Sunday, September 18, 2011

Detective Kid - Links for your own Little Sherlock

We listened to this audio story at The Friend, from January 2010. It's about a young detective who asks his mother to borrow a small mirror for his detective kit (he already has the hat, the flashlight, and the magnifying glass to look for clues, but he needs a mirror to see around corners). It slips out of his pocket and he kneels on it, accidentally breaking it. The story is about honesty and eventually he tells his mom the truth about how the mirror broke.

This story got Gilgamesh really excited about playing detective. We happen to have a magnifying glass, small children's flashlight, and cheap-o mirror for him to use. But today I realized I have no idea how to guide him in playing detective. And he needs a little guidance. He wants to play, but has no idea how to begin.

We're doing two things about this:

1. Looking up detective stories for children. 

2. Consulting the internet for home detective games:

TLC Detective Games for Kids - includes instructions for an invisible ink secret message game, periscope game, and suggests using literature to "solve" classic mysteries with a notebook, basically taking notes during a mystery.

Wiki How: How to Be a Good Detective - actually just some fun ideas for kids to get into the spirit, including wearing dark clothes and finding a fort, rallying their friends, etc.

Blue's Clues Ghost Hunt - is an online game for 4-6-year-olds. Not exactly what I had in mind, but might be fun.

PBS History Detectives Kids - a website with links to more free online games for kids, including How Old is This House and I-Spy with Magnifying Glass. And a printable detective kit.

Party Games - an exhaustive list of party games with instructions on how to play with friends! Some of these have a detective flair to them, like I-Spy and Mafia.

We'll probably end up doing treasure hunts until he's a little older. Many of the resources I found involve complicated logic tests.

We did buy The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (a kid's version) illustrated by Lucy Corvino. From reading this aloud together, he'll see the amazing deductions Holmes reaches that wow Watson all the time. :)

A note on reading aloud with a four-year-old and two-year-old: Just like I mentioned in an earlier post, children will always surprise you with what they learn when you think they aren't listening. You never know when they'll grasp onto something you're teaching. That's why repetition is so important. In reading aloud, I've already found that my wanderlusting preschooler rushes back to the couch to see the book when he hears an interesting visual described. He wants to see the picture, but what he's learning is that he can already see the picture of what I'm describing in his own mind. He's building his imagination each time I read aloud, without me having to do anything extra.

As he gets better at listening and forming these mental images, I'll make it more of a habit to ask him to narrate back to me what happened in the story, as suggested in The Well-trained Mind, the perfect segue into classic book reports. For now, I'm happy to see him running over to see if there's a picture to check against his own mental image.

Good luck with your own little detective adventures!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pocket Chart in Action

So it was a while ago that I bought this awesome Pocket Chart at Michaels. We've been winging it with our subjects in mind for some time now. The other night, I finally put times on the cards and ordered them according to our usual day's progression.

First thing in the morning, breakfast and family prayer before Daddy goes to work

8:00am Scriptures: Yesterday we read chapter 12 in the New Testament Stories for Children and today we read chapter 13. That's the story of Jesus' first miracle (water to wine) and the story of Jesus cleansing the temple, respectively.

I found some amazing pictures to print out and laminate for next time we go over this story. That's the great thing about preschool. I'm making resources I'll use with all my children.

8:30am Writing: We used to print out writing practice pages for Gilgamesh, but he also wrote down his own words. He prefers to do this because writing between the lines isn't as fun for him. :) We're working on that. On a tiny note card, he wrote "I love you too so much."

Writing transitions nicely into...

9:15am Art: Yesterday Gilgamesh made up his own art project of tracing his hands, counting his fingers, and coloring the palms orange. He showed me his own palm and said, "My hand is orange." Today, he colored a page full of letters, following the instructions to color the A's orange and all the other letters black (except we used purple because we couldn't find black).

