Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Fourteen Minute Mile

Benny loves to run. You might say it's his natural state: running. When he was four, he won the "Tot Trot" at the YMCA. I cried all through it because there was just something so earnest and sweet about all the little runners pounding away, 1/4 mile.

Warming Up for the Mile Run

Lately he's been running in the house, which I cannot bear. The crashing, the banging, the thumping, the breathless hecticness drives me into a frenzy. I heard from another karate mom about a running race for kids, put on by one of the local elementary schools. I told Benny if he could stop running in the house a little bit, I would put him in this race. He was so excited.

We discussed with him about how to pace himself in the race, to run a whole mile. We also talked a lot about not pushing, not getting upset with the other kids, not being sad no matter what place he got, etc. He nodded and mm-hmmed through all that instruction, and we thought, what can we do? He'll just have to learn by doing.

Getting Pre-Race Advice from Ahno and Sadie.

On race day, he put on his favorite outfit (which he calls his uniform) and had his number pinned on about 3 hours before the race. He got to the event, which is like a big party with pizza, a sound system, a whole lot of kids running around. Almost every single one of the other children had the official race t-shirt on, but Benny preferred to wear his orange suit -- fine, I thought. The better to locate him from a distance.

Ready to run.

The race lined up -- there were 104 children ready to run the boys mile -- ages from kindergarten on up into the teens. They took off strong and ran around the first corner and off into the neighborhood. Benny was running as fast as he could, looking a little panicked and squashed in the midst of all those kids, and of course I started weeping.

All of us nervous parents bustled over to the finish line, where we waited for the kids to start coming in. I stood there, next to Dan, kneading his arm, twisting his shirt, in general ready to vomit with nerves. The first kids came through to great applause, the next kids, and more kids, and more kids. WHERE WAS BENNY? We did not see him. More children came through. Ten minutes went by. Still no Benny, we couldn't even see him around the corner. I cannot communicate to you the level of my freak-out at this time. I was sure he had fallen over, was sitting on a street corner somewhere in Larchmont, crying, bleeding, or maybe kidnapped, eaten by wolves, fallen into a sudden chasm (you know how those open up in the middle of quiet neighborhoods).

Finally I said to Dan, "I AM GOING TO FIND HIM." And Dan (wisely) said that he would go instead, so he went. And I continued to stand there and dance around in a hot panic. Finally, there he was, cantering along easily, right in front of the police escort and the ambulance, who were bringing up the rear. He was last. Dead last. And completely unconcerned. As he came loping over the finish line and down the chute, he waved cheerily at me.

Benny and the Police Escort

"Mom! I didn't win!" he reported.

I stood there, agape. I mean, he had not fallen into a chasm, right? So, in all, good day.

Later he said, "Now that was some real racing! I decided that since I couldn't win, I'd let everyone else win. You know, I learned this from that movie, "Cars," you know when Lightning McQueen lets The King finish the Piston Cup?"

Thanks, Disney. And thanks to me, for all the times over the last seven years of his life that I've pounded it into his head -- it's not about winning, it's about having fun! It doesn't matter who comes in first! You can have more fun if everyone is having a good time! Etc. This was all meant to cope with the child who pitched an epic fit because he couldn't be the first wiseman in the procession, at age 3. It was not meant to scrub all competitive spirit from the young lad.

Dan said that when he found Benny, he was standing in someone's driveway, kind of dancing around and waving. I always say that Benny marches to he beat of his own drummer -- but really, sometimes it is illustrated for me in such a graphic way that this is true. He saw that he could not beat the older kids, so he just did something else, he changed the plan. He deviated.

We knew lots of people at the race -- through violin, church, and karate, we knew about half the kids and parents there. When Benny finally came over the line, there were lots of moms and dads and kids cheering for him by name. And no one thought it was strange for him to bring up the rear. They know, and we know, that for Benny nothing is strange. He is his own child, unpredictable, earnest, and never never dull.

Cheering for the girls' race.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Math Card Game for Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, Division

This morning Benny and I invented a new way to use our giant deck of cards to study math. Here's what we did:

We shuffled the deck and put the pile next to his paper. He would flip over two cards, write those values in the spaces, then choose whether to use multiplication, division, addition, or subtraction to find an answer. Then he wrote the answer.

This was a great exercise for three reasons:

1. It was fun for him to write his own questions and he loves using the cards.

2. It made him consider the answer to all four of the problems, before he chose one to write down. He most wanted to use division, since that to him is the coolest, so he would be happy if he pulled, for example, a king and a 4, so he could divide twelve by four.

