Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Club Day. The Birds of Prey version. Volume 1, Issue 3

Today was a rousing success, at least in my opinion.  Today, the Birds of Prey Club made kites.  They didn't fly worth a hoot, but it gave us a wonderful opportunity to look at the design we used and think about the modifications we would make so that the next time out, they would soar in the wind.  And we had to do some division, measurement, and learned a wee bit about geometry.

Our design was based on the instructions from How to Make and Eagle Kite, which seemed a fitting type of kite for the club to make.  All of us along the way make some tweaks:
  • My husband and I made the frames in advance, and we used simple hardwood dowels from the hardware store instead of bamboo.  
  • We decided to affix the plastic bag to our frame using both masking tape and glue.  This was decided when it seemed that we would have to hold the plastic in place for a while, and we just didn't have the time or patience for that.
  • The boys designed the heads, wings and tails freestyle - they didn't care to simply attach triangles to the kite - they wanted to make wings that looked like wings and tails that looked like tails.  And the heads had to be detailed.  We had two bald eagles and a great horned owl in the end.  These were attached with glue and invisible tape.
  • We may not have been exact on our measurements when we spaced the ribbon sections on the kite tail.

Here's what we talked about that we would do differently next time:
  • We would make the ribbon sections longer so they would be easier to tie on.  We would also double-knot the ribbons to the tail so they would stay on.
  • We would make sure that we didn't skimp on the ribbons on the tail.
  • We would make sure the string ball was tied tightly to the bridle.
  • We ran into our neighbour, Pierre, as we were leaving the park.  It turns out Pierre has built many a kite in his day.  He suggested we add an anchor on either side of the short dowel to help the kite stay level.
We learned that it was okay that some of the decorative wings and tails we attached were okay if they hung over top of the kite frame - the wind did curl them a bit, but they stayed on.

Looking forward to our last Birds of Prey Club meeting of the summer!

Monday, 30 July 2012

Wonder why and how

You know those moments when a child comes running up to you with a question, and you're elbow deep in making supper?  The type of question that you don't know the answer to, or a question that leaving until later could provide a deeper, richer experience?  And the child wants to know right now, but right now just isn't going to happen.  What to do?

We ran into this last week.  One child wanted to know how to make bubble soap.  Another wanted to dry some herbs to make tea.  There was a question about what causes nosebleeds.  And all of these were when we were making a meal or in the car...far away from the internet.

Enter the "Wonder Why" board, described in Amanda Blake Soule and Stephen Soule's book, The Rhythm of Family.  Right now, we use the whiteboard on the other side of our chalkboard for our "Wonder Why" board.  It's easy for the children to add their questions and to erase them when we find the answer.  My son could write his own questions, and those posed by my daughter had to be saved up in my memory for adding later.  Once there is a spare moment, we dig up the answer together.

Today was a day where we had time to find the answer to how to make bubble soap.  And the fun quickly moved from the computer to the kitchen, then to the table to make some impromptu bubble wands, then finally to outside to blow bubbles until our solution was gone.

Here's the recipe we found that worked well, courtesy of Homemade Bubble Solutions:
Mix 1/2 cup dishwashing soap (we used natureclean brand), 4.5 cups of water and 4 tablespoons of vegetable glycerin (we used Now Personal Care brand).
We found putting all the ingredients in an ice cream pail and mixing with a whisk worked well.  Then, the ice cream pail can be easily moved out the backyard.

We also learned that pipecleaners can be used to make bubble wands!  They could be as simple or elaborate as one desired (my children put beads on their wand handles).

Sunday, 29 July 2012

A good book

My children love to read...all of them.  We've read to them since they were quite young.  And not just board books either.  I remember reading novels, biographies, and non-fiction science books to my son from the time he was 2 months old - about the time when I thought I would go mad if I read The Cat in the Hat one more time, as our in-house library had about five children's books in it.

It doesn't take too much to motivate my children to listen to books.  I confess that my son hesitated to read books on his own, likely because he was forced to read a book aloud to us daily when he was in Grade 1 and Grade 2.  Now that the pressure is off, he loves to hunker down with a good book.  The picture from last week with the light on in a tent - that's my son reading in the late hours of the evening.

