Friday, February 26, 2010

A good book for a snowy day

Today there's so much snow here that you couldn't even see the front steps, much less walk down them. (Mama Squirrel fixed that--she's hoping for some packages, and anybody who's ever seen NFB's Special Delivery (a piece of animation for adults, not children) will know why you have to keep things clear for the mail carrier.

Anyway--if you're looking for snow books and your kids are a bit past The Snowy Day but maybe not ready for The Long Winter, here's a book that our Squirrelings enjoyed at that age: Oliver and Amanda and the Big Snow. How could we not identify with a snow book that starts out with "Digging Out?" (The Oliver and Amanda books are structured like Frog and Toad, with four or five short stories in each one.)

And if you're really an expert on snow stories, you can always go back to our Carnival of Homeschooling: Snowed-In Edition, and see if you can identify the bits of books there. (Answers here.)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A ketchup kind of meal (What's for dinner?)

Dinner's from the freezer--we're low on fresh things.

Frozen cabbage rolls (a small package--they were on sale at Giant Tiger)
Frozen mini-sausages
Baked potatoes (last of the bag--they were getting soft)
Carrot sticks, sour cream, applesauce etc.
Fruity Oatmeal Muffins and Mango Freeze (recipes below)

Fruity Oatmeal Muffins, because the oven was already on at the right temperature:

2 scant cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 cup milk, swished with the bottom bits of two jars of peach and strawberry jam

Mix dry ingredients. Mix wet ingredients. Correct flour if needed (I added a bit more.) Combine gently, scoop into muffin pan and bake 20 minutes at 375 degrees.

Mango Freeze:

Part of a bag of frozen mango cubes (frozen fruit was on sale a couple of weeks ago)
3 small fruit yogurts

Run through the food processor until smooth and fluffed up. If you do this ahead of time, scoop into small dishes or one larger bowl and put back into the freezer until you want them.

Monday, February 22, 2010

What's for supper? (Hold the tomatoes)

That subject line wasn't referring to throwing them--just eating them. To avoid the distress that pasta sauce causes to some Squirrels, Mama Squirrel made a spaghetti dinner tonight without tomato sauce. General recipe: brown a pound of ground chicken with chopped celery and mushrooms. Cook half a box, or a whole box, of spaghettini. Drain the pasta and put into the slow cooker. Top with the chicken-vegetable mixture, including all the pan juices. Season with pepper and oregano and add some cheese on top (we used uncoloured old Cheddar). Cook until the cheese is melted (if everything's already hot, it only takes an hour or so in the slow cooker). (If you'd rather put the whole thing in the oven, you can do that instead. Or just serve it immediately from the pan, if you're ready to eat. We weren't. We were busy shovelling snow.) Scoop it all out as is, or scoop the top part out into a serving bowl so that you can pull the pasta out separately.

If you don't want to dump everything in together and then have to unmix it afterwards, then just keep the pasta separate from the chicken and vegetables; cook it separately when you're ready to serve it.

We had this with the Hillbilly Housewife's Garlic Bread Sticks (leaving out the extra salt), carrot sticks, and sliced kiwi fruit for dessert.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Just read the story already

I was asked to do a story-and-craft session with the preschoolers at co-op tomorrow. I came across one book I liked, and thought I'd do a quick browse online to see if anyone had come up with fun activities to go with it. The book's been around for a long time, right? Some preschool teacher somewhere has probably used it for storytime.

This is the first thing that came up for it.

And that's why we homeschool.

(That also reminded me of the DHM's recent conversation with her young friend Blynken, where she refused to define a big word that she'd used. Sometimes we need more story, less explaining, right?)

P.S. I'm still deciding on a book. I'll let you know what I picked tomorrow.

Happy 5th Blogiversary to Us

And now the morning news with Mr. Koala (and his bag of milk)...

On February 18, 2005:

It was discovered that the tsunami resulting from the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake uncovered an ancient city near the coastal town of Mahabalipuram in India.

A man was arrested by GardaĆ­ in the town of Passage West in County Cork, Ireland, after he was discovered attempting to burn sterling bank notes.

