Saturday, June 27, 2015

Saturday Catch-All: Pictures from our week, C25K

"I matched them, Mama!" -MM(almost 3)

Return to Dead Man's Pond
Ha ha! I couldn't resist the title. It really is called Dead Man's Pond, and it's located in the woods in Victoria Park, Charlottetown. We went there several weeks ago and saw many, many frog eggs. This week we went back and saw many, many tadpoles!

Boys are Fun.
This is my 2-year-old pushing my 4-year-old. Then my 6-year-old joined the race on the 4-year-old's bike.

I just finished week five of my "Couch to 5K" program. That means that yesterday I actually jogged for 20 minutes without stopping. I am continually amazed at how quickly my body adapts to the challenges of this program. The first four weeks were hard. Then, somehow, my body caught up and it is not as hard anymore. I am not really losing much weight (maybe a pound a week) but I am deliberately not counting calories. I have never tried to lose weight while nursing such a young baby before (AJ is five months this week.). I will try to be content with the fitness gains for now, and hopefully that will help it to fall off at a safe rate when it's time.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Choosing our Summer Nature Study Focus

I didn't have a choice, really. I may have had visions of documenting our local wildflowers in our nature journals this summer, but matters have been taken out of my hands.

I picked up a book called Bug Wise a couple of years ago, and SA(6) has been reading it voraciously this last month. He has also been spontaneously narrating every detail. He is particularly interested in spiders and their webs right now. I had a brief moment when I considered formalizing this amazing learning. "Let's make this a school book!" I thought. "Let's start at the beginning and narrate all of it!" (I know! Sometimes I can be crazy like that.) Thankfully I stopped myself. As it is, I think I've heard the whole book anyway, and the spider parts several times.

After a rainy day yesterday, the boys were especially eager to get outside today. I took their watermelon snack outside to them, and they pointed out three tiny yellow spiders to me. They were almost too small to see, though they had each spun a web.  I suggested the boys get a magnifying glass. We watched them for a while, and then I looked them up. They turned out to be baby European garden spiders (araneaus diadematus), a very common orb weaver.

Armed with the magnifying glass, the boys were soon looking at every insect they could find. SA(6) trapped an ant under the magnifying glass. JJ(4) also checked out the ants on the peonies (They are always abundant there.)
"In elementary grades, nature-study deals with objects which the children can see with the naked eye. However, a lens is a help in almost all of this work because it is such a joy to the child to gaze at the wonders it reveals." -Handbook of Nature Study, p.9

Then someone saw a ladybug, and there was a scrambling to find out how many spots this one had. It was on a hand and an arm for a while, but they figured it was looking for aphids. Since there were none on their arms, they decided to put the ladybug back on the plant.

Meanwhile, MM(2) was interested in the blackflies flocking to our watermelon rinds. Sadly, they all flew away when I was trying to take their picture. AJ was well-protected in his chair, but still managed to get two blackfly bites on his face. :(

I went to work doing some outdoor chores and noticed some spiderwebs in the grass. I called SA to give me his expert opinion, and he came, spouting information about different forms of spiderwebs all the way.

And that, friends, is how I chose our summer nature study focus. Sometimes I have to think and decide purposefully, but sometimes it just happens and we run with it.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Bit of Serendipity

On Tuesday, SA(6) and I read about the "Yellow Flicker" (Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker) in the Burgess Bird Book. It was one of our last narrations for his grade one school year.

On Wednesday, we saw a bird in the backyard. "It can't be," I thought. But it was! We had never seen one of these in our backyard before.

What's a woodpecker doing on the ground? The northern flicker likes ants and beetles, and often drills into the ground for them and their larvae in the same way other woodpeckers drill into trees.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

In Our Book Basket: Brundibar

I'm not very dramatic when it comes to reading aloud. I think I read expressively enough, but I don't really "do" voices or accents. My boys don't seem to mind. However, I've come across a book that a person can't help but read dramatically. That book is Brundibar, adapted by Tony Kushner from a Czech children's opera and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. The book tells the story of two poor children who need milk for their sick mother. In their quest to get some, they have a run-in with an evil organ-grinder named Brundibar. In the end, with the help of a few animals and a lot of other children, they are victorious. Brundibar is chased away, the children get the milk, and their mother gets well again.