While I do take the time to read to the children on those hot, sweltering days, we also do a couple of things to fit reading into our schedules:

  ~ I read novels to the children while they are doing the nightly dishes.  The benefits are three-fold - there is no fighting, we get plenty of reading, and the dishes get done...eventually.  The downside is that they get so absorbed in the story that they forget to do dishes.

  ~ I also read novels to the children when we go on family road trips.  Last summer, we took a month-long vacation and trekked half-way across the country.  There were some awfully long days on that trip, and I would read to them until I went hoarse.  It was on this trip that we fell in love with the Guardians of Ga'Hoole series.

  ~ Occasionally, we will get audio books.  The best hit by far was Stuart McLean's Vinyl CafĂ© stories.  We could listen to them on repeat over and over again, and the hilarious stories never get old.  These are great for adults and kids alike.  Another great one geared towards kids, but in a calm, peaceful way is Sparkle Stories.

  ~ I ask the older children to read to their little sister, especially when I'm making supper.  For my son, this means reading the words.  For my daughter, this usually means reading the pictures or going from memory.  She is just starting to read on her own, and we find that reading the pictures helps a great deal when it comes to reading the words.  The pictures provide additional context and clues for guessing a word she may be stuck on.

  ~ During the summer, our library holds a contest based on the amount of time spent reading.  The more minutes read, the more chances to win prizes.  Our children are big on prizes, so when we finish a book, there's a race to the fridge to mark off how long we read for.

  ~ We read fictional stories based on activities we will be doing.  On that long road trip last summer, we planned to tour the Plains of Abraham.  We read The Death of My Country before our visit, and it helped connect head, hands and heart to the history of the site.  Similarly, we are reading the Anne of Green Gables series and No Safe Harbour in preparation for an upcoming trip to Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.

  ~ We work hard to bring home and encourage our children to select "good books".  You know the kind.  If you think you're going to fall asleep after 5 minutes, it's not a "good book".  For us, the dummied-down books based on movies or TV shows fit in the category of not a "good book".  If the book holds your interest and your child's, it's a good book.  All the ones listed above have been good stories for our children.

Happy reading!

Saturday, 28 July 2012


When I went to bed last night, I wasn't thinking of gratitude.  But it was one of the first things I thought of this morning when I was woken by the sound of a car hitting our parked car on the street.  Despite the fact that our family of 5 is now car-less and my husband and I spent more of our day than I care to think of perusing the web for comparable cars, there was much to be thankful for.

  ~ I'm thankful our car was parked where it was, so it blocked the other truck from going through our fence and into the yard where my husband and son were sleeping in their tent.

  ~ I'm thankful no one was injured.

  ~ I'm thankful the driver of the other vehicle came back to the scene after leaving it.  We talked to our children about honesty this morning, and how it can be a courageous thing to be honest when we know not much good is going to be coming our way when we do so.

  ~ I'm thankful for the immediate offers of vehicles from extended family while we wait to find out what will happen to ours.

  ~ I'm thankful for the neighbours who dropped by to check if everyone was okay.

Here's hoping for an uneventful morning tomorrow.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

A child's work

"We don't cease to play because we grow old, we grow old because we cease to play."  ~ G. B. Shaw

I know I've written about work several times over the last week or so.  And while I am a firm believer that children play an important role in the smooth running of a household and that responsibility for basic chores is a good thing for children to learn, I don't think their work is that one-dimensional.  Nor do I think that school is a child's work, as an ad that I came across in my inbox would lead me to believe.  In fact, when I saw that message, I remember frowning at the computer before deleting the message.

This morning, my son created a new pretend world.  Although it was imaginary, I believe it was firmly rooted in reality.  He imagined he was a wildlife conservationist, and I think this was based on our trip to the Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre.  We read about owl conservation and the scientists who do this important work.

Fast forward a couple of days, and today I found him bright and early pulling out boxes and bags and stuffed animals galore to join in his play.  Oh, and he was also building tranquilizers and medicine out of lego.  Here's a small sampling of what he was up to:

These kennels are needed to keep the animals in once they are rescued.  He made sure I knew they had holes in them so the animals could breathe.

