Saturday, August 30, 2014

Some Science Highlights

As I'm shifting to not do quite as much about all of our homeschooling stuff, I thought I'd still try to keep up with some highlights of what we're doing.  I realized, as I looked through photos and thought back over this first couple of weeks, that a highlight has been our science time.  So, I thought I'd share a few highlights of our science for this first month of school.

Our co-op has been doing an American pioneer/Little House on the Prairie sort of theme for the month.  We didn't actually do too much with that beyond our co-op time, but we did start an experiment to then share and observe with our group.  I was hosting this particular week, and I knew we were focusing on kitchen science for the particular time.  So, we had the kids make butter by shaking their jars of cream (which, let's be honest, mostly got finished up by the moms!), and we made sourdough biscuits.  A friend was kind enough to share some sourdough starter with me, and we talked a bit about what sourdough is, how it starts, and why is works in bread.  Sourdough Home was a great resource for that information.

I decided it would also be interesting to talk a bit about food preservation since the first book in the Little House series (which is about as far as we got with my two boys, to be honest) started off talking all about them preparing food for the winter.  
So, we decided to prepare a little experiment to explore what preserves food.  I got the original idea from Experiland, but the experiment is not complete on the site (only if you buy the book).  It was a pretty simple one to figure out, though, so we went ahead and did it.  We cut up an apple into six parts and put each one in a clean glass jar.  We covered each section with one of the substances we were testing, other than the control one, obviously, which we just left plain in its jar.  My son wasn't interested in testing rosemary, as suggested on the site, so we tested salt, sugar, vinegar, water, and then he chose for his last one to be sugar and vinegar combined.

I really like trying to teach my boys to think like scientists and to learn some good habits for recording and tracking experiments, so we set up a page in our notebook.  My kids are young, so I certainly don't make us pause to do in-depth recording every time; sometimes we just discuss and enjoy the fun of it.  But, I do like to build it in frequently.
Since we did the observations and conclusions with our co-op group, I didn't do a good job of actually going back and recording them here.  More time was actually needed past when our co-op observed them, so I think we'll do our final observations and conclusions this week.  I need to remember before the jars start attracting all manner of funk in my kitchen! :)

Here are our jars all set up.  We observed with our co-op after 5 days, which was still interesting, but it would be better to do more time for a fuller effect.

Though our co-op theme was focused on pioneers, our science focus for our own school time has been on water.  I had originally planned to start out with light, and we did a few things with that, but Isaiah kept asking questions about water, so I made a shift (growing in flexibility all the time!).  We did a pretty simple "Will It Float?" experiment, and after setting up our chart and letting them test all the initial things they chose (and a few I chose), we experimented a bit with combining floating and sinking items.

One of the things I love about the ages of my boys right now is the curiosity.  So, even after the experiment was "finished," they still kept playing around with different objects and combinations and just exploring.  A lot of it was just playing, but they kept really connecting in with how objects were reacting to the water, and it was fun to just sit back and watch them explore.

My little one actually takes great delight in cleaning up after big messes made by such exploring! :)

We did two demonstrations to explore density.  They are described well (and their products worked out much better than ours) on the blogs where I find the ideas, so check out Science Sparks for the first density demo Playdough to Plato for Rainbow Jar.

 I think the favorite for the boys was this Water Bottle Fountain from Learning with Play at Home.  They LOVED it!  They couldn't wait to show Daddy when he got home that evening, and they scrambled getting ready for bed faster than I have ever seen with the promise that they could then do it one more time to show it to him!  It was really fun to hear Isaiah even give a good explanation of why it worked!

 Really curious to check out what was going on...

 ...and crazy excited to watch it work!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Making a Planner

I really like planning.  I like organizing and making lists.  And, call me old-fashioned, but I like pencil and paper!  I just can't adjust to using my phone or computer or whatever for my beloved planning!
I am also cheap frugal, so I am a big fan of FREE stuff, and I usually find myself tweaking or piecing together various things anyway, so I don't like to just buy one thing.  Everyone is so different in what they want out of a planner.  I tend to have some very specific things I want but also get some good ideas from things others have put together, so I've pulled from some great things others have made, made a few very basic things myself, and put them together in what I'll call my "Happy Binder."  