3. He got to test me a little -- on the last few he did, he left the operation circle blank, and asked me which operation he had used. Rather than hesitating to give him the answer, I cheerfully participated in my part of the quiz, because he already had to have figured it out, to be asking me.

I want to do this exercise again, and I made a printable math game page for future use, which I will share with you.

This could be used in different ways -- the kid could fill in the numbers and quiz you on which operation was used, you could use it blank with a deck of cards like we did, or you could use it to solve for X if you leave just one of the spaces blank and give the answers. Hope it's useful!

Here's an image preview of the page, click on it or the link above for the print-friendly web page:

Interested in more Little Blue Ideas? Try the Idea Box for
homeschooling ideas and more.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Colonial Williamsburg in Inappropriate Shoes

Colonial Williamsburg has an amazing program for homeschoolers, three times a year. During "Home Educators Week" homeschooling kids and parents can get tickets for $5 each that normally cost a whole lot more than that. I meant to take the kids last spring, but Ahno was working on colonial outfits for them, and she hadn't finished Benny's. This time around, she had still not finished Benny's, but she sent me on a mission to find a really great three-cornered hat to go with it when it's done, and inspire her to get it off the table and onto the hanger. So we went.

And we found one:

While we were there, since apparently there is more to history than fashion (or whatever), we decided to learn some things. I hadn't prepared the children for the experience, we had not read about the American Revolution or made baskets or turned geese on a spit or anything, and the truth is that I have only a loose grasp on history myself. I'm expecting myself to learn a lot as I help Benny learn about it. That is my expectation. At this point, though, I am no natural expert, unless I've recently spent some time in a book on the subject. So I put Benny in charge of directions:

When you put a seven year old boy with endless energy in charge of a map, he will want to visit locations with maximum distance from each other. That is to say, if you're at one end of Williamsburg, you'll need to next go to the other end, and then back to the first end, and back to the other end. Also, if you put a seven year old boy in charge of directions, you will spend a lot of time looking at various colonial animals.

We lucked out at the brickyard, and arrived just as another group was leaving. So Benny got a private lesson in making bricks, which was awesome. They build a kiln each year by stacking up last year's bricks into an oven, with this year's raw bricks inside, then plastering mud all over it, and lighting fires underneath for a week. Benny was able to answer a lot of questions about, for example, why these three bricks, all baked at the same time for the same duration in the kiln, came out three different colors? Answer: Distance from the actual fire. I thought that was pretty astute. He and the brickman were eye to eye on many issues, and Benny learned the material so well that he went ahead and pompously explained it to the next kid to arrive, raising a little ire. Here he is getting his lesson:

Sadie on one of the walkways at the Governor's Palace:

Benny getting to be a juror at the courtroom in the capitol building:

This was cool -- we have been studying about wind power and we got to see a post style windmill, with a wheel sticking out from it so that the miller could turn the whole thing into the wind if the wind changed direction. This was one of those cool moments where Benny spent a few minutes kindly instructing me on the way windmills are operated. It also dovetailed nicely with our gears discussions, related to the Lego League topic of the week.

Here are the children doing some colonial laundry:

Sadie's pigtails, getting some instruction:

I'm very glad we went. I hadn't been to Colonial Williamsburg since I was about Sadie's age myself. We will definitely be back for the next homeschool week, and the next. At that price, anyone in driving distance would be foolish to stay home. Benny had a blast, and Sadie enjoyed herself too, from the cellar of the Shields Tavern to the jail cell where they held Blackbeard's pirate crew before hanging them (yes, we locked Benny in, yes, he was thrilled and talked about it all the way home). I will also say that the place was crawling with some of the most mannerly, thoughtful, lovely little children. I don't think it was just a homeschool thing -- I made the conclusion that children whose parents would drag them through Williamsburg are just a cut above.

Of course, in this case, it was me getting dragged. :) Next time I'm wearing my colonial tennis shoes.

Edit: Visit this awesome photo album from another homeschool family that visited Williamsburg at the same time we did, and miraculously took incredibly better pictures!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sadie is Funny


Sadie and Benny were playing in the bathtub. Benny was pretending to give the bubbles voices and they were talking to her and playing with her. This all went along fine until she looked up at me suddenly, stricken with fear, and said:

"Mommy, do NOT put these bubbles down the DRAIN because they might DIE!"

So, we left them in the tub. I emptied it later.