Our conservationist needs to go an wilderness adventure to find the injured animals and bring them back to the shelter.  So, he needs to pack his gear - including his tent and sleeping bag.  He used bungee cords to attach everything to his backpack.

Right now, he is setting up a tent with his father in the backyard, so he can start his wilderness experience tonight.  

I believe this kind of play helps Nicholas, and all children for that matter, integrate their experiences.  It helps them more fully understand what they see and hear in the world around them.  Play brings together head, hands and heart.  It allows children to develop wholly.  Yes, I believe that play is just as important work as chores and learning how to read.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

This was unexpected

With all the field trips we've been on lately, it felt good to have a relaxing afternoon at home today.  I was finishing up a gift for my mom's birthday - the Grasslands Cowl that was featured in the Fall 2011 issue of Living Crafts magazine.  My daughter came over and asked if she could try to knit.  So, we took what was left of our yarn (Rabu Thick and Thin Yarn by luxfish yarns), decided that a bracelet would be nice, then took a deep breath, and started to cast on.

This may not seem like too big a deal at first glance.  But consider this - I'm right-handed and my daughter is left-handed.  She agreed to try learning right-handed, because I'm too much of a rookie knitter to turn it around and explain it well.  Luckily, Jaelyn has this remarkable ability to do some things better right-handed.  Today, we learned that knitting very well may be one of them.

I found it most difficult to explain the casting on bit, as it seems that I myself just kind of wiggle the yarn and the needle around, and somehow stitches appear on the needle.  Slowing it down to see the exact steps within each stitch was a challenge, and I had to do it in slow motion several (okay, more than 10) times to see what I actually do to cast on.  It was a short tutorial, as our bracelet only needed 5 stitches.

Then, I showed her the steps to knit, using key words (front to back, front to back, over, under and off) and working again in super-slow motion.  Then she got involved by being responsible for wrapping the tail of the yarn around the needle for each stitch.  After a bit, we traded, where I wrapped the tail around the needle and she did the rest of the work.  Finally, she was knitting all on her own, murmuring her own key words to herself!

I quickly showed her how to make a buttonhole, and we worked together to cast off, with her doing most of the stitches on her own.  She also learned to sew on a button for this project (which I now see she did right-handed as well).

And when she was done, she had a finished piece all her own!  What an unexpected project that we did today!

She's looking forward to taking knitting needles with her when she sleeps over at her grandparent's, and is even talking about teaching her little 3-year-old cousin how to knit.

And to think it all started just by hanging around together, each doing the things that we love best, and noticing what those around us are up to.  It's a good reason to bring out those knitting needles in the middle of the day, instead of late at night when everyone is asleep.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The zen of shelling peas

So yesterday, we picked a colossal amount of peas, or so it felt.  Everyone was hot and sluggish.  And something needed to be done with those peas so they didn't go to waste.

I had the privilege to enjoy about an hour of uninterrupted pea-shelling time to myself.  Outside, in the shade of our porch, with a lovely view and just enough breeze to make even a sweltering day feel comfortable, I sat and shelled.  I noticed how my posture changed gradually, from industriously leaning over my collection of buckets to more of a recline with my feet up on the coffee table.  I thought about getting up to take of picture of what peace and calm and bliss looked like, but I knew it would have spoiled the mood.  And I didn't quite know where I had left the camera.

And all the deep thinking I did...ahh, it was lovely!  Thoughts of someday having enough land to actually grow enough peas (and corn, and potatoes, and tomatoes, and...) to feed our family.  Thoughts about fully being in the moment and enjoying even the tasks that at first glance may seem boring and repetitive.  Thoughts about what my little girls' eyes are telling me when I look into them - it feels some days that I could stare into them forever and not quite put my finger on all the intricate workings going on.  Trying to describe that feeling going on in my own being as I shelled away.  Was it simply "content"?  Was this "happiness"?  Was this what "bliss" feels like?

I'm still reeling in the afterglow of that wonderful afternoon shelling peas.  Here's wishing you and yours a glorious day!

