July 28, 2014

Dissecting--Life Science at Its Most Hands-on

I had this really awesome post planned, all about dissecting a cow eye and the books we read and the youtube videos we watched.  It was going to be thorough and helpful and worth reading.

Sadly, due to our move we have to use a new library system and it feels very much like I can only have the books for approximately three minutes before the books are overdue.  Also sad is that you can't renew the books once they are overdue, like our last library system, and the renewals are for one week from the day you renew.  If you renew early then you only get the books an extra day or so.  If you try to wait and renew on the day they are due, you forget and can't renew them and have to make frantic trips to the library so the fees don't get too outrageous because if you owe more than $4.00 you can no longer check out books.  What???!!!  My frustration is high.

The point is that I had to return the books to the library in haste and I failed to write down what we read.  None of the books were so good that I'm willing to search through online catalogs trying to figure out what they were.  We read them, the children liked them.  

After showing you the books we read, I was going to post the youtube cow eye dissection tutorial that we watched.  I just spent 15 minutes on youtube and couldn't find it.  There are lots of options.  Youtube knows how to do everything.  

To review, we read three books about eyes and how they work.  Then we watched a youtube tutorial on how to do a cow eye dissection.  Then we dissected a cow eye.  Sweet.

 The kids take the gloves very, very seriously.
 Eli has to have a buddy because I draw the line at giving a five year old a scalpel.
 First they cut away the excess fat.
 Eyes were cool.  Brains . . . a little boring.

 Miriam keeps pretending that she can't possibly dissect because it makes her "feel sick."  I say, "Fine" and the rest of the kids and I proceed.  Then Miriam wanders by about 50 times before giving in to her insatiable curiosity and joins us.
 Emeline loves dissecting.  She is very serious and methodical.

So far we've dissected a sheep heart, a cow brain, a cow eye, a crayfish, and a grasshopper.  After we started dissections all my children announced they were going to be scientists (except Miriam who stated, quite rightly, that private investigators have to use a lot of science so she will still be an actress and private investigator).

We watched a Bill Nye episode on hearts and another on brains on youtube.  The kids always think that is awesome.  TV for school!

Here is one of the youtube videos we watched about dissecting a heart.  I am sharing it because it was by far the most memorable dissection video of the several we watched.

We ordered all of our dissecting apparatus online at Home Science Tools.

We are wrapping up life science this next week and finishing up medieval history in August.  Then we'll be ready to jump into chemistry and the Renaissance/Early Modern time period in September when we officially start the next school year.  Any ideas are welcome.  I ordered Ellen McHenry's The Elements book as our chemistry spine since it was recommended on so many blogs.  I don't know enough about chemistry to write my own curriculum.  We'll see whether or not I can actually follow a curriculum--it has been so long since I tried!

Come September, I'll have four children officially enrolled in Frolic and Farce Homeschool.  Where is the time going?

Speaking of time flying by--I have my 20 week ultrasound on August 7th.  I'm halfway to having my 7th (and last) baby.  Remember when Miriam started kindergarten and I started this blog?? I don't remember it either!  Maybe the formaldehyde is affecting my brain.  :)

July 22, 2014

Book Review for Parents: Free to Learn by Peter Gray

I just finished reading Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and better Students for Life by Peter Gray and I have some thoughts.

First, everyone should read this--and I mean everyone.  Not so much because everyone should homeschool or unschool or even send their children to a "unschool-school" but because it helps provide a different vision of our schools than the media currently espouses wherein our children need to go to school younger and work more intensely to be more competitive.  While I am still on the fence about a lot of things Gray said, I am adamantly opposed to the politician/media model that is ruining our education system currently and stressing out our children.

Second, I think Gray's overall premise is correct: children learn better when they are having fun.  I disagree with Gray's conclusion that school inhibits all fun and learning.  I had a lot of fun in public school.  I read a lot of great books, assigned and unassigned. I had a lot of great friends and some excellent teachers.  I had three recesses, gym, art, and music.  I was good at school so I rarely felt much stress or pressure.  I may be the exception, but I think public school works just fine for a lot of kids.

Gray spends a lot of time in this book examining hunter-gather societies and how children are reared within those communities.  He then then takes certain characteristics of those child-rearing approaches and tries to apply them to our current first world society.  I didn't think it worked very well.

