Get Her to the Greek

Well, I can't speak for the monkeys, but I thoroughly enjoyed our little saunter down Greek lane. If nothing else we have a greater understanding of Greek mythology, culture, and war heroes. And we can spell our names in Greek. Bonus.

In a previous blogpost I mentioned, instead of a lapbook, we decided to try out the History Pockets. So here's how ours ended up looking. We did the history pocket on Ancient Greece, for grades 4-6. It was definitely a group project, but well worth the effort - and they now have a colorful study guide to use for years to come. Here are some of the topics included in the History Pocket.

Sports and Entertainment

Athens vs Sparta

Language and Literature. I thought this section could use a bit more info so we downloaded some printables off various homeschool websites about Homer, The Iliad, and the Odyssey (on the left side) and included them in our pocket book.

Religion and Mythology. Arguably the most funnest section. My girls loved learning about Greek gods and heroes; myths and legends. We listened to stories on CD in the car, read numerous books out loud and created this nifty little guidebook...ya know, lest we forget what Hermes winged sandals look like.

but, now that we're studying ancient Rome, I need to have them do a comparison sheet between the Greek gods and the Roman gods (since those pesky Romans changed all their names...grrrrr). Just when you think Zeus is king, you realize, no, actually it's Jupiter. Sorry, kids.

Work and School. This section included a craft idea for making Spartan coins...rather large Spartan coins...which I'm sure will buy us alot of gum.

Military Power. Wars wars wars...if only they had cable TV.

and Government...

In the Art & Architecture section we were inspired to paint frescoes. We chose the dolphin scene suggested in the book. The girls painted their fresco scene with watercolors. They also made mosaic tile patterns (not pictured), made a 3D pop-up of the Parthenon, and recreated a Greek vase drawing.

We'll definitely do more history pockets. I don't think we'll do one for ancient Rome, and they don't seem to have anything for the middle ages (where we're headed next in our history studies, ya know, after summer), but we'll definitely do one of the colonial America pockets when we get to that point. I kinda regret not doing one for ancient Egypt. But not to worry...we repeat our history semesters every 4 years, so we'll be revisiting Egypt again at grades 5 and 8. Wheeeeeeee!

I also picked up a Greek activity book from the library that had some short but sweet information in it, including a number of craft projects. One in particular I thought the girls would like (and didn't require a special trip to the craft store) was creating a medusa head out of construction paper. 

So we did.

She's quite the snake-head, ain't she?

Just don't look directly into her eyes, ye mortals...

off to Rome we go...

The One Where He Builds (and She Paints) a Chicken Coop

Coop Building 101...Coop Building for Dummies...Coop Building in our backyard at the house we're renting by the finally underway. The man downloaded plans for a fairly easy chicken coop project (easy, of course, for those who know what they're doing - since this is our first coop project, I'd say we don't fall into this category). But he certainly made it look easy. This frame went up in no time.

and the roof, with sunlight panels, ya know, for extended eggy laying-ness

the little monkey, who can't get out of her pajamas most days, at least picked up a hammer and nails and got to her pajamas

we used about 85% found or recycled lumber (found, as in, found in the storage shed the previous owners left behind), which meant nice beadboard siding instead of just plain ol planks...

once the frame was built, we had to move that heavy sucker to the chicken yard (otherwise known as behind the hammock). We decided not to do a chicken tractor, mostly because the garden has too narrow of an opening (thanks to deer-proof fencing) to move the tractor into it, and since the garden is fenced, we can just shoo the chickens in and out whenever we want/need. Also, we have very little grass as it is because of lots of shade trees so we'll let them have free range in the yard most days. They have nice cover under the trampoline (which is where we're hoping they'll hide when the hawks come around), so no need for a chicken tractor at this point.