Monday, 23 July 2012

The sound of music

My little ones and I have been busy bringing in as much local bounty as possible these last few days.  We made an attempt to pick saskatoons on the weekend.  This was a mild bust, as it was the end of a very short season, and a lot of the berries were shriveled.  The good ones were up high, where the children couldn't get at them.  Nevertheless, we picked three buckets and have frozen most of them for use during the winter.  I'm grateful my husband was there to help!  Saskatoon berry crumble and saskatoon berry muffins will taste awfully good come January!

Today, the children and I set out in the morning to pick peas.  I had planned to go out Tuesday evening by myself, but the weather forecast was not looking good and I feared we'd be at the tail end of pea season by the time the fields dried up!  So, today it was - me and three children picking peas on a hot summer morning.

The heat makes everyone slow and sluggish.  So, how to get those peas picked quickly with my little helpers doing their fair share?  Well, at first, they were pretty creative on their own.  They chose the plants that they going to "do an operation on" and then they set to work.

But near the end, even picking the perfect plants for operations wasn't enough to keep them going.  So, I started to sing.  Simple songs that they all know - Mr. Sun by Raffi, She'll be Coming Round the Mountain, I've Been Working on the Railroad, It Ain't Gonna Rain No More.  After that, my mind went blank.  The children made up their own songs. One about how they are looking forward to winter (!), and then one about how the harvest would magically be done instantly before winter came.  And the picking went quicker, the sun was a little less blistering, and our companionship was a little stronger while we sang.

I've come to realize that my on-demand repertoire of songs is short.  I vow to get more acquainted with songs from the past that were used to make long days in hot fields more enjoyable.  I already have This is the Way We Wash A-Day in our library that I'll dust off and start learning from.  I'll need to put in more of an effort to read and remember the songs in All Together Singing in the Kitchen.

Did I mention that there's much to learn in this homeschooling gig? 

Sunday, 22 July 2012


"The worst enemy mankind ever had was the dastard who persuaded it that work, which might be the dearest joy we have, was...well,...work."  ~ Marjorie Spock, Waldorf Schools:  Kindergarten and Early Grades
Today was about work.  For the adults it was a dawn to dusk thing.  For the children, it was a morning thing, with some peppered in throughout the evening.

Today's work, though, as mundane as it was, didn't feel like work.  It felt as though there was a purpose to it.  Serving those dearest to me.  I could see, touch and hear the direct recipients of my efforts.

I thought back to the days when I was paid to "work".  I remember my employer's efforts to create a line of sight between its employees and the customers we served.  Being a corporate office employee, the line was a bit longer, and went through more people before it hit the customer, but there was a line of sight nonetheless.  I remember thinking that the line made sense logically, but "the line" didn't resonate with my heart.  I wasn't stirred to doing tremendous things because of those customers.  I was stirred to do my best so the paycheque I brought home would be higher and my family could live more comfortably.

Fast forward almost two years.  My "work" has now changed significantly, and continues to evolve.  I grow and put up some of our food.  I prepare our meals.  I make our clothing, and clean it too.  I try very hard to nourish our children's minds and hearts.  Now, I also almost exclusively facilitate their learning.  It's a long and diverse list.  It makes for days that fly by.  It makes for just as much scheduling and multi-tasking as I used to do.  But something is different.  I know that all of my effort directly goes into our family.  At the end of each day, the sense of fulfillment I feel is greater.  Those failures sting a little more too.  But I am eager to get up in the morning to see what the day will bring.

I hope that if our children see one who loves work, they in turn will seek and find work that fuels their spirit and gives them energy.

Enjoy your week!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

On the road back to harmony

Joy followed by tears.  My babes danced in the rain after supper, as carefree as only children can.

Next thing you know, one of them is tearing away from the patio table after being bitten by a wasp.  We tried a homeopathic remedy, which was essentially pulling one of our onions from the garden, cutting off the top, and placing it on the bite.  It was supposed to reduce swelling and pain.  This followed by lots of cuddles and reading a book, of course.

It seemed to work.  We'll see how that tender arm is doing in the morning.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Club Day. The Nature Version. Volume 1, Issue 2

There is trash in our world, and we want to help our environment right?
That was the proclamation from Jaelyn that started our day.  And it seemed appropriate given that today was Nature Club day.  It felt like it was a success.  It would have been even better if it wasn't sweltering outside and those poor little ones weren't melting.  But they were good sports, and seemed to have fun.

