Saturday, February 25, 2012

Weekly Wrap-Up: Little Hearts Unit 18 and the Renaissance Festival

We spent President's Day at the Renaissance Festival with some friends. A merry time was had by all.


The girls' favorite parts of school this week were the Bible stories and related activities. They learned about the disciples' work as they spread the gospel, and learned that God was faithful even when Peter and Paul were in chains. After talking about the disciples being imprisoned for their beliefs, we lightened up the mood by making some handcuffs of our own, and arrested our baby dolls and stuffed animals. You won't get away this time, Dumbo.


We also learned about Peter's vision, when God revealed that even unclean animals were acceptable, and that the gospel would spread to the Gentiles. We made Play-Doh animals. Buttercup made some sort of wild cat - I'm pretty sure it's a lion.

Buttercup is cruising right along in the Early Reader's Bible and I "catch" her reading ahead, which is exciting since she understands it all. She is also reading Dr. Seuss and My First Little House books to her little sister. I am loving this! They are spending quality time together, big sis is practicing reading, and I don't have to turn on the TV while I make dinner.
In math, we are adding sets of numbers. One hands-on activity was to use blocks/legos to make a train. We added groups of train cars: four cars are at the station, here come 4 more cars - how many cars! The math wasn't much of a challenge, but it was fun. It will become more challenging soon enough.

In Handwriting Without Tears, (don't let the name fool you, tears are often involved) we're still working through capital letters, as they are easier for still-developing hands. Buttercup has been working hard to make the letter 8 as well. I woke up Saturday morning to find Buttercup had been practicing her 8s, with her little sister alongside her, drawing a "Bubble Buddy".  Bubble Buddy was the name of a bubble friend that Spongebob Squarepants created.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Children's Nature Books

We love to read about nature, and beautifully illustrated children's books are plentiful. Here are some of our favorites.

I love the picture books by Dianna Hutts Aston. The watercolor art by Syliva Long is beautiful and the text is poetic. These are not storybooks, but gentle picture books describing lovely elements of nature, written with a tone of quiet wonder.
My favorite is An Egg Is Quiet, with illustrations of a variety of bird, reptile, fish, and insect eggs. The end pages feature the creatures that hatched from those eggs, and my daughter liked to go back and "match" the animal with its egg at the front of the book.

Other beauties in this series include A Seed Is Sleepy and A Butterfly Is Patient.  All are wonderful for young nature lovers, or for parents who want to help instill a sense of the beauty of nature in their children.

Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert. "A Leaf Man's got to go where the wind blows." Leaf Man is made of leaves and acorns, and he used to live near the narrator, but has blown away. On each page, as we follow Leaf Man on his Autumn journey, leaves are arranged into a variety of fall shapes to look like animals, and other fall images. It is almost a natural "look and find" for young children, and may inspire Fall nature walks to find your own leaf man (or to collect leaves to make your own leafy art).

Gus Is A Tree by Claire Babin. Gus loves trees. One day in the schoolyard, while wearing his red, yellow, and orange striped sweater, Gus falls asleep under a tree. He dreams of being a tree in the forest with red, yellow, and orange striped bark. He watches the forest animals and feels the rainfall, until he wakes up and realizes it really is raining. The end of the book contains "forest words" that describe some types of trees. Also available: Gus Is A Fish.

As someone who lives in the desert, I should include at least one desert nature book.
Cactus Hotel by Brenda Z. Guiberson tells the story of a tiny seed from a cactus fruit, that slowly and steadily grows into a giant saguaro, a fine hotel for a variety of desert dwellers. The very old cactus eventually dies and falls to the ground, where it becomes a home for ground-dwelling creatures. This book tells the life cycle of a cactus in story form, and shows how important these plants are to the desert ecosystem, in a way that isn't dry. Pun not intended, really.

How Groundhog's Garden Grew by Lynne Cherry - Groundhog has been stealing veggies from his neighbor's garden, but his friends show him how wonderful it can be to grown his own food. The book is richly illustrated with cute characters and a lush garden full of colorful veggies that might even make toddlers want to try some salad.

And The Good Brown Earth by Kathy Henderson. Jack and Gram are planting a garden together in the good brown earth. This little picture book goes through the changes in the seasons, and shows that hard work and patience are rewarded. "The good brown earth got on with doing what the good brown earth does best."

Swirl By Swirl - Spirals In Nature by Joyce Sidman. This book is like an art appreciation lesson and nature study all in one. The book guides children into finding the spiral shape repeated in nature. Spirals can be strong (a ram's horns), warm (a curled up garden snake), powerful (a tornado). Shortly after reading the book my girls were excited to find a spiral in a fountain's whirlpool.

We just happened across all of these books in the library or at bookstores, so keep your eyes open and share any of your own finds - we're always looking for a good book recommendation around here.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Weekly Wrap-Up: Little Hearts Unit 17

We have now completed half of our kindergarten curriculum! I can't believe it - time has really flown by (we started K the first week of October, after Buttercup turned five).

Now for some of the fun highlights of our week.

In Bible, we read about Pentecost, and Buttercup made a flame out of torn construction paper.

We also did a handprint craft, folding the paper over to make a mirror image.

