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Archive for the ‘music’ Category

On 5 Kids and a Dog, there’s a series called the ABCs of Homeschooling.  This week’s letter is “O.” 

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter O … is for Orchestra.

One of the elements of homeschooling for our family is music. Starting at the end of fourth grade, both Sophia and Olivia were/will be given an opportunity to choose an orchestral or band instrument to learn in addition to piano.

They both have a strong interest in orchestral music, so it looks like that is what area they’ll choose. Having an interest in the orchestra most likely stems from attending student performances at the Minnesota Orchestra.

Girls at Minnesota Orchestra
In March 2010, the girls and I attended “Carnival of the Animals”
at the Minnesota Orchestra. In the background,
the orchestra is warming up.
At the Carnival of Animals concert, there were a variety of instruments played – including the harp. This is an instrument that Sophia has become interested in (more information below).
Minnesota Orchestra
The harpist isn’t yet out for warming up,
but there are other musicians practicing before the performance.
Because of Olivia’s vision, we have been able to be seated in either the first or second box seats. This has been such a blessing.

Not only can Olivia see the stage, but the girls become even more engaged in the performance since they can see some of the musicians’ faces and expressions, and how they place the instruments.

Girls at the Minnesota Orchestra
Attending the Percussion Spectacular in October 2009.
The girls are 8 and 6 years old in this picture.
One of the most memorable pieces was played by musicians from the Minnesota Orchestra as well as youth performers. The youth walked down the aisles with their instruments – from the back of the concert hall to the stage. Together, the youth and adults played a piece. Seeing youth perform on stage was quite inspiring for the girls.
Concert at Orchestra Hall
Concert in December 2010 with youth and adult performers
playing together.
Another reason why we enjoy going to the Minnesota Orchestra is that they partner with other non-profit organizations to create multi-disciplinary and multi-art performances. In the December 2010 concert, huge puppets from Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater joined the orchestra on stage to act out one of the songs.  It was a dramatic and moving performance that the girls still vividly remember.
Concert at Orchestra Hall
Actors and musicians doing a piece from Hansel and Gretel.

Sophia and Olivia also have watched orchestral performances on television. One of the historical performances was done by Yo-Yo Ma at President Obama’s inauguration. 
The music was beautiful, and his enthusiasm and smile were contagious. What an inspiration! Both Sophia and Olivia were born in China, so it is wonderful when they can see positive, Chinese-American role models (female or male).
Yo-Yo Ma Playing at the Inauguration
Yo-Yo Ma playing at President Obama’s inauguration
on January 19, 2009.
The girls also have had opportunities to play instruments at different museums and parks which has been fun for them.
Olivia playing a xylophone
Olivia playing a xylophone at the Minnesota History Center.
What is interesting to see is how artists combine music and nature.  At the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum many years ago, there was a wonderful summer exhibit that did just that: combined art with nature.
Playing Acorns and Leaves
The girls with two of their friends playing
leaf and acorn bells.

Seeing handmade instruments created from everyday objects is another creative and inspiring way that the girls have learned about music. Again, at the Minnesota History Center, there was a display of a variety of percussion instruments made from items commonly found in one’s home.
Wrench Xylophone
Sophia playing a xylophone made from wrenches.

After being introduced to a variety of music and the orchestra, the girls each wanted to take piano lessons.
Olivia Playing the Piano
Olivia was interested in learning how to play the piano
long before she took lessons.
Part of learning how to play the piano is participating in the semi-annual concerts (one at Christmas and one at the end of the homeschool year).  Sophia performed at a nursing home for her first concert at Christmas time in December 2010; and her second concert in May 2011.
Sophia at Spring Recital
Sophia at her second concert in May 2011.
Once the girls reach the end of fourth grade, I am asking each one to pick an instrument that they want to learn how to play (in addition to the piano).  Sophia chose the harp in May 2011.

Practicing the Harp
Sophia practicing the harp.

Olivia is interested in the flute and piccolo (on the other end of the spectrum in terms of instrument size).  She still has two full schoolyears to decide if this is her true interest.
Olivia Behind the Strings
When Sophia stepped away from the harp for a moment,
Olivia ran her fingers along the strings.
Listening to the harp is relaxing and calming.
During the summer of fourth grade, Sophia began taking private lessons for harp. She will continue doing this through fifth grade, and then participate in student orchestras in sixth grade.
There are both homeschool and public school orchestras.  Both orchestras have concerts throughout the year which will give Sophia opportunities to perform publically. 
Until then, she shares the gift of music with her grandparents and family.
Playing Music for Grandparents
Above and below: Sophia performing for grandparents,
an uncle and aunt, and family.
Sophia Playing the Harp

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On 5 Kids and a Dog, there’s a series called the ABCs of Homeschooling.  This week’s letter is “M.” 

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter M…is for Math.

I remember sitting in a college calculus class and one of the students asked, “When are we ever going to use this in real life?”

The professor gave an answer that I wished some of my junior high and high school math teachers would have said when I was learning algebra and trigonometry, “Chances are, you’re never going to use this in your daily life. This level of math isn’t so much about using it in ‘real life.’  It is more about being persistent and disciplined, and finding the answer to a problem.” 