We were walking back to the van after six hour of hiking around Colonial Williamsburg absorbing historical information. I had no idea where I had left the van. So I said I was going to let the van find us, and I was clicking the keys to lock it so it would beep. Sadie, stomping along earnestly, said:

"Mommy, do NOT make the van find us because I will find the van all by myself I will show YOU where it is and THAT is the end of my tiny little story."


Benny and Sadie were playing and Benny was fighting the evil Shawan, his imaginary nemesis, and Benny said that Sadie had to help him fight Shawan, or else he (Benny) would die! And Sadie said:

"Benny, you know, deep down in my heart, I will never let that happen!"


This morning when Dan got back from his bike ride, we went to IHOP because the cleaning ladies were in the house and the children were uncleaning whatever they cleaned, the minute the cleaned it.

Sadie: I think we should go to Dairy Queen, because I'm really hungry for ice cream!
Me: Wow, really?
Sadie: And then I am also very, very hungry for fries.
Dan: So you want to stop at Dairy Queen and McDonald's, on our way to IHOP?
Sadie: YES!
Dan: That sounds like a lot of restaurants for a tiny little girl who doesn't eat anything.
Sadie: Yes, but I have a BIG GINORMOUS tummy!

Then we went to IHOP and she ate about 1/8th of a pancake. Silly girl.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Not Quite Snow White:
A Mixed-up Fairy Tale to Read Aloud

Not Quite Snow White

Once upon a time in a faraway land where people put horseradish on their waffles and butter on their tacos just to spice them up, there lived a beautiful queen. Her long hair was like the down of ducklings, and her eyes the hue of the summer sky. Her skin was so fine, you could sometimes see her thoughts flitting past inside: lovely thoughts, helpful thoughts, thoughts the color of sweet nectar. Her name was Daffodil.

Daffodil lived all alone in a beautiful castle with only her terrible, evil, vicious stepdaughter for company. The king, you see, had recently died. He died the same way his first wife died long ago: I'm sorry to say that he was poisoned! Everyone knew, or everyone kind of thought, or everyone almost guessed that their terrible, evil, vicious daughter, the princess, had poisoned both the old queen and the old king, but no one could ever prove it. Because of this, Daffodil lived in terrible fear that she would be next to be poisoned, and every drop of water she drank, every strawberry she tasted, gave her the greatest concern.

The young princess on the other hand ate everything she could find, without a second thought. She had a particular fondness for apples, and used to go haughtily through the king’s orchards, plucking the fruit from the tree, taking one bite, and then throwing the rest in the ditch. You see, besides being vicious and cruel and poisoning her parents, she was also wasteful with food, which is almost worse, don’t you think? She made quite a picture, thundering through the countryside on her mad red mare. She had hair the color of a crow’s wing, and lips the color of blood, and her skin was so pale, so white, it was like a layer of chalk upon her flesh, or of mason’s paste, it was that flat and thick. They called her Snow White.

Everyone knew, or thought, or guessed, that Snow White would be queen one day, as soon as she got around to poisoning Daffodil and getting her out of the picture. It was only a matter of time.

Now the frightened queen had a magic mirror, which would answer truthfully any question put to it. She had the nervous habit of asking the mirror thus:

“Mirror mirror, in my hand, who is the one true queen of the land?”

And the mirror, dutifully, maddeningly, inexorably, showed the queen a picture of the evil Snow White, looking as smug as a cat who has swallowed a horse. Licking her blood-red lips, smoothing her crow-black hair, glowering behind her pasty skin. Daffodil knew that she and the kingdom were both certainly in for it, if Snow White were to become queen. One day, it all got to be too much for Daffodil to consider. She called up the king’s army, set them onto the evil princess, and had her thrown down the mountain and banished from the castle forever. I will tell you that the effort of so much logical behavior took so much out of her, she had to lie down on a pillow for the rest of the afternoon.

Snow White plummeted down the mountain, crashing against rocks, scraping down branches, hurtling over cliffs, and all the while she was cursing, cursing the laziness which had made her postpone Daffodil’s poisoning, cursing the fact that the castle was so ridiculously high up the mountain, and also swearing vengeance on the queen. When she got down to the bottom, she was quite perfectly dead except for her one little snow white finger, which was still alive. She lay there for the rest of the day, broken over a rock, waiting.

That night, when the sun went down, the trolls who lived under the mountain and mined it for coal came out to hunt for food. When they found this plump young human lying practically on their doorstep, they jumped for joy and started discussing sauces. However, as they got near enough to swoop her up, the one finger still alive stood up and shook its fierce little head, demanding that they stand back. The trolls were so spooked by the living finger that they felt sure Snow White must be a powerful witch, who shouldn’t be trifled with. So they took her back to their troll hole and nursed her back to health. As Snow White regained her former strength, she became fixated on regaining her former position in the kingdom as well. Irritated with the way the royal army had made such short work of her, she began to train the trolls to fight.

