Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Better Than Chocolate

Now that the postal strike here in Canada is over I'm finally getting mail, and in the mail yesterday was Catherine's writing program for Grade 8. It's Lingua Mater and it's had me drooling ever since I was introduced to it by a member of the Well Trained Mind forums.

It's actually a rewrite of a program written by Emma Serl much earlier in the (ETA: last) century. Some of her other books are available on Amazon or for free on but Lingua Mater seemed to be the nicest package, most open-and-go and I also liked the Catholic content.

Yes, yes. I know I use secular materials but my kids know next to nothing about the Catholic church, and it is a part of my family history and culture. Besides, many of the teachings and values are really not very different from mine. The odd difference will simply be an opportunity to teach my daughter about Catholicism.

The book contains a good grammar review. Much of it will be very basic for my daughter who has zoomed through MCT's Grammar Voyage but it will stretch her a bit by the end and hopefully lead into Jensen's Grammar for grade 9. There is a heavy dose of classical imitation writing and a big focus on having the student critically examine and edit their own work rather then have the parent mark it.

Bascially, this is the program I've been looking for but haven't managed to find until now and when I opened the envelope yesterday I just wanted to sit down and hug the books. The only problem is that I was set on Writing Tales 1 for my son. Now I'm wondering if I might not want to start him with the first book in this series, Primary Language Lessons. I have a about two months to decide.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Carnival of Homeschooling is Up!

Carnival of Homeschooling

For the first time in ages I've actually submitted something. :)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Mysterious Disappearance on the Front Lawn

Every spring a lovely pair of tree swallows moves into a broken down little bird house on our front lawn. Last year it was invaded by some sort of predatory bird. The attack did even more damage to the already decrepit house and being the slum lords we are we did nothing to fix it. The swallows were back this spring and just yesterday my daughter said I should go out and check the house out because she could hear and even see the chicks.

But this morning we discovered this (the windows are for the chicken coop. Pay them no attention),

On the ground are the feathers the little parents collected to insulate their nest.

In the nest are a couple of tiny older eggs (a year, two years old? No bigger than an almond in any case) that never hatched.

And we don't know if the chicks got away or were eaten by whatever tore the floor out from under the house.

Years ago my daughter built a very study bird house from a kit so in short order we're going to get a much taller pole, mount the bird house to it and replace the house of death that now decorates the lawn. Too late for the swallows this year but hopefully they'll find the new pad to their liking next year.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Something in Our Basement

If you head down to our basement right now you'll see this,

Flick the light on.

See? It's just a heat lamp. And undneath that lamp? In the box?

Two week old Chicks! 25 little Cornish X chicks that will be our guests for the next three months. They'll be fed and watered and housed and adored and then, somewhere around the end of August they'll be butchered and stored away in the freezer. Yum.

This is something we've been talking about for ages. It's partly why we bought this house with it's two acres out in the middle of nowhere. We've got no great concerns about organic meat but we do worry about what kind of lives the animals we eat have led so this is one small step to making our consumption a bit more ethical.

These guys grow like crazy. When we picked them up on June 14th they were only, at most, a few days old. I could scoop them up, 2 or 3 to the handful. Now just one is a handful.

Only one is still a little smaller and, poor little guy, relegated to isolation to save him from being pecked by the others. As you may be able to tell from the pictures, it has issues with its vent. I won't bore (or gross you out) with the details but suffice to say I have to clean him frequently with warm water and apply a few different products to backside and vent in an attempt to get him (her,it) through. He's still eating, drinking, pooping and growing and has enough attitude for 3 chicks so we've deciding to put the effort into keeping him healthy rather then cull him. I must admit, I'm getting quite attached to this little guy.