Math comes down to simple problem solving; and training one’s brain to be able to think through a variety of situations and get to the right answer or come to a conclusion. Math, to me, means essentially fostering a sense of determination and commitment to finish something you’ve started.

Because math goes beyond just learning numbers, functions, and concepts, I try to give Sophia and Olivia opportunities to learn math through a variety of methods: traditional/book learning, singing, learning tools, games, and real-life application.

TRADITIONAL/BOOK LEARNING

The girls learn core math concepts and facts by using their math books.  I use Rod & Staff books since both girls say they like them.  At the last homeschool conference I attended, I looked at a variety of math books. Some had a lot of color and impressive graphic design; some used the computer; and others used DVDs to teach math.  After looking at the variety of resources, I decided to stick with Rod & Staff.

Rod & Staff isn’t fancy – the text and images are all in black and white.  However, the majority of examples they use all tie into agriculture, farm animals, and cooking/baking – all things that are quite applicable to the girls’ life right now.

Sophia's Math Book
Sophia’s fourth grade math book. 

There seems to be a lot of repetition with some of the fundamental concepts and facts (e.g., addition and subtraction facts, skip counting by 2s/5s/10s, multiplication and division facts). However, knowing these facts by memory is critical to forthcoming math skills, so I think that’s valuable.

That being said, once the girls have “mastered” a skill, I don’t make them continue doing pages of the same thing. They can move onto the next skill. That’s one of the benefits of homeschooling – adapting the lessons to the each child’s skills and knowledge.

Olivia Doing Math with Shells
Olivia likes to use manipulatives to help her visualize
some of the math problems she’s doing.
For this lesson, she chose to use shells.

SINGING

The girls both enjoying singing and seem to retain information much better when they learn it by listening to and singing songs. 

Some of the CDs that the girls use for math.

Some of the CDs for math that they use include:

Shiller Math Songs – this was a CD that Olivia used a couple of years ago when using the Shiller math curriculum.  There are a variety of songs that had her moving about while listening to instructions on the CD.

Addition Songs by Kathy Troxel – this CD comes with a songbook/workbook, and has helped Olivia learn counting from 1 to 20 as well as all the addition facts from 1+1 to 9+9. There are sing-along songs as well as echo-style songs for self-testing.

Multiplication Songs by Kathy Troxel – this CD also comes with a songbook/workbook, and has helped Sophia learn all the multiplication tables 2 through 12.  There are sing-along songs as well as echo-style songs for self-testing.

  One Hundred Sheep by Roger Nichols – There are nine songs on this CD that teach counting by 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, etc. This skill is known as “skip counting” and is used in every math process from multiplication to algebra.  The songs use stories from the Gospels as a basis for the lyrics.  Both the girls use this CD.

Sophia singing along with the
One Hundred Sheep CD.

LEARNING TOOLS

Dice

Olivia playing with some of the math dice.

One of the ways to learn and/or review the basic facts is by using dice. 

Basic math equation that Olivia put together
using three different types of dice.

I have a variety of dice that the girls can use.  Some have the basic six dots representing numbers on them (white ones).  Others are special ones:

– Blue dice with the numbers 1-6 on them.
– Green dice with the numbers 7-12 on them.
– White dice with different symbols (e.g., plus, minus, times, divided by).
– Yellow dice with Roman numbers.
– Big red and orange dice with little white dice inside it. Both the dice have the traditional 1-6 dots on each side.

A variety of dice to use with math games.

Electronic Flash Cards

Learning Resources has a Minute Math Electronic Flash Cards in which the girls are presented with different facts (e.g., 2+9, 8×7) and need to type in the answer. The “game” is based on speed and accuracy. There is a voice that tells the player if she typed in the correct answer.

Sophia testing herself on multiplication facts.

Sophia likes this “game,” but Olivia finds it frustrating.  So, when Sophia needs/wants to do something different for math, she’ll use the Electronic Flash Cards.  

Learning Wrap-Ups

Both the girls learn best when there is a hands-on component to the lesson.  One of the things that I found at the last homeschool conference was a set of Learning Wrap-Ups. Each Wrap-Up focuses on a different process (e.g., addition, subtraction, multiplication, division). 

Olivia testing herself on addition facts.

To use them, the girls start with the first number on the left side and add/multiply it by the number in the middle of the key.  Then they find the answer on the right hand side and bring the yarn to the other side and wrap it around the backside before bringing it to the second number on the left side. They repeat the process until all the numbers and answers have been wrapped.

Olivia with the finished Wrap-Up.
The string was where it should be on the back,
so she got all the answers correct.

The Wrap-Up is self-checking on the back. The key has a raised pattern to show where the yarn should be. If the yarn matches the pattern, then all of the answers were done correctly.

GAMES

The girls have many games that they enjoy playing that have a math component to them:  Horse-opoly, Life, and Farm-opoly.

Farmopoly - Homeschool Math Lesson
The girls playing Farm-opoly.

In addition to purchased games, we’ve also made our own math games.  For Thanksgiving, we made a turkey racing game (see below) that involved counting and probability.  The girls had fun making and playing the game, and having it be a part of Thanksgiving activities in the future.

Turkey Racing Game
Homemade math game.

