Friday, September 30, 2016

Friday This n' That

The blog has been neglected a bit lately, mostly because my laptop, which has been limping along on life support since the boys spilled a giant bottle of bubble solution on it in July, decided to briefly die for a while last month before resurrecting a couple weeks ago. So I'm back on my preferred instrument for blogging, hooray! Here are some of the things that are going on here:

~This whole getting Montessori elementary under my belt is HARD. I thought two months or so would be enough time to read through the albums and prepare materials, but I was WRONG, So, so, so wrong. I am very much flying by the seat of my pants here and working like a madman to get things together. Most evenings are spent making materials or reading, which is fine; I am quite willing to endure several months of intense work to be set for all six years of elementary for all three kids! We can do this! So for the time being, I'm Montessori-ing math and language and following conventional first-grade scope and sequence for everything else.

~Some materials I have recently made:


Looking at it now, I realize I should arrange the numbers so all the odd numbers are on one side of the page, and the even numbers on the other. Whoops!




1. A bead decanomial! This was a really fun set to put together, and I still have plenty of beads to make chains or cubes. Oscar is currently using the decanomial to help learn multiplication, and Allen is learning to correspond the symbol to the concrete number. Bonus: I enlisted Allen to help me for a little fine motor practice!

2. Geometry square insets. The frame is white foam board, and the pieces are made from 6mm-thick craft foam. Brad fasteners bent close to the tips make excellent little knobs! Oscar and I worked on the concepts of congruency, similarity, and equivalency, which he pretty much has down at this point (equivalency is a little trickier and needs some more work).

3. Hex bolt board! I ordered the materials from Home Deopt's website, taking the free in-store pickup option, and it was SO nice to just walk in and pick up the materials as opposed to scrounging through the aisles myself. One small problem is that I didn't realize the bolts would all have different-sized heads, so it's impractical to add four different nut drivers to screw them in-- it's better to just use fingers. And that's a shame, because Allen is SUPER into using tools right now. So I may have to make another board with just regular old screws.

4. One to a million hierarchy! Starting with the unit made from foam board, all the way up a million made from a bunch of boxes frankensteined together under the wrapping, with numerical cards to match. We had a lot of fun exploring the concepts here, and I never realized how all the tens, hundreds, etc. of any hierarchy take the same shape! Really cool visual.

~Language-wise, Oscar has been working on suffixes this past week. I was driving myself batty trying to assemble the materials myself, so I eventually decided that this time, spending the money for a little piece of mind was the way to go. I bought the suffix packet from Montessori Print Shop, and it was $4 well-spent.

~At the county fair a couple weeks ago, I got to co-superintend the Needlework section this year. It was a blast! I ended up getting like five grand prizes for various things I entered (probably more of a reflection on the low number of entries than on the quality of my work!), but it was nice to have some prize money to put into some nice new yarn! Cici and I are getting new sweaters this fall!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

School Year Eve

Whew, what a week! Lots of stuff happened, including

~Adam taking Oscar to his first theme park. Oscar LOVED the big roller coasters-- I think they rode all the ones that Oscar was tall enough for four times each.

~Oscar's first loose tooth.

~The kindling of Allen's passion for Legos. Adam made a Lego table as a birthday gift for Oscar, and Allen has really taken a shine to making little things on it! Our normally short-attention-span boy is spending hours at the table.

~Allen winning a tablet computer at a community event, which is very ironic, considering that we don't let the kids play on electronic devices. So I have kind of appropriated it for school-related planning.

~Cici's first experience with watercolor painting! She even tries to say it- "pay-pay," which is so incredibly cute!

~Fair board meeting! I'm superintending the Needlework department this year, which I am super stoked about. Alas, I have about a dozen projects that are not going to be finished in time to enter at the fair, so I'm just plugging away at what I can finish in these next couple weeks.