Then Gray moves on to talking about the importance of self-directed, adult-free play.  This is the section of the book that is easiest to buy into.  Gray defines play as: 1) self-chosen and self-directed, 2) motivated by means more than ends, 3) guided by mental rules, 4) imaginative, 5) conducted in an alert, active, but non-stressed frame of mind.  Gray then proceeds to explain how many people play while working because their work meets all the criteria of play.  I think my husband feels this way about his work as a computer programmer.  My hubby has often described his work as "spending all day solving really cool puzzles."  When my hubby was an accountant he dreaded going to work every day and he was not happy.  Accounting was never play for him.

I saw a lot of myself as a homeschool mom in this section of the book.  My favorite part of the day is when we are working on school.  I chose to homeschool my children and continue to choose to do so every day.  It is very much a creative outlet for me.  I love picking the books to read, reading to my children, putting together curriculum, enjoying my children's enjoyment of everything we do for school.  Sometimes my kids get annoyed about practicing piano, or computation practice, but overall the school part of our days are pretty awesome.  I wouldn't hesitate to call it play.  (Getting my children to do the chores around the house is another matter entirely.)  I sometimes worry a little bit that the reason I don't want to put my children in school is because I get so much out of homeschooling.  On the other hand, all of my children adamantly refuse to attend public school so I can't feel too guilty about it.

After he defines play, Gray explains why play is so valuable for children.  The man was clearly preaching to the choir (me).  He said everything I've ever thought about children needing more time away from adults to make their own decisions and take their own risks.  He also talked about the value of multi-age play and the value of "dangerous" play.  I liked that he has the science degrees to make what he says sound more legitimate than my ravings on these topics.  :)

Where are you on the free-range parenting vs. tiger mom parenting scale??  I'm so curious about other homeschoolers' perspectives on these topics.

So, overall, I thought his ideas were pretty awesome and inspiring.  The drawback, as I see it, is his absolute conviction that learning should be entirely self-led.  He is a huge fan of unschooling. His son attended Sudbury--a school model that is very like unschooling, only with lots of kids together in the same building.

I've thought about unschooling a lot over my five years of homeschooling.  When I first started homeschooling, I tended to worry a lot more about getting things done.  However, I've never thought children should be studying academics in the early grades so my approach to homeschool was a tad more flexible than many newbie homeschoolers.  As Gray correctly pointed out on his blog, most homeschoolers start out fairly rigid and then relax as the years go by and they realize that their children learn all the time, with or without much effort on the part of the parent.  I am far more trusting of my children's basic curiosity then I was at the beginning.

However, I am not an unschooler and am not entirely convinced that unschooling is a good model of schooling in the younger grades.  As a child gets older--say early teens and upwards--they develop more pointed interests.  An unschooling approach, at that point, makes a lot of sense to me.  The older child can create a plan of action to develop those interests and he is old enough to understand why a broad base of knowledge (we'll call it a classical approach or cultural literacy approach) can be helpful. He can also cut out the unhelpful parts of a traditional education (like high school gym) and streamline his learning to best work with other areas of his life.

A younger child doesn't have the life experience and knowledge to know what his interests are.  I know unschoolers would adamantly disagree, and I understand their point of view and freely admit that I might be wrong.  However, I see a lot of value in exposing my children to a more typical classical approach in the younger years to help make therm aware of all the possibilities out there.  Also, I think they should have a familiarity with some general concepts like WWII and atoms.  Sure, if my 16 year old had no interest in history I could see myself not being too worried about it, but only because I'd already have covered history during the elementary and middle school years.  Teenager has been exposed to ideas, is not interested in said ideas at this time, does not have to pursue those ideas.  This works for me.

The child-directed model from birth does not.  How does a seven year old know if he's interested in history or not?  How does a seven year old know if he's interested in chemistry or not?  How does a seven year old even know what chemistry is unless an adult introduces him to the idea?    

Maybe I still don't trust my kids enough, but I feel strongly that my purpose as a homeschooler of young children is to expose my children to a variety of ideas in all subject areas.  When my children have been exposed to many subjects and ideas then they can start to specialize.

Where are you on the unschooling scale?  I would love to know.

Regardless of my disagreeing or, at least, questioning some of Gray's conclusions, I really think the book is a must-read.

Now really, tell me where you are on the unschooling scale.

July 2, 2014

Clay Castles

We're still working on history in fits and starts.  One day we read a bunch of books about castles (none of them were so fantastic that I felt they needed to be mentioned on the blog) and then tried to make castles out of clay.

It was pretty much a flop.