10:00am Math: We did Candy Factory, which introduces the concept of places, like the hundreds place, the tens place, and the ones place. When you count up to 9 by ones (candy canes), and try to add one more, they'll tell you it doesn't fit in the bucket and then wrap all ten candy canes with a ribbon. Then they'll try to fit the bunch into the tens bucket, where it fits nicely. Once he got 9 bunches of ten in the tens bucket, a new bucket was rolled out: the HUNDREDS bucket! After that, Gilgamesh had a blast adding candy canes until he reached 999. When he added that last candy cane to the ones bucket, we watched the candy canes bunch up, move over, bunch up again, and finally all ten bunches of 100 danced around with a giant 1000 and confetti. A very fun intro to high numbers and places. After that, I made up a quick page of random numbers like 537, 421, 201, etc. so we could practice saying them aloud. He wanted to say "five, three, seven." We worked on saying "five hundred thirty seven." He didn't master this concept today because this was just an intro, but I'm very glad we found such a fun way to practice.

11:00am Lunch

11:30am Naps

3:30pm Music: Baby Loves Jazz, Ella the Elephant Scats Like That book/CD, dancing with instruments, singing along

4:00pm Reading, Science, Social Studies: Right now, our reading overlaps with social studies and science since Gilgamesh is so interested in his body books and most of our Sonlight books include great examples of social studies, fables, and other countries. But yesterday we read A Pocket Guide to Rocks & Minerals.

page 46 has Malachite, a stunning picture of a rough green, crystalline stone that looks like this when polished:

Gilgamesh saw this and immediately wanted it. He lost some interest when I told him we weren't buying it. :) But we did learn that malachite was used from antiquity to about 1800 as a crucial element in green paint. It's also been used quite a bit in the jewelry trade, and you can find malachite boxes that are very beautiful (and expensive). It was extracted from King Solomon's Mines for over three thousand years. It isn't used in green paint anymore, but still very popular in jewelry and metaphysical healing. It's found in Russia's Ural mountains, Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia, Mexico, Australia, England, France, Israel, and the USA.

Then we cracked open Presidents and Prophets: The Story of America's Presidents and the LDS Church.

Presidents & Prophets. The Story of America's Presidents and the LDS Church

We read about James Monroe, who was the president from the time the prophet Joseph Smith, Jr. was eleven years old until he was nineteen. James Monroe died one year after the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Later prophets touted his Monroe Doctrine as a crucial pillar of keeping the young nation of America free from Europe's interference and allowing the young Church of Jesus Christ to be organized and (largely) protected. Even though there were mob persecutions later on, and the next president wasn't interested in going against Missouri's execution order for all Mormons (because he'd lose the Missouri vote), the Church was allowed to continue out West in spite of persecution because of the principles of freedom of religion then unique to America.

This was a great beginning for such a book, and I'm looking forward to the rest of it. It offers a unique view of Church history, one from the White House. :)

We also read a few stories from the Lion Bedtime Story Book, one about a famine-stricken land saved by a clever mouse who finds a store of wheat in an underground cellar, and one about a tiger who gets stuck trying to trick the rabbit in his own hidey-hole. Gotta love those simple stories and fables with a moral!

In between the schedule and the last evening item on the pocket chart is our memory scripture:

Gilgamesh has that down pat, including the reference. It's awesome.

And the last item is Kinect with Daddy, in the event that Daddy gets home at a decent time before bedtime and the boys have eaten dinner. Evenings are crazy at our house. (I'm sure we're not the only ones.) Last night, he didn't get to do this because we went out to eat instead, which was plenty of exercise (you try holding hands with a four-year-old and two-year-old across a busy parking lot). Hee hee. 

So it was a great day yesterday and today we're doing okay, too. We're actually having a bit of an attitude problem, but it's getting better. We said a prayer to help Mommy to have patience, and the boys to be obedient, and it's definitely getting better. 

Gilgamesh just got out the vacuum cleaner (the big one) and asked if it was time to clean the house yet. So here we go! I'm off to help Gilgamesh clean the house. (Yesterday both boys fought over helping me load the dishwasher.)

I love my family. I'm grateful for the ability to teach them at home. And the pocket chart is awesome. 

The end.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

An Encouraging Week 9/6 - 9/14

My four-year-old is a genius

For me, personally, it's been a weird week. Just feeling ill, achy and low energy and having to force myself to get out of bed in the morning. My car accident injury is flaring up again, and I'm struggling. I know this too shall pass. But it's frustrating. I'd like to be on my A game all the time.

