel and has made the commitment to buy a car and convert it. Our gas bill is our current highest "this could be smaller if we worked harder" bill and so that provides a lot of incentive! You can find plenty of biodisel-ready and already converted cars on eBay, so if you're interested, check there. You can get conversion kits as well as information about the technology that makes it tick at I might have him make a list of the sites he's doing his research on if people are interested in learning more; let me know.

Tuesday Morning

Do you want to know the absolute best time to go to the beach... when it is completely empty -- not another person in sight for hours -- and when it is not sweaty, uncomfortably sticky-hot but lovely, perfectly comfortably warm? I'll tell you. It's Tuesday morning at 9 o'clock. We had a lovely morning! The kids played and played and I hung out on my new towel in my new bathing suit and relaxed. It was amazing to watch them. They filled their pails with water and scooped sand into them (Leah was sprinkling sand on her water and making hot chocolate -- Natalie was vigorously mixing things together to make silly putty), they ran races in the sand, they picked up sticks, they picked up trash and brought it to me, they found some abandoned sand castles and promptly sat on them (squishing them flat) and pretended that they were cars and drove all around, they took shells and decorated their "cars", they splashed in the waves, they kicked sand around, they buried their feet... it was great! I especially loved how they demolished the sand castles. Of course, the stereotype is that children use their beach pails to make castle after castle in the sand, just like a little postcard. Not my kids! Why have it be a castle when, with a little imagination, you can make it something else? I'm going to try to take them to the Bay as much as possible between now and the 4th of July because June is the only really pleasant month, when the water is warm enough to go into but the dreaded jellyfish have not yet arrived. Once the jellyfish are here, we avoid the beach completely. The kids aren't able to look out for them in the water, and you can also get stung very easily walking on stranded ones up on the sand.

My plan for today was beach in the AM, then lunch and naps, and then our farm pick-up. But I forgot that we are starting a new unit today... Insects. Now, those of you who know me know that I already wrote an Insects unit (you can find it on my website) to do with Natalie, but this time I am trying Gini Newcomb's version (A Guide for the Montessori Classroom: Summer). We are jumping right into week two instead of starting at week one. I went a week long on our Plants unit and, since her plans are organized to include ideas for the calendar holidays, I don't have much choice but to come into this unit late. I want to be on track for the Father's Day and Summer Solstice suggestions. By skipping week one we are missing the following insects: wasp, termite, ant, praying mantis, walking stick, grasshopper, cricket, dragonfly & water strider; as well as how insects build their homes, what makes an insect an insect, the parts of an insect, and how true insects eat. Whew! She covers a lot!

Week two begins with ladybugs, which is perfect for me because that's the insect I wanted to begin with. We will read Are You a Ladybug? when the kids get up from their nap and see if we find any at the farm. When we come home, her handwork suggestion is that we make Father's Day Lunch invitations to present Steve with when he comes home from work. I have 24 boxes of Strathmore Watercolor Paper notecards because they were on clearance at Michael's (10 cards and envelopes for just 50 cents!) and I bought all that they had. So we can do watercolor paintings for our invitations. Her lunch menu is Stone Soup with bread and butter, which we will make on Friday and Saturday, leading up to the big meal.

Tomorrow I'd like to put up our Ladybug Ranch (which I bought for the last insects unit but never used -- it is still new in the box) and take the kids out to buy a rosebush which we can plant underneath it. Then the unit suggests that we move on to butterflies. I have a beautiful wooden butterfly house already set up in the yard and I have some lavender seeds for us to plant underneath it. I also have the Butterfly Pavilion from our Insects unit before (we did do that part, hatching the live butterflies. It's amazing!) and I saved it because you can contact the company to buy additional Painted Lady caterpillars for just $15.00. Actually, if I had been more organized I would have done that in advance, but instead I'll just order them next time I get a donation for the website. :-) I think it'll be okay. The kids aren't likely to forget what a butterfly is between the time that we "study" them bookwise and when the larvae arrive and hatch in our home.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Folkmanis Puppets

