Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Dung Beetle Project

Let me start this off by saying: I am VERY new to the whole homeschooling thing!

I wasn't homeschooled myself except for one year (8th grade), we just began homeschooling our children about a month ago, and lately I have spent countless hours reading, researching, and flipping through curriculum catalogs trying to choose what might work best for us.

So when I came across an application to join This Old Schoolhouse's 2011-2012 Homeschool Crew (where I get to try out and review various homeschooling materials here on my blog) I thought it would be a great opportunity to gather up some hands-on information on what kinds of materials my children (and I) would like to do and find most useful for our family!

I made it to the second step of the try-out process, which included being provided with a unit study to do with the children.

Our unit study was called "The Curiosity Files: Dung Beetle" put out by This Old Schoolhouse and available as a downloadable e-unit study at their online store here for $6.95, currently on sale for $1.00!

According to the website info for the Curiosity Files unit studies, these are aimed at the 8-13 year old crew, but I didn't know this when I started out the project with the kids!

For my advanced-reader first grade boy and my bug-enthusiast kindergarten girl, we managed to wade through most of the new vocabulary, abbreviated the workbook pages and drew a lot of pictures of the things we "observed".

The unit study begins with a lesson about dung beetles which held the attention of the children very well, especially when supplemented with a big hand-drawn dung beetle visual thanks to the drawing I transposed onto the white board.

Aww, look at Mr. Dung Beetle!

Following the lesson are several pages of fill-in-the-blank type handouts, blank pages for observations, copywork of relevant Bible passages, and several pages of suggested activities. Most of the activities include some sort of supplemental information, activity, or video you can look up online, which we did several times! Also included are activities or suggestions designed specifically for children with certain learning disabilities or varying learning styles. While I didn't use any of those suggestions myself, I could certainly appreciate the abundance of possibilities for all types of learners!

Although the unit was aimed at an older group of students, there were several activities that could easily be modified for the younger crowd, making this a great unit study for those of us who are teaching several children of different grade levels or abilities. I think this would ideally be used for kids in the 4th-6th grade levels, adding in a student or two above or below that range for bigger homeschooling families. Finding things that I can use to teach all three of my older kids at the same time is very important to me as is finding things that teach science with a biblical worldview, both of which were integral in this unit study.

For me, it would have been helpful to have had the activities grouped together by age or grade level and to have that specifically stated somewhere at the top of each page for easy reference. I'm terribly unorganized at this point in my homeschool career and I can't say exactly when that's going to drastically change! I kept having to flip back and forth, jumping around to find the (sort of) age appropriate things in the packet.

Joshua forming his dragonfly (which is a "beneficial insect" like the dung beetle) on a stick!

My Preschooler Elayna enjoying the modeling clay and coming along for the Dung Beetle ride!

proudly showing off their dragonfly models!

Even so, we had SO much fun doing this study! I am always wary of mess-inducing art projects and this thoroughly broke me out of my shell! We had dung-beetle drawings everywhere, made models of dragonflies from modeling clay and dowels, and even made a model of a compound eye out of egg cartons and paper-maché! Talk about potential for mess! I thought I was going to have half the newspaper stuck to the table top by the time we were done! We had a blast, and I have to admit I did particularly enjoy using my new hot-glue gun.

The compound eye model before we broke out the paper-maché

I have to admit, though, every single one of my kids thought the goop was horrid! They had the most fun putting on the egg carton pieces and cutting the strips of newspaper with their scissors. They were VERY serious about cutting those strips! Goop, however, is right where the girls drew the line. Josh stuck with it for about 10 minutes before the gooeyness suddenly overwhelmed him and he started gagging. Weird kid. Shhh!!! Don't tell anyone, but I had flashbacks to 5th grade and totally enjoyed finishing it all by myself! Considering I'd have never thought of doing anything like this on my own, we all had fun AND learned some new things, I'd say the Dung Beetle Project was a success!

Whether or not I land a spot on the Homeschool Crew this year, I am very glad I was able to have the chance to participate in the process and have access to a new unit study full of new information and fun ideas.

*TOS also offers several other topics in the Curiosity Files ebook format, including Platypus, MRSA, Quicksand, and the very intriguing Zombie Fire Ants!. These titles and more are also available for purchase in a bundle of 9 unit studies for a discounted price!