So why is the title of this blog post An Encouraging Week? Because my kids are so amazing. All children are amazing. It's been very encouraging to see how well they've learned with me putting out minimal effort. Not that I want to give up on my A game, obviously. But it's great to see that they learn even when I'm being the substitute teacher rather than the, ahem, shining example of an educator I usually am. *polishes nails* Hee hee.

So here are some of the things we did this week that weren't amazing, but worked nonetheless.

I discovered Baby Loves Jazz!!!

Ella Elephant Scats Like That: Baby Loves Jazz

 It was so reasonably priced on amazon, I ordered our first one, Ella the Elephant Scats Like That, right away. We got it in two days and started using it immediately. We've listened to it every day by popular request.

This is one of the real joys of being a parent: introducing your kids to something you love. In this case, jazz. Scat, in particular, makes me all kinds of happy. And a well-voiced female scat-singer makes this Baby Loves Jazz book/CD super quality.

At first when I put it in, Gilgamesh didn't want to sit down with the book and listen to the CD. He wanted to watch TV. Blah. But I insisted the CD would stay in and the TV off. Gilgamesh didn't sit with me, but once the music got going, Alastor, the two-year-old, started to dance. I love this about him. He just soaks up good music.

So Alastor starts dancing, and I get the idea of giving him some percussion instruments (bells, tambourine, drum, xylophone, maracas). I hand him one and one to Gilgamesh, keeping one for myself.

And we dance. Two times through the CD.

When Daddy got home, we listened to it again. My kids learned about jazz, scat, and the jazz instruments showcased in the book: drums, bass, trumpet, piano, and voice. On the last page, all the instruments play together. The whole thing is kid-friendly and high quality, with songs like "Peanut Butter and Jelly" and "Do Your Ears Hang Low." I even heard Gilgamesh singing "Peanut Butter and Jelly (That's What I Put in My Belly)" randomly yesterday while he colored. I highly recommend this book/CD, and hope to review the entire collection as we acquire it. If I could find a similar program for classical music, I'd be thrilled. Please put your recommendations in the comments. :)

Another thing we repeated this week was the digestive system section of The Usborne Flip Flap Body Book from Sonlight's curriculum.

Flip Flap Body Book (Flip Flaps)

At the end of each page is a flap that reveals yet more colorful illustrations and simple explanations for body parts and systems. Gilgamesh has gotten this book off the shelf no less than three times this week and insisted upon reading it with me. On Sunday, he drew a picture of his body with the "food tube" going all the way from his mouth to the toilet. :) How's that for demonstrating mastery? There's even a little quiz at the end of each section (very easy, suitable for kindergarten age kids). It's more of a review, really. Since he also has a Cat-in-the-Hat-themed body book (which I reviewed here), he got that one out and compared. And there's a third Body Book, which we call the Scary Body Book, because the cover has a hologram on the front that changes between a smiling x-ray of a skeleton and a brain-and-muscle-covered face with eyeballs. Very accurate, and thus, very scary. The actual title of this book is Encyclopedia of the Human Body: Begin to discover the human body.

Apparently it's a DK Eyewitness book, from that collection, though it doesn't say that anywhere on the cover. I recommend it, though it's not targeted at Gilgamesh's age group. It's significantly more complex than the Flip Flap Body Book, which you would expect from anything labeled Encyclopedia. The only reason, truthfully, that I bought this book was because it was $6.99 at TJ Maxx near the checkout and I'm always hunting for great deals on books. But, as often happens with my TJ Maxx impulse book buys, I've been very impressed by the quality of this tome. On page 113, the digestive section begins in full color, photographs and illustrated diagrams, scientific medical terms for body parts, and fun details, like how much an elephant eats and for how long (20 hours A DAY!!!) - very compelling stuff. (That's almost as many hours as a koala sleeps! Aren't you glad we aren't elephants or koalas! There would be no time for watching TV.)

So this week, we learned from all three body books with a focus on the digestive system. Like any kid, Gilgamesh is fascinated by his body, particularly the waste part. :) These types of resources capitalize on that
right from the beginning so he knows his body is interesting and complex (in a good way) and not something boring to be dreaded (anatomy class, biology class in high school and junior high respectively).