I was just talking with some friends today about planning sheets, and as I pulled out my little binder and started pointing out the different pages with, apparently, more affection than I was aware of, one friend said, "So, if we really wanted to mess with you, we could just take this binder, and that would really do it, huh?"  Yep! :)

I have been meaning to post this for over a month now, but my computer crashed!  I know many are full-swing into a new school year and have already latched onto something that works for them, but I just thought I'd go ahead and share what I've put together for myself, in case it proves helpful to someone else.  The few basic sheets I've made are just that--basic.  They aren't pretty because I tend to care much more about functionality, and I'm not very gifted at making things look pretty.  But, if you want to use any of them or tweak them and beautify them and call them your own, feel free!

I have two main sections in my binder.  One is the basics of our life and scheduling (which includes a bit of homeschooling stuff as that is a bulk of our daily life), and the latter portion is specifically school planning.
Because I am cheap, as mentioned before, and because we live overseas and printing and paper and such can get expensive, I put most of my pages (other than the lesson planning sheets) in sheet protectors and use overhead/wet-erase markers on them instead of printing new ones for each week/day.

For the General Section, I have:

A Weekly Highlight Sheet I made, which has space for a weekly memory verse, areas of focus for prayer, and space for some goals/to-do items for the week that aren't specific to a particular day.  (The link has it as a google doc, in which the formatting looks terrible, but it gives you an idea, and I'd be happy to send you the original document, if interested.)

Weekly Menu Planner from Organized Home
I printed out 2 of these and put them in sheet protectors.

*  Student's Schedule from Homeschool Planner from Our Intentional Life (website seems unavailable anymore)
I do really wish this one was available.  A basic version wouldn't be too hard to recreate, but this is just a simple and pretty one, and I used this to map out the basic flow of our routines for the week.  We are still tweaking ours, as we get rolling with a new year, but I think we have some rhythms that work for us, and we're tweaking the details.

Master To-Do List from Organized Home
I always have things accumulating that I want or need to do that don't necessarily fit in specific times and are likely non-urgent, but I want to keep track of them.  I end up with various sheets and notes all over, so I figured I would just dedicate a simple sheet to it.  I haven't ended up utilizing it as much as I'd like yet, as it is one thing I often just jot down in my phone, especially if I think of them while out and about, but I do like a physical list, so I'm hoping to make the shift in habit.

Daily Time-Blocking Printable from Just a Girl and Her Blog
I print out 7 of these and put them in sheet protectors.  These are my main life planning sheets for the week, and while I don't want to use up the paper and ink to print a new one for each day, I'm actually thinking I'm going to print out another 7, as I frequently do planning for the upcoming week on a Friday and am not yet ready to erase the last couple of days from that week.

Simple 1-Page Monthly Block Calendar from Donna Young
I just record events or dates on these for big-picture (not detailed plans).

School Planning Section

13-Month Ruled Calendar from Donna Young
Last year I put two of these at the beginning of my school section.  One has dates marked that we intend to take off from school, and last year I used the second one to mark the days we actually did school.  Given that we don't actually have to report that to anyone, I realized I have no real need to mark that, so I am not officially recording school days this year, so I only have one of these in my binder this year.

Long-range planning
This is something simple I made myself.  It isn't pretty, but there were just a few things I didn't like in others I found.  I quickly made this one and have used it to get an overview for the year, though I think I'll continue to tweak something for this area.  Google docs messed with this one as well, but it's basically just two columns with about a dozen lines for each month to record the focus areas or themes we are planning for the month.

Our co-op schedule
We are so blessed to be part of a co-op group here with some other incredible families.  We started this on our own and are rather newbies to it (as this is only our second year), but if you'd like more info on our co-op or to see how we've structured our schedule, please feel free to send me a message, and I'll be happy to share.