We attempted a Valentine's Day field trip on Tuesday with our homeschool group. It was Student Day at the Renaissance Fair. Unfortunately, it was the one day this Arizona winter that we had rain. We were unprepared for 44 degrees and hours of constant rain. After two very uncomfortable hours, mostly spent hiding under canvas tents and trying to avoid ankle-deep mud puddles, we went home.  We had to promise that we would return on the weekend so the girls could actually watch shows, ride rides, and eat a turkey leg. This is how we looked when we first arrived and thought the rain would stop within the hour. It started pouring instead.

The next day it was back to lessons. In math, Buttercup has been adding using a number line, counting on, and counting sets of numbers. Small sets of numbers, that is. In addition to pages in her Singapore Earlybird Kindergarten Math we did a hands-on activity daily. Most were number line activities, except for this example of counting sets.

Three birds in the tree plus two birds on the ground equals?
Buttercup is getting to the point where she can just look at the pictures (or the birds, as the case may be) and know how many are there without counting. This was very exciting for us!

Onward and upward - next week starts the second half of our school year!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Weekly Wrap-Up: Little Hearts Unit 16

This week we finished Unit 16 in our Kindergarten curriculum. We reached Jesus' death and resurrection in our Bible, and had some meaningful talks about eternal life and trusting in Jesus. I don't know how much my little ones understand, but they listen very intently.

In math, I taught Buttercup about 1/2 and 1/4. We may need to review 1/4 a little bit - or maybe not, sometimes she surprises me by understanding something days later that I thought she didn't get. This happened when I thought she needed to review skip counting but I heard her skip counting the staircase steps on her way to bed. To reinforce our fraction concepts, Buttercup sliced pieces of cheese into quarters, and we all ate her hard work.

We're moving through the Early Reader's Bible. Today Buttercup read to me about David & Goliath.  She is really "storytelling" when she reads, with all the voice inflection included, and is not just reading words on a page. It's so exciting to hear!

In science, we talked about day and night (after we talked about Jesus as the light of the world). Buttercup had an assignment to draw colorful "Day" things on one side of a page. On the other side of the page she was to draw gray and black "Night" things (looking like they are in shadow). She went scientific with "night", drawing a moon, a moth, a bat, and a racoon.  For daytime, she drew a unicorn, a rainbow, a mermaid, and a princess.

I think she may have been associating colorful/daytime with happiness, and drew the things she loves. I was happy to see all the detail in her drawings! After praising her hard work, we both had a laugh because she said, "What do unicorns and mermaids have to do with daytime?" and burst out laughing.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Our First Sonoran Nature Walk

We tried our very first nature hike on Saturday. We had never tried any of the local nature trails because I didn't think our little one could handle it. Then I found out there is a nearby trailhead that is designed to be accessible for everyone, including children, as it is flat, wide, labeled with many signs describing the plants and animals of the desert, and is only a 1/2 mile long loop. This was the perfect first hike experience for the girls (it is also accessible to wheelchairs and strollers). 

It was a clear February morning, around 65 degrees at 11:00 a.m. There were a lot of hikers at the trailhead, heading off in different directions, as there is a variety of trails, from easy and flat to difficult and steep. We found the nature trail and set out.

65 seconds of sprinting later, Sunshine wanted Dad to pick her up and carry her. So he'd lug her around until she wanted to get down and look at something.

The trail had many signs explaining the local environment. We learned that we were standing on a bajada  - the area between a steep mountain slope and the flat valley floor. Erosion causes soil and rocks to break up and rain washes it down into a big pile of debris. That broad slope of debris is what we were exploring.

It was suggested by the trail volunteers that we look for homes or hiding places for desert animals. Buttercup investigated an old piece of wood, looking for lizards.

There weren't any in the log, but we did see some lizards skittering across the rocky ground. They saw us and disappeared quickly out of sight beneath the plants. There were quite a lot of plants, more than one might expect to find in the desert.

The saguaro cactus is a home to a variety of birds, including elf owls, while it is alive.

When a saguaro cactus dies, it leaves behind a woody spine that bugs and small creatures can hide under. This saguaro skeleton is still partially standing...

And when it falls, it becomes a home or resting place for ground-dwellers...

The cholla cactus, pictured here behind my darling Sushine...

... leaves behind a skeleton full of holes for little creatures to hide in.  We didn't see any (luckily!)

We also saw lots of holes in the ground, homes to burrowing rodents or reptiles.

Try not to stick your hand into a burrow. I know it's tempting. But it's rude to the animals, dangerous, and your mom will yell at you.

We also saw several pack rat middens. We learned that pack rats pile up sticks, cactus pieces, and other debris, and make a huge pile to live in. Sometimes they find human "treasures" (coins, pieces of plastic, anything shiny) and add those too, but we didn't see any. Pack rats build their middens in the shade of a tree or bush.

There was a sign nearby with a picture of a pack rat carrying a piece of cactus. Be careful!

We rested in the shade and enjoyed the desert sky awhile before heading home. The park service is kind enough to provide stone resting walls on this easy-access trail.

One other fun thing we noticed was this group of rocks. Do they look like an anything to you? They did to us!

We really enjoyed our first venture into the Sonoran desert. It was a little stop-and-go with Sunshine, because she wants to be picked up a lot, so we'll have to stick with these easy trails for now, or try a longer hike without her until she agrees to walk on her own. I'm still surprised that there's something to see out in the desert, but apparently there is a lot for us to explore. We'll be out again soon! Spring is coming fast - and this all should start blooming with color within the next few weeks.


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