Gilgamesh has three working binders for preschool. Well, not exactly working binders. Two of them are working. The other is just a collection:

blue binder: best of his art
orange binder: Sonlight weekly instructor guides/schedules with applicable worksheet papers
black binder: printables, entire Listening and Writing Book printed out. The focus right now is on rhyming words, and hearing the beginning and ending sounds of things. He's also tracing and copying the letters, both capital and lower-case.

There's undoubtedly a more efficient way to keep track of what he's doing, and I hope to streamline it by the time he's five and a half, when we'll start actual Kindergarten curriculum. No worries, I'll tackle it.

For now, though, this system works. Gilgamesh knows when he wants to do something out of the orange binder (mostly read aloud assignments with a few papers for copying and move-around activities), and when he wants to do some papers from the black binder. Throughout this week, he'd request things when he wanted to do them.

I have a personal rule, even when I'm feeling ill. I never turn him down when he a) wants to read a book with me (unless it's a Leapfrog Tag Pen book b/c it's like watching somebody play a video game and really something he's mean to do independently) or b) when he asks specifically for printables. Usually, he'll ask for this by saying, "Can we print something?" He equates the printer with activities. :) Good thing, I guess.

Counting occurs as a regular course. I don't think we could get through a day without counting something. It's just too tempting for a little guy who knows how. Telling time is the same way. We talk about the clock and calendar every single day. More complex math, like addition and subtraction, is still an occasional thing, and something I hope to do more in his Kindergarten curriculum next year (most likely Saxon Math for Homeschoolers). For now, he's still learning the correct way to write a two and how it's different from a five. He does watch Math videos from Leapfrog and sing the songs, as well.

Writing happens naturally, too. I don't think I could keep Gilgamesh from writing. His little brother Alastor even gets in on the game, scribbling circles and hash marks on his page and saying the names of the letters he's pretending to write. Difference is, of course, that Gilgamesh actually is writing letters. In fact, he's become quite ambitious. Today, he wrote me a little story. It went like this:

Help the Dog said (originally written sed) yesterday (originally written yedray) to swim.
(All other words spelled correctly the first time.)

You can see what we're working on now: spelling, vocabulary, and sentence structure - all without a textbook. There's definite room for improvement, but, um, he's four! I'm pretty excited about this new interest in narrating and hope it translates into journaling in the near future. In fact, I already have a special diary (with Toy story people on the front) that locks with a key, and a giant toy story pen, that will be one of his back to school presents for Kindergarten. If he keeps improving and boldly experimenting at this rate, he'll be able to write simple records of his day in his diary within the year. I still have the journal I started (thanks, Mom) when I was six years old. The spellings are... creative. But the content is priceless.

So this is pretty much how we got through the past week. I kept track of some of it in his binders, and other things are just *gasp* stuff he learned without documenting it.

The closer we get to the day I actually have to file an affidavit with the state and start keeping transcripts, the more I (just slightly) panic. But I have a few previously reviewed library books I intend to look up as the time draws nearer that include everything you could ever need to know about homeschool transcripts. I know when these babies are done right, they help homeschoolers get into prestigious and competitive colleges (if that's what they want to do).

You're looking at the girl who wrote in her journal every single day her freshman year of high school. I can keep records. It's just a matter of - what else? - discipline.

How was your week? Learn anything life-changing?

More of our pics from the past week:

Gilgamesh doing his thing with the foam letters.  There's only one of each letter, so after this he got creative, substituting G for O, etc.

Alastor burned himself on the fire pit at the reunion. We didn't know this until the next morning because he was so cool about it (and it was dark). I swear there's a pain threshold disparity in this family. My boys are super tough. You can't see it, but he's actually pouting in this pic. Not because his burn hurts... because he doesn't want a bandaid.

Gilgamesh and I had a nature expedition in the place we call The Garden. He took all the pictures.

Except for this one.

