Saturday, April 26, 2008

Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2 by Dr. Bernard Nebel

Learning science in kindergarten is a privilege that most public school students do not enjoy. Teachers have enough to do teaching them to read and do math and stand in line and answer to bells and wait their turn to speak and print their names properly and wait for paste and line up their crayons in a row. Ironically, the kids probably get more science education in preschool when they do themed unit weeks like weather week or ocean week than they do in the early elementary grades.

That's the kind of science little kids get, when they do get it: topical stuff. Let's learn about fish. Let's learn about plants. We'll learn about fish this week and plants next week, but we're not going to learn about what connects fish to plants or how the sun is connected to both fish and plants, because little kids don't typically get trusted with that kind of information. They aren't asked to see the big picture, draw lines between their thematic units, understand science as a whole, as a system of interconnected disciplines. A privileged first-grader who's getting a bigger-than-average helping of science is going to know the names of the planets and how bees make honey and that their eyes allow them to see, but that's where it stops. I can't honestly say that I've ever seen a whole-world approach to teaching science to young children until I saw Dr. Nebel's books.

His first book was a how-to manual addressing all aspects of elementary education, not just science. As an elementary level homeschool curriculum, it doesn't provide a box of workbooks, but teaches a philosophy of teaching and learning. It's called "Nebel's Elementary Education." Here's a summary, from the web site:

This single book (8 1/2 x 11, 450 pages) contains approaches and actual subject matter for delivering the entirety of a superior K-5 education. It describes not only WHAT to teach, but also HOW to teach it using hundreds of hands-on activities, and much more.

Most distinctive is the organization. Typical elementary curricula consist of an array of stand-alone units, which kids readily forget, confuse, and from which they never gain a full picture. In sharp contrast, Nebel lays out each subject (K-5) as a seamless continuum of lessons integrating different subjects along the way. Simultaneously, Nebel shows you how to guide your children along this pathway in a way that builds logically and systematically toward a broad, comprehensive, holistic understanding. The result is achievement of knowledge, skills, understanding, and problem-solving ability that will provide a solid foundation for all further learning.

The book is in total harmony with modern research concerning the most effective and efficient teaching techniques that bring children to become joyful, self-motivated learners. In short, this book may be considered a breakthrough in translating theory-what leads to the most effective and efficient learning-into a practical curriculum addressing all subjects.

His new book focuses just on science, and is called Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2. I can't think of a reason why five-year-olds cannot begin to learn and understand science in context, just like they can start learning history at this age, not that they get that in public school either. Dr. Nebel has sponsored the G.U.E.S.S. Science Fair and we're proud to have him on board. We get to give away four copies of his books as prizes at the fair. If you appreciate Dr. Nebel's contribution and want to help spread the love, feel free to snag these images, link to his site, at, or drop him an email to say thanks. Homeschoolers have a special opportunity to start their children on the right path in science education, and Dr. Nebel can help.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Mad Science: Science Classes, Enrichment, and Fun

Last week we went to a summer camp expo at Newcastle Elementary down in Virginia Beach. We were invited to come and play and dance and dress-up to support the promotion of the Art of Dance Princess Camp. Sadie wore a princess outfit, Benny wore his prince costume, and both kids played the violin and passed our brochures for Miss Monique. Cuteness:

The act that stole the show, however, was Mad Science. This showstopping pair of test-tube-clinkers drew the biggest crowd, wowed the most kids, and created the biggest dry-ice-related spectacle. They were bigger than the live rabbit, better than the peacock feathers -- I think they would have even outshined a free cupcake table. Benny was riveted:

I had never heard of Mad Science until I approached them as a sponsor for the G.U.E.S.S. Homeschool Science Fair. Before I met them, I wasn't sure what they did or why kids would be interested. After I saw their display and watched the children gather, it took about 30 seconds for me to start nodding my head -- I got it. All the children at the expo were gathered around, cheering for the experiments, wanting to get a "vapor shower" and hanging on every word of the pair in the lab coats.

Jen and Heath Marcus are funny, charming, and really knew their stuff. I can't imagine a child being immune to the draw of the oversized beakers, the interesting substances, and the spectacular visuals. So, wonder of wonders, joy of joys, I discovered this week that Mad Science is having a homeschool science class at the Kempsville Library. Of course, after investigating the schedule, I found it's during our ballet class, so we can't go! But you can!

To find out more about it, click here for the flier. This six week class is only $80 and meets on Thursdays from 10:30-11:30. If we weren't in ballet class, we would be there. We will definitely be checking out their offerings for fall and for chemistry summer camp and NASA summer camp. They also do science birthday parties.

Mad Science will be coming to our science fair to do a short demo of their show while the judges deliberate. I can't wait. I'm sure it will be a hoot.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Benny and the Bach Double

I will not downplay the significance of this video for me as a parent. It is supremely satisfying for me to play this song with him. It makes me burst with pride and love. Here's Benny on Violin 2 and me on Violin 1. This video was taken over a month ago -- by this time he has all but learned the Violin 1 part. It's in Book 5 so he hasn't technically been given it as a piece yet, but he's picked most of it up by ear.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Thank You DeHaans!