The UK Food Standards Agency orders the withdrawal of over 350 food products from sale following the discovery that a batch of chilli powder used to produce a batch of Worcestershire sauce subsequently used to produce processed foods was contaminated with the possibly carcinogenic dye Sudan I.

And we launched Dewey's Treehouse!

In the past five years we've had big messy snowstorms, big messy rainstorms, and one really big messy windstorm.

Our apple trees have gotten big enough to have real apples on them.

We've raked an awful lot of maple leaves.
We've also seen our Squirrelings grow much bigger, the Squirreling parents grow a few years older, and Dewey lose a little more of his nose. We've had some rocky times. We've had many reasons to give thanks.
We've won a Homeschool Blog Award, and some lovely reader-nominated ones.
We've made great blogging friends, even those we'll never meet in real life.

It's been a blast.

Photo credits: Mr. Fixit and Ponytails

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lent Devotions

This is a book we've had since the Apprentice was about Crayons' age. I remember going through it very faithfully one year in particular--I think it was nine or ten years ago--and making all the symbols, trying a lot of the recipes and crafts. I think we might still have some of our symbols in the bottom of a box of decorations--I'll have to pull the box out and see.

The only "funny" thing about this book is that there are no devotions or activities for the Sundays of Lent. If you follow it straight through ("Day 2," "Day 3," etc.), you'll wind up short. The reason? Sundays aren't technically part of Lent--they're "little Easters." So on Sundays, you're on your own. But I think that might work out all right here, because we usually skip family activities on Thursdays when the Apprentice is working.

Today's activity is supposed to be carving a bar of soap into the shape of a cross, a reminder that our sins were "washed away." We usually use liquid soap, so I was thinking about decorating the pump containers instead. We'll see how it goes--everybody is still feeling a bit tentative today after a couple of Very Yuck sick days.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Just for Crayons: Mama Squirrel's favourite horse story

Someone else has been thinking about the hard-to-find Pamela and the Blue Mare.

Catching up (and Happy St. Valentine's Day)

Last week wasn't a very bloggish week. The weather stayed mostly dry (around here, although not in a lot of other places!) and we did all the usual Squirrel stuff. Mr. Fixit has continued to work on cleaning out some of the dark recesses of the Tree, coming up with some of the most amazing stuff that had dropped down down down. He even managed to find our kids' harp which had gotten (for some reason) put up on one of the joists of the furnace room ceiling (where we keep kites, leaves for the dining table and things like that).

Mama Squirrel went to a church social and played Mennonite Golf, which you don't find mentioned online too much because its proper name is Ten Card Golf. It's one of those very social games like Uno or Cheat that you can learn in a few minutes (because it's easy for other people to help you if you don't have a clue what you're doing), and it can take all evening if you want it to. Although it was cards instead of marbles, it reminded me of the big wooden Aggravation boards that my own Grandpa Squirrel made maybe thirty years ago, much like these. I still have one of his boards, and remember long evenings spent eating snacks and playing "the marble game" with my grandparents and whoever else was around.

Crayons and Ponytails both used the sewing machine, Crayons for the first time by herself. Mama Squirrel helped her make a felt doll pillow and then a fabric book cover--Crayons sewed all the seams. Ponytails experimented with the fancy stitches that Mama Squirrel never has time for, and dressed up a dish towel with machine-embroidered scallops. (An afterthought about that...we have two volumes of a popular children's sewing machine series, which spends a lot of time having kids follow mazes on paper and do non-fabric crafts to get them used to the machine. Crayons and I read through the first book, but she was distinctly uninterested in anything that didn't actually involve "sewing something." The Real Thing. Mama Squirrel had no problem with that.)

We went to a library sale which wasn't at a library, it was at one of their "service buildings," which basically means a warehouse, and that's what it was--boxes of books all over the place, stacked up on racks and in big wobbly piles, with strollers blocking the aisles, toddlers running in between the boxes, and little kids crawling under the racks with parents calling things after them like "do you see any books on renovation under there?" We did find a few books, but it wasn't the sort of place where you wanted to stay very long.