We made "story staffs".  This was an idea published in Taproot magazine's Issue 2 :: Paths in an article by Maya Donenfeld.  (I know, I know.  You've been seeing her name a lot in this blog.  She's just got some really inspiring ideas.  Give us a couple months and you'll be seeing other names, I promise.) 

What is a story staff?  Well, it is essentially adorning a walking or hiking stick with items found on a hike.  The item serves as a reminder of the hike and, hopefully, can help the owner share a story about that particular hike.  The stories our children today may tell could be something like, "You remember when we went to Nature Club and it was SO hot, and we cleaned up the park and found treasures, then we started to climb trees in the park.  Then we put the treasures on our sticks"

Our prework from yesterday was cutting the hiking sticks to a good length for 5 and 6 year olds.  I read somewhere that an adult's hiking stick should be 6 to 9 inches above the elbow.  It looked like somewhere between the elbow and shoulder, so that's where I measured them out, using my daughter as our model.  The sticks, by the way, were our first dumpster dive find.  I had planned to use them for another project, but they were just perfect for this one.  After the sticks were cut, my son and I shaved the bark off the lower part of the sticks using my husband's trusty pocket knife.  My daughter then sanded them and finished them with a concoction we made last winter.  Last night and this morning, I sewed and put the handles on the sticks.

And we really did pick up garbage and find treasures in the park.  The clean-up idea was Jaelyn's, and it's a good one.  The treasures we found included feathers, pine cones, flowers, grasses and leaves.  It was kind of tricky to get some of the items to stay on the stick the way the children wanted them to, and I hope for their sake they stay.  It wouldn't be too much of a story staff if all the story reminders fell off!

While I really shouldn't be, I'm amazed by how much I've learned just by organizing activities for the Birds of Prey and Nature Clubs.  I've used a chop saw and pocket knife for the first time in my life, or at least my adult life (and I still have all my fingers!).  I've learned about bird calls and markings and habitat.  I've learned about the children who have joined us.  And there is still much more to learn.  I doubt the learning will ever stop.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Serving ~ part II

There has been more serving going over the last week.  Most of it has been free of complaints.  It's been nice to experience.  Here are a few examples of what we've been up to in the serving department:

One of our neighbours was away and asked our children to care for her yard while she was away. Our children even weeded, even though it wasn't expected!

My son offered to watch his youngest sister at the playground today.  I forgot the camera at home though, so just imagine him playing peek-a-boo with her as she awaited her turn for the slide.  He made sure he was there to catch her at the bottom.  They had a lovely time together.

We prepared for Nature Club tomorrow.  There was some pre-work to do, and Nicholas and Jaelyn were excellent helpers, and even did most of the sanding and finishing work themselves!

These are some of the things that we had difficulty making time for when the children were in school.  I'm grateful we've been able to make the time now that the days stretch before us and the sense of urgency to be someplace has lessened.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Club Day. The Birds of Prey version. Volume 1, Issue 2

A message from the newest member, Jaelyn

Today there was much drama at Birds of Prey Club.  The good kind of drama.  The kind you want to keep your eyes glued to and your ears open for.   I did not have a front row seat for the action, but the bits I caught from a distance were thrilling.

As the boys started to arrive, they drifted into our wet backyard.  To the playhouse.  And in their minds eye, it became a fortress.  A mighty fortress that needed protection, even when the brave knights were out to rid the world of witches and willowisps.  The fight scenes where fascinating, as they happened in slow motion.  The axe and swords gently fell on one another as the knights performed intricate spins.  Their actions were anchored in the storyline they wove, and it was complex and full of twists and turns, evil and magic potions to undo the harms inflicted on them.  The minds of a group of 8 and 9 year olds is truly fascinating stuff.

And no, not one bit of it had to do with raptors.  Which was okay.  I truly didn't want to tear them out of the fantasy world they had effortlessly created.  A voice in the back of my mind, though, did wonder if their parents would disappointed if they didn't come home with the craft I'd told them we would be working on.  They likely wouldn't care.  But what if they did?

