Friday, June 30, 2006

Maymont Park in Richmond, VA

Maymont Park in Richmond is known for children's farm, but don't miss the Japanese Gardens because you think the kids won't enjoy them!

A friend and I recently travelled to Richmond to meet up with some friends at a quilting shop there. We had all four of our children with us -- two six-year-olds and two two-year-olds. If you've ever been in a quilt store with a two-year-old, you know that when the child sets foot in the store, a timer starts running, and when the timer runs down to zero, the child must be removed from the store, or else the fabric, the quilts, the buttons, the thread, the books... will all be in an inglorious heap on the floor, and the child will somehow have managed to smear chocolate on them too.

So we decided to leave for a little while and come back later, taking the children in the interim to a place where they could stretch their legs. I had only vague directions to Maymont, and I couldn't tell you how to get there, except that "The Boulevard" had something to do with it, and there were a lot of turns where the choices weren't perpendicular. We ended up at an entrance to the park that we hadn't meant to choose. We had been looking for the children's farm, but instead we had the Japanese gardens. Having considered the possibility of buckling everyone back into the car and making more random turns around Richmond, we thought the gardens seemed like a great idea.

And to our surprise, they WERE.

First there was the waterfall. Who knew that within 90 minutes of driving from Norfolk you could find an elevation of sufficient height to produce this charming sight?

Then there were the stepping stones. Our six-year-olds were delighted to be allowed to go across on their own. I figured, hey, it's only a foot of water, and if he falls in it doesn't matter because he's already wet from the sprinklers in the Italian garden at the top of the hill.

Nobody fell in. But they did see lots of huge koi, right up close. And a baby turtle. And the gardens are HUGE. When I saw the sign for Japanese gardens, I thought maybe a latticed hut, a fish pond, and a dramatically arched bridge. Those things were there, but they were on a much bigger scale than I imagined. The children were completely delighted. Here are the two-year-olds spotting fish in the pond:

Finally, they got to climb up on the rock and actually dunk their feet in the actual waterfall -- it was heaven.

If you're going to Richmond, this is worth the stop. And don't worry if they're old enough to appreciate it. No one is more barbaric than a two-year-old, and our two little unsophisticates give it four thumbs up.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Cabin Fever is Not Forever

We were so tired of being cooped up that we went insane and tried to play outside this afternoon.

For those of you who aren't aware, it is hot out.

My friend Veronica and I were trying to figure out what to do with our children today. Even though we were both aware of thunderstorm warnings, neither of us could think of anything appealing that involved staying inside. Perhaps that's because we've been doing inside things for about five days now, and the children have boiled up to a level that is intolerable even to me. Benny has lost his ability to walk through the house -- he has to run, ride the scooter, roll, or just do something that seems like ricocheting from object to object, all while humming distractedly, and Sadie is plaintively asking to go to the "Claydrowned?" which means... of course... playground.

So since it's 90+ degrees outside and as humid as a camel's underpants, we decided naturally to go picnic, playground, and ride bikes at the lake by Mt. Trashmore. Here's a picture of the children on their bikes:

After the picnic, playing on the playground, and the 2.25 mile bike ride around the lake, which had us parents melting into a puddle on the side of the path, the kids were not discouraged. In fact, having come full circle back to the playground again Benny immediately leaped into action and when I called him to the van, he said, "BUT MOM I NEED TO HAVE LOTS OF FUN." Fun in the heat of the day, in the middle of the summer, in the South. That's what five days of rain will do to a person, if the person is six years old.

We're home now. The baby is asleep in her bed and the boy is actually being still, playing his Gameboy under a ceiling fan. It's so quiet in my house. You, too, can achieve this quiet today only by skipping out to a local playground in between these rain storms. Just don't forget the water bottles. We went through plenty of liquid -- and not the kind that falls from the sky!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Skeleton Lesson: Learn the Names of the Bones

First we read Magic School Bus Inside the Human Body. Then we read a horrifying lift-the-flap (which the children both adored) about what's inside all the layers of your body. You know, lift-the-flap is all fine and well when you're lifting the bush to see the bird's nest, but when you're peeling back the ribs to see the lungs... well, the children enjoyed it. Macabre little hooligans that they are. We read a bunch of "get the general idea" books, and now Benny's unit on the human body has moved on from the wide spectrum to the specific system. We're starting on bones.