~Getting ready to start school on Monday. It's Labor Day, but Adam's working and we were going to be doing business as usual anyways, and it needs to be done. I could seriously spend months researching elementary Montessori and trying to gather materials, but I can't let perfect get in the way of done, so I'm just going to jump in with the first Great Lesson tomorrow and see where everything lands. Tomorrow will also mark the start of piano lessons for Oscar.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

C is for COOKIE

So, I realize that if you've been reading the blog for any amount of time, it probably sounds like I do all the educational activities with Oscar and completely neglect Allen. Aaaaaaaaaand... it's sort of true.

The thing is, Allen is not the type of boy that likes to sit indoors and do brainy stuff. He spends hours outside every day, pushing things, watching birds, making mud puddles, chasing his siblings with sticks, pulling grass, throwing dirt-- you get the idea. And honestly, as long as he is doing something with that little mind of his, I am just fine with it not happening via textbooks. Children are hard-wired to always be experiencing and growing. Thanks to his outdoor sojourns, Allen knows much about the care of chickens, the habits of the black beetle, and the intricacies of gathering tree fruit and berries. He is learning tons about biology, meteorology, physics, and growing his vocabulary. So I have been totally fine with letting him learn through play and not stressing academic stuff too much, and directing those efforts towards Oscar, who completely thrives on complex mental work.

Which is why it is so exciting that Allen has finally started to show interest in literacy!

He started asking what various printed words say and rearranging our collection of magnetic felt letters to make up pretend words. That was my cue to start introducing the phonetic sounds to him again! We had gone through a few letters a few months ago, but the interest wasn't there, so I dropped it. We picked up again with C yesterday.

Today, we did a C activity... with cookies! We made a batch of sugar cookie dough (and, always having to mess up something in the recipe, I accidentally added twice the milk and had a very soupy dough for a while there).

Found another "C" object!

I cut long strips out of the rolled dough, and then Allen and I shaped them to form C's. My kids were never very big on sand/salt tray tracing, so I thought this would be a good alternate tactile way to form the letter.

I never did get any pictures of the finished, decorated cookies! Tuesday is my main music lesson teaching day, so we had an assortment of students filing in and out of the house throughout the day that got to help the baked goods disappear fast! At any rate, Allen had fun and got a little lesson out of it, so that was my big accomplishment for the day.

Asia Activities and Resources

Well, this has been the most relaxed continent study experience so far. You can definitely tell that I'm not paying as much attention to continent studies now that I am looking ahead and planning for elementary school in the fall. I would rather leave it here and save Europe for later on down the road (we are definitely nixing Australia and Antarctica for now). I'll tell you what, though-- the best thing ever was watching Oscar watch the Olympic happenings. I looked his little face and saw that he knows where Rio is, he recognizes the Brazilian flag, he got giddy when he saw the Christ the Redeemer statue, and he had a frame of reference for all the different countries that the athletes come from (well, the South American, African, and Asian ones, at least).  It is quite humbling to see how all my hard work, planning, and preparation has endowed him with a better understanding of the world! Seriously exciting stuff. Heck, even Allen ran up to a map the other day and wanted to show me where China was. So although we're breaking off the continent studies to get our footing with starting elementary work, it's not because the continent studies weren't valuable!

This unit was pretty light on the tray activities. Somewhere along the way this summer, my Oscar entered the second plane of development. He's more interested in dialogue and asking questions and creating his own works-getting more "brainy"- than in soaking in information through his senses. And it has always been a struggle getting Allen to sit down and do tray activities. So I didn't bother much with trays, and the ones I did put together weren't utilized much, anyways. What we did do was a lot more of watching YouTube videos and reading non-fiction. I'm not going to lie; this study was very heavy on Far Eastern countries because that was just where Oscar's interests led us. So we know all about the Great Wall of China, the Himalayas, and the Terracotta Warriors, but not too much about the Middle East or India.


Tikki Tikki Tembo

One Grain of Rice


Ishi -- the kids loved this one!

Zen Shorts

The Origami Master


We didn't watch all of these; just my list of ideas.