REAL LIFE APPLICATION

Bringing math into everyday activities provides the girls with a learning experience in a real-life setting, and helps enhance comprehension of what they are learning.

Counting by 5s and 10s
Sophia learning to skip count
by 5s and 10s using buttons.

An early math skill is sorting, although it is one that people use in their daily lives. One of the ways that sorting was incorporated into homeschooling is through stamp collecting.  The girls each have their own books for stamps, and have enjoyed sorting them into categories (e.g., horses, flowers, pandas, wild animals).

Olivia Working on Her Stamp Collection
Olivia sorting through stamps when she was very young. 
She still has and adds to her stamp collection.

Another way that the girls have used math is when they have sorted items to donate.  Each year we do Operation Christmas Child.  The girls enjoy choosing items to put in the boxes, and then dividing and sorting them at home. 

Olivia and Sophia Sorting Operation Christmas Child Items
The girls sorting items for Operation Christmas Child boxes.

Of course, each October the girls look forward to sorting candy they get when they go out for Halloween.  They will compare what each one got, and often will trade candy.

Olivia Sorting Halloween Candy
Olivia with candy she sorted.

Math also is used when studying science. 

Sophia Measuring the Jaw
Sophia measuring the length of a bone.

One of the easiest ways to tie the two subjects together has been when we have been able to measure something tangible (e.g., feathers, depth of a woodpecker hole in a tree, the circumference of a tree, the length of a bone).

Sophia Measuring Snow Depth
Sophia measuring the snow depth.

The girls enjoy cooking and baking.  Reading a recipe and then measuring the ingredients is something that I have involved them in well before they were doing their math books.

Making a Strawberry Smoothie
Sophia measuring and adding an ingredient
to make a fruit smoothie.

I’ve had a food scale for many years, and it seems like in the past few years that it has been used more frequently by the girls – whether they are making food in the kitchen or weighing an item for a science lesson.

Girls Putting Mushrooms on Scale
The girls were weighing some mushrooms they found
on the nature trail.
Sophia Measuring and Weighing  Rhubarb
The girls are cutting and measuring rhubarb
to make dessert.

Money is something that the girls have enjoyed learning about in math.  Rather than just using pictures in math books, the girls receive a bit of money for doing some chores.  They also receive money periodically as gifts from grandparents and relatives. 

Originally, I had the girls set up save-spend-give jars and a percentage of each amount they earned or was gifted was divided into the three jars in a 50-40-10 percent ratio (respectively).  Now, I have them do a 50-50 split – save half/spend half.  Of the spending money, some they use as donation money. 

The girls have their own wallets with money and gift cards, and have learned to interact with cashiers; and vendors at craft shows and farmer’s markets. They have to learn to use only the money they have available (no loans or borrowing money). This has taught them the value of budgeting and patience (especially if they need to save for a larger item). I’m hoping that they carry this into their adult life and save half of what they earn.

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Joy, sorrow, tears, lamentation, laughter —
to all these music gives voice,
but in such a way that we are
transported from the world of unrest
to a world of peace, and
see reality in a new way,
as if we were sitting by a mountain lake and
contemplating hills and woods and
clouds in the tranquil and fathomless water.
~ Albert Schweitzer

For the 23rd week of the 52 Weeks of Giving, the girls played music for their grandparents for their 47th wedding anniversary which is on June 13th.  The girls played music on the harp and piano before we took them out.  (After listening to music for a short time, we drove them to diferent areas of the city with which they were familiar and brought back lot of memories; went out to eat and enjoyed being outdoors for a meal; and visited Minnehaha Falls.)

Sophia playing music for her grandparents.
Olivia was holding music when Sophia
didn’t yet know it from memory.

As Albert Schweitzer noted above, music has many benefits.  After listening to Sophia play the harp, Nana (Sophia’s grandma) said that the music was “beautiful” and that it was “so relaxing to listen to.” She said she could listen to the music all day. 

In doing a quick search on the internet about the benefits of live harp music, some benefits were noted repeatedly on different sites.  Harp music can:

– lower blood pressure,
– decrease the heart rate, and
– increase the oxygenation levels.

Seniors, specifically, benefit greatly from harp music.  Listening to live harp music can:
– Bring about better awareness and concentration
– Enhance interest levels and social interaction
– Improve memory and recall
– Help create a better outlook on life and higher self-esteem
– Increase mobility and coordination
– Diminish pain and improve recovery time
– Reduce tension and promote relaxation

After Sophia was done playing, her grandma said her favorite part was when all the strings were played in a row (this is called a glissando).  So, Sophia brought over the harp to Nana and said, “Would you like to play it?” 

“I don’t know how to,” she said.

“Here…put your fingers here and then do this,” Sophia held her grandma’s fingers as she slid them down the strings.  After that, she continued playing the harp by pulling at some of the strings and moving her hands along the strings. 

“I could just listen to the harp all day long,” she said.

Then it was Papa’s turn (Sophia’s and Olivia’s grandfather).  “You want to try, Papa?”  Having Alzheimer’s Disease affected his ability to comprehend what she was asking and hoping for. 

“Dad, put your fingers on the strings here,” I said. He grabbed the longest string with his entire hand.  I loosened his grip and gently placed his fingers on the strings.  “Like this…” I showed him.