He's learning the names of 20 bones (or bone types) in the body and here they are:


I think that's all 20. Yesterday we took our book, The Big Book of Bones: An Introduction to Skeletons (which is great), and after he stripped down to his underwear, Benny labelled himself with the 20 bone names in the right spots. Use a non-toxic marker for this (obviously!) and it will wash off when the child next bathes. Here's Benny's foot:

We wrote the names all over him, then we played a game where I yelled out a bone and he had to point to it. When he got so he could remember and point to all the bones, I had put his clothes back on, close his eyes and write down as many as he could remember. He remembered 13 -- pretty good! Then we did a spelling test on the ones he had forgotten. Today I'm going to let him make a muslin doll and then label it with a sharpie, I think.

Here's a picture of Benny playing chess later with CRANIUM on his head. I was going to write it backwards, so he could read it in the mirror, but he didn't want it like that. He also got irritated when I put PATELLA upside down so he could read it. No use fighting it. As long as he knows where his cranium is. :)

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Spray Park is Chlorinicious!

Today's post is at my official homeschooling blog on the Virginian Pilot web site, and it's about the new spray park at a local YMCA, and some math/physics lesson idea I had based on one of the toys that dumps giant buckets of water on the kids' heads.

Here is the post. Here is the spray park:

Get Your Math On! at the Spray Park

We went to the new spray park at the Greenbrier YMCA and had a lovely time. I've included some lesson ideas based on one of the toys there, that dumps buckets of water on the kids. Learning in the summer -- ACK -- stop the madness!

My children love water. I may be a close second (or possibly the dog, let's be realistic) but when it comes to summer entertainment, their idea of fun involves beaches, pools, sprinklers, and buckets of sunscreen. They're not happy until they've ingested their weight in chlorine, wrinkled up like prunes, and had their retinas incinerated by UV rays. And who am I to stand in the way of such harmless fun?

We normally go to the downtown Norfolk YMCA because it's close, they have towel service, and we're just shallow like that. But this summer, I'm branching out in search of the ultimate outdoor YMCA swimming pool experience. You know, with waterfalls and geysers for the children, palm trees and frothy pineapple smoothies for me. We started out at the Trashmore YMCA, which was nice. A big wading pool for the babies, including a turtle slide and a fountain. Lots of kids in the big pool for Benny to play with, and they had a great time.

Then we went to the Greenbrier YMCA, which shall henceforth be known as Chlorinated Water Nirvana.

First, allow me to say that the decor in the building is fantastic. Somebody obviously had a vision there. Outdoor murals, indoor faux finishes, including decorative frames around all the bulletin boards and flier holders -- you have to see it to believe it. It looks like a hotel. Second, they have a pool house. This means you can get out of the car, walk straight to the (tastefully decorated) family changing room in the pool house, and then plop right into the pool. No mucking about indoors. They have a wading pool and a big pool, just like Trashmore, but then there is...

The spray park. Benny leaped into it immediately, and spent the next 30 minutes dashing around through it, screeching with joy. Then he came and got a drink, and rejoined the spray park, screeching and leaping away. Sadie took a little longer to warm up to it, but by the end of our time there, she was carrying on like a regular. There is every kind of sprinkler, every kind of hose -- even a bench that's a sprinkler, and a mounted sprinkler for spraying your friends, and the tower of pouring cones.

The tower of pouring cones caused my evil homeschooling brain to kick in. It's a tall pole with five metal cones hanging around the top of it. These cones are constantly being filled by streams of water, and they periodically dump over and send a mass of water down on whatever kid is waiting hopefully below. Of course there are lots of lovely physics and math questions to be asked about these cones... so I wrote down a few ideas, which I've included below.