My Neighbor Totoro



Jungle Book


Kung Fu Panda (I was reading an article the other week, actually, about how KFP really nailed the details of the real location in China that this film is based on)


Salt Dough Map

I am fortunate to have access to a projector, so I printed out an outline of Asia on clear projector plastic and traced the enlarged projected image onto a large piece of cardboard. Paint the ocean (I totally spaced and covered poor Europe with ocean), and shape salt dough around the outline.

The Great Wall of China, Oscar's favorite part, and Mt. Everest, his second-favorite part

Trillium Montessori Asia A-Z Book

I stumbled on Trillium's continent study packs several months ago and finally took the plunge on her Asia A-Z pack. Definitely worth the money! I printed out the A-Z cards with definitions and stuck them in a photo book. I Mod Podged the cover with some Asian-motif fabric (unfortunately, I used too much Mod Podge, which resulted in ugly-looking streaks on the fabric!). We also did the Plants/Animals activity cards.


 Oscar really took a shine to origami. I think we did a new project every day for a couple weeks. A month later, he's still filling the house with his creations.The evening that we did our first real project, paper boats, Oscar was really excited to find The Origami Master, a storybook I had just happened to pick up from the library. There were instructions at the end for making an origami bird, and I told Oscar we could make it in the morning since it was late. Well, at the crack of dawn next morning, I was woken up by a little voice right at my bedside, whispering, "Mama, can we make the origami bird?" So cute.

A week or so later- I feel so clever for making this up- I decided to teach Oscar "clothes origami". Also known as folding laundry, haha. I KonMari our laundry, so we do have a particular way of folding that really is like origami. Anyways, Oscar took the bait like a champ and folded most of his drawer's contents. Hooray for practical life!

Eventually, my creator-of-worlds son got tired of following other people's instructions and started writing his own. They may or may not actually follow the laws of reality:

Desert Sensory Bin

Meet Abdul.

I made this little Bedouin guy for a desert sensory bin. Allen and I painted a box for a "tent" and I found a scrap of colorful fabric to use as a rug. We got to talk about the deserts and oases and the nomadic lifestyle.

Making Sushi

Such a fun project! We made kind of a mish-mash between a California and a Philadelphia roll because I was trying to buy the ingredients from memory and forgot a few things. Still tasted good! While grocery shopping, I was thinking, man, these ingredients are so cheap, how the heck is sushi so expensive! What a ripoff! But I found out soon enough that sushi involves a LOT of prep-work. Very labor-intensive meal. Still glad we did it, though!

Spice Grinding

Got a little experience with a mortar and pestle! The spices we did were fennel, coriander, and whole cloves. I stuck a label in for a little extra literacy element.

Wood Polishing

This is a little wooden frog instrument that my college roommate brought back for me from a trip to Thailand. I ordered a small container of non-toxic cutting board polish and paired it with a cleaning cloth!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Tuesday This'n'That

Just some little snippets of life going on right now...

~I knit a pair of socks. They are awesome and may possibly be the first pair- homemade or commercial- that really, truly fits my size ten feet! I am hooked. Pair #2 is well underway!

~Another thing I've been making lately are embroidered felt hair clips. They whip up so quickly that it satisfies both my need to be artistic and my resignation to getting interrupted every five minutes. Some of these were for Cici, some went towards a baby shower gift, and some went to my cousin's daughter. And I still have so many ideas!

I am actually considering packing up my sewing machines for the time being. I'm not selling on Etsy these days, and at this season of life, I just don't have the time or mental power to devote to sewing. When I get interrupted as often as I do, I make too many mistakes. So that's why things like knitting and embroidery, that can be dropped and picked back up easily, are my crafts of choice these days.

~ Cici is full-blown toddlering right now. Walking off with things she shouldn't have, escaping to Grandma's house, climbing chairs and tables, dropping to the floor like a sack of potatoes when you tell her"no". And biting, Lots of biting. Unlike the boys when they were at the toddler age, Cici is incredibly socially intelligent and knows just how to twist the knife when she is displeased! On the flip side of the toddler world, she is learning all sorts of new words every day and creating funny new games and jokes with us all. She is just so friendly and curious. I get such a kick out of her! Right now, according to Cici, just about every animal says "Moo".