The kids had a lot of fun, however.  I even baked their creations and let them paint the next day.  Yes, you read that right.  I let my children paint.  I'm basically a rock star.

June 30, 2014

Viking Era Historical Fiction Reviews from Miriam

Argh, I am behind AGAIN!  I forgot to post this way back when we finished the Viking Era (800-1000 AD).  Miriam was unwilling to go into great detail about these books, but she did give them star rankings, which I hope is helpful.  

Miriam turned 11 this month (wowsers) and she enjoys books at grade level and significantly higher.

Viking Quest books, including Raiders from the Sea, by Lois Walfrid Johnson.  Miriam: I loved them.  I would give them 10 stars.

(That's a crazy high recommendation.  These were by far her favorite "assigned" books she's read so far this year.)

The Namesake: A Story of King Alfred by C. Walter Hodges.  Miriam: 3 stars; I liked it. 

Black Fox of Lorne by Marguerite de Angeli.  Miriam: I loved it, 5 stars.

Beorn the Proud by Madeleine Polland.  Miriam: I liked it, 4 stars.

The Shipwreck by Jorn Riel.  Miriam: I liked it, 4 stars.

There you have it.  Miriam might be getting the Raiders From the Sea series for Christmas.  Shhhh, don't tell.  :)

June 28, 2014

Tall Tales

If you have a 9 year old scout (Bear) then this post is for you.  One of the requirements is to learn about tall tales.  I am *learning to love* scouting and thought I'd start with something interesting to me to increase my motivation.  For that same reason we are doing cooking next.  After that, things get trickier.

Back to tall tales.  I decided to throw a mini-unit into our summer homeschool plans to accommodate the tall tale requirement.

First, we went to the library and checked out a gazillion tall tale books.  We read about the people I already knew about--Davy Crockett, Paul Bunyon, Pecos Bill, John Henry.  We also found some tall tales about people of whom I'd never heard--Gib Morgan (our favorite find), Sally Ann Thunder Something Something Crockett (my girls loved her because she was the only female--I just wish her name was easier to remember), and Casey Jones's coal man, Sim.

My kids loved this book (notice the author is Nancy Farmer of The Ear, The Eye, and The Arm fame; if you haven't read that book, repent and do so immediately):

(warning: the devil is very freaky looking in the Sim Webb book and Harriet was greatly disturbed by him the whole time we were reading)

My kids also loved this book:

And this one:

There were many, many others my children liked as well.  Just go to the tall tale section of your library and check out everything.  They are all fun.

After we read a bunch of tall tales, I taught my children the word "hyperbole" and also threw in "character" and "plot" while I was at it.  We don't really do language arts units very often, so I had a bit of fun using LA vocabulary around the house during our two weeks of tall tales.  Since my children understood the concepts, it was no problem to teach them the vocab.  

We did some other really fun things as well.  The scout book has little paragraphs about random people in their tall tale section.  I decided that while I don't consider those people "tall tales," we might as well learn about them.

For Molly Brown we watched "The Unsinkable Molly Brown."  I tried to find a children's book about her without success.  Someone should write one.  My kids loved the movie.  I love the movie too although there is a LOT of yelling.  Holy cow people, inside voices!

For Hiawatha we listened to a short reading on youtube.  At first my children whined (no pictures??!!!), but they were hooked in less than 30 seconds.

For Barbara Freitchie (if you haven't heard of her, don't feel bad, neither had I) we listened to this reading that we all quite liked:

We read through a little about the Lost Dutchman at http://www.lostdutchmandays.org/legend.htm.  My hubby was surprised that I'd never heard about the Lost Dutchman so apparently it is common knowledge among westerners.  Can I blame my ignorance on this matter on being Canadian?

We read about King Kamehameha the Great on this website: http://www.aloha-hawaii.com/hawaii/king-kamehameha/.

Then we spent some time learning about the only Utah tall tale I could find: the Bear Lake Monster.  It's a bit of a stretch, but there is a youtube video about it. I can't find the video the kids and I liked best, but here is this one for all you Utahns out there:

After all that preparation, I thought the little scout quiz in the scout book would be easy for my kids.  Not!  Just a warning, the quiz is based on the info paragraphs in the scout book.  My kids have read about four different Johnny Appleseed books and watched the movie and they (and I) still couldn't figure out the answer for Johnny Appleseed on the quiz.  We finally halted the quiz half-way through, read the info paragraphs in the scout book, and then resumed the quiz.