Meanwhile, back at the castle, Daffodil had got up the courage to check the mirror again. “Mirror Mirror in my hand, who is the one true queen of the land!” Guess whose picture she saw? You’re right. Still Snow White. No change. Meaning that, of course, Snow White was not dead. After asking around in the village, she ascertained that the trolls under the mountain had found a new, scary kind of witch to lead them. Being not as dumb as she was kind, she put two and two together.

Daffodil disguised herself as an old woman, and went to the king’s apple orchard to fill her basket with apples. Then she coated them with some of Snow White’s own poison, which she had carelessly left lying around in her dressing room, under some old socks. Thus prepared, she traveled down the mountain to the troll hole and knocked on the door. Snow White answered.

“Yes?” she asked haughtily. She was busy, teaching one of the trolls how to use a two handed sword.

“Please, ma’am,” said Daffodil, quaking with fear under her disguise, “Will you buy an apple, from the king’s orchard?”

“You must have stolen them, you old filth,” said Snow White, “I’ll have the whole basket, and give you no money for them. You’re lucky I don’t turn you in to the palace guard.”

Daffodil ducked her head, backing away, and made a run for it. Snow White slammed the door to the troll hole. Can you imagine what happened next? Do you think that bad little princess took a bite out of that stolen apple? I’ll tell you what she did – she took a bite out of three of them, yes, three apples with one bite each, and threw the rest in the corner! By the third one, she was quite poisoned, and had to lie down on the floor, paralyzed. Which means, unable to move. Except for, again, that darn little finger. There she waited for the trolls to come home.

The finger instructed the trolls to build a beautiful diamond coffin for her, lay her in it, dressed in her finest gown, and set it close to the main highway through the forest. The trolls, of course, being coal miners, had ready access to sheets of diamonds enough to build 10 coffins, if they wanted, but they built the one, loaded her into it, and set it out by the road. Then, being trolls, they went and ate a bunch of rabbits. Who knows what mad scheme was in her mind, but it doesn’t matter, because here’s what happened:

There she lay, stiff as a rock, her chalk-white skin like a death mask over her face, her glittering gown in brilliant waves around her, her red lips glowing like frozen rubies. And who do you think came down the road? Correct. A perfectly handsome, nice, caring, thrifty, clean, brave prince came thundering down the road on his milk-white steed, on his way to Daffodil’s castle. He had heard that the queen was quite alone now, and had always considered her very interesting, and thought the position of king might be open.

When he saw the diamond coffin of Snow White, he stopped in his tracks. You know, or you might not know yet, that bad people often have quite a fascinating attraction about them. This must have been what happened to the nice, kind prince. He must have been bewitched by her wildness, by her dark qualities, by her undeniable beauty. Or maybe it was the tiny little finger, still alive, calling him, speaking to him, instructing him on what to do. Lift your sword, bring it down, crash the diamond casket, and kiss the princess. Now you know, in this faraway land, diamonds aren’t that hard, right? I already told you they put butter on tacos, can you not imagine that diamonds might be easier to break than sugar candy? Well then. Even though the little birds were calling out their warnings, even though the very stream that ran beside the road shouted out for him to stop, he brought his sword down and the coffin exploded into a bazillion glittering jewels.

Up from the fray rose Snow White in all her dark and terrible glory. She whipped a small dagger out of her belt, called for her troll army, and began to battle with the prince. She would prevail, she would lay waste to him, and then she and her soldiers would march on the castle and bring down the simpering whipped cream queen. Except that, of course, she didn’t. The prince was victorious. With good old-fashioned valor and virtue, and the fact that trolls are really bad at weapons and she would have needed way way longer to make them competent with swords, he hacked through her and her minions, and left them behind on his way to the castle. Once there, he wowed Queen Daffodil with his awesome battle story, and she married him immediately. Later, they checked with the mirror. Who is the one true queen of the land? Only Queen Daffodil. And the kingdom rejoiced.

Now lest you think in your secret heart that Queen Daffodil was a bit too good, and Snow White might have made a more interesting Queen anyway, let me tell you that good Queen Daffodil, just to make sure things were good and settled, ate that bad little finger of Snow White's. And that's just about the most interesting thing I've ever heard in my life.

Would you like to print out this story? Try the print-friendly version! It's a PDF.