We found a few table legs in the garden shed as well, and re-purposed them for the roosts inside the coop

the box in front offers three nesting boxes with a hinged lid for easy egg-hunting, and the back has a large locked/hinged opening for cage cleaning

the nesting boxes

and to keep with the recycled theme, we also only used found or old paint to paint the coop with (rather than buying new paint in colors we actually wanted). We found green and white paint buckets in the shed, and my folks gave us a pretty yellow paint they needed to get rid of, and a nice red deck stain.

most of the coop was painted with the yellow, but I painted this one side white as a prep color as this is the side the girls and I are going to paint a mural on. We're thinking a few sunflowers and a few hens will get painted on this wall...maybe a rainbow (and I'm sure my older gypsy will paint her signature peace sign somewhere).

and strangely enough, the colors seem to match the hammock...ironic? serendipitous? (though I think perhaps that blue chair needs to become yellow now - he seems to be screaming for attention)

and while we're on the subject of screaming...I don't want to hear my ladies doing so in the middle of the night because of coons or foxes (we have both here), so they're getting locked up fer reals. We know all too well how clever coons are after having one figure out how to use our cat door at our last house. He? She? would saunter in around 9pm while we were watching TV (and yes, saunter is the correct word), step over the cat (they were apparently buddies from the backyard...'sup), make his way to the kitchen, open the cabinet, take out the dogfood tub, open the latch on it, take out the scooper! and proceed to help himself to dinner. Some days we watched in amusement...and some days I thought perhaps he must be stopped in case a hostile takeover was being planned.

Needless to say, no sliding latches going up on this coop - it's lock and key over here - let's see you figure that one out coon! 'Sup!

The man cut out little windows on the sides for ventilation and we re-purposed some of the chicken wire from the bunny compound to cover them with (and this is the part where you need to send some sympathy the man's way as he smashed his fingers with the hammer quite a few times trying to get those pesky wire staples to go into the flimsy beadboard, which had me contemplating the kind of life where people actually have the disposable income to pay someone to build coops for them or buy them ready-made, to which I replied to myself: but we're learning to be self-sufficient and you can't put a price on that - right? right.)

chow bucket...

the inside view of the nesting boxes, the roosts and the skylights...I don't know about the hens, but I'm ready to move in. I'm sure they'll enjoy looking at the stars at night, too.

and apparently our Strawberry girl is ready to move in as well...wait, is she licking her lips?

Personally I think the man did a fantastic job and I'm quite proud of him for going for it (especially considering 11 years ago when I first married him he didn't even want a yard, much less one with chickens and hammers and skillsaws).

I've missed seeing the man in his, ahem, manly tool-belt, and I enjoy working on projects like this with him. Despite the frustrations and headaches DIY projects can sometimes come with, there's a reward at the end when you can look at what you've made/created/fixed/repaired and feel a sense of confidence and pride - that you conquered your fears - and the unknown. Turning a pile of scrap lumber into something useful and pretty...something that brings you a step closer to sustainability. It becomes a part of you...repurposed energy and vitality. It's not just a coop - it's our coop - a coop he built and she painted - a mosaic of our time and energy (mixed with a little blood, alot of sweat...and a pair of jeans covered in paint).

I couldn't be more excited! It's perfect for our little flock of ladies and just small enough to move to new land in a year or so. Who knows what stories it will be able to tell by then. Now it just needs some lovely ladies to call it home!

New Beginnings: Our Spring Garden

Here's what's happening in our little garden by the lake: Yellow squash is peeping thru...

the cabbage has at least tripled in size in the last 2 weeks...the kale is looking happy, and I see tiny little carrot tops sprouting all over the garden...(and, sigh, seeing the cabbage makes me miss our little bun bun)

tomatoes already on the vine! (and more carrot tops sprouting around it, cause, ya know, carrots love tomatoes)...and tomatoes love garlic (hence the garlic peeping thru along the back)...

new buds opening on the apple trees...

and mysterious bugs hovering nearby...but not to fear...the hens will determine the fate of the bugs

the grape vine is finally looking alive again (wonder if it will produce grapes this year?)...and his spanish lavender companion, left over from last year, is reblooming

potatoes, beans, peas, okra, and squash vines all bursting thru the soil

and the blackberry bush, after dropping all its dead winter leaves, is looking quite lovely again with it's blossoms