**If you are interested in checking out this unit study or other products for homeschoolers, head on over to This Old Schoolhouse Store! They offer a wide variety of products from ebooks to dvds, planners, art supplies, new homeschooler bundles, and even a dollar spot!

***For reference, my children are 7, 5, 3, and 7 months! Grade levels 1, K, and Pre.

****Just ONE more thing! If you haven't "liked" This Old Schoolhouse on facebook and you are a homeschooler go do it now! They not only keep you up-to-date on their latest sales, they also pose various reader questions on their wall for wider feedback from other homeschoolers.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Parenting: A Full-Contact Sport

As demonstrated by this picture of me, taken immediately after giving my kicking, laughing, splashing, shrieking, desperately-trying-to-escape-from-Momma's-hands-oh-my-goodness-going-to-drown-herself seven-month-old daughter a bath.

Yep, don't kid yourself, parenting is a full-contact sport. If you've ever tried to put a diaper on a 10 month old baby you know exactly what I mean. At that age you've given up on trying to use the changing table, the bed, the couch, or anything else more than 6 inches off the ground because you've caught the little bugger by the heel one too many times as they roll like an alligator killing their prey the moment air hits their little butt!

I'm sure you know what I mean if you've ever been caught between two toddlers, four hands, two feet, 28 teeth, and the only Dora phone in the entire world.

Or if you've ever thrown yourself in the way of a tipping shopping cart before it fell on the littlest member of the family because someone thought would make a good step ladder.

Or if you've ever been tackled on the floor of the living room by several sets of knees, elbows, feet, and tickling little hands.

Or if you've ever been 9 months pregnant, making your first of 6 trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night, stumbled over a few matchbox cars, stepped on a lego creation, and fallen into the toilet because your son didn't put the seat down.

Of course, if you've EVER been pregnant, gave birth, or breastfed a baby you already know how physically involved you get to be as a parent.

In some ways in the beginning of all this I thought it would be more closely related to going on a long, steep hike. Physically tiring, demanding, a little bit more than you thought you could handle, but at the top of the mountain there is this overwhelming sense of accomplishment and the exhilaration of standing at the top of the world.

When my son was born I fully expected that one day the tiring demands would slow down, maybe even stop completely, and that I'd be able to sit down, enjoy the feeling of "Hey, I made it up the hill and to the top of the mountain!".


Ignorance. Denial. Idealism. All that good stuff. Realizing and accepting that there would not be a "peak" to stop and check out the view from was hard. Or at least there wouldn't be any time SOON. I wanted to soak in the feeling of accomplishment that I made it through the various stages of pregnancy, babyhood, toddler trials, and all that. No time, though. In each completion of a stage there is nothing to do but walk through the door into the next stage, with all of its new challenges and trials.

And I have this sense that the minute the peak is reached I will realize exactly what's on that downhill slope: the Good-Bye stage. The Letting Go stage. The Heart Break stage.

The Empty Nest stage.

I guess for now I'll keep climbing this hill, taking my bright little moments of wonder and beauty as they fleetingly come and go, and thank God that I'm still on this exhausting, trying, patience-building side of the mountain.

Some day I'll look back and know I'd take these simple trials any day over the ones to be found over there. Some day I'll miss the mess, I'll miss the noise, and I'll even miss the fingerprints on the windows.

(emmy and elayna tackling mommy a few years ago)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Curriculum, Snacks, and Mastitis

It is Saturday evening and the house is quiet.

Well, not really quiet, quiet, just sort of quiet. It can't really be quiet with a teething baby in the house, now can it?

But it's the quietest it's been in three weeks, so relatively speaking, it's quiet.

It's been three weeks now since we made the switch over to homeschooling, so I have been surrounded by 4 noisy little bundles of energy nearly nonstop for just long enough to make me think a single crying baby is actually quite peaceful and quiet. Either that or I'm just losing my mind hearing.

So what do I want to do with this peaceful, quiet evening?


Bring on the chips, chocolate, granola bars, peeps, yogurt cups, cheez-its, and while I'm at it I may just grab a spoon and dig out a big blob of peanut butter. It's not like I need my tongue in order to write a blog post, now is it?