Would you like to read another story? Try
Johnny Appleseed!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Me, Benny, Confetti, Sadie, and Folkmanis Puppets


I am completely creeped out by the lady on the JC Penney ad who says, "Everything in my head, in your hands." It just presents an awful image. A gooey image.


Benny: Mom, what is confetti?
Me: Oh, you know, it's little torn up paper and stuff.
Benny: Yes, I know, but what is confetti for?
Me: It's for, well, it falls out of the ceiling. Or gets shot out of cannons. It makes things more festive. When something exciting happens.
Benny: Why does it fall out of ceilings?
(Pause. Why *does* it fall out of ceilings?)
Me: I think we better ask Dad what confetti is for. Maybe he has a good answer about that.
(At this point, I'm completely aghast that I have fallen back on Dad already, on a confetti question. I didn't even make it through eight years.)
Benny: I think I might have a good answer.
Me: Oh? What's that?
Benny: People like to catch things. Maybe it's exciting for people to try and catch confetti?
(And this seems like as plausible an answer as any, right?)
Me: That must be it.


Every year when we go down to South Carolina we visit a little town called McClellansville. In this little fishing village is an awesome screen-door-bangin' type of seafood restaurant that we like, and also a little cute store that has awesome, puppets by Folkmanis. Over the years we have collected several -- they are all beloved by my children. They love them as puppets but also as favorite stuffed animals.

Folkmanis puppets are the best puppets I have ever seen -- they move in very natural, realistic ways, and they just look -- real. Even the llama. They are magical and delightful. Good detail, sturdy, and each one comes with a little story on the tag. We have the rat, the cat, the jack rabbit, and of course the llama. Here is a picture of Sadie playing tea party with these puppets. I had to take about forty pictures of this charming little scene, but here is just one:

Okay, just one more, to show the puppets a little better:

Friday, September 14, 2007

Free Financial Comics and Cool Butterfly Migration Project

Two links for you, this weekend:

First, the Federal Reserve System has a catalog full of comics you can get for free, detailing money issues. There's even one called, "The Story of the Federal Reserve System" and one called... wait for it... keep your wig on... "The Story of Checks and Electronic Payments"!!!! Get over there and order 35 copies immediately! For free!

Second, here's a link to the Symbolic Butterfly Migration in Mexico. I can't explain it adequately, probably, but the basic idea is that you and your kids color butterflies, pack them into an envelope to go to Mexico along with the other real Monarch butterflies that make their trip down there in the fall. The symbolic butterflies are tended by school children in Mexico right next to the place where the real ones spend the winter, and then (since you include a return envelope) they send them back to you in the spring. Cool! The point is to build connections between children in North America, and also to include a small donation to help preserve the Monarch's territory in Mexico. We're probably going to do this, this week at Phi Bensa Zoe Academy.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Help Wanted: Coffee Creamer Job Opportunity!

Position: Coffee Creamer

Duties: You will be providing about 15 mm of liquid to the bottom to a coffee cup each day. After the coffee is poured in, you will wait on the counter all morning, and later be poured down the drain. Other duties may include joining yesterday's coffee in the microwave, waiting patiently in the microwave for several hours, and then being poured down the drain.

Requirements: All you have to do is make the coffee white. Really. You can taste like pig vomit -- doesn't matter. No one will ever drink you.

Benefits: There will be a lot of joy when you are brought home from the grocery store. Your employer may exclaim, "Look, honey. I remembered coffee creamer!" Also, you will enjoy several weeks of extended tenure in the fridge, even after you are empty, until your replacement is found.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Bookcrossing with Children: A Literary Adventure

Bookcrossing is a social and literary phenomenon, one of a new breed of hobbies, like geocaching, where new online technologies facilitate old-fashioned connections between people in real space. Have you ever found a book on a park bench, or in a used bookstore, and wondered who had left it there, who had read it before you did, what they thought of the book, what it meant to them? Now, with, you can find the answers to those question, and also register and release your own books so you can track their journeys.

The web site is free to join. Members register each book to receive a unique tracking number, which gets written inside the front cover with a note explaining about Bookcrossing, asking the finder to log on and journal his/her find. Then the Bookcrosser "releases" the book, either to a friend, or in an official Bookcrossing zone (in a coffee shop or bookstore typically) or in a wild release -- out in the world somewhere random. Each subsequent finder/reader can log on using the tracking number, to journal where he found the book, what he thought of it, and what he plans to do with it next. So, that's Bookcrossing.

So why do Bookcrossing with children?

