Friday, March 29, 2013

Art Update

art on display
At the beginning of this year, I blogged about my desire to include more art projects into our homeschooling routine. I think we have met that goal. We have completed an art project nearly every week since September. Occasionally we have skipped a week when things were hectic. But even then the boys would doodle while listening to our American history stories or a science reading.

Here are just a few of the projects they completed in recent weeks. All ideas came from the website Art Projects for Kids.

winter birch trees
I really liked the way our winter birches project turned out. The boys had to use painter's tape to create a border on an 12x12 sheet of white card stock. Then they marked off the birch trees with the tape. We mixed up some dark blue watercolor paint and then thinned it out a bit to get the right color mix for our night sky. After the paint was applied, we sprinkled salt on the wet paint to give it texture. The next day, when the paint had dried, we removed the tape, brushed off the salt, and added the stars. Using medium blue, they painted lines for the bark. Finally, with a very light blue watercolor, they added the shading.

skies are painted
Another project involved using our oil pastels to create an imitation of Paul Klee's abstract work Senecio. We used a thick black Sharpie marker to draw our abstract portrait. Then the oil pastels were thickly applied, keeping one color per division in the drawing.

pastel application
 Once the portraits had been colored, we painted over the whole drawing with acrylic paint. EM chose black, JT chose a silver metallic paint. When they were dry, the boys had to scrape off the paint. This left bits of the paint and gave the portraits more texture.

EM's work
This project was a bit more complicated and required more elbow grease. Applying the pastels took a lot of pressure and time. The boys spread the coloring portion of the work out over the course of a whole day. The scraping of the paint was also more tricky than we expected. I did have to help get the last bits of paint off. One tip if you try this project, when you are scraping the paint, place the picture in a cookie sheet with an edge. That way you don't end up with tiny bits of paint all over the floor. Also, I used a Pampered Chef scraper (the ones that are used to clean the stones) to do much of the work.

JT's work
A quick and easy project we tried was Kandinsky's trees. We pulled out our supply of card stock scraps and cut out multiple circles in bright colors. We cut our tree shapes from a piece of brown card stock and then set to work arranging the circles to make an abstract tree. The hardest part of this project was cutting circles. I do own a circle cutter, but it's a bit tricky to use, so I just let the boys go for it with their scissors.

EM's space spheres
The final project I want to share is spheres in space. This project was a great opportunity to give the kids experience using chalk pastels and to learn how to add shading. We cut 12x12 black card stock down to a manageable size. Then we traced circles onto our sheet using card stock circles I had cut out with a super-sized hole puncher. After that the boys chose the colors for their planets. When the primary colors had been added, they had to determine the direction of the light source and then work in black and white chalk on the corresponding sides of each circle to turn it into a sphere. EM worked quickly and was very happy with his final piece of art. JT was taking a long time to complete the first step of the project. When I asked why it was taking him so long, he told me he was busy creating the back story for each planet. Sometimes creativity can take us on interesting tangents. The next day he still had not finished more than a few planets. I needed him to move on to composition for the day, so I scrapped my original assignment and told him to write down the back story for the planet he was working on in his mind. He told me he had a great idea on how to do that.

Later in the day he presented me with a document titled, "A Report on the Mining Operations on Planet Tetron". It turns out the Terran Mining Corporation had enslaved the inhabitants of this planet to work in their amorite refineries. The composition was written in report format from a manager of the operations on the planet to the president of the company.

Who knew art could breed such creativity!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Looking Up

daytime moon
Our final unit in science this year is astronomy. It has been plagued by regular interruptions caused by sickness, surgery, and traveling. Somehow we have still managed to spend a little time learning about the universe.

I initially laid out plans for a ten week unit that would wrap up in March. Due to the schedule difficulties, we will now continue working on the study until the end of April. At this point we have covered six lessons from the Janice VanCleave book, Constellations, thirteen lessons from God's Design for Heaven & Earth, and all but one of the lectures from the Great Courses series, Our Night Sky. We spent one evening with the telescope studying the moon. The boys also learned to find and identify many of the constellations visible at this time of the year. I regularly employed BrainPOP for further instruction and activity sheets.

One other resource I have relied on heavily for this unit was the EarthSky website. We received a planisphere with our copy of Our Night Sky, and have found it to be an invaluable tool. This article at the EarthSky website explains why it's such a useful thing to have. EM especially enjoys adjusting the planisphere to find out how the stars are moving through the sky.

One of the best things about our astronomy unit was that it lined up with an opportunity to view comet PANSTARRS. I managed to get a decent picture of the comet from my parents' house on March 14th. The boys took a quick look and then ran off to play basketball. Because I missed my chance to see Halley's Comet in 1986, I knew that if I didn't go check this one out I'd regret it. If we're lucky, we will have a even better view of comet ISON in late November of this year.