No really, I don't even have most of those things in the house right now, but it sounds good! Er, well, maybe not all at once. But I'd settle for one or two.

Why the sudden rush on junk food, you ask? Seriously, if you're a mom you probably already completely understand this. But in case you are NOT a mother and are actually reading my blog anyway, I'll lay out the timeline for you:

First: Cute little bundle of new baby is born. Meals are a little less regular than previously, since baby ALWAYS senses the impending meal and feels the need to be fed during the dinner hour. Since Mommy's got the equipment, Mommy misses dinner.

Fast forward a year: Toddler now needs food cut up, food spooned in, food cleaned up from face, hair, floor, walls, etc. and Mommy once again misses meals or eats cold food. (For those of us with a few MORE children, Mommy starts eating leftovers from toddler plate)

Included in the fast forward: Mommy is now pregnant, ravenously hungry at ALL times, and feels pukey if she doesn't eat every two hours.

Fast forward a bit more: By the time the fourth child is born, Mommy has become extremely adept at hiding the mid-morning granola bar that she invariably eats at 10 o'clock because she was so busy feeding the munchkins that her own breakfast was completely forgotten.

Which makes her not hungry when lunch time comes around, but a few bites of leftover kid food will hold her till dinner. Or so she thinks.

Until about 3 o'clock, when she grabs an apple.

And so the vicious cycle goes.

It's not that we intend to be snackers, it's just that it sort of sneaks up on a mom and the next thing she knows she's quietly chewing in the front seat of the car and surreptitiously taking bites out of the corner of her mouth that's hidden by the seatbelt strap so the backseat doesn't erupt in a chorus of "MOM!!! I'm HUNGRY!!" "Can I have a granola bar?!" "Can I have a bite?!" "Waaahhh!!!" ... that would be the baby.

Of course I know that whole scenario is less than ideal. But denial is a lovely thing, and it has gotten me through many things in life!

So I've been working on correcting some bad habits here and attempting to set a better example on the mealtime front. Mostly because not having a strict mealtime plan leads to absolute chaos and an exponentially increasing level of whine starting at 10 am and crescendoing about 30 seconds before lunch is on the table and .5 seconds before I lose it.

Besides wanting to set a better example, I have found that snacking is no longer an option simply because my older children have this sense of radar that invariably sounds the alarm whenever I reach into the cupboard. It doesn't matter if they are outside, on the swingset, in full swing mode. When their snack radar goes off, they can be at my side, half way up the whineo'meter in a flash. It's amazing.

It seems the mealtime prep, eating, and cleanup with everyone home takes up an insane amount of my day, but besides that, I've been doing all of this research online about homeschool curriculum options. Let me tell you - this is no easy task. There are MILLIONS of options out there and wading through them when you don't know what you're doing is CRAZY! Mind boggling!!

Trying to sort through it all has led me to several great resources, though, and in the meantime we are finishing up the workbooks we received from their school and supplementing with stuff I've picked up here and there. It will be enough to finish out the school year so I still have time to decide what package I want for next year.

Oh, and about the Mastitis (aka the Boob Flu)? Well, I'll spare you all the gory details! Let's just say that combined with a terrible allergic reaction to the antibiotics I was given made for an EXTREMELY fun week! I wasn't sure if I were more thankful that I didn't have to get up early and get children off to school or if I were more chagrined that I had all 4 children home with me to take care of while I was so sick!

At the end of it all, though, I found that I was more at peace with having them at home with me than I was the week before. Somewhere in that miserable week I found joy and anticipation in the prospect of homeschooling and let go of the expectation that I needed to have everything put together perfectly at all times. So in it all there was a blessing for me to find. Now if I could just hold on to that blessing 'cause I'm going to need it for the future!

And while I'm at it... if I could just hold on to a thought process long enough to develop it into an actual blog post more than once a month that would be nice, too!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Way He Studies

There is nothing more inspiring to me than watching my husband study. He reads quietly, with pen in hand, and shares the highlights with me as we sit together in the early morning. Sometimes he can't settle for just sharing highlights, and soon he's reading whole chapters to me, talking with animation as he learns new things and gains new knowledge. His enthusiasm is infectious, and I not only gain information, I find myself gaining respect for this man that God gave me, and in both I am blessed.


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