Do not miss the Greenbrier Spray Park. It is too much fun.

Learning Questions:

What makes the water fall out of the cone onto the kids?

Why doesn't the cone tip over right away instead of tipping when it's filled up?

How much water would have to come out of the bottom of the cone to stop it from tipping over?

How can you explain the fact that the cones don't always tip in the same order?

How could you change the shape of the cone to make it hold more water before tipping?

What could you do to the cone so that it never tips?

If you're standing under one particular cone, what are the chances you'll get wet next?

How could you change the probability of each cone tipping?


At home, give the kids some plastic cups and let them try to rig up their own pouring cones by punching holes in them and using string to hang them somewhere. They'll need a hose or a steady stream of water. This would be good to try in the sink or bathtub.

At home, using plastic cups, figure out how to control the rate of flow out of a cup and into a cup to reach an equilibrium.

At the spray park, think of some story problems while you sit there, and have the kids work them later after they're dry and hydrated. For example... If there are eight sprinklers in the gauntlet and kids sit on five of them, how many sprinklers are still spraying? Or, if you have older kids... what angle would a hose spraying at a certain pressure need to reach to propel the water fifteen feet?

At the spray park, have five kids lie down on their bellies under the five pouring cones. Predict which kid will get hit next. OR, have all the kids hum a different note in a cord. When they get hit, they stop humming. When they get hit again, they start again. OR, have each child that gets hit recite whatever memory project you're working on -- poem or verse or whatnot, as loud as he/she can.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Sunprinting for Father's Day

My friend Kristen, her two kids, and her mom (henceforth known as Nana) recently visited us. Nana had an amazing suitcase full of wondrous things -- books, games, projects galore. On our final day, just when I thought the amazing suitcase's depths had been exhausted, Nana pulled out a project for a sunny day: Sun printing.

Mix the paint, schlop it onto the fabric any way you like, then lay down the shapes you want the sun to highlight. Leave the projects in the sun until they dry, and PRESTO you get lovely magic "prints." Benny and Irene made shirts for their dads for Father's Day, and the most amazing thing was that the little siblings (both 2 years old) got to paint too. Because you apply the colors with sponge brushes, and because it doesn't really matter where you put the paper shapes, the two year olds really got into the effort.

Finally, we found a use for our porch roof. After five years. A couple of tips from Nana: 1. Slip a garbage bag over a piece of foam board for a working surface. 2. After you're done painting, slip the garbage bag off and let the shirt dry on it. 3. Use a different garbage bag under each shirt. 4. Those sticky foam shapes work great for sharp, detailed prints. 5. Nana uses Setacolor Soleil paints, but you can also get a kit from Hearthsong or Klutz.

Nana sunprinted a giant piece of muslin, and then had the kids draw on it with Sharpies. We made a list to help them remember all the highlights of our visit together, and they drew scenes from it... from tubing on Broad Bay to Maymont Park in Richmond to the Fireworks at Harborfest. After the drawings were done, we all wrote our names on it, and we have a permanent record that could be made into a memory quilt for them.

Naturally the little siblings got in on that end of it too. Who would pass up a chance to color with a Sharpie, that forbidden fruit of the craft cabinet top shelf!!! So a good time was had by all, thanks to Nana! Of course, on a rainy day, you're going to have to find something else to do. Like go to the aquarium... oh... wait... not that....

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Another Fallen Comrade

One of my online homeschooling friends has enrolled her kids in public school for the fall. She's decided, for a variety of very sound reasons, that school is what's best for her kids at this time, and she's found a very cool little school, and that's it. She's a smart girl, and she's thought about it endlessly. Of course, the point here isn't "Is she right or not?" it's how I as a homeschooling parent respond to a comrade going over to the other side, turning the coat, surrendering, whatever. What's with all the war metaphors? When something like this happens, I admit, I have those "us and them" feelings. Like she was one of us, and now she's one of them, and the only thing left is to hope she doesn't publish our secret handsigns, or that she'll still talk to us in the grocery store, instead of socializing exclusively with her new PTA friends. Kind of dumb, for me to think that way. But it's there.