~ I am teaching a couple of high-school-aged sisters voice lessons in exchange for an hour or so of babysitting each week. BEST. DECISION. EVER. Usually, they just hang out with the kids on the yard and make sure they don't die while I tackle projects around the house. Today, I installed a closet rod in our bedroom closet. I can hang my clothes up for the first time in a year and a half, folks! I am thrilled. My kids just love the girls, and they are real sweethearts.

~As a birthday gift to myself, I decided to cross one thing off my bucket list and take a belly dance class! That has been a lot of fun, and I will be sad after the series of lessons wraps up this week.

~Another fun thing I've been doing is making fancy Sunday dinners. I got really tired of being in a cooking rut, so I started cooking through Martha Stewart's What to Have for Dinner cookbook.

It's been really neat to learn new cooking techniques (Mortar and pestle! Scalding milk!) and try ingredients I never cook with (Fennel! Fresh herbs! Jicama!) and expand the palate a bit (turns out I hate eggplant a far sight less than I did when I was nine).

~We kept a few of my cousin's kids overnight last night while he and his wife were out of town. Here is a picture Adam snapped of us as we were reading bedtime stories.

So life is getting busy. Music lessons are picking up, and I'm gearing up for both starting a new school year and superintending at the fair next month. Adam started a new job at the sheriff's office a few weeks ago, so we're adjusting to his crazy schedule. Who knows what all we'll be up to next month!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Guess Who's Thirty!

If you guessed me, then you are correct. Happy birthday to me! Since I've been doing birthday bios for everyone so far this year, I thought I'd do one for myself.

Height: Still 5'9", last I checked.
Weight: 157. I am a normal BMI for the first birthday ever, BOOYAH!
Favorite activities: reading (I've read twenty-one books so far this year!), knitting, just making stuff in general when I can. I'm starting to get to the point where I really enjoy running (after a long year of just tolerating it, so that's cool). I'm also deriving a lot of joy from learning how to do repairs around the house. A couple years ago, I took the Myers-Briggs personality test, and while I take the entire thing with a huge grain of salt, I definitely identify as an ISTP through and through, and feel that the "Maker" aspect of my personality increasingly manifests itself the older I get.
Least favorite stuff: being interrupted every five minutes of every day,
Favorite foods: Coffee, rice cakes (I probably have 2-3 a day! So good!), anything grilled.
Thankful for: not having to travel on my birthday! For whatever reason, we seem to usually be on an airplane on July 30.
Plans for my 30th year:  Get to my goal weight of 150, visit Seattle, work my way through a Martha Stewart cookbook of meals. Not very exciting, but I've come to realize that I am just not a "big goal" person and prefer to focus on shorter-term goals. Adam, on the other hand, is an excellent big-picture thinker, so I leave that to his expertise.

This was really a perfectly paced birthday. On Friday evening, we had my parents and my cousin's family over. It's tradition for us to eat at Famous Dave's on my birthday, but since the nearest franchise is hundreds of miles away, I thought it would be fun to have our own homemade spin. That included BBQ cheddar burgers with those little crunchy onion things on top, corn on the cob, and cornbread from a real Famous Dave's mix that Adam found at the grocery store, among other things. Cheesecake for dessert crowned the meal!

Yesterday, my actual birthday, I got up around six and went for a run to test out the fancy new running shoes that Adam bought me as a gift. The run was immediately followed by cheesecake for breakfast. :-D The rest of the day was low-key- just the way I like it!- with Adam taking the kids out for the afternoon so I could have a long, uninterrupted nap. That just may have been my favorite part of the birthday!