My precious friend Kristen sent us a package chock full of Angelina Ballerina and Star Wars -- in other words, a package full of unspeakable joy.

It even had a Yoda stamp, which made everyone very happy, especially Sadie. Benny also noticed that there were Rhys stamps!

Sadie was extremely pleased with the princess accoutrements and Angelina toys and SHEETS! So awesome.

Benny of course urgently needing to open the Star Wars pen game.


Darth Maul intimidating the rest of the writing utensils on the school table:

And I got a pot holder from Irene! It is hanging in a place of honor by my stove:


Tuesday, April 15, 2008



Sadie: Mom, are you a princess?
Me: No.
Sadie: Oh, are you just an owdinawy mom?
Me: Yes.
Sadie: (With utmost sympathy) I'm sowwy.


Me: Nobody loves me. Nobody cares. I'm all alone in the world and I'll probably die soon.
(This is my standard thing that I say to Dan when I want what I call "love and support" but what translates to "undivided attention." If I have any male readers, I will now give you a moment to celebrate the fact that you're not married to me.)
Dan: (standard response) Oh, honey, I love you.
Me: Am I PMS-ing?
Dan: (standard response) No, no.
Me: Because I feel like I just *had* PMS.
Dan: Me too, dear. Me too.


I was talking to Benny about priorities and how the amount of time we spend in the day doing something can be an indicator for how important it is in our lives, even though we may not realize it. So I asked him, what was the most important thing to him, and he said, "It's my family, mother. Spending time with you and Sadie and Dad. That's all I really care about." I had intended to turn this into a lesson about how reading a book does more for your brain than playing Lego Star Wars on the Playstation, but after that completely heartfelt and earnest response, delivered with this beautiful face of openness and urgency, I didn't have the heart. I told him I felt the same way. What eight-year-old boy says something like that!!! This child has no relationship with sarcasm. None. He is the most un-cynical person I know.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Book Exchange in Norfolk: A Great Place to Browse

Here are the kids outside Book Exchange. They love to go to this store because of the eclectic selection of children's books, the comfortable chairs to lounge in, and the fact that I always find something interesting to augment whatever we're studying.

Book Exchange is a used bookstore -- so you never know what you're going to find. On our last trip we found a British edition of Peter Rabbit with a sweet inscription and all the original formatting -- now much beloved and in a place of honor on Sadie's bedside table. I've found tons of used Usborne books there, lots of DK books, and just a very interesting mix on their homeschooling shelves.

Book Exchange is located at Wards Corner, in Norfolk, on the Northeast corner of the intersection, next to the Payless Shoes. Their policy, from their web site: "We sell all books for 50% off the retail price. VHS & CD's sell for $5 each or 3 for $12. DVD's sell for $9 each or 3 for $24. We give half this amount in trade credit for the items you bring in that we accept. We're always happy to look at what you want to trade at any time. Our trade policy is customer friendly. There are no hidden fees and you can use your credit toward the purchase of anything in the store at any time."

Above you'll see Book Exchange owner John Knight shaking hands with happy homeschooler Benny. :) Book Exchange is sponsoring the G.U.E.S.S. Homeschool Science Fair this year with prizes for the children. Our eternal gratitude to a very homeschool-friendly business!

A Big Fat Fight Over Unschooling

Wow, check out this post at The New Unschooler (via), where commenters rage and battle over whether the blogger needs to rethink or embrace unschooling. Fifty-four comments including phrases like these:

"Let the woman decide for herself what advice she is going to take instead of trying to convince her that she belongs in your clique instead of with us losers."

Whew!!! I love it. Does this kind of think happen all the time? Reminder to self: Unschoolers make good TV.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Jabberwocky on Lookybook

Here's a new site for previewing picture books: Lookybook.

G.U.E.S.S. Homeschool Science Fair

We mad scientist mommies have been working our test tubes off getting together the first annual Get Up and Explore Science Spectacular (G.U.E.S.S.) Homeschool Science Fair! If you'd like to learn more click here: Homeschool Science Fair. If you live in the Tidewater area and are a reader of this blog, I invite you to sign up. This is our "beta" year, so we're definitely working out the kinks, including online registration, generating sponsors, acquiring judges, and refining our guidelines. Next year we're planning to go even bigger, and hold the fair earlier in the year so that our winner can go on to the regional event in this area. If you'd like to be a part, please register by Monday, so we can finalize our list of entries. Updates coming soon!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Snotty Science

We had a great treat today during our weekly science club. Ben and Shira's Dad is a pathologist. He made a special trip home during work hours to teach the children how to make cultures. I haven't seen Marc in a teaching role before -- he was great! He has kind of a booming voice and a very energetic, expansive presence, and the kids *really* enjoyed learning about agars and the little wire thing that he fired and then cooled in water, and he took time with each of them to show them how to properly make the culture. Although some did not follow protocol. :D

They made cultures of their mouths or the insides of their noses. That is, spit or snot. So, given that there were children named Shira and Chloe, and then there were children named Ben, Benny, and Joshua... I will leave you to guess which ones chose which type of germs to culture.