The School Team

When a homeschooler decides that school is better, we all say, "You made the right decision. We support you." Even if, last week, we were all talking about how school is fundamentally flawed, essentially wrong for learning, how homeschooling is wonderful, blissful, how happy we are about our kids. This isn't about being a homeschooler or not, it's about being a good friend, who isn't going to demand that you explain yourself, and isn't going to crabbily judge you or whatever.

It's easy to let other people's decisions threaten yours. Especially when that person is an active advocate of homeschooling -- not a fence-sitter at all. I would almost have said, to continue the inappropriate war metaphor, that she was a lieutenant, if not a general. It's like having a PETA activist pick up a hamburger and say, "It's delicious." You can't just brush it off and say, well, she was never committed, or she hasn't really thought about this. She was and she has, and she chose to put her kids in school. So now what? I recognize that I feel defensive of my choice in the face of her choice. Does that mean I'm uncertain? Does that mean I'm a little envious? If I say, "You did the right thing," does that mean I'm not as committed as I thought I was?

The Homeschool Team

The reasonable answer is, of course, that everyone's kids are different, and even at different times in their lives they need different things, and what works for X might not work for Y, etc. We can all respect each other, blah blah blah. But I wonder if some of my unconditional support for my "schooling" friends comes from a place of doubt. Maybe I'm saying "Good job, you did the right thing" to her, because if I choose to put my own kids in school next year, completely violating everything I've been blithely firing off about school and homeschool, I wouldn't want to be judged either. If I ever get my "Homeskool 4-Evah!" tattoo removed from my arm, and join the ranks of the droppers off and pickers up, I don't want anyone bringing up my rants about the poor little children that live by the bell and play in fifteen minute intervals and learn about trees from pictures of trees.

When a group of people doing something that's marginalized in our culture, like homeschooling or breastfeeding or vegetarianism or... whatever... and they lose one of their number to the mainstream, I guess it would be weird if there were cheering. We do what we do because we believe in it, and it's okay to not feel total unflinching joy when someone changes her mind. But I'd be the last person to stand up and argue with someone who's making different choices. It's impossible to know what will happen, and I know that it could be me "turning coat" in a few years, for equally solid reasons all my own.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Aquarium of Tourists

Today's post is at my official homeschooling blog on the web site of the Virginian Pilot newspaper, and it's about going to the aquarium on a rainy day in tourist season. Isn't it sad when the homeschoolers have to give up their sole possession of all the local attractions during the weekdays? Hehehe.

Virginia Aquarium: Not on a Rainy Day

On a rainy day in tourist season, the best place to take your out of town guests is... NOT the aquarium. Try the beach.

When you have guests staying at your house, and some of them are little children, and these little children like fish and sharks and stuff, and it's raining and you can't play outside or go to the zoo or beach, you might find yourself thinking, "The Marine Science Museum might be nice." Then, you might correct yourself by saying, "I mean, of course, that the Virginia Aqauarium would be nice."

Allow me to help: It wouldn't be nice. It would be crowded. Remember, this is tourist season. And where do tourists go when they can't go to the beach? To the aquarium. And they all want to step on you, occlude your view of your children, and make flashes go off in your face.

Now that we've established I'm completely unaware of where I live and what time of year it is, let's go further to point out that I have no understanding of the laws of physics: I brought the stroller.

The Virginia Aquarium is a real joy, on school days when the kiddies are all packed up in the classrooms, and the homeschoolers can roam freely through its hallowed halls, taking lots of time at the sea turtle tank, playing endlessly with the "what floats" experiment, coaxing the rays, picking up oysters with the little wooden stick thingies, and pretending to go underwater in the shark exploring submarine.