I have heard from several people over the years that thirty is kind of when you start really getting your act together, and I definitely feel like this past year has been true in that regard. So let's hope that this birthday starts a decade of getting even better at life!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Africa Activities and Resources

Africa is over! We ended up spending four very loose weeks on it-- the first two, I was focused on teaching about Africa, and then the last two weeks saw me so overwhelmed with other life stuff that I gave up covering any new material and just kept the activities we already had out for the boys to tinker with. We definitely didn't go as in-depth as we did with South America, but I'm satisfied with it as an intro to Africa.




The Lion's Share
Very clever little book on division and multiplication, with some manners on the side. The kids thought this story was hilarious!

Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock

Chameleon, Chameleon

The Lonely Lioness

Dr. de Soto Goes to Africa

How the Ostrich Got Its Long Neck

I'm pretty sure we read a few more African-themed books, but I returned them to the library before writing the titles down!


Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears... and More Stories from Africa (Scholastic Video Collection)

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears
Great quality collection of African folk tales, two of them narrated by James Earl Jones. Great exposure to African art styles and music.

Madagascar: The Complete Collection (1-3)        The Lion King [Blu-ray] [UK Import]

Madagascar 1 and 2

The Lion King

We actually didn't watch any of the Madagascar or Lion King movies because we already own these and the kids have already seen them many times. However, Allen was enthralled with finding Madagascar on the map because he recognized the name!

Born Free is one that I wanted to see, but couldn't get.


Play-Doh Map

Oscar cracks me up on this one. Invariably, at point, he says, "Oh no! The people in Africa are covered in Play-Doh!" Haha.

Mancala/Making Tallies

We learned how to play mancala, an African game. I took this opportunity to teach Oscar how to make tally marks (and I may have let him win quite a bit so we could get to five!). We played this with my cousin's kids when they came over, so they got on the scoreboard, too.

Rhino Washing

Nice idea, bad execution. I bought our very first Schleich animal--a rhino, which I adore! The tray had a little pitcher/bowl combo for water, an old food coloring squeeze container filled with dish soap, and a couple flannel wipes for washing and drying. Unfortunately, it didn't get used much because it was such a pain to haul the pitcher and bowl down the hall to the bathroom to refill and empty, and Allen squeezed out the entire soap bottle in a few minutes' time when I wasn't looking. The kids enjoyed the washing part, though. The takeaway is to not try this activity if you don't have immediate access to a sink!

Making Pyramids

Using some yellow posterboard from the dollar store, we cut out equilateral triangles and drew stones on them. This was a great time to discuss the different kinds of triangles (right, isosceles, scalene, equilateral) as well as explore angles and use a protractor to create the pyramids.

Pea/Bead Spooning

Pin Map

See tutorial here. When I first looked at the flag template, I said, "You have GOT to be kidding me!" Over sixty countries in Africa! I went ahead and made all the flags, but only set out about fifteen of the most famous or likely-to-be-in-the-news countries for Oscar to pin.

If you've been reading the blog for a while, you'll notice that I took the books off those shelves to make a place for the pin maps. The kids have plenty of books in another spot in the house, and they are rightly more interested in doing the activity trays when they're in the schoolroom. Also, you can see the start of my continent box collection on the floor! I'm using Adam's shoeboxes, which, while not the most glamorous setup, fits the materials perfectly. Sometimes it pays to have a husband with size 15 shoes. Those boxes are HUGE, y'all.

Buying Coffee

I did this with our South American study, too. Our Winco has a giant selection of coffees from around the world, so when it's time get more coffee for the house, we'll select a bean that comes from our continent of study. This month's selection was Tanzanian peaberry, which is actually really delicious! It's just a little thing to help underscore the idea that Africa is a real place with real people that grow real food!

Making Hot Pap

A breakfast found in South Africa is hot pap, you make this cereal by boiling cornmeal. Allen thought it was pretty gross, but Oscar and I enjoyed it to the last drop!

Nigerian Traditional Dress Coloring

Found a really great page full of traditional dress coloring pages from all around the world here.

So now Africa is done, and we are pressing on to Asia!