1. It's fun.

Bookcrossing is an adventure. Let me give you an example. Yesterday we went out for a walk with the kids on their scooters and me with my bag of Bookcrossing books on my shoulder. We left books in trees, on people's yard ornaments, on newspaper boxes. The kids love to speculate on what places are best to leave books, who will find them, and when. It's like playing Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, without all the accompanying holiday commercialism. ;)

2. Books = Treasure

By treating a book as an exciting treat, like a pot of gold or a hidden jewel, you're drawing a connection between books and treasure, communicating to your child the value of literature, the joy of reading, without articulating it in words. Bookcrossing with your child telegraphs the belief that books are important and the idea that others out there in the world share that belief.

3. Rescuing Books

We get a lot of our Bookcrossing books by visiting local thrift stores, where paperbacks can be had for 25 or 50 cents, and children's books are often even cheaper. When they find a copy of a book that they love, we buy it and Bookcrossing it, and I also usually find copies of classics -- The Mayor of Casterbridge, Angela's Ashes, The Golden Bowl, Mrs. Dalloway -- I've found these all at thrift stores in very good shape. I love the vocabulary the Bookcrossing founder uses: "releasing" a book into the world implies that the story wants to live, stretch out, expand, find new readers. This is a concept the children can understand.

4. Copies are Copies

By registering and releasing copies of a book that you have in your permanent collection, you're showing your child that there are different editions, different versions, different copies of every story, and illuminating the fact that the story itself, the characters, plot, language, and idea, does not reside in any particular physical object. This is something that I found myself really grasping only when I had been Bookcrossing for a while. All my boxes, all my shelves of books do not really contain those beloved novels. They're just copies. They're all just copies. You can have your favorite copy, but there is a fluidity to any great text which has been reproduced many times, which lives simultaneously in all these versions. There's also a better appreciation for the rarity of limited editions, because you can put that limitation on the context of the larger world of books. Only 1500 copies of a small press run makes more sense when you realize how many "Age of Innocence"s there are floating around out there.

4. Connect with Community

Our local "Bookcrossing Zone" is located in a free book exchange shelf in an independent coffee shop down the street. Bookcrossing gives us a reason to go. We eat their ice cream, drink their Nutellla Lattes, switch out Bookcrossing books, and chat with other locals. Beyond this, Bookcrossing solidifies that strange, anonymous, but very visceral connection that you feel, reading someone's margin notes in a book you're enjoying. It's a way of reaching out, touching minds with the person who's going to pull that book out of the fork in the tree. Of course, when you're out Bookcrossing, there are also lots of chances to talk to other people about what you're doing, and meet their dogs.

5. It's Educational!

When you register a book on Bookcrossing, there's a space to include a review, which your child can write for the books he/she chooses to release. It's a book review with a purpose, because you're actually giving your opinion about the book to someone who may read it in the future. You can talk about not giving away the ending, you can talk about plot summary, you can talk about how to be critical without being harsh.

Another aspect of Bookcrossing, besides leaving books around, is finding books that others have left. If you want to go "hunting," you can check the web site (or receive email alerts) for books that have been released near you, and then you can go and look for them -- in parks, in malls, in hair salons, bookstores, coffee shops, and of course our favorite: trees.

Bookcrossing, like Geocaching, makes you look at the world in a different way, like you are able to see a secret map laid over the familiar landscape of your neighborhood. Kids who love adventure, who love books, who love treasure hunts, will love Bookcrossing. And if you sign up on the web site, send me a message! I'm "lostcheerio" and I'd love to connect.

Read and Release at

Monday, September 10, 2007

Busy Body Books and Barbies

Last week, I won a prize over at Bloggy Giveaways. The lovely and entrepreneurial Joan from Busy Body Books sent me an awesome organizer pad which goes on the fridge:

The fridge pad has a magnet on the back to hold it on, and the pages tear off a gummy spine, like notebook pages. The pages are the right size to file when you're done with them, if you're so inclined, and the magic innovative quality of this particular organizer is that each day is divided into columns, not times. So if you want to keep track of members of your family separately, or keep track of separate projects, or workouts, or whatever, in their own columns, you can. Very interesting. So, I'm using mine! Thank you Busy Body Books and Bloggy Giveaways! Lovely!