That is not how it is on rainy summer days. On rainy summer days, even the giant lobster is annoyed. By the time we reached the Chesapeake Bay aquarium, I was giving my guests helpful info like "That's a fish. That's a fish. That's a fish. Okay let's go!" When we finally hit the shark tank I remember saying to my friend, "I have no idea where Benny is. My only hope is that he hasn't been eaten by a barracuda or someone from Ohio."

It's not that I don't love tourists -- I do. It's just that all year long, those of us who homeschool enjoy such quiet comfort in these attractions -- the zoo, the aquarium, the children's museum, and all the rest of it. It's sad, a little bit, that summer is here and we have to share with the rest of the world. If I'm being honest, as Simon Cowell would say, I wish public school went year round! *evil homeschool cackle* Just kidding! Welcome to the daylight hours, rest of the world. We'll make some space at the jellyfish tank for you.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Recital Time

Today's blog post is on my "official" homeschooling blog on the web site of the local newspaper, Little Blue School, and it's about Benny's violin recital, which happened on Saturday. He's in the older class now, and I'm having mixed feelings. On the one hand, good that he's no longer a nose-picker who's falling off the stage, but on the other hand, I kind of miss those days.

Another Recital, Another Box of Kleenex

Benny's violin recital was on Saturday. Another semester is gone, and he's hurtling toward competence on his instrument. Somebody hold me.

Everyone's favorite part of the show is always the teeny little kids. We all hope someone will pull up his shirt and show his bellybutton, or pick his nose with his tuning pegs, or sit on his classmate and make her squawk. This is just true, in every type of kid performance. The kindergarten pageant always holds more interest than the fifth grade one. Do we really get suspenseful and fluttery about the 10 year old who has clocked 15 recitals now, and has no surprises left, who will dutifully and virtuously play her solo without flaw? Well, no. Not even the mother of such a child can muster nerves for that experience.

Benny is now in that group. Okay, he's only six, and there's still a strong possibility that he will scratch his bottom with his bow, or start talking about his biceps in the middle of his group's performance, but he is now in that oldest group, that group that everyone politely clucks for, but no one weeps over. Except me of course. I was weeping. I sniffled when the tiny little people were up there showing how they'd learned to hold the violin, and how to take a bow, and how to sing the musical alphabet, and I leaked tears when Benny's group did their gavottes and bourrees. And when the whole game of them got up to play a final rendition of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" I was in need of a bucket to hold my tissue. That's just how I am. Moved.

That's a picture of all the Academy of Music students on stage together playing Twinkle, the Suzuki anthem. Benny's teacher, Sarah Ford, has shepherded him with total patience and love from the days where he was a nose-picker who could only bow to these days recently where he's up there casually playing with the big kids. Bless her. I'm so grateful.

It's the Suzuki way to play all the songs you know, and sit down when other kids are playing a song you can't play yet. Benny played all the songs. He led his group (the book 2 and 3 group) in a song, demonstrating everything they've been learning this year in their group class. His group teacher, Cathy Stevens, has been teaching them how to make eye contact, how to move your body to direct a group, how to show dynamics and pauses and generally how to communicate the phrasing you want to a group who's playing along with you. It's a great thing to learn, along with all the right notes and bowing and whatnot. Here's Benny leading his group:

So this time, I didn't get to writhe with pride because my little darling stayed on the stage and faced the right direction. I got to glow because he remembered to cue in the accompanist and raise up his scroll after the formata to bring everyone in. I have mixed feelings about it, obviously. Let's just say that I'm glad Sadie Grace will be starting violin lessons soon. There's time for me as a mommy of a little squirt in the baby group yet.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Borrowing and Carrying: The Adventure Continues

Yesterday's drama with the borrowing and carrying ended thusly: We went to the computer. We fired up the drill pages on the MathUSee web page and suddenly he could do them. Easily. Instantly. I still don't understand what was going on, but it seems to be over. Today he woke up and made his own worksheet. You can see part of it here, although he did it in yellow marker and I took this picture with my phone:

Then he opened up some more online drill practice and pressed on until he had 20 correct. I didn't tell him to, but he just did it. So, he seems to be working it out on his own.