I love all the new beginnings...and all the's amazing what a few square feet of dirt and compost can do for the soul...thank you, spring, for visiting our little garden...oh how we've missed you

I Wouldn't Want to be a Roman Gladiator

Well, I'm getting a little behind in my reading updates. We've just about gone thru this pile, plus another two. Eek. So here's our update. We finished our studies on ancient Greece, which means we also finished reading The Wanderings of Odysseus. I must admit we skipped a few chapters, and I summarized a few others. We were ready to move on and, well, I was tired of hearing myself say Odysseus and Trojans and Helen of the Fair Cheeks. I was ready to move on to gladiatorsCaesar, Cleopatra...and togas.

So we are studying ancient Rome now. And the girls have been enjoying a series called You Wouldn't Want to be a...Roman Gladiator, Greek Slave, Cleopatra, etc. A whole series of books that are cartoonish, yet informative and easy enough for multiple ages to understand. My older gal reads them to the younger gal and they talk about the topics, ask questions and find it silly and interesting. My older gypsy is also currently reading (among other things) a book called See You Later, Gladiator. Which is another history series. We'll see how she likes it. They enjoy reading myths and legends so we've read thru quite a few Greek myth books, Roman myth books, Aesop's Fables, etc. (a few are pictured above).

In science we are finishing up our semester of earth studies so I picked up the Planet Earth Art Activities book (by Arty Facts), which is a series of science/art books I mentioned in a previous blog post. I just love these art books! We haven't decided yet what projects we will do out of this particular book, but we had fun with the projects we did out of the Oceans and Art Activities book, which I'll be sharing with you soon!

The girls also worked on book reports on ocean animals of their choosing (hence the dolphin and sea otter books). We have one last chapter on caring for our planet, recycling, etc before we move on to astronomy, which we are all excited about! Astronomy will take us thru summer to finish, which is fine, because we plan to do lots of star gazing and camping this summer!

A couple other books in the stack involve chickens and chicken coop building. The Joy of Keeping Chickens was OK, but I still think City Chicks is the best overall hen-keeping book I've come across so far. I imagine I'll read a few more books still on hen care before I just toss my hands in the air and go for it. We did finally get our coop finished and plan to pick up a few hens this weekend - I suppose that counts as 'going for it.' I'm sure I'll be able to make a case for Chickens for Dummies soon.

I read Letters to a Young Poet, by Rilke, Notes from a Small Island, by Bryson, and The Dirty Life, by Kimball (not pictured). Liked the first, thought the second wasn't his best work despite how much I adore his sarcastic ramblings (and admittedly, no matter how much he rambles he still makes me chuckle out loud), and absolutely thrilled I paid no money for the third. My younger gal picked up a book on Balto, which we are reading at night, my older gal is getting thru a few Judy Moody books (not pictured), and has moved on to books on tape (which we now listen to on the long drive to town...sigh).

She also discovered a gem of a book called Around the World Cookbook for Kids. Which is ironic since she really has no desire to eat anything but cheese pizza (and even that seems to be losing its appeal). But I actually kinda like it. We started with Asia and have already made two dishes together as a family (yes, even the man is getting around the world cooking lessons). The deal is we make the dishes together and everyone has to eat the dishes we cook (holding ones nose while eating is fine, as long as the food goes down the hatch). We made veggie fried rice and tofu Pad Thai last week. No nose holding required so far. There's a lot of information about different countries and their food choices, lots of pictures and easy to follow recipes. Not sure what country we are doing next, I think it's India, which could require nose-holding. But hey, they'll at least learn what they don't like, and maybe just maybe, they'll actually discover something new they do like. And hopefully it won't involve cheese and pizza.