“Just gentle, Papa,” Sophia said as I pulled his fingers along the strings.  I let go of his fingers and he continued playing for a bit longer.

“I use to do this,” he said.  Knowing that he never played the harp, but he did play the piano and organ, I realized it had brought back memories of him playing an instrument when he was younger and before he had Alzheimer’s Disease.

For my parents (the girls’ grandparents…Papa and Nana), this short time with music touched several senses:  the sense of hearing, touch, and sight, with the first two having the greatest impact. 

This is something that the girls and I plan to continue doing – not each time we visit them, but frequently enough so that the benefits of listening to live music can be shared with them.

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This week we focused on the Outdoor Hour Challenge Spring Series #3: Spring Bird Study that is at the Handbook of Nature Study website.

Throughout this post, three different typefaces are used:
– Bold – are words from the Handbook of Nature Study website.
– Italics – are words from the book titled Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock.
– Regular – are my own words.

Inside Preparation Work:


As part of our spring nature study this week, we will prepare by learning about some familiar bird songs. Read about the “Songs of Birds” in the Handbook of Nature Study on pages 42 and 43.


The following exerpts are from the Handbook of Nature Study (the book) that I found interesting and shared with the girls:

In most cases only the male bird sings, but a few exceptions are recorded…the female rose-breasted grosbeak and cardinal grosbeak, which sing under some conditions.

Birds do most of their singing in the early morning and during the spring and early summer months.

Some ornithologists have developed complicated systems of recording bird songs as musical scores.  Wilson Flagg and F.S. Mathews are well-known names in this field.  Such a method has its limitations because many variations of bird songs cannot be indicated by the characters used in writing music.

The song of the warbling flycatcher.
A Year with the Birds by Wilson Flagg
The song of the green warbler.
A Year with the Birds by Wilson Flagg

The song of a bird written as music is not usually recognizable when played on a musical instrument.

Here is a link to a page that will help you learn about to listen to and then identify birds by their calls:  Songs and Calls.  This link has wonderful examples of bird songs divided by rhythm, pitch, tone, and repetition.

It also has a spectrogram which visually illustrates bird songs.  There were a few birds of particular interest because we have quite a few that visit our yard regularly: American goldfinch, house wren, rose-breasted grosbeak, black-capped chickadee, and cardinal.  As we listened to the spectrogram for each of these birds, we read the description about the songs:

“The American goldfinch’s long, varied song lets you see how lots of different sounds look when they’re translated into a spectrogram.”

Bird banding at Warner Nature Center
American goldfinch that was being banded
at a local nature center.
Sophia, Olivia, and I were able to watch how this was done.

“The cardinal’s song is a series of sweet, slurred whistles. Watch the curving lines on the graph as you listen to the pitch changing.”

Olivia thought it was “neat” and Sophia thought it was “interesting.”

Brainstorm a list of birds you know that live in your area. Pick two or three to research on the All About Birds website. Look up each bird and listen to their bird songs. Challenge your children to imitate the bird song and to listen for it when they go outside.

The girls came up with the following list of birds that they know live in our area:

– Goldfinish
– Cardinal
– Catbird
– Brown-headed cowbird
– Red-Winged Blackbird
– Pheasant
– Nuthatch
– Blue Jay
– House Finch
– Mourning Doves
– Sparrow
– Wren

Olivia picked these birds that she was interested in hearing their songs: brown-headed cowbird and red-winged blackbird.  Initially, she thought the cowbird sounded a lot like the red-winged blackbird.  Then we she heard the blackbird she was able to distinguish it from the cowbird since it sounded more “squeaky” and “high-pitched.”

Sophia picked the following birds that she wanted to listen to their songs: pheasant and house wren. We hear both of these birds regularly in the yard and pasture; and hear them on our nature walk for the Spring Bird Study.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Male
Male Rose-Breasted Grosbeak that was at
one of our feeders.  The grosbeaks have a beautiful song.

Outdoor Hour Time:


Spend your 10-15 minutes of outdoor time this week looking and listening for birds. You might try going out several times during the week at different times of day to listen and observe.


This will be a week you can work on a few minutes of quiet time while you are in your backyard or local park. Remind your children that if they are quiet even for one minute they might hear a bird or other animal. One minute can see like a lifetime for young ones so use your good judgment on this activity.

Sophia and Olivia making marks in their nature journals
every time they hear a bird song.

We spent time outside in our backyard since there is a variety of birds that regularly visit us each day.  We walked to and then stood in different locations (e.g., deck, by the apple tree, by the pine trees in the backyard, and several places on the nature trail). 

Olivia walking out on the nature trail
to listen to birds.

One of the things Olivia mentioned was that she heard so many birds singing all at the same time.  One would start and then another and another.  “I couldn’t tell the old birds from the new birds.”  It did sound like – a constant symphony of birds singing and calling to one another. 

This bird kept singing while
we were on the nature trail

As we listened to the birds, there were some that were easily recognizable and we knew their songs and calls:  red-winged blackbird, mourning dove, house wren, American goldfinch, and pheasant.  However, for the majority of the bird songs and calls we were hearing, we couldn’t identify which bird was making the sound.