If you want your kids to take the quiz, you can find it here:
http://pack45.com/pdf/Bear/BA-4.pdf.  Take it without reading anything in the scout book and tell me how you do.

Finally, we wrote our own tall tales.  None of my kids are really independent writers and this was a supplemental bonus unit, so I didn't want to take a lot of time helping kids write tall tales.  Instead I purchased a tall tale outline at teacherspayteachers.com for $1.00 and had the kids fill in the outline.  They kids enjoyed it, the activity took no time at all, and it was a good final project for our mini-unit.  You can buy one too, if you want, here: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Tall-Tale-Story-Pattern-51344.

JUST FOR FUN BONUS: while I was looking for youtube videos about Hiawatha, etc, I stumbled across Johnny Cash reading my dad's favorite poem!  When I was little and one of us would say, "That's weird," my dad would say, "But is it as strange as the night on the barge at Lake Lemarge that I cremated Sam McGee?"  He had a lot of the poem memorized and would recite it randomly.  So you can imagine my excitement at finding Johnny Cash reading the poem.  My kids liked it too.

That's it!  Congrats on wading through this ridiculously long post. Hope you are all having a fun summer!!!

June 15, 2014

Scripture Study: The Joyful Burden of Discipleship

The Joyful Burden of Discipleship
By Elder Ronald A. Rasband
Of the Presidency of the Seventy

To sustain our leaders is a privilege; it comes coupled with a personal responsibility to share their burden and to be disciples of the Lord.

Harriet: On May 20 of last year a massive tornado pummeled the suburbs of Oklahoma City, in the heartland of America, carving a trail more than a mile (1.6 km) wide and 17 miles (27 km) long. This storm, an onslaught of devastating tornadoes, altered the landscape and the lives of the people in its path.
Eli: Just a week after the massive storm struck, I was assigned to visit the area where homes and belongings were strewn across the flattened, ravaged neighborhoods.
Emeline: Before I left, I spoke with our beloved prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, who relishes such errands for the Lord. With respect borne not only of his office but also of his goodness, I asked, “What do you want me to do? What do you want me to say?”
He tenderly took my hand, as he would have done with each one of the victims and each of those helping with the devastation had he been there, and said:
“First, tell them I love them.
“Second, tell them I am praying for them.
“Third, please thank all those who are helping.”
Cowen: As a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, I could feel the weight on my shoulders in the words the Lord spoke unto Moses:
“Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; …
“And I will come down and talk with thee there: and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee [Moses], and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone.”1
These are words from ancient times, yet the Lord’s ways have not changed.
Miriam: Currently in the Church, the Lord has called 317 Seventies, serving in 8 quorums, to assist the Twelve Apostles in carrying the burden placed on the First Presidency. I joyfully feel that responsibility in the depths of my very soul, as do my fellow Brethren. However, we are not the only ones assisting in this glorious work. As members of the Church worldwide, we all have the wonderful opportunity of blessing the lives of others.
Dad: Explain the structure and organization of the 1st presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the Quorums of the Seventies.

Harriet: I had learned from our dear prophet what the storm-tossed people needed—love, prayers, and appreciation for helping hands.
Eli: This afternoon each of us will raise our right arm to the square and sustain the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Emeline: This is not a mere formality, nor is it reserved for those called to general service. To sustain our leaders is a privilege; it comes coupled with a personal responsibility to share their burden and to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Mom: What is a disciple?  How can we share our leaders’ burdens?
Cowen: President Monson has said:
“We are surrounded by those in need of our attention, our encouragement, our support, our comfort, our kindness—be they family members, friends, acquaintances, or strangers. We are the Lord’s hands here upon the earth, with the mandate to serve and to lift His children. He is dependent upon each of us. …
Miriam: “‘… Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these … , ye have done it unto me’ [Matthew 25:40].”2
Will we respond with love when an opportunity is before us to make a visit or a phone call, write a note, or spend a day meeting the needs of someone else? Or will we be like the young man who attested to following all of God’s commandments:
“All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?
“Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”3
The young man was being called to a greater service at the side of the Lord to do the work of the kingdom of God on earth, yet he turned away, “for he had great possessions.”4
Dad: What of our earthly possessions? We can see what a tornado can do with them in just minutes. It is so important for each of us to strive to lay up our spiritual treasures in heaven—using our time, talents, and agency in service to God.
Mom: What are earthly possessions?  What does a tornado do to earthly possessions?  What are spiritual treasures?  What does it mean to “lay up” spiritual treasures?

