Thursday, May 31, 2007

Strawberries at Three Sisters

The Three Sisters strawberry farm is on Joshua Road in Suffolk. Here's why it's the best place to pick strawberries this week:

1. Organic strawberries. So when your children are rolling around in the plants, and emerging from the field with red juice dripping down their chins, you don't have to say, "NOT UNTIL I WASH THEM!" It's far back from any major road, so there's no exhaust residue, or dust, or anything on the berries. The rows are a little weedy, but that's organic farming. The weeds aren't hurting anything and the berries are BEAUTIFUL. So lovely. Kissed by the sun.

2. Animals.

The nicest, friendliest, child-proofed-est, sweetest farm animals you ever want to know. The first time we went to Three Sisters, we spent three hours there mooning over the animals. Delightful.

3. You'll meet other homeschoolers! This place is a homeschooler magnet. Veronica and I had our four kids, and we ran into two other homeschool families while we were there last time! Homeschoolers know: Three Sisters Strawberry Farm in Suffolk is the place to go!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Fishing? Really?

Another family experience we force ourselves to suffer through, so that our children can at least appear to be normal.

I was against it. My sole experience with fishing was when I was five or six, at a pond in Pennsylvania, during the 4H Fishing Derby, where Curtis Craig put a worm on my hook and then sternly ignored me as I sat next to him at the edge of the pond, in sheer horror at the gyrations of my unfortunate worm. After a while, I was allowed to quit fishing.

Benny decided he wanted to be a fisherman at church. You can guess what the verse was. He asked for fishing gear as his reward for completing the 50 day violin practice challenge. He got it.

I wasn't aware that by dangling a worm from a 10 dollar fishing pole, 12 inches below the surface of the Chesapeake Bay, that you could actually catch something. Apparently you can:

Fishing was strange. We convinced him to release the fish. Here are three conversations that Benny had shortly after catching his fish:

Me: Benny, don't you want to release the fish so that he can be happy and live a full life and tell all his friends about meeting you?
Him: No, I want to kill him and make him into fish sticks and eat him. That's what you're supposed to do.
(And I was worried about his sensitive feelings.)

Me: Benny I'm so proud of your patience! You were so patient!
Him: Do you think God is proud of me?
Me: Yes, of course.
Him: Because I'm a fisherman now?
(I don't think he's going to make a good Episcopalian. He always interprets scripture in a literal way.)

Me: Wow, Benny. Catching a fish is something that I have never done in my whole life.
Him: Is that because you didn't have enough patience?
Me: Well, yes, probably it is.
Him: Don't worry. You gave birth to a son who has patience.
(Hey. Something to comfort myself with.)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear

I heard through the parentvine that they make the first graders at Norfolk Academy memorize this poem, so I let Benny have at it. Can't have the Academicians maintaining a monopoly on silly poems about lovesick animals. He's memorized a few others too, nonsense and otherwise, which I'll post as I get them on video. Next time I hope I manage the light better so that he doesn't look like The Phantom of Nonsense Poetry or something. He is extremely tickled by the idea of wrapping money up with money, so thus the giggling. :D

Ah, I just remembered I have a short video of him reciting the first five stanzas of "The Walrus and the Carpenter" at his little acting class at The Hurrah Players. Each of the kids had to memorize a short poem... Benny memorized quite a long one and only had time to recite the first bit.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The End of the Beginning: Prezuki Violin

Sadie's last Prezuki class is coming up. So after two semesters of baby violin education, what has she learned?

She's learned to sit in a circle, wait her turn, and separate from Mommy's lap to interact with her teacher independently.

She learned to give up teaching tools like puppets, instruments, and silk flowers, when that part of the lesson was over, even if she didn't want to put it away.

She learned to hold her "foam-a-lin" under her chin with proper position and walk around the room with it held firmly in place by the weight of her head, without using her hands.

She learned to hold her bow with her thumb bent and her pinky on top, her fingers relaxed, and bow rhythms on her shoulder.

She learned to play the drum in rhythm with a song, and how to sync up with the other kids in the class so that they all played the drum in unison.