It would be nice to have someone skilled in identifying bird songs to come here and listen to the birds with us and say, “Oh…that song is from the purple finch.  That one is from the blue jay.”

Follow-Up Activity:


Take a few minutes to follow-up on any interest that came from your outdoor time even if your children were interested in something other than birds.

We were noticing that a lot of milkweed is starting to grow now throughout the nature trail area and backyard.  I flipped over a milkweed leaf and saw a tiny yellow ball.  The girls and I are hoping that it is an egg.  So, we brought the leaf in and it is in the butterfly observation holder. 

We’re hoping that this is a monarch egg
that’s on the underside of a milkweed plant.
We also were happy with the gentle rain that fell the night/early morning before our nature walk.  Temperatures had reached over 100 degrees during the week, and there had been no rain recently.  Having rain – without the thunder/lightening and hail – was a welcome sight and sound.
Rain drops on one of the irises
in the morning.

Review the bird songs you learned and practiced during your preparation work. If you saw an unfamiliar bird, try to identify it using a field guide. Learn more about identifying birds here on this page: Bird Identification SkillsIf you do not have a field guide, you can try this online bird site to help identify birds: WhatBird? And this website for additional information as well: AllAboutBirds.

We tried to identify the bird above since it was pretty far away from us and we didn’t have binoculars with us.  It had a small crest on its head which seemed more pronounced when it sang.  When we came back indoors, Sophia looked at the Minnesota bird book and found one that looked similar to what we saw:  Tufted Titmouse.  The name means “Small Bird,” and comes from Scandinavian and Old English words.

However, looking at more pictures of this bird on the internet, led us to believe it may be another bird (perhaps the feathers on the bird’s head just moved so they looked like a crest when it sang).  Looking at the picture of the bird we saw, we noticed it had a spotted chest and was more brown in color.  Looking athe Minnesota bird book again, we found the female rose-breasted grosbeak which looks just like the one we saw.


Don’t forget to look up any birds you identify in the Handbook of Nature Study and see how Anna Botsford Comstock suggests you learn more about that particular bird by reading the narrative and the accompanying lesson.


Allow time for a nature journal entry.  You can print the pages from a coloring book, complete them, and then adhere them into your nature journal or you can use the black line drawings as a guide to sketching your bird directly onto your journal page.

After the walk, the girls worked a bit on their nature journals.  They wrote the names of some of the birds they heard and recognized and counted the number of songs they heard.  Sophia wrote a brief description of the walk and what the day was like (e.g., cool, cloudy).

Looking to the southwest from the nature trail.

Other Activities

I ordered a book from the library that should arrive soon.  It’s called The Music of Wild Birds: An Illustrated, Annotated, and Opinionated Guide to Fifty Birds and Their Songs by: F. Schuyler Mathews and illustrated by Judy Pelikan.  Mr. Mathews was referenced in the Handbook of Nature Study.

What intrigued me about this book is that the description said, “As Mathews points out, the music of wild birds is everywhere – in poems, children’s nursery songs, as well as in the works of the great composers: the Black-billed Cuckoo’s call appears near the close of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony; the Nashville Warbler’s song is found in the opening bars of Rossini’s Carovale, and the Meadowlark’s song is remarkably like the first two bars of Alfredo’s song in La Traviata.

“He reveals how a bird’s character is reflected in its song: the Baltimore Oriole is a sharp-billed, sharp-witted character, and his remarks are as incisive and crisp as the toots of a steam whistle. And he reminds us of the words of our great poets – Wordsworth, Emerson, Sir Walter Scott – and their descriptions of the very same birds and their music.”

Black Capped Chickadee
A black-capped chickadee at the feeder.
We hear the chickadee singing almost every day.

Found this poem about a bird that’s commonly seen around here throughout the year: the black-capped chickadee.  It’s called The Snow-Bird’s Song Poem and it’s by F.C. Woodworth.  The girls both liked the poem…especially the part about the stockings, shoes, and little frock:

The ground was all covered with snow one day,
And two little sisters were busy at play,
When a snow-bird was sitting close by on a tree,
And merrily singing his chick-a-dee-dee,
Chick-a-dee-dee, chick-a-dee-dee,
And merrily singing his chick-a-dee-dee.
He had not been singing that tune very long,
Ere Emily heard him, so loud was his song;
“Oh, sister, look out of the window,” said she,
“Here’s a dear little bird singing chick-a-dee-dee.
Chick-a-dee-dee, chick-a-dee-dee,
Here’s a dear little bird singing chick-a-dee-dee.
“Oh, mother, do get him some stockings and shoes,
And a nice little frock, and a hat if you choose;
I wish he’d come into the parlor, and see
How warm we would make him, poor chick-a-dee-dee!
Chick-a-dee-dee, chick-a-dee-dee,
How warm we would make him, poor chick-a-dee-dee!”
“There is One, my dear child, though I cannot tell who,
Has clothed me already, and warm enough too.
Good morning! Oh, who are so happy as we?”
And away he went singing his chick-a-dee-dee.
Chick-a-dee-dee, chick-a-dee-dee,
And away he went singing his chick-a-dee-dee.