Day Three:
Harriet: Jesus Christ continues to extend the call “Come and follow me.”5 
Eli: He walked His homeland with His followers in a selfless manner. He continues to walk with us, stand by us, and lead us.
Emeline: To follow His perfect example is to recognize and honor the Savior, who has borne all of our burdens through His sacred and saving Atonement, the ultimate act of service. What He asks of each one of us is to be able and willing to take up the joyful “burden” of discipleship.
Cowen: While in Oklahoma, I had the opportunity to meet with a few of the families devastated by the mighty twisters. As I visited with the Sorrels family, I was particularly touched by the experience of their daughter, Tori, then a fifth grader at Plaza Towers Elementary School. She and her mother are here with us today.
Miriam: Tori and a handful of her friends huddled in a restroom for shelter as the tornado roared through the school. Listen as I read, in Tori’s own words, the account of that day:
“I heard something hit the roof. I thought it was just hailing. The sound got louder and louder. I said a prayer that Heavenly Father would protect us all and keep us safe. All of a sudden we heard a loud vacuum sound, and the roof disappeared right above our heads. There was lots of wind and debris flying around and hitting every part of my body. It was darker outside and it looked like the sky was black, but it wasn’t—it was the inside of the tornado. I just closed my eyes, hoping and praying that it would be over soon.
“All of a sudden it got quiet.
“When I opened my eyes, I saw a stop sign right in front of my eyes! It was almost touching my nose.”6
Dad: Tori, her mother, three of her siblings, and numerous friends who were also in the school with her miraculously survived that tornado; seven of their schoolmates did not.
That weekend the priesthood brethren gave many blessings to members who had suffered in the storm. I was humbled to give Tori a blessing. As I laid my hands on her head, a favorite scripture came to mind: “I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”7
I counseled Tori to remember the day when a servant of the Lord laid his hands on her head and pronounced that she had been protected by angels in the storm.

Harriet: Reaching out to rescue one another, under any condition, is an eternal measure of love. This is the service I witnessed in Oklahoma that week.
Eli: Often we are given the opportunity to help others in their time of need. As members of the Church, we each have the sacred responsibility “to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light,” “to mourn with those that mourn,” and to “lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.”
Emeline: Brothers and sisters, how grateful the Lord is for each and every one of you, for the countless hours and acts of service, whether large or small, you so generously and graciously give each day.
King Benjamin taught in the Book of Mormon, “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.”
Cowen: Focusing on serving our brothers and sisters can guide us to make divine decisions in our daily lives and prepares us to value and love what the Lord loves. In so doing, we witness by our very lives that we are His disciples. When we are engaged in His work, we feel His Spirit with us. We grow in testimony, faith, trust, and love.
Dad: I know that my Redeemer lives, even Jesus Christ, and that He speaks to and through His prophet, dear President Thomas S. Monson, in this, our day.
May we all find the joy that comes from the sacred service of bearing one another’s burdens, even those simple and small, is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Mom: Read part of my patriarchal blessing that talks about compassionate service and the memory I wrote down called “Spaghetti and Visiting Teachers” in the Book of Remembrance. 
Dad: Read what Kenny wrote about Compassionate Service in the Book of Remembrance.  Then what Grandpa Young wrote:
“Quite often as I awaken in the morning a church hymn will be going through my mind.  One day it was, ‘Have I Done Any Good in the World Today?’ The words continue, ‘Have I cheered up the sad or made someone feel glad?  If not, I have failed indeed.’
            These are not idle words.  The message they portray is strong.  With each new generation the message in this song continues to be tested.  What a different world we would have if all its inhabitants abided by this message.  As to whether we have failed or succeeded in life can pretty much be measured by comparing oneself to the words of this song.”

Mom: How can we better serve those around us, especially the people with whom we live?

June 6, 2014

Good Book for Food Chains/Food Webs

We didn't spend a lot of time talking about food chains and food webs because my children already have a pretty firm understanding of those concepts.  Since we are studying animals again (we started this time with life cycles, moved to food chains, are starting habitats next week and then we'll finish up with anatomy), I thought we would do a little refresher on all the key concepts we've talked about before.

Besides, it gave us an excuse to read Dory Story again, and that always pleases my kids.

Dory Story by Jerry Pallotta never fails to make my children giggle at the end.  You'll like it too.