Lesson Plan Pages from Meet Penny or Homeschool Planner from Jolanthe at Homeschool Creations
I believe the Preschool Planning Pages are free on the website, though I'm having some trouble connecting.
I have used the homeschool planner pages from Jolanthe (which I actually got as part of a big bundle I got last year) and have tried copying them back to back and use them a tad different than I think she describes, but it seems to be working for us.  The way I have it now, one two-page spread shows the goals/topics/activities intended for the week, and then the next two-page layout is where I am plugging them in to actual days and workboxes.  I have a sticky flag to mark the current week so that I don't have to flip through the planner to find it.  I also have one marking my long-range planning to find that easily, as I like to keep referencing the bigger picture and where we are headed.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Our Nesting Geography Project

As we launch into a new school year, I'm also making some shifts with blogging here.  I'll try to write in more detail soon, and I am still hoping to finish a few posts from last school year that I already have the pics for (and was catching up on when my computer CRASHED and DIED! ugh).  
Anyway, the long and short of it is that I am not going to try to just keep up with the regular stuff of our weeks.  I don't have a lot to add into the mix of super talented, creative school bloggers who I basically just gather and sometimes adapt ideas from.  So, I'm pretty sure the grandparents are the only ones who truly benefit from all the details of our school week, and I can send them photos. :)
So, I'm going to try to shift to writing about things that are unique to us or to our life here in Nepal and a few projects I am excited about launching.  

This is one of the projects we started months ago and finally finished.  I have seen several ideas for "nesting" geography kinds of projects, mainly with boxes (which wasn't terribly feasible for us) or just with papers layered on top of each other.  I kind of wanted to combine the two forms and still make them fit inside of each other but use something more accessible to us than the boxes.  So, I decided to just use construction paper and make little pockets, getting larger with each expanding level.  (A note of hindsight here is that I might at least measure the biggest one first and then scale down from there, as by the time we got to the biggest one, we didn't have any construction paper big enough.  It kind of worked out because I had some cool Nepali handmade paper that I used for the largest two levels, but just to mention it.)

I think in the States you would basically have (from most specific to broadest) house, maybe neighborhood, city, state, country, continent.  That is 5, maybe 6, levels.  We ended up with 10 due to the way geography is labeled here.  So, that is why it took us awhile to finish because Isaiah got a bit weary with it after about the midpoint, and I ended up finishing it myself and then using it to just talk about with him.  
I actually really enjoyed this project personally because, as someone who didn't grow up here, I really didn't understand the hierarchy of the geographic labels here.  (And, for any of my Nepali friends who might see this, please forgive me if I have STILL made any errors in this!)  Many of the layers were a bit difficult to complete, as maps showing the clear boundary lines were hard to find, and there were a couple of the layers that seemed like we would be one but turned out in looking and digging that (I think) we are actually a different one.

Anyway, the idea is super simple and not entirely original, but I just put a photo of our house on the smallest level and then kept making bigger and bigger construction paper pockets and gluing a map on the front for each successive level.

For any who are interested, here is the breakdown of our Nepal geography:
The two obvious ones are that we are on the continent of Asia in the nation of Nepal.

Nepal is divided into five regions, and we are in the Central Region.  
Each region is divided into zones, and we are in the Bagmati Zone.

Within the zone, there are districts, and we are in Lalitpur.  
I actually listed the next level on the same pocket, as I could not, even with quite a lot of digging, find a map with lines of the municipalities shown.  Some said they thought we would be in Patan municipality, but it seems we are in a more recently defined one called Karya Binayak Municipality.
In the next level, VDC stands for Village Development Committee, and the name of ours is Sainbu.
I don't really know the name for it, but basically the level that is comparable to our town is Bhaisepati.
I have left the next two levels tucked in in the photo, as it feels a bit odd to put our exact location out into the general blogosphere, but it contains the name and a photo of our "colony" (which would be something like a subdivision or housing development in America) and then a photo of our home.

Many thanks to multiple Nepali friends who had the patience to help and TEACH ME for this project!