And on the homeschool curriculum front, my older gal just finished up Spelling Workout D (younger gypsy is still working thru Workout B) and I have to say I absolutely love these books. They both want to work in them and request them and they are just challenging enough...and well, they are just wonderful. If you're looking for spelling books, I'd give these a go. (I started my 4th grader on D and it took her essentially 3 months to work thru it but I think it was right at her level. We're moving on to Workout E in a few weeks - after a short break for some springtime fun!).

And my first grader and I have finished working thru Vol 1 of First Language Lessons (for the Well Trained Mind), by Jesse Wise. The volume we have covers both first and second grade language arts (we completed the first grade level), and while I can't say I love it and I do think some of it is a bit redundant, it is a nice compact little lesson plan collection; and considering we started only in November I'd say we worked thru it fairly quickly. Some days I did more than one lesson (and some we skipped altogether), and some of the lessons coincided with lessons the older gal was working on in her ABeka Language Arts book (which I probably won't purchase again), which made it fun to work together.

I just put another 20 books in our library queue for our studies on world religions, ancient China, and ancient India so more updates coming soon!

The One Where She Rambles On About Homeschooling

Years ago I accepted a job teaching English at a small community college. Sadly, the very week I accepted the job was the very week the man came home and said we were moving to San Antonio. close. One of the things I was required to submit during the interview process was a teaching philosophy. Gulp. I had been an at-home mommy for several years at this point; which, for those who've never tried this, basically means I no longer spoke in complete sentences, and still referred to horses as horsies.

Still do, in fact. Does it ever go away?

So, now that we're homeschooling I thought it might be good to come up with our own family teaching philosophy, ya know, something that outlines what we're doing, and why. I imagine it'll change over we slowly evolve and morph into, well, whatever we're evolving and morphing into.

Deep down I always knew we'd end up here. I had an aunt tell me shortly after my first daughter was born that I should consider homeschooling, her regrets not being able to do it, and why she thought I'd be a good candidate. I gave it alot of thought and decided I would at least try public school for a few years, knowing in the back of my mind I would reach the homeschooling decision eventually. I wanted and enjoyed the break preschool and public school provided, and always thought I would need that time to develop a career, write a book, learn to quilt...or just take naps. Ha! Silly me.

In The Well Trained Mind, Jesse Wise talks about seeing life in chapters: "Personally, I decided to put on hold some of my goals. I wanted to write. I wanted to make hand braided rugs. [But] I held on to the wise council given me when my children were toddlers: "Live your life in chapters. You don't have to do everything you want to do in life during this chapter of rearing children."

I like this view. It doesn't mean you can't do it all, but it does help take the pressure off when it starts to get overwhelming to try. Those things are there and will still be there when it's time. These few years with the kids home will be gone before I know it and I don't want to miss it. There's no career, or traveling, or time away that's worth that to me. Doesn't mean I don't need time to myself. Goodness, no one loves their solitude more than me, Trust Me. I loves my down time...I love having the house to myself for a few hours (or days). I love the stillness and quiet after the kids are asleep. I need it. But I don't need the kids to be gone seven hours a day to get it.

So, here are the top 10 15 reasons why I've chosen to lock my kids in the closet educate my kids at home, sooner instead of later.

1. I like hanging out with my kids. I enjoy their company. They make me laugh. We get along pretty well, most days, and have learned over the years how to make each other just a little crazy, but not so much that I feel the need to send their sleepy heads away at 7am every day. I'm giving them what I didn't have and longed for as a child: my time - and for as long as they need it.

2. I'm not a morning person. There, I've said it. I dropped so many college classes that started at 8am it's not even funny. Oh, I've had lots of jobs that required me to get up early. When I was in nursing school I had to be downtown in the Houston medical center on the floor ready for rounds by 6:30am. But by golly when I got my license and was given a choice, you can bet I chose the 11-3, 3-11 shifts, and even the nite shifts on occasion. Most of my post college jobs required me to be at work at 9am. I opened my children's store at 10am. I feel those times are a fair compromise. But getting squirmy little kids to school by 7:30am (which means they have to be fed and dressed before then?)...forget it! We lived a 1/4 mile from school and yet our tardy slips continuosly piled up. At some point you just have to accept defeat.