In other news, here's our girlygirl school moment of the day:

Sadie is teaching her Barbies how to make letters. Too much. The Barbies are very recalcitrant students and need lots of demonstrations and persistently mistake D for B and also are rowdy in class. Isn't that just what you'd expect?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

We Made Oobleck: The Simplest Science Lesson Ever

Oobleck is cornstarch and water. Under pressure, it's a solid. Without pressure, it's a liquid. You can pour it and break it. You can yank on a spoon in a bowl full of Oobleck and pick up the whole bowl. Or you can pull gently on the spoon and let the Oobleck dribble off it like pudding. It's amazing. Everybody makes Oobleck at some point in their lives. Friday was our day for Oobleck, and we did not shy away from our destiny. We made Oobleck, and we made it pink. And orange. You know, we did not skimp on the orange.

Apparently, Oobleck makes you have strange facial expressions too. As well as being awesome.

The way you make Oobleck is simple. Cornstarch plus water, in about equal parts, maybe a little more cornstarch than water. Mix, get messy, be amazed. Whack it, dribble it, I guarantee you will be calling in your family from the other room. "Look at this stuff!" you will say. "You have to try this!" I was an Oobleck skeptic, I have to admit, but I am skeptical no more. Neither are the children. This was technically my preschool science lesson for the day, but when the second graders were done with their Latin, they had to come out and have a play with it:

For a proper explanation of Oobleck, including a thoughtful discussion of non-Newtonian fluids, try this web site: The Instructables. Their Oobleck page will also deliver the priceless gift of a YouTube movie showing people running across Oobleck. Then you could check out BARTHOLEMEW AND THE OOBLECK for the full Oobleck experience.

For related posts, click the science tag! Welcome to Little Blue School -- I hope you stick around and leave a comment so I can follow your back to your blog. :)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Homeschool Bowling

I am not a bowler. I do not, how you say in America, bowl. Part of it is that I don't do sports that are also games. Part of it is that I was scarred by a gruesome experience with a bowling shoe when I was small. Let's not talk about it. It'll only get me clawing at my throat and calling for someone to open a window, a door, break down a wall, anything. *pant pant*

There was one incident, when I was young and foolish. A few friends and I went to something called "Cozmic Bowl" at The Waveland in Chicago. The Waveland achieved a cosmic effect by turning on black lights and making the wall murals glow. Very intriguing. We all took on fake names and threw our balls wildly around. I think I told people my name was Bernice. Pronounced BER-niss. My memory of this night is sketchy, but I do recall getting an onion ring with a perfectly cold center, and making everyone feel it. There may have been disco balls. There may have been fog machines. Who knows?

Benny decided he wanted to go bowling last year. I don't know where he got the idea; perhaps from the Simpsons. The idea persisted but I resisted, mostly because I hadn't been bowling for over 20 years, hadn't ever been bowling in this town, and was afraid we'd run into a bowling alley full of people like me at 21, pretending to be Bernice and striking a pose after every throw.

Fortunately, some kind soul arranged a Homeschool Bowling League and on Thursday we went to it.

Sadie and Benny both got shoes. Here's Sadie checking to make sure her shoes still let her twirl her dress:

Benny instantly made a friend, and before I knew it the kids were both set up in a lane, and the balls were flying.

They had bumpers in the lanes to stop the balls from going into the gutters, and they also had this lovely ramp that allowed Sadie to lift her ball up to waist level and then shove it down the ramp, rather than just pushing it out into the lane and waiting 45 minutes for it to get to the other end.

Benny and Sadie absolutely adored bowling. I'm so grateful to the kind souls who organized this event, so that we can go hang out every week and Benny can get his bowl on in a safe, homeschooly environment. Hooray!

Here's Benny's blog about the subject.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Math Practice at Home: Book Review

I have been looking, for a while, for a really cool math workbook that's colorful and fun. So many of the ones I look at get very grayscale after kindergarten. As if 7 year olds do not enjoy multiplying funny dogs or figuring out how many red flags are flying on castle turrets.

This book I found in the free box at our local homeschooling store because the first third of it had been written in. I took it home and ripped out the first third of it, and we've been living it up with colorful illustrations, interesting story problems, and fun little games.

I think the reason it's so fun, and so devoid of those awful death-marches of practice problems, you know rows and rows of black and white text stretching on into the abyss, is because it's meant as a supplement, not a main lessons. It appears to be for school kids to get more practice, during the summer or on the weekends. So, in their brief moments of escape from the avalanche of dreary homework applied by the school, they're also supposed to do more work assigned by their parents? At least this "supplement" is really fun.

Here's an example of one of the pages. You have to measure the length of one side and then figure out the perimeter.