So, after more than an hour of fantasy play, I asked them if they wanted a snack.  To which they did admit would be nice.  After that we moved on to the craft - a mobile I found in Raptor! A kid's guide to birds of prey

And I think I discovered today that the crafts I've planned the last two weeks are right up my children's alley, but not really up the others'.  I don't blame myself for miscalculating this.  I've only seen their group dynamics for two hours at our first meeting, and it was hard to tell if what I was seeing was due to the excitement of "the first meeting".  I didn't know enough about each child's inherent nature and what they are like in a small group of peers.  While this is only our second meeting, I think I've now observed enough to know what is "fun" and what is not for most of them.

After the meeting, I started to ponder to myself.  What to do?  Do we change the name of the club to the Knights of Cathedral?  Would that be too specific?  How about the Cathedral Players?  Do we still try to get birds in here in there?  Do we make shields and plaster eagles and owls all over them?  Make masks?  Try Birds of Prey Pictionary (which I started to create as the drama was unfolding)?

And then came the release out of the panic...what should be my daily mantra.  Keep it simple.  We'll have a project up our sleeve if they want to do it.  I can still share with parents what the project is, but also note that we'll only do it if there's time after playing and snack.  I can let them know that we may not learn a thing about birds of prey or anything else for that matter.  But they can join me on the porch to enjoy free theatre.  And who knows...we may just find ourselves watching the next rising star.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Intro to fractions

Yesterday, when my daughter and I were making a Brownie in a Jar recipe for her friend's birthday, I let her take a go at reading the recipe.  There were fractions in it, and she wasn't sure how to read them, and she didn't really know what they were either.  But she was happy to know how to read "sugar" and "cup", and that there were chocolate chips in it and a party to head off to soon.

I felt like it was a missed opportunity.  Sure, kids in our school division don't start learning about fractions until grade 3.  But she's going to be seeing them every time that we make a recipe or measure something.  So, how could I help her understand what those numbers and lines meant, in a way she would understand?  I was laying awake last night pondering that.  It had to be quick, easy, short on long words like "numerator" and "denominator", and hands on.  Here's what I came up with.

First, we got a blank piece of paper.  I wrote down a couple of numbers that we saw in the recipe and asked her if she remembered them.  She did.  I asked her if she understood what they meant and she said she didn't.  So, I went to the classic pie example.  We talked about the bottom number first.  It told us how many pieces were going to be in the pie.  I drew a picture to illustrate the first fraction I wrote.  Then we talked about the top number.  It told us how many pieces we would get.  I coloured the pieces in on my drawing.  We went to the next fraction and I asked her to show me what the bottom number meant.  Then what the top number meant.  She got it quickly, and then cut the pies into many pieces and coloured them all, saying she wanted to share the pieces with her family.

So then we went back to the recipe.  I told her that instead of a pie, we would now use the measuring cups and see if it really worked.  We took a 1/4 cup and a liquid measuring cup.  I showed her the number on the 1/4 cup and asked her how many she thought we would need to fill the full 1 cup.  She told me 4.  And then we tried it out, just to check.  And sure enough, she was right!  We did the same thing using a 1/3 cup, and it worked again.

She doesn't know they were called fractions.  She didn't hear the words "numerator" and "denominator".  But she remembers that we did an experiment, and what the outcome was.  That's what will matter for today.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

When parents are occupied

Saturday was a rough day for the grown-ups in our house.  A case of the flu had hit, some of us harder than others.  An afternoon of rest was just what was needed.

And what did the older children do while the largest and smallest of our family were tucked under blankets amid 26C weather?  Have a look!

The new welcome mat

Our friendly neighbourhood postal worker
Important information about the store

The store itself

Notice how they didn't wait for the fancy signs we were going to hang and just picked up some wood and made it work on their own?

After running out for some must-do errands (our lovely farmers at Etomami Organics and Cool Springs Ranch only come to town every-so-often), I collapsed on the playhouse porch to see what they had been up to and to partake in some important playtime.  And the playtime they had in mind was the the best kind I could have hoped for on a sick day!

The post office was a busy place for a little while!

Enjoy your week!

Friday, 13 July 2012