3. And besides, they're kids! Yes, they need to be up doing chores, being accountable and independent and self-sufficient (let's face it life is more than video games and TV and endless entertainment - at some point that reality has to sink in); and learning how to do laundry and make their own lunches, to sew or garden or tend to animals or mow or rake is a part of educating children. But they still need time to play. To use their own imaginations and just play.

"It's a miracle that curiosity survives formal education." -Einstein

4. The Rush. When we were in public school I grew tired of hearing myself say, "Hurry up!" We were constantly rushing. Rushing to school, rushing thru homework, rushing to an afterschool program, rushing to bed, rushing thru meals. In school they rush, too. They rush thru lunch, thru lessons, thru recess. It's not the teachers' fault. They're rushed, too. They have to rush the kids to learn material for testing, to ease the parents, to satisfy the system's requirements. And all that rushing makes life One Big Blur. It's a mess. After 5 years of it, we were a mess.

5. Homework. In particular, math homework. I've come to believe homework isn't good for the soul.

6. And on that end, neither are tests and grading. Yes, testing gives you an idea where kids are at, which areas need more work, etc. But to (even inadvertently) teach a child that the purpose of learning is to get high scores ensures that the child is learning that thinking isn't valued as much as getting the right answer. And standardized tests narrow the curriculum to what is being tested. I watched my daughter go from a confident, intelligent, eager kindergartener, to a crying, stressed out, anxious 4th grader scolding herself constantly for not getting good grades in math, stressing over the standardized tests, and endlessly frustrated for not being on the same level as her friends. And they can't escape the labeling...they're either slow, gifted...or average. Gimme a break. How many of us really believe that a child's intelligence, achievement, and competence can be represented adequately by standardized tests or grades?

And don't get me started on the award ceremonies at the end of every school year. I actually heard a teacher announce once who she thought should win 'cutest dress' award in front of the entire 3rd grade class. Really? Cutest Dress?

"Dumbing us down..." -John Taylor Gatto

7. Those words solidified my decision to homeschool. I don't know about you, but oh, the flashbacks that brought up from my years in the public school system. If you read the history of how public school came about it's rather interesting, particularly the part about Americans rebelling and refusing to send their kids. We basically started as a nation who fought to keep our kids out of public school. I also like this quote from a fellow blogger (and homeschool mom) over at Beauty that Moves:

"seeing as we are the richest nation in the world, and not one industrialized society is impressed or inspired by our educational system... I don't know... isn't it possible that a system carefully crafted to produce poor results and undereducated people could ensure a corporate government's need for an oppressed society? Can you imagine the threat of an ultra intelligent, free thinking nation? Yowza.

I just can't wrap my brain around sending kids away for the better part of the day to be raised/taught by an institution that seems hell-bent on keeping us under thumb.

8. Socialization. The family kind. The natural kind. The kind that involves a variety of ages, including adults and grandparents, rather than just same-aged peers. As Jesse Wise explains,

"Our culture seems to be obsessed with same age socialization, and that is because the majority of children spend the majority of their time in institutional schooling. They are forced to be with their own age group. This socialization is unnatural and never occurs again for the rest of a person’s life."

9. So we can work at our own pace (and in a less stimulating environment), choose our own field trips, study history in chronological order, and design our own science labs.

"Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school." - Einstein

10. To be able to travel at times other than just summer or winter break.

11. To be able to move to the country, or to a new city, and not have to worry about schools or districts or bus routes.

12. To not have to pack lunches every morning. Or worry about what the kids are (or are not) eating at school. Not to mention the noisy cafeteria.

13. To be free from school-related bullying or teasing, and to remove the pressure to rely on potentially unstable peer groups for feedback and guidance.

14. So we can take our books and a picnic lunch on a hike thru a gypsy meadow on a pretty spring day, and sit under a tree and study any topic we want for as long as we want...on a school our pajamas...if we so desire.

15. In be free.

*you can find more of our homeschooling adventures here!