Highly recommended. It comes in different grade levels. We are doing the Grade 3.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Johnny Appleseed: My Special Tell-It-Aloud Version

Here's my version of "Johnny Appleseed," especially silly for telling out loud. After a few times through, your kids will be able to fill in lots of the lines. Remember to be super dramatic when you tell the story. After all, what's more dramatic than propagating apples?

An Apple Blossom

Once upon a time, before there was California, before there were movies or televisions or long distance phone calls for seven cents a minute, there was Pittsburgh. Nowadays Pittsburgh is a great big town but back then Pittsburgh was a little town and a little man lived in that town and his name was Johnny. He was a LITTLE man! He was NOT very big! But he loved to grow apple trees and pick the apples and eat them and sell them and make them into cider and spread them all around town. Did you know that apples grow on trees? Well they do!

Now the people of Pittsburgh and New York and Virginia and Boston and other places in the East end of America were itching and scritching and witching to go West. Why go west? Because they wanted to know what was there! And they wanted to live there, all out in the big open spaces, where they could plant their plants, milk their cows, and raise their children in a brand new place. Nobody knew what was out there yet, but the settlers wanted to find out. And Johnny knew that the settlers were going to need... APPLES! Where would they get those apples if they didn't have apple trees? Where would they get apple trees away way way out in the west where nobody ever heard of apples anyway!? Somebody had to get apples out west!

An Apple Tree Painting

So Johnny decided to become a pioneer. A pioneer was someone who went first, ahead of the settlers, who came later. A pioneer showed the way! A pioneer blazed the trail! A pioneer must be a big and strong and powerful man with giant muscles and huge feet! Wait a minute -- Johnny was a LITTLE man! He was NOT very big! But he loved to grow apple trees and pick the apples and eat them and sell them and spread them all around town. So he picked up a biiiiiig bag of apple seeds, and away he went out west.

Apples Ready to Pick!

Now a pioneer needs a lot of stuff. He needs a gun and a knife and a fishing pole, and a big warm coat, and he needs big tough boots, and a belt full of tools. He needs a hat and mittens and he needs pots to cook in, a sleeping bag to sleep on, and all KINDS of other things. But it's no problem for the great big pioneers, because they can carry all that stuff in their wagons! Or on their backs! Because they're soooo big and strong! But wait a minute -- Johnny was a LITTLE man! He was NOT very big! But he loved to grow apple trees and pick the apples and eat them and sell them and spread them all around town. So he chose veeeery carefully. He took a Bible and a bag of apple seeds, and that's it! He set off for the frontier with no shoes, no pot, and no sleeping bag. Just think!

Wherever he went, Johnny cut through the brush and the bracken and the bushes and planted apple trees in long straight rows. Then he built a fence around the trees and that was an apple orchard! Just about the time the sprouts were coming up from the seeds, along would come the settlers! And Johnny sold apple trees to the settlers, little tiny trees that the settlers could take to their brand new place and plant. Fruit trees make everything nice! All the settlers wanted to buy apple trees from Johnny. But being a settler is hard work, and the settlers didn't have very much money. How would they pay for the trees?

Rows of Apple Trees in an Orchard

One settler family came along and said, "Johnny Appleseed! We'd love to have some trees, but I can't pay you any money! What are we going to DO!?!" Johnny said, "Well, let me think. What DO you have?" The family had an extra cooking pot, so they gave it to Johnny, and they took their seedlings, and Johnny put it on his head. It was a hat AND a place to cook his soup! Perfect!

Another settler family came along and said, "Johnny Appleseed! We'd love to have some trees, but I can't pay you any money! What are we going to DO!?!" Johnny said, "Well, let me think. What DO you have?" The family had an extra pair of shoes, so they gave the shoes to Johnny, and they took their seedlings, and Johnny put the shoes on his feet. Now he could walk through the woods without getting cut by thorns! Perfect!

Another settler family came along and said, "Johnny Appleseed! We'd love to have some trees, but I can't pay you any money! What are we going to DO!?!" Johnny said, "Well, let me think. What DO you have?" The family was just about to build their house, and they said that Johnny could come and stay for a while. So they built their house right next to one of Johnny's orchards, and in return Johnny could stay with their family whenever he was close by.

Johnny Appleseed pioneered his way through the brand new territory with a pot on his head, shoes on his feet, and a bag of seeds at his side, planting trees, making friends, and bringing beautiful apple blossoms to the frontier. There are lots of stories about Johnny Appleseed -- why don't you make up one yourself?

Words to Learn: apple, sprout, seedling, seed, bloom, blossom, tree, frontier, pioneer, orchard, settlers.