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On 5 Kids and a Dog, there’s a series called the ABCs of Homeschooling.  This week’s letter is “I.” 

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter I ….is for Investigation. 
When I think of homeschooling, a lot of what the girls and I do relates to investigation.  Every day there are many ways to learn through investigation.  Below are some pictures of how the girls learn by investigating.
Investigating the Environment
Girls Playing in the Pond
Sophia and Olivia exploring the pond.
The  girls enjoy exploring the pond, pastures, and nature trail on an almost daily basis.  Seeing a variety of birds, toads, and frogs – sometimes ones we’ve never seen before – leads us to identification guides to help us figure out what we’ve seen. 
We use the Handbook of Nature Study (both the book as well as the blog that offers Outdoor Hour Challenges) which has been a highlight of learning about the environment.
Investigating New Ideas through Reading
Nice and Comfortable Doing Homeschooling
Reading outdoors in the early fall.
A key part of homeschooling is reading, and the main curriculum that I use (Sonlight) offers a wealth of high quality, “living” books that cover history, geography, literature/reading, and science.  We make at least one trip to the library per week, sometimes as often as two or three times, to check out new books as well as books on CD. 
Reading aloud, listening to audio books, and reading independently happens on a daily basis.
Investigating Wildlife and Anatomy

Sophia Exploring a Jaw with Teeth
Sophia examining parts of a skull
using a disposable fork and ruler
(having more “scientific” equipment would be nice).
Living in the country provides many opportunities to discover living wildlife – eagles, hawks, foxes, minks, deer, pheasants, and owls.  By traveling to different parts of the state and country, we also have seen birds and wildlife that we normally would not see here which is exciting.
We also have seen plenty of wildlife that no longer is living.  Going on walks with the dogs has provided close-up views with some animals that walked too close to the road. 
Sometimes, after winter, an animal’s bones remain in the ditch.  Although this is kind of gross, I have used plastic bags to pick up the bones and lots of bleach to clean them.  In that way, the girls have been able to learn about the anatomy of different animals (like a coyote, for example) – something they would, at best, only be able to read about if they didn’t live where they do.
Investigating the World Through Geography Lessons and Travel

Olivia Balancing on a Rock
Olivia balancing on a rock in
Grand Marais, Minnesota.
A major part of homeschooling is learning about the world.  We are wrapping up a multi-year ABC journey around the world where the girls learned about a different country for each letter of the alphabet (with the exception of “X” since there is no country that begins with that letter).  Starting this fall, we will be starting with a multi-year study about each of the 50 states which we’re very excited to do! 
Traveling – within the state, throughout the country, and to foreign countries – plays an important part in homeschooling.  Learning about different cultures and ways of life; different types of land; and food all help the girls appreciate the world they live in.
Investigating Math and its Connection to the Natural World
Measuring a Worm
Sophia measuring the length of a worm.
Learning math facts is one thing…but when the girls can apply math skills that they’ve learned to real life, the facts and skills make even more sense.  The girls enjoy measuring things – for example, how long something is (like the worm shown above), the distance between an animal’s tracks, or how deep a woodpecker’s hole in the tree is (see the photo below). 
Measuring Depth of Woodpecker Hole
Sophia measuring the depth of a hole
made by a woodpecker.

Investigating Science and How Things Work

Learning about Switches
Learning about electricity and circuits;
and getting a lightbulb to work.
Both the girls enjoy science and doing experiments.  When I was in elementary school, I don’t remember doing many science experiments.  In junior high, I recall dissection lessons (worm and frog) and using bunsen burners.  In senior high, there were limited experiments as well. 
It’s too bad because the highlights for science for the girls (and me) have been the hands-on experiments we’ve done which have enhanced the lessons and reading materials.  For topics that were a bit more challenging (e.g., electricity), doing the experiments made all the difference for the girls in terms of comprehension and retention.
Investigating History and Cultures

The Girls and a Mummy
Sophia and Olivia taking a look at a mummy
when studying about Egyptian history and culture.
From the start of homeschooling the girls when they were Kindergarten, history has been a fascinating subject for them.  A few years ago, we read the entire American Girl series and Little House series (both which focus on American History).  When we began using the Sonlight curriculum, the girls were introduced to world history. 
Sophia has moved onto learning about American History at a much deeper and broader level than she did when she was younger.  She will continue with American History next year before learning more about ancient cultures and world history.
We covered some of the ancient cultures when the girls were much younger.  Learning about Egypt and the ancient Egyptians was very interesting for us all.
Investigating Music and Creative Expression

Wrench Xylophone
Sophia playing a wrench xylophone
at the Minnesota History Center.
Music has played a central part of homeschooling.  In the early years, music was focused on listening to CDs of various types of music by a variety of artists.  The girls also enjoyed playing child-size percussion instruments at home, and large-scale instruments or unique instruments (like the wrench xylophone pictured above) in public.
Currently, the girls are both taking piano lessons, and Sophia is starting to learn to play the harp.  Olivia wants to play the guitar or the piccolo (though she has to learn how to play the flute first).  In addition to playing instruments, the girls also sing in a children’s choir and perform at least once a month during the school year.
Olivia Making a Handprint Christmas Tree
Olivia painting a tree with a paintbrush
and her handprints.