We're working on getting Leah's new bedroom set up. Leah is 3 1/2, and is beginning to develop strong choleric tendencies. Yes, yes, I know temperament isn't supposed to really show until age five but I think that's a bunch of baloney. You can definitely tell earlier than that. She was always so sanguine before, and like a happy little butterfly dancing around on tiptoes, but now it is more like living with a wolf cub. Our main focus for her room design is that she can take all her creative energy and find appropriate outlets for it, especially during naps/quiet rest time... (something other than literally climbing up the walls, standing on her furniture, falling off her furniture, dropping books through the window screens, tearing down the curtains, writing on the walls with her painted wooden toys, taking anything apart that she can possibly find. This child can unscrew anything with her tiny little fingers. It's truly amazing.)

We love love love Leah but she's a challenge. So since she has to have only soft toys (although this doesn't always keep her from writing on the walls -- she managed to make some strong marks with dyed fabric roses) I have chosen to move the puppet collection into her room. I think that not only are they soft enough but they will help her to act out whatever stories she has in her head. She is very creative. I think she's also developing an imaginary friend. So, anyway, puppetry is good for her (and I'm getting a puppet tree to store them on next week with my homeschool money) and, of course, she needs tons of art. Modeling beeswax is out. Although it's a nice quiet toy, she just tears it into little pieces and drops it in the heating vent. Actually, when we moved into the house, the first thing she did was remove the vent from the floor and drop all her toys into it. That was naptime on the first day.

So the big question is, can she be trusted with crayons and an easel? There are two ways to look at this. First, if she's going to write on the walls no matter what then it's better to give her the appropriate outlet and say, if you want to write, this is what you do it with. The other way to look at it is that we are "giving in" to her. I take the first stance, my husband is taking the second. I suggested window crayons -- they are easy to clean off and they are almost like drawing on the walls, so presumably it would curb the craving. But Steve says no. He thinks it would actually fuel the craving, besides confusing her and making us look inconsistent. It will be too hard for her to tell the difference between yes you can write on the windows with these special crayons but no you cannot write on the walls. I won the "Leah needs art" battle (although I get his point about the window crayons, so we're not going to try it -- but I definitely think that if we don't give her a way to draw she will FIND a way and we won't like what she comes up with!) so we moved in the easel and the block crayons today and she occupied herself very happily during nap. No marking on the walls in any way but she did color all over her face. I went through a whole list of things she could not draw on when I put her down for her nap but didn't think to include her body. Kids are so literal.

So... puppetry and drawing are our two hopes. I wish we could give her more. We've always taken things away from Leah: furniture, books, toys. Since she became a toddler, her room has gotten more and more empty. Now she's beginning again with a clean new room, fresh paint on the walls, nothing but a bed. And I am trying to instill an attitude of giving her things instead of taking them away. Like, now that you are able to be trusted with crayons you can have them. I probably ruined that by giving her a laundry list of things she couldn't color on. Instead of her feeling proud of her new toy, I made it crystal clear that I didn't truly trust her by preceding the gift with a lecture. It's so hard for me to parent in a Waldorf way. I mean, I want to, I just can't figure it out. I remember Penni Sparks talking in a lecture about redirecting kids by terming things as a new privilege. Making it positive instead of focusing on what you are taking away. It's just a change in mindset. And SO different from how I was raised. Penni also has a phrase that, ever since I first heard it, I have had stuck in my head: the blame-shame game. I feel guilty about that all the time. I think about the way I talk to my kids, and how I'm parenting in reaction to a problem and not working with an attitude of prevention and being two steps ahead, and I beat myself up. I guess maybe that happens to everyone. Anyway, we're doing the best we can for Leah and I hope we're heading in the right direction. There's nothing you can do but take it one step at a time. I think that trying to parent in a way different from how you were raised is one of the hardest things you can possibly do. You just automatically recreate your childhood; you become your parents. But I look at how I was raised (very authoritative) and I see how insecure I turned out and I do believe there's a definite connection. And I want to be less restrictive, less controlling, less demanding, less belittling, more relaxed, more happy... but my parents were not only strict but they made fun of permissive parents and were always talking about how their method was so much better... so when I try to look at my kids and bite my tongue and just let them be, I have my dad's voice in my head telling me that I'm "letting my kids walk all over me." I don't know. I guess I'm just tired. It's probably time for bed!