She learned to thank her teacher for teaching her and her mother for bringing her to class.

She learned to sing on pitch and she learned the difference between high notes and low notes. She learned what an E string sounds like and what an A string sounds like and started learning to hear fifths.

She learned to distinguish between her different fingers on her violin hand, and did strengthening exercises with each one, to boost those fine motor skills.

She learned how to sing scales, with songs about bugs and pussy willows and other silliness. She learned about ascending and descending by climbing stairs with her teacher.

She learned to concentrate on her teacher's directions, and copy instructions. She was taught to focus in increasing intervals, gently and with patience.

She learned lots of fun songs and dances. She learned to look forward to violin class as an interesting time to play and learn.

She learned to respect her classmates and help them, work together with them to accomplish the teacher's directions. She learned to listen and respond.

She learned that music is fun!

When she starts her "real" violin lessons with her actual violin, she will know exactly what to expect and how to behave. What a wonderful experience Prezuki has been. Thank you Mrs. Ford for another excellent class!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Phi Bensa Zoe Academy

We invented new Greek letters. But we had to do it.

My friend Veronica and I each have two kids. Between us we have two seven-year-olds, a three-year-old and a four-year-old. They have been playing together for three years now. Their little conflicts have been worked through, their little power struggles have been settled, and now they play happily, kind of like cousins. Yes, problems arise, but they all know each other very well and they're getting adept at avoiding trouble.

Both of our families have been in search of a co-op to supplement our homeschooling efforts, but haven't found one just right. The closest thing we hit on was the Renaissance school, but that's a looooong way from here, and there are the little ones to consider. We decided to try making our own, tiny, insular co-op, once a week. We started almonst two months ago. She takes the older ones while I take the younger ones, then we have lunch, play, and switch.

We call it, with tongues firmly in cheek, the Phi Bensa Zoe Academy, making pseudo-Greek letters from the kids' names. The pictures you see here are of our first meeting, where we were just figuring things out and we took it very easy. Our second meeting, Veronica began teaching Latin to the older kids (using Minimus) and I am teaching them microbiology -- cells, bacteria, microscopes, etc. I'm teaching the little ones phonics and writing, and Veronica is teaching them science and social studies in mini-units.

I have to say, and I have cautiously waited to blog about it until now, because you never know how kids are going to adjust to these arrangements, that it is working out GREAT. The kids love it, and it gives us a chance to do games and activities that make learning fun, but that you just can't do with only one child. It also helps with the age difference, so that the younger ones aren't always upsetting delicate science experiments, and the older ones aren't always giving the answers before the little ones can work it out for themselves.

How can it possibly work out, having a co-op so small? Well, there are down sides. We can't put on a school play. We have only ourselves to rely on for expertise -- so we have microscopes being operated by an English major, and so on. But we can sing together, play our violins and piano together, do book reports and demos. We're flexible -- if someone is sick, we can move the day, or if someone has an appointment, change the time a few hours forward or back. We can follow our whims -- if we feel like a bike ride first or we really need to eat a snack, we can accommodate that without putting anyone out.

While the children do get a tiny bit of competition, to put a gentle urgency to their answering of questions and completing of assignments, they also can receive the pacing and attention geared to their specific needs.

I have been often confused by people who put their kids into a very school-like environment, after taking them out of school. I understand everyone has different needs and differnet reasons for homeschooling, but for me -- one of the reasons I took him out of school was to avoid the classroom. Our little "academy," for now, is giving us exactly what we need. Structure, accountability, and competition, but it still feels very much like homeschool. I'm grateful to Veronica for being such a kindred spirit!

Watching them jump in the trampoline yesterday, all together, co-operating on how to take turns and protect the littlest one from getting jumped onto her head, I was very happy. It's a good thing, for these children, at this time. I highly recommend it. If you can find one other family, with a similar teaching philosophy and children close in age, try it! See if it works for you.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Family Day at the Opera

"Pirates of Penzance" is a funny show, but a lot of the humor is wrapped up in complicated wordplay, and a lot of the plot twists require a mature understanding to follow and unravel.