I'm always happy when our planned studies line up so well with events going on in the 'real' world. Being able to tie what we are learning to day to day life makes it so much more memorable for the boys, and so much more satisfying for me.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Education for Mom

new reading material
Last week I made my annual trek to the Hershey Lodge to attend the Pennsylvania Department of Education's Special Education conference. The PDE opens their conference up to parents as well as education professionals. I always come away with new insight into how my children learn and think. This year was no exception. In fact, this may have been the best conference I have ever attended.

Out of the many different sessions I enjoyed, two stood out as the most applicable to my life as both a homeschooler and mom of gifted children. Peg Dawson offered excellent sessions on executive dysfunction. For years I have suspected that more than half of the residents in our house deal with difficulties because of executive dysfunction, including myself. Up until now, I have done little serious exploration of ways to help alleviate those issues. In preparation for the conference, I downloaded a sample of the book Smart but Scattered. After reading those first few chapters, I knew I needed this book. It arrived on the day I returned from the conference. As of yet, I have not had the time to really dive in and get to work. I expect to have some time after I wrap up my current Coursera classes in a few weeks. I'm hoping to be able to help JT with organizational problems that make some seemingly simple tasks into difficult projects.

I also had the opportunity to attend presentations by Gary Troia, Ph.D., Rick Guidotti, founder of Positive Exposure, Brian A. McNulty, Ph.D., Dan Florell, Ph.D., and my favorite, the final keynote speaker, Jesse Schell.

Jesse Schell is the CEO of Schell games, the author of the book, The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses, and, teaches at Carnegie Mellon University. Mr. Schell could have easily called his presentation, "Homeschoolers are Most Likely to Rule the Future." Every point he made about the future of education made homeschooling look like the best way any child can learn. Self-directed education is the future. Traditional schools are going to have a hard time providing those kinds of opportunities within the limits of teaching large groups of students in a centralized location. You can experience a portion of what he had to say at the conference by watching this talk he gave at the Learning Without Frontiers Conference, 2012, in London.

Whenever I attend these conferences, surrounded by professional educators, I often deal with feelings of guilt. I feel like I have some secret knowledge that I should be sharing with them. I have the hidden information that allows my children to be happy and learn in ways that best suit their personalities, that allows my children to live a life that doesn't require us to conform to any standard way of learning, that doesn't make us spend half of the day waiting for our chance to do what we really want to be doing, that allows us to be comfortable and relaxed, while filling our minds with new and interesting ideas. But I know not everyone can do what we do, because either their circumstances don't allow it, or their children would not flourish in this kind of lifestyle.

So I keep my knowledge to myself and I smile...

...because I know I am living the dream.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Out of the Office

Can you guess where I was this week?

Full details will be available on Thursday!

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Very Long Month of February

I am ready to see February 2013 added to the history books. It's been a rough month for our family. Between my husband's sickness and surgery, the boys both catching a virus that makes them sound like 20-year-pack-a-day smokers, and now the cat having a minor surgical procedure on top of HIS sinus infection...I'm tired of February!

Our schooling has been hit and miss all month. Some weeks I would attempt a schedule, some weeks we just let the boys learn in a more fluid way. This week was a combination of the two methods.

Tuesday was our bi-weekly meeting of our homeschooling book club. Both boys managed to make it out for that event since JT was starting to sound better and EM hadn't yet started to show symptoms. Wednesday JT and I went to a program at a local state park about invasive species in Pennsylvania. It was an in-depth program and JT learned a lot. EM had to stay home because he starting running a fever Tuesday night. I spent the day watching the birds at the feeders while sitting by the fire. RB Winter State Park has the nicest environmental learning center around!

information on invasive species
JT took part in an information scavenger hunt with the other students. They could use any resource in the learning center to answer three pages of questions about invasive species of PA. The park naturalist spent about an hour helping them to understand terms like aquatic nuisance species, invasive plant, detrimental exotics, and the like. Then she set them loose to do the activity. We took a lunch break and the kids watched a movie about some of the plants causing the most problems in Pennsylvania.

red eared slider
We even got to meet Graffiti, the rescued red eared slider. When people release their pets into the wild, they can become invasive species. The naturalist and her adult daughter (also a park naturalist at a different state park) take part in a rescue program for these turtles.

Apart from the two days spent at activities away from home, I felt that our week had little to show. Before I went to pick the cat up at the vet's office today, I DID manage to find a documentary they could watch on the history of the whaling industry in the United States. I was looking for something from the time period we are currently covering, colonial times to just prior to the Civil War.  I did not have time to preview this movie. I asked my husband to keep an eye on how it was going and took off to rescue my kitty from the vet. When I came home, they told me they stopped watching since it turned into the typical overly morbid dramatization of history we find on the History Channel and even sometimes, like today, on PBS. This episode of The American Experience, Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World, started out good, but ended up moving into cannibalism among the survivors of a shipwreck. I know history can be gory, but does every made for TV documentary have to find the most gruesome aspect of a topic and zero in on it?

Next week I will be away from home Wednesday through Friday, so there's little hope we'll be returning to a full schedule before the following week. I'm hoping from then to the end of our school year we can focus our attentions on learning instead of barely keeping our heads above water.