By the way, if you're a fan of Folkmanis puppets, they have a nice section on their website with Suggested Books to Pair with Puppets. Stories (alphabetical by animal), collections of animal folktales, collections of animal poetry, and natural history books. You can view the list on the site or download it in a Word file.

Red Wigglers

The kids are eating turkey sandwiches and cherries for lunch, so while they are silently intent on pitting their cherries, I am sitting down at the computer for a few notes. Don't be fooled into thinking that red wigglers are available at most bait shops. I can tell you from my experience this morning that they are not. Bloodworms are, but red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) are not, and these worms are specifically recommended for this project because "of their resilience, swift reproduction rates, and healthy appetites," according to the magazine. So I would recommend that you either call ahead to bait shops and "Mom and Pop" stores near you which are likely to carry live bait OR just purchase them online.

'Round the Mulberry Bush

Here we go 'round the mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush,
Here we go 'round the mulberry bush,
So early in the morning.

We HAVE been going round and round here, though not exactly around bushes. Last week school got interrupted because we changed all the children's bedrooms. And this week we moved them all again! This is because some of the decisions we made last week didn't work out. On top of that, the dryer stopped working and we went to our beach cabin for a few days so we could have an operational dryer and so that Steve could paint one of the upstairs bedrooms (Amazon Moss) before we moved Leah into it. So our Soil Study has been severely compromised. Although we did have a good time playing in the sand at the beach the past two days. I think it would have been compromised anyway, to tell the truth, because I didn't have a concrete plan in mind for it. I like to think "what do I want the children to learn?" then work backwards and plan learning activities. My only ideas for Soil were that 1) it would be a good extension of the plants unit, and 2) they could dig in different kinds of dirt. And when your plan is that haphazard, you are bound to get smudgy results.

One thing I had been thinking about for this week was to visit the compost piles at our farm pick-up site, but when I got there I completely forgot about it. This is because I was so excited at finding a mulberry tree! I've never seen a mulberry tree, or had a mulberry, so this was a great revelation for me. The children and I picked berries and ate some. They were all stained with the juice. :-) In addition to mulberries, we got snow peas, lettuce, kale, carrots, lavender, and a basil plant.

Yesterday Steve drilled holes in our Worm-Bin-to-be. According to the directions in the March 2007 Martha Stewart Living, you should use a 1/8 inch drill bit and drill airholes in a two inch grid on the top third of each sidewall of the bin in addition to holes all over the top and bottom of bin. We are using a five gallon spackle bucket. Today the children and I are going to wash the remaining mud out of it (if you're looking for art projects to do with drywall mud, check out the series of books by MaryAnn Kohl -- she loves the stuff!) and assemble the bin. Ingredients:

bin lid


food scraps


garden soil


red wigglers


shredded newspaper


plastic bin


wooden blocks

The wooden blocks are for the bin to stand on to increase circulation. We need to do a field trip today to a bait store to buy red wigglers (the capacity of our bin will suit about 600 red wigglers and they should eat about 2 1/2 pounds of food scraps per week, which is good for us). I plan to keep the bin in my pantry. According to the article, "A base cabinet is a convenient spot for a vermicompost bin, given its proximity to food-prep counters. But worms will thrive in any location, provided it's dark and has temperatures from fifty-nine to seventy-five degrees. Make sure to keep bins secure from prying pets."

So... we're actually going to do it!! Wish me luck!!!