Yes, it's in English, and no it's not Fidelio, but it's not the Doodlebops either. Nevertheless, throngs of children and their optimistic parents packed the Harrison Opera House last Saturday to see a family-friendly production (that is to say, an abridged version) of the GIlbert and Sullivan classic. Did they understand every double entendre and every complicated rhyme? No. But they did have a good time.

The last time we were at the opera house was when we took Benny to see Agrippina. I assure you, the mood was very different on that night. Tired, angry elderly people shushing each other, and then falling asleep on their armrests. Serious citizens paying dire close attention to the stage. A hush. A lot of furrowed brows. Saturday was more like the mood you hear about when attending theater was a more popular pursuit. Rowdy.

If it bothers you when a silent moment on stage is interrupted by at least five kids asking to go to the bathroom, commenting on the state of someone's boogers, or complaining that their sister is touching them, then Family Day is not for you. But if you like looking around the audience during a big scene and seeing herds of children actually enraptured by what they're seeing -- leaning forward, clutching their programs, laughing out loud, urgently pointing and explaining things to their little brothers, then Familiy Day at the Opera is an experience you should enjoy. I have to say I totally loved it.

The production was raucous but not racy. The acting was hilarious, the and the props and sets were ingeniously made. Yes, it was a tiny bit disappointing when the Pirate King was a Jack Sparrow clone, but my kids loved that. All in all, brilliantly done. And we loved the little "commercial" for the Virginia Opera that was inserted into "I am the very model of a modern Major-General." Cute!

As a bonus, the lawn of the opera house had a carnival feel, with boucy rides and Radio Disney on hand to MC. Don't miss this event next year -- it's a great chance to expose your kids to the opera without exposing yourself to the haughty glares of the typical opera crowd.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

How to Make Custom T-Shirts at Home

So you want to make t-shirts, just a few, and you don't want to deal with the hassle and uncertainty of cafepress or maybe you need them *right stinking now* and you can't wait to order them online. Okay! I have your messy, irritating, dangerous answer! Aren't you glad you came to this blog?

I made six t-shirts for our small homeschool co-op with this method, and it worked great. I let Benny pick the color of the paint and Sadie pick the color of the shirt, but apart from that they weren't able to help too much because of the razors involved. Hey, you can't always make it a teaching moment. Especially when there are razors.

Supplies list:
Acrylic, permanent, unwashable paint
Freezer Paper
Masking Tape
X-Acto knife
Iron and ironing board
Piece of cardboard as big as design

1. Make your design.

We named our co-op "Phi Bensa Zoe Academy" using our kids names to invent new and serious-sounding Greek letters. Then we invented the "new" Greek letters to go with, and that was the shirt. Whatever design you choose, print it out in black and white on a piece of paper. How complicated can it be? Depends how fussy you want to get with the cutting out and the ironing later.

2. Tape six pieces of freezer paper to a cutting board, and your design on top.

If you're making six shirts, use six pieces of freezer paper. Make sure the wax side is down!

3. Cut out your design.

Using the X-Acto knife, remove all pieces of your design. With a sharp knife or razor, you can easily go through seven layers of paper.

4. Make sure you save any inner pieces, because you'll need them later to complete thhe stencils.

5. When the stencils are all cut out, remove them carefully from the cutting board and peel off all the tape that was sticking them down.

6. Lay one shirt on the ironing board and slide the piece of cardboard up inside it, under where you want the design to go. Iron the stencil on, wax side down, and make sure all little edges and bits are firmly ironed into place.

7. Now replace all the little inner bits and iron those down too.

8. Paint over the stencil, and make sure every bit of exposed fabric gets fully covered. This is pretty much the only part the kids can help with in anything but an advisory position. You don't have to glop on a whole lot of paint, but use a stiff brush and work the paint down into the fibers.

9. Peel up the stencil. Here, mine is peeled except for the inner bits.

10. Before washing this shirt, you should iron it to set the paint. Iron on the back, and put paper under the front so it doesn't get on your ironing board if it bleeds at all. Then you can wash it as usual!

Final product:

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