Creative expression is also done through painting, drawing, coloring, handiwork, pottery, ceramics, and sewing.  Having ways to express oneself through the arts is as critical of a component to homeschooling for us, as is any core subject (e.g., math, reading, science). 

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In my life this week….

The girls and I finished planting the flower garden in the backyard.  The vegetable garden is doing well and all the vegetable seeds and onion sets are now up and a few inches tall.

I’ve been helping my Mom and Dad both by helping at their home as well as making lots of phone calls for my dad’s medical issues and Alzheimer’s Disease-related challenges.  Updated my Dad’s CaringBridge site so family, friends, and others struggling with the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease know what’s happening.

Have been taking Olivia to special ed at the local school to help with reading (she has a couple of learning disabilities that affect how she can process sounds and words) and speech.  She enjoys going there, and has made some new friends both in special ed as well as in the second grade classroom where she spends about 45 minutes doing various activity centers with other students.

Worked on a couple of orders for Harvest Moon by Hand.  Made some more window stars to give as gifts.  Made one just like this star that I did during the winter: 

Purple and Blue Star
Window star in a pattern I created.

My favorite thing this week was…

Listening to harp music in the home.  Sophia is learning to play the harp, and her teacher assigned her a piece called “The Purple Bamboo.”  It’s a pretty piece with glissandos.

She asked me to help with the piece since there are a couple sections she wants to make sure she’s playing correctly.  I told her that I never learned how to play the harp so I’m not the best person to ask.  “It’s okay…you know how to play the piano.  You’ll know how to help me.” 

I need to remember how much confidence she has in me now as a ten year old…especially when she’s a teenager and may see things a different way.

Places I’m going…

No major trips are scheduled for the upcoming week.  The girls have piano lessons about 45 minutes from here on Thursday, so I’m going to look at places that are near there that may be good for a field trip.  On Tuesday, Sophia has harp lessons about 40 minutes from here.  There are a few places along the way (including a county park) that would be nice to visit.

Things I’m working on…

Outside, I’m trying to finish planting one more vegetable garden, and then try to work on several smaller flower gardens.  The goal is to have everything done by June 27th when the girls’ 4-H club comes for a visit.

I need to rent a log splitter and chipper to get six trees that were sawed down out of the pastures.  The trees were either damaged by insects (ash borer), lightening, or wind.  I’ve never used either of these pieces of equipment, so it will be interesting to see how that goes.

Both the girls are in 4-H, so I’m helping them with their first demonstrations as well as providing guidance with some of their projects.  This, along with doing projects for the county fair (in the open class division), is a major focus of the summer.  It gives the girls opportunities to learn about new subjects that are different than what they learn during the “formal” school year (September-May).  The focus during June-August is learning new skills and doing activities that they may not have time to do during the balance of the year.

Books I’m reading…

I’m reading Calico Bush to Sophia. It won a Newberry Medal and is a book that we’re both enjoying.  Olivia listened to it for a bit, but it didn’t interest her as much as some of the other books I’ve read to the girls. 

During the upcoming year, one of my homeschooling goals for the girls is to read a significant number of Newberry Medal winning books to them, with the eventual goal of reading all the books.  We also are going to read all the Caldecott books (we’ve read over 30 so far). 

A quote, a video, a link, or picture to share…

I’ve been enjoying the flowers this year, and am so happy to see some of the perennials already blooming.  The irises just started blooming this week.  The girls and I transplanted them last year and they didn’t bloom.  I was worried that they wouldn’t fare well moving from a shade to sunny garden.  This year, there are many blooms…all beautiful shades of purple (one of my favorite colors).

Here’s a flower from one of the big containers that I helped my dad plant in May.  I think it’s such a pretty flower.

Yellow Flower

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On 5 Kids and a Dog, there’s a series called the ABCs of Homeschooling.  5 Kids and a Dog explains:

The word “homeschooling” can cover so many things. From teaching and learning, to home skills and life skills, and everything in between. Homeschool families are very busy people! It’s not about staying home, although we try to do that so we get our school work done, but it’s about raising well-rounded kids who grow into well-rounded adults. It means phonics lessons and sports and music and languages and climbing trees and jumping in puddles.


Since we can talk about everything from the Alphabet to Zoology, The ABC’s of Homeschooling was born. Please join in each week as we cover a new letter, and link up together to go through the ABC’s!

Since I just found out about the series, I’m grouping the first eight weeks together.  Here’s what each letter of the alphabet so far looks like with our homeschool:

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter A ….is for Animals.  Having two dogs, five cats, a pony, and miniature horse provide lots of opportunities to learn about animals. The girls not only can learn about their similarities and differences, but also take responsibility for their daily needs and health care.

Meeting Gretel on Pick Up Day
Sophia and Olivia ready to take Gretel home on her adoption day. 
Gretel is about 3 months old in this picture.

We also take field trips to extend learning about animals we have as well as ones that we have read about in books.

Girls by a Clydesdale Baby and Adult
The girls by a foal and adult Clysdale horse.
The foal is taller than Olivia’s miniature horse.
Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter B

….is for Butterflies. The girls have raised butterflies for several years now by finding monarch caterpillars in the backyard and pastures.  They feed them indoors and then watch the transformation process.  At the end, they release the butterflies. 