Monday is the Family Day holiday in Ontario. We're not sure yet how we're going to spend it...stomach viruses are still making their way around this area and have criss-crossed through the Treehouse more than once, so we're keeping things open.

Monday, February 08, 2010

How come your kids don't know that?

The Review Crew has started a sort of mini-carnival each week, with a homeschooling question to answer. The question for this week is "How do you know if your kids are keeping up with their peers?" (Click on the ship to see more entries--they will be posted on Tuesday.)
I guess you could rephrase that "How do you know they know what they're supposed to know?"

I've never worried much about that. First of all, it depends on who's making the list of what kids are supposed to know. Maybe their list isn't the same as mine, but who's to say that theirs is better, even if "they" might be the provincial government? Better for whom? I was never that interested in having standardized kids.

Second, even people who have gone through a whole education system have often missed something. Or a lot of things. How else to account for all those surveys that show how many of us don't know the most basic facts of geography, or physics, or about the Bible? I was reading something just this weekend from someone in New Mexico who kept having phone order takers insist that New Mexico wasn't a state. Someone else added that they'd had similar trouble living in Delaware.
Third, even if we do miss something, it's usually fairly easy to fill in or catch up. I may have posted before about Ponytails' teacher last year (when she was in public school) having a "thing" about graphing--it's not something we spend a lot of formal time on here, but it doesn't take a lot of time to explain. When The Apprentice started tenth-grade math in public high school, we had covered most of the elementary algebra topics at home (mostly using and a couple of library books), but again hadn't done much co-ordinate geometry. She knew the concepts as far as quadratic equations; just had somehow missed out on the "rise over run" part. But no big deal--have you ever known a high school course not to start with a quick review of last year's work? She caught up quickly and has gotten high marks in math ever since.
Finally, the Squirrelings (and most other homeschooled kids I know of) usually know about a lot of interesting things that aren't on the "standardized" list, or sometimes aren't even in the homeschool plan. Crayons just called me a few minutes ago to say that a whole bunch of chickadees were outside the window. She got all interested awhile back in John Haywood's Atlas of Past Times. (She's also one of the youngest kids I know who can tell you about "a master bedroom with an ensuite." Too much experience with open houses?) Ponytails' grade seven curriculum includes logic, money management, photography, nineteen-century world history, French verbs, and Plutarch's Life of Poplicola; but she's also following her own interests, right now mostly in things like design. She also made us ham and cheese crepes for lunch.
So do I ever get worried enough to look through the provincial standards and wonder if we're doing it wrong? Honestly, no--well, hardly ever. With Ponytails being home right now for one or maybe two more years before high school, yes, I did have a look through the middle school topics. I printed out the guidelines for French, and considered whether or not it would be worthwhile adjusting our history and science to include what the public schools were doing. (We decided not to.) But we were more interested in using this time to work on what Ponytails needs to work on. And what she's interested in. And what our homeschool curriculum suggests. That's more than good enough, in Mama Squirrel's opinion.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Math Mammoth (TOS Review)

Treehouse Review Week
Math Mammoth Home Page
Free Samples Download
Placement Tests
FAQ (including ordering information)

"Fully reproducible math workbooks
and worktexts for grades 1-12.
Incredibly affordable!"

I mentioned a few weeks ago that we would be trying out Maria Miller's Math Mammoth series with Crayons this term. We received both grade 3 books in the Light Blue Series (more specifics on the grade 3 books here), and I printed out the first chapter.

"The first chapter in this book deals with addition and subtraction strategies. The student does a lot of mental math, learns addition and subtraction terminology, touches on algebraic problems in the lesson about addition/subtraction connection, practices borrowing, and more."

What else do you do in Grade 3? "Then we tackle the multiplication concept in chapter 2. After that come multiplication tables in chapter 3, so multiplication does take a big part of book A. Then comes a chapter about clock and time (chapter 4) and a chapter about money (chapter 5).

"In part B, we study place value with thousands (chapter 6), then measuring and geometry (chapters 7 and 8), followed by division in chapter 9. In chapter 10, we study a little about multiplying bigger numbers, and finally in chapter 11, it is time for some introductory fraction and decimal topics."