Jasmine: my favorite flowering bush (or vine)

A spider web in the fern

There were many more nature pics. It was a great little intro to nature photography/digital photography. :)

Alastor hiding under the chair doily Aunt Aubrey crocheted.
Hiding and playing "Get me" (which is suspiciously similar to tag) are his favorite things right now.

My knights all together before bed

Gilgamesh's idea of a drive-in theatre. His words, not mine: "They're watching a Dora movie."

Gilgamesh took this picture, too. This is where I sit while the boys play independently, and Gilgamesh brings me his papers to check or to show off, as the case may be. Notice the stacks of books everywhere...

*happy sigh* I have a feeling next week will be even better.

Children are amazing

Photo from

Children are amazing. If anybody out there is having doubts about a kid's capacity to learn (and to love it), please research homeschooling. There are thousands of blogs out there (much better equipped than mine) to demonstrate how it's done. These are the resources that gave me both the hope and courage to teach my own kids the things they need and want to know.


I saw smiling kids holding up homemade projects they did almost entirely by themselves and realized with admiration that those were genuine smiles and complex projects that taught them a ton. I remembered my own first projects, including a cut and pasted map of the world where instead of memorizing the country names and positions, I was admonished by my fifth grade social studies teacher to make sure I used the side of my colored pencil and ONLY COLOR IN ONE DIRECTION. Yes, she yelled that last bit. Presentation was more important to her than social studies - than our actual learning. Seeing these other families thrive in their homeschool efforts buoyed me up and gave me hope that my children could do a similar map exercise (but maybe with food or clay) and really learn. Without anybody criticizing their burgeoning art skills.


I saw difficult times. Parenting is not a picnic. Well, homeschooling is parenting on steroids. There are golden, euphoric moments when you think, "I am the luckiest person alive." And there are those times when the proverbial poop hits the carpet (or maybe not so proverbial) and you think, "I am a horrible parent and my kids are little monsters." Reading the blogs of other families showed me the light and dark moments in their lives, and prepared me for the burn-out, the lazy tendencies we all have, and the stress of keeping all the balls in the air.

We're only in preschool, although at times Gilgamesh is doing Kindergarten grade stuff. I know we're just biting off the first layer of the jawbreaker, and I'm perfectly content to be in that position. Because I also know I'll just keep learning alongside them. We'll try methods or curricula that fail for us, and we'll get back up and try something else. We'll have days when it seems like nobody learned anything valuable.

But they are learning.

Today, Gilgamesh saw me playing with Alastor and his mini stone collection from Disneyland's Grizzly River Gift Shop. He got up from playing (basically abandoned the shiny technology) to investigate these polished stones with his magnifying glass. The rocks are beautiful and enticing, just the sort of objects I was attracted to as a child (um, and still am). Suddenly, Gilgamesh's eyes lit up and he said, "Do trees turn into stone? You said that, right?"

My jaw didn't drop or anything, but I was surprised. He remembered me pointing out petrified wood at the Botanical Gardens in San Diego's Balboa Park! He'd been manic that day, jumping off the walls and making me nervous for the plants and people surrounding us.

But he'd heard me. In that bustling, noisy moment, something I'd said interested him enough for him to remember. Petrified wood.

I took the moment to reinforce that yes, old, old trees did turn to stone, but not all stone came from trees. Some of it came from dirt compacted really tightly together or from erupting volcanoes. We talked about how some rocks are really hard and others are fragile and can break easily. And we talked about all the different colors. I pointed out they were naturally colored that way, not painted. We didn't go into depth about igneous rocks, or cleavage or specific hardness scales. There's time for that later. But I watched my boys play with stones together. Just rocks. Two boys playing on the floor with colorful rocks.

It was this simple moment that reinforced for me how natural learning occurs. It's all them. We're merely facilitators.

Children are amazing.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Day at a Glance 9/6/11

After Labor Day weekend, Gilgamesh has really jumped feet-first into home learning. It's been inspiring to see how much he seems to have missed the writing and drawing. He learned stuff while we were away, like at the Festival of Sail in San Diego where we got to tour historic tall sail ships and a U.S. submarine. But he seems so comfortable back home with all his school supplies, showing me his words and asking me how to spell more complicated ones. Today he wrote Queen by himself and then asked for help in writing Cookie. 