Girls in Awe as Monarch Flies Away
The clarity of this picture isn’t great,
but the expressions on the girls’ faces show the
amazement and awe they felt when they saw the butterfly
fly right in front of them.

In the fall, the girls spread milkweed seeds throughout the farm so the monarchs that return in the spring and summer have food to eat.

Floating Milkweed
Sophia spreading milkweed seeds in the south pasture.
The wind is carrying the seeds off to new locations.

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter C …. is for China.  Both the girls were born in China.  Sophia was adopted at 11 months old, and Olivia was adopted at 10 months old.  Their birthdays and adoption days are celebrated by integrating Chinese customs, food, and gifts into these special days.

Girls Looking at Chinese Items
Sophia showing some of the items she has
that are from China to other homeschoolers.

This past year, we celebrated Chinese New Year by making Nian-Gao – Chinese New Year Cake. The recipe was in the back of the book The Runaway Rice Cake which I read to the girls prior to the cake-making activity.

Pouring Oil in Bowl
The girls making Nian-Gao for
Chinese New Year.

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter D … is for Dance. Each of the girls took dance lessons through the Minnesota Dance Theater when they were younger.  Although this isn’t something that they’ve chosen to pursue, they enjoyed dancing at the time. 

Homeschooling gives the girls an opportunity to be exposed to a variety of different subjects which they can choose to learn about in depth…or simply be content with learning a bit about the subject/activity and moving on to learn something else.

Sophia during the performance
Sophia at the dance recital at Minnesota Dance Theater
at the end of a dance camp.
Olivia Spinning in Costume
The girls enjoy dancing to music at home.
Olivia often will dance to piano music that Sophia or I play.
Lion Dance with 2 Lions
The girls watched a Chinese Lion Dance
at a summer festival. 
It was the highlight of the day for them.

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter E …is for Experiments.  The girls both enjoy science, particularly when there is an experiment or hands-on activity that relates to the subject they are learning. 

Olivia Learning About Vocal Cords
Olivia learning about vocal cords.
Volcano
Sophia learning about volcanoes.
Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter F

…is for Field Trips. An important part of homeschooling is being away from home and learning at different locations throughout the local area or even short day/multi-day trips. 

The girls both enjoy seeing and interacting with animals.  One summer, the Minnesota Zoo had a special African animal exhibit.  There was an opportunity to feed the giraffes.  It is a memory that is vividly etched in both girls’ memories.

Olivia Feeding Giraffe
Olivia feeding a giraffe.

We also regularly attend the Minnesota Orchestra’s student performances that are held throughout the school year. 

Girls at the Minnesota Orchestra
Sophia and Olivia at the Minnesota Orchestra.

We have been able to take some multi-day trips during the past few years thanks to my parents.  In exchange for driving them (since both no longer can drive), they have given the girls and I an opportunity to travel to places that have provided wonderful learning experiences.

Girls by Tulips
The girls by hundreds of tulips in Pella, Iowa.

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter G …is for Geography.  For several years, the girls have been doing an ABC journey around the world.  I picked a different country for them to learn about for each letter of the alphabet (with the exception of “X” which no country begins with…they learned about MeXico instead). 

Sophia in Kimono with Outstretched Arms
Sophia showing the back of a kimono.
The girls studying about Japan and enjoyed learning about the country.
The kimono is from my friend, Yoshiko, who lives in Osaka.

When we studied about Sweden, there were many local opportunities and historical sites which related to Swedish immigration and pioneers.  We used the Kirsten books (of the American Girl series) as a literature base, and supplementing it with hands-on activities in many different areas.

Olivia with Swedish Braided Bread She Made
Olivia learned to make braided bread;
and, in the process, learned how to braid.
She was proud how her bread turned out.

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter H … is for History. The curriculum I have been using for the past few years (Sonlight) has a wonderful history focus.  The “living books” (versus textbooks) that relate to history make the subject come alive, and have much more of a lasting impact on the girls. 

To supplement what we read, we also take field trips to museums and living history organizations. 

Obstacle Course at Fort Snelling
The girls pretending they are soldiers during WWII.
They are at a Homeschool Day event at  Fort Snelling.

The girls enjoy cooking, so sometimes history and cooking/home economics can be connected.

Making Homemade Peanut Butter
The girls making peanut butter after
learning about George Washington Carver.

Sophia with Fossil Sandwich
Sophia making a “fossil” sandwich
when she was learning about fossils.

We have read the entire American Girl series now which helped the girls learn about American history from the 1700s to 1970s.  After completing that series, we moved onto the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. 

Olivia took a class at the homeschool co-op that focused on the Little House series.  She was able to do her first play during the class.  Her role was “Christy Kennedy” in “On the Banks of Plum Creek” (a Laura Ingalls Wilder story).

The costume she’s wearing was made by a seamstress who I hired many years ago when I did a farm/art camp for kids. The seamstress created costumes for kids to wear that represented a variety of times in history (from the mid-1800s to 1970s).

Olivia Listening in Play
Olivia in her first play based on the book
“On the Banks of Plum Creek.”

ABCs of Homeschooling

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