Monday, August 11, 2014

A New Year

I used to be a teacher.  I mean, the kind that got paid and listed that as my profession and all.  And, I was a good one.  From my training and experience and amazingly talented teachers I worked with, I learned a lot and refined my craft.
In this season in which I find myself teaching again, but this time it's for my own children as a homeschooler, I find that my former life as a "professional" teacher brings both advantages and disadvantages with it.  That is likely a whole post in itself, but one of the shifts that I have found difficult is the start of a new school year. 

 The beginning of a new school year, both as a student and then as a public school teacher, was always a big deal.  In my days as a teacher, as that first day approached, my emotions would kick into high gear.  I was excited for the possibilities of a new year and for the chance to try out new ideas, but I was also crazy nervous.  I am, as I've mentioned before, a type-A planner who is a recovering perfectionist.  So, I would plan my brains out and run every detail over and over in my mind and tweak and tweak and work and work with loads of late nights thinking and preparing and praying.  Have I mentioned that my professional teaching days were before having kids of my own...and largely even before having a husband?!  Me and my own little workaholic, introverted tendencies left to my own devices to "perfect" all my plans for the coming school year.  

Some of those habits weren't healthy in any context, and leaving the profession was, in part, due to a need to break some of those patterns.  And, yet, I find some of it still creeps up in me so easily.  I no longer live in a reality that allows me to just spend an entire month or two planning.  Whether we take a summer "break" from school or not, these kids are still with me all summer!  All day.  Every day.  I know that, but sometimes I have a hard time adjusting to that reality.  I like to plan, and honestly, I am good at it, and I think that is a gift.  Sometimes, though, I have a hard time walking in grace when I haven't had the time I wanted to (not sure that would ever actually be reached) to make the plans and "perfect" them.  "Winging it" is NOT my strength!  It is not comfortable for me to jump into something without the level of planning and thought I wanted to give it.  As the start of this year approached, I could feel myself getting really nervous, anxious even.  I prayed for the kids, for our school year, and for the anxiety even, but it was not easy to shake.  I wish I could say I had found the answer or total victory somehow, but the truth is that it is an ongoing battle for me to trust that God knew I would have a busier summer than I expected, that God knows more than I do what my boys need, and that God is much, much bigger in the lives of my kids than my ability to plan and teach. 

The thing is I'm not really suggesting that I need to totally abandon all of that mode.  In some ways, it is an easier route to just try to detour around things in my life than to plow through them and allow actual transformation (and not merely avoidance) to work out in my life.  God has given me gifts to plan and to think critically and analyze issues and scenarios and methods, and I take joy in investing that in my boys' lives and the lives of others.  I think it is even a gift that I don't settle easily into being satisfied and am looking for refinement constantly.  Don't you find it true that sometimes our greatest strengths and our greatest weaknesses have awfully similar roots?

I'm never going to be one of those people who just lets go of the idea of a first day of school  We certainly could with homeschooling.  But, I like beginnings and ends.  I like defined fresh starts.  I thrive on routines, and I make good plans.  And, I even think some level of nervous excitement, of wondering what a new year/season holds, is healthy.  It's anticipation.  It is celebrating events and marking time and seasons together as a family, though we now have the freedom to determine more of when and how those happen. 

I need to allow my own heart and mind to be renewed, in the midst of it, to let go of my expectations of "perfection."  That is the real kicker.  If we have to start a couple of subjects two weeks into our school year, not only is it not going to ruin that perfectly polished start I had envisioned, but perhaps it is even for the better as we all settle into a new year.  The freedom of homeschooling (which can be both wonderful and terrifying for someone like me) is that we can choose what we want it to look like.  It doesn't have to (and really shouldn't) look like my old classroom days, but it also doesn't have to look like someone I'm not or some imposed definition of what freedom means.  I don't have to chuck the "first day" plans or excitement or devalue the time and effort of planning.  I just need to be able to release my controlling grip and walk in the grace of knowing that I am not now nor will I ever be "perfect."  Gulp.   

So, my kids oblige me (mostly) with some cheesy first day photos, and we move ahead into a new year, embracing who I am as a teacher while I see the white slowly fading from my loosening grip and press through the refining fire to more clearly reflect His image, using the gifts He has given me.