Here are a few more things he did on his own today:

Gilgamesh's Independent learning this morning:

  • made alphabet "cards" - letters in squares, then cut them out.

  • copied down the vowels (A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y) three times, twice by pencil, once by foam letters.
  • Built words with foam letters while watching Word World

  • Wrote down a series of words in pencil.

  • picked out a few Leapfrog learning videos

with Mom:

  • Listened to a 7-year-old Australian kid play Flight of the Bumblebee and get praised.

  • Listened to an older man sing an opera song from Les Mis.
  • Alastor went through the flash alphabet and repeated a few things: "A, a, apple." and "I, i, igloo." He also did a few letter sounds. He especially likes, 'T.'
  • Gilgamesh did nine whole 'papers' in the Starfall Listening and Writing book about the sounds of words.
  • We read Uncle Wiggily and the Tame Squirrel, which made Gilgamesh want ice cream like the kids had at their party. Then we made a fruit smoothie and enjoyed it. :) 
  • We also did the Move and Jump activity suggested in the Sonlight curriculum. We hopped like frogs (Gilgamesh got out the foam letters and spelled FROG without any prompting from me). Alastor did his first somersault ever. He looked really surprised when he ended up on his back. :) We also practiced jumping and landing with our feet both apart and together. A precursor to jumping jacks? The boys loved it. 
Yesterday, upon returning from our family reunion over Labor Day weekend, Gilgamesh went right back into school stuff. Monday, he wrote a whole bunch of words on a piece of paper, including rock, tree, and dragon. His first spelling of dragon was 'jagin.' He also wrote 'Hiccup' a la How to Train Your Dragon. Daddy read two stories from

The Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book: The Mouse Deer's Wisdom and The Two Brothers.
  The Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book

My Review: This is one of my favorite Sonlight story books. The stories are short with colorful illustrations and compelling yet simple plots. Great for bedtime or any time. 
When we read The Mouse Deer's Wisdom, we talked about smells. Gilgamesh said his favorite smells are hot dogs and marshmallows. :) In case you were wondering, we did just get back from camping. He counted ten coins into a pot and listened to them clink against the metal just like in the story. We talked again about saving up for the wagon he wants. He's motivated to do extra chores and behave well so he can get more money in his wagon bucket.

We also opened up Things People Do: The Schoolteacher.

 Things People Do

My Review: This is one of those busy books with lots of stuff going on in the illustrations and little words to explain what people are doing. The names of the people in the town of Banilla are pretty funny, like Sue Prano, the music teacher. It's a little too busy for my four-year-old, but would probably be excellent for a slightly older child with a longer attention span. I look forward to looking through it with my son when he's more capable of focusing on the tiny details that make this book so wonderful.
We did the memory verse both yesterday and today:

Genesis 1:1 "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth." Gilgamesh has begun to beat me to the punch on the last few words. I'll call and he'll repeat most of it, but right after he says 'heaven' he rushes into 'and the earth!' like it's a race. I'm glad he's getting it down by memory. This'll be his first memorized scripture.

Tomorrow, we'll focus on the Language program Sonlight offers: lately we're working on writing down our address and phone number and learning new vocabulary via the Picture Dictionary. I'll have more to say about that tomorrow. Tonight, I'm beat.

I hope your Labor Day was awesome!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Preschool Fun September 1, 2011

This was today's adventure for Gilgamesh:

Leapfrog video: Code Word Caper (blends, silent E)
 Nursery Rhymes: Three Men in a Tub; One Misty, Moisty Morning Uncle Wiggily's Story Book: Uncle Wiggily and the Rich Cat
 Art: Learn to Draw Pixar Collection: Wall-e and Eva.
 Leapfrog video: Math Circus
 BrainQuest Kindergarten cards
 Magnetic bug puzzle by Melissa & Doug
 Foam letters, building words like Boat, Bus, Us, Bike
 Nature walk, leaf rubbings
 Shopping -helped me with the cart

All in all, it was a successful learning day. We're a bit pre-occupied with preparations for hosting a family reunion this weekend. Should be fun to have all the cousins in one place!! 

What are your plans for Labor Day weekend?