Another couple of weeks or sooner if summer ever decides to show up, and these guys will be heading out to enjoy the sunshine. Not free range though. We eventually want them as our supper, not as coyote or raccoon supper.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Easy and Cheap Homeschool Organization

I've always had my eye out for a way to organize the kids' homeschooling work that I could maintain and that wouldn't take up much room. About a year ago I finally put something together and it's been working like a charm ever since. I kept meaning to post about it but never got around to it until a few days ago when I mentioned it on a forum I frequent. It was a big hit so I'll share it here and hope someone else finds it useful.

The first and most important components are the wire dish racks. Yup, wire dish racks. I first starting using these years ago for picture books. I'd read about them in a blog somewhere. You stand the picture books up in the rack and then your younger children can flip through the books without making a mess. Works for homeschooling stuff too. I stick all the texts and workbooks that we use daily in the rack where the plates would go, the binders along the side and the pencils, erasers, rulers, etc. in the utensil bucket. Both kids have one.

Here's what my daughter's dish rack looks like:

The dish racks sit on a couple of old press board nightstands I picked up at a yardsale. I use the drawer for staples, flashcards, tape, stickers, glues and any other assorted supplies we might need on occasion. On the bottom shelf are the science or craft kits, books and binders I need more occasionally, and the texts and workbooks we've completed or will be using within the next 6 months or so. The Big Box of Colours also gets stuck in there.

I tend to get confuddled when there's too much stuff so this forces me to keep our materials compact and well edited and stop the homeschooling from taking over too much of the house. It also means it's all within reach of the dining room table where we work.

Another tool that keeps the walls from getting cluttered and helps the kids focus and shut out distractions are the tri-fold presentation boards I picked up. School kids usually use these for science fair projects but they make excellent mini-cubicles and give the kids a place to keep reference sheets. The board facing the camera is Catherine's and contains the vocab lists from Jensen's Vocabulary (I like to mount such things on construction paper first so they stand out a bit). When these aren't in use I can fold them up and tuck them away.

I have a couple of other little tricks that make things easier as well. I mark the current pages of all our texts and workbooks with little plastic sticky tabs so that I don't need to flip through a book to find where we are. I use Donna Young's weekly planning sheets (I only really plan a week at a time. Any more and I find I'm too easily thrown off if we miss a day or two) and give my older child the sheet when she's doing her work. As she finished her work she corrects it and then figures out how she did in percentage terms and records it in the slot for that subject and day on the sheet. It's a lazy way for me to record grades if I ever need them and it gives her some much needed percentage practice.

Total cost for all this? Not quite sure. I think the dish racks were $5 - $10 at a local hardware store. I've seen plastic ones for cheaper. The used night stands cost me between $10 and $30 for the two. Can't remember. I do know the presentation boards were $8.99 each because that seemed like a lot for a couple of sheets of cardboard. I probably could have made similar ones from old cardboard boxes for free. Sticky tabs were a buck or two at the local Dollar Store.

It's an easy system that requires hardly any work, is not expensive to put together and is one that my ADD brain can live with. If anyone else finds this useful and sets up their own version please let me know and leave a link with pictures. If anyone comes up with improvements or tweaks that makes it even better I'd love to know about that as well.

Update: Jamie has a picture of her version of this up at her blog, The Chemist at Bradford Academy

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day Fishing

It's a wonderful luxury to own a stocked pond.

Shannon (the husband) is baiting the hook with Harry and my neice.

My father giving my nephew (on my husband's side) some encouragement.

Catherine picking a spot to cast with adoring cousin in tow.

Harry with one of the fish he caught.

Dad said they were rather thin and gave my husband and I the eye so we'll head out tomorrow for some fish food to fatten them up with.

In the end Harry caught the most but choose to keep three of the bigger ones (between 10 and 12 inches) to gut, clean and fry. My nephew caught quite a few and ended up taking two home. My neice never picked up a rod but choose instead to follow Catherine who turned out to be a superb caster but had no interest in doing anything but releasing the fish she caught.

We had Harry's three fish for lunch, although the boy himself refused to try any citing a general dislike for fish.