Why do I like this so far? As I've said before, I like the three-year curriculum we've been using with Crayons, but in its final year it does get a bit esoteric with Fibonacci numbers, measurement, and graphing concepts--and I've felt that she really did need more work this year on basics. I wanted to be sure that those arithmetic "acorns" she'd stored up didn't get buried under a lot of other leaves and nuts--nice leaves and nuts, but not what she most needs right now.
It might be that Timmy-Tiptoes part of being a Squirrel: dropping those nuts down deep through the hole in the tree, but not being sure exactly what went down there, or how you're going to get them out again later.--previous Treehouse post
I also like the balance we're getting between a bit of "mom teaching time" and then a reasonable amount of problems for Crayons to do alone--this works very well with the way we like to learn here, and seems to go at about the right pace. I like the uncluttered feeling I get when we work through these pages--they're not fancy, but they offer enough variety to keep things interesting, and include self-checking activities like finding all the answers in a long line of numerals. (If the answer isn't in there, you did it wrong.)

"When you use these books as your only or main mathematics curriculum, they can be like a "framework", but you do have some liberty in organizing the study schedule....This curriculum aims to concentrate on a few major topics at a time and study them in depth....This is opposite to the continually spiraling step-by-step curricula in which each lesson typically is about a different topic from the previous or next lesson, and includes a lot of review problems from past topics. This does not mean that your child wouldn't need occasional review. However, when each major topic is presented in its own chapter, this gives you more freedom to plan the course of study and choose the review times yourself."

This works for us.

An important question for our family: do you need a colour printer? In the third-grade workbooks I downloaded, the colours do make the pages prettier; but they also seem to work fine in black and white. If you're looking for material for younger children, you might want to check out the samples for those years to see if you want them done in colour. [Update, October 2010: We printed out the 3B book in colour because it has several chapters about geometry, measurement etc. which use pictures of rulers, measuring cups and other things that show up better with different colours.]

What is Math Mammoth like in general?

Math Mammoth offers a whole array of downloadable workbooks, from full curriculum, to collections of worksheets on single topics. At first the different series may seem confusing, but the website pretty much explains the differences, for example, between the Blue and the Light Blue books. The Blue series is more remedial or supplemental; Light Blue is designed as a full, largely self-teaching curriculum for grades 1-5.

What is there for older students? Very glad you asked: check out the middle-school and high-school stuff here, including the Make-It-Real series of workbooks. "Make It Real Learning products are workbooks that contain activities or problem situations taken from real-life, with real data. Some examples of the situations are: cell phone plans, autism, population growth, cooking, borrowing money, credit cards, life spans, music downloads, etc. etc. Each activity-lesson starts with basics and goes into more in-depth and challenging evaluations and questions."

What does this cost? It all depends on how much you want to get at one time. You can get the whole Light Blue series, for example--that is, all five grades plus answer keys, a worksheet maker etc.--for US$99 as a download or $104 on CD. Prices of one year's Light Blue curriculum (including the support materials) vary slightly between the Math Mammoth page (it says there they are $29.50) and the Kagi store download page (it's listed there as $33.36). You can also order printed workbooks through General ordering information is here.

Final Take: Over the past few years, I've often noticed Math Mammoth's generosity in offering samples and prizes (I've won a couple of their other products myself), and their interest in working with homeschoolers. I think it's their flexibility that seems to make them a good choice for homeschooling--you can get what you need to start with, get more pages or more help if you need it, and even make up some of your own stuff with the support materials. There is no fancy encryption or stuff that makes printing limited or difficult. And the book we're using has been pretty much print-out-and-use--there's no big learning curve for the parent. I don't know how the materials for the upper years compare to other curricula, but I'd certainly include them in the possibilities for math in the years to come.

For more reviews of this product, see the Review Crew Home Page. [2012 update: sorry, the reviews there have all been moved.]

Dewey's Disclaimer: This product was received free for purposes of review. No other payment was made. The opinions expressed in this review are our own.