Did you guess yet? Yes, the boys all chose snot and the girls both used the sterile swab to get a chaste and delicate spit sample. It's funny how they don't suprise you, you know? Heh. The most hilarious part of the experience was watching the boys digging for "really wet ones" as Marc was egging them on -- those looks of serious concentration all around the table as their fingers went waaaay up, and everyone's excitement when Benny announced he felt a cold coming on. Good germs! Whee!

Definitely good for a Dad to come in on this one and encourage the booger behavior. That way we moms could stand off to the side and make clucking noises while we took pictures. Shez got better pictures -- I await her blog on it. Secretly amused. Next week we will check in on how the kids' germs enjoyed the sheep's blood agar and oxygen.

UPDATE: I see that Shez has *already blogged* about this very important experience that we shared today, and she has included a picture of Benny digging away, up to the second knuckle, and me standing behind looking stern and disapproving. AS I SHOULD BE. *wink*

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Benny does Elvis at the "I Love Dance" Competition

Benny informed me this morning after taking one bite of sandwich that he will not be eating peanut butter anymore. According to his book of gross facts (thanks Grammy!) the manufacturers of peanut butter allow 220 bugs. Which, to Benny, seems like too many. Well, it would be, if it were 220 bugs per jar. And I could not convince him otherwise. So he ate oranges. He ate oranges all morning. It was an orange kind of day.

Across the street from the hotel downtown. His oranges. My coffee:

In the boys' dressing room, each child with a DS also had another child looking on. We were imagining what life was like in the girls' dressing room. Hair spray, lip gloss, little rhinestones being applied to the corners of the eyes, etc. In the boys' dressing room it was all about the video games.

Here's Benny posing in his Art of Dance Academy jacket next to the sign which was demanding that fun be had.

Also legislated at this contest: hooting and hollering, and video taping. We were informed that hooting and hollering was not appropriate, because we would not be hooting and hollering for Baryshnikov. My response was that if I were Baryshnikov's mother, I would definitely be hooting and hollering. But they told us if we were caught video taping or using a camera, points would be taken away from the children. So... no video.

His performance was fantastic. Everyone starting clapping along with "Hound Dog" and he winked and pointed at the female judges, Elvis-ing it up big time. He was adorable, entertaining, right on time with his tapping, and right on key with his singing. Amazing. He had no nerves, no hesitation, no mis-steps -- it was really fantastic, if I say so myself, AND I DO. The crowd was very into it -- of course it's a very fun, familiar song, and he was being very hilarious about it all.

Here's a shot of the awards ceremony:

Benny was the only child in the "Song and Dance" category in the 6-8 year old age group. So he picked up a trophy for showing up today, and that was nice. However, they also gave 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place for the high scoring acts across all categories in the 6-8 year old age group, and he placed second overall! That was truly shocking -- there were a dozen acts and he is such a beginner. I'm sure it was his funniness and all the silly gesturing and hamming he did, and also the fact that he was wearing such an AWESOME JACKET. Hehehe. So, his trophy for his category is in his left hand, his second place high score is in his right.

Here's a shot of the Art of Dance kids getting certificates from Miss Monique.

And a picture of Benny and Miss Monique. Not every teacher in the world could have gotten Benny lined up to perform this well today, and not ever person in the world would have wanted to try:

The competition was run by I Love Dance and it was very nicely put together, if a little circumspect for my taste. I prefer to yell and scream and stomp my feet an act foolish in support of little children doing performing arts. However, in all other aspects, it was a charming little gathering. I wish I could post a video of the performance -- I know that I will never forget it. Hilarious, darling, confident, and beautifully executed. Well done Benny!

Elvis Day

Keep us in your mind today as we do our first dance competition. Benny is singing and tap-dancing to Elvis' song "Hound Dog."

First we had to make the jacket. This presented a lot of new challenges to ME, as I am a stranger to menswear, and this kind of fabric was peculiar in shape and behavior.

At one point I believe I threatened Polly Pocket:

But at last, with Ahno's help, the jacket was finished:

This morning we ate a solid breakfast of whatever he wanted (he chose a PB&J) and we packed some oranges and waters, and his gold jacket and tap shoes, and we are off to the contest. I will fill you in on the details later. I am sure it will be an entertaining day!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

50 Day Challenge

BAM! It's time for the 50 day challenge. The 50 day challenge is officially a violin practice challenge -- practice every day for 50 days and receive laud and honor and magical prizes at the recital. TODAY IS DAY ONE. ARE YOU READY?

This year Benny and Sadie are BOTH doing the 50 day challenge, and Dan and I are also. Dan is doing 50 days of training on his bike, and I'm doing 50 days of diet, and my goal is to lose 20 pounds in 50 days. WOOT. Spare me the sanctimonious advice about how slow and steady and lifestyle change and diets don't whatever. This is the only way I've ever been able to lose weight -- like a zeppelin on fire. So, this is how it has to happen. Here's the terrible secret: The children *always* win the 50 day challenge (at least Benny always does -- this is Sadie's first try) and Dan *always* wins, and I *always* lose. I relentlessly lose, I lose before the first week is out, I lose spectacularly, but MAYBE THIS YEAR WILL BE DIFFERENT.