Try to say this without rolling your 'r's and adopting a voice you didn't know you had:

The book's language and illustrations are unusual, to say the least, but they work. They really give the dramatic feeling of a play.

But there is something else unusual about this book, and I came upon it slowly. First I noticed that the doctor in the book had a yellow (Jewish) badge on his coat. Then I started to notice the badge in other places. I turned to the book jacket to see if it said anything about this, and it did.
"This book is based on a Czech opera of the same name ("Brundibar" is Czech slang for "Bumblebee"), with a libretto by Adolf Hoffmeister, set to music by Hans Krasa. Completed in 1938, the opera was performed fifty-five times by the children of Terezin, the Nazi concentration camp. Krasa, who was Jewish, was also imprisoned in Terezin. He was killed in Auschwitz in 1944."
Now fascinated, I googled "Terezin" and "Brundibar" and came upon a video from CBS News entitled Brundibar: How the Nazis Conned the World. There I learned how music and art flourished in the concentration camp, and how "Brundibar" was the most popular show in town. The Nazis, who had begun to be questioned on what was happening to the Jews, briefly turned Terezin into a model town and produced a propaganda film highlighting a performance of Brundibar to show how well they were treating the Jews. I also learned that not only Krasa, but most of the children who acted in the opera were killed soon after in Auschwitz.

And so what seemed like an original and light-hearted children's book turned into a door into history for me. I have not passed this on to my young children. They enjoy the book simply, as it is. Some day they will know the heart-breaking history too, and appreciate the courage this book depicts that much more.

What about you? Is there a children's book that has become so much more for you? Tell me about it in the comments!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Start. Keep Going. Finish Strong.

I just started a fun little self-improvement project called Couch-to-5K.

Alright. I lie. It's not fun at all...yet. Every time I have gone out for my little walk/run so far, I have had to exert my will and make myself do it. Every time I have started a running interval, I have had to stop myself from worrying about how long and how far, and just focus on staying in the moment. Each time I have completed a week, I have thought, "I can't possibly go on to a more difficult workout next week." But each week I do just that.

I could have spent a lot of time deciding on what kind of shoes I should wear while running, and whether they were the perfect ones for my feet. I may have spent some time deciding on an app for my phone that would be the perfect program to meet my goals. But I'm sure we can agree that these things don't matter nearly as much as me heading out of my front door and actually starting to run.

My homeschooling can be a lot like beginning that running program. I sometimes spend too much time thinking about all my choices beforehand. I read catalogues. I research online. I read about other people's experiences and think too much about whether I'm making the very best choices. But really, the most important thing will end up being how I use the things I choose.

I am planning to teach JJ(4) to read next school year (He is so very ready!). I have a simple phonics program in the house, along with a few Bob Books. I also have the experience of teaching SA(6) to read using some of Charlotte Mason's ideas. Still, I have been looking longingly at programs in glossy homeschool catalogues, and seriously considering books that have worked for my friends. I have not quite made up my mind what we will do yet, but it comes to me that what's really needed here is for me to just start.

I know what to do. I have done it before. The program I choose doesn't really matter as much as sitting down with him every day for five or ten minutes and working on phonics and sight words.

Making good curriculum choices is important. But they do not have to be perfect choices. The curriculum is just a tool to help me reach my goals. In the end, success will be more about whether I faithfully took the time and effort to teach my child what he needs to know.

So start.
And once you've started, keep going.
Don't stop until you've reached the finish line.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

In Our Book Basket: Luba and the Wren

Many, if not most, of the books in our library book basket are ones that have been recommended to me. Blogs such as Hope is the Word or Little Book, Big Story regularly draw my attention to excellent children's books. In response, I go online and reserve them at my library if they are available in our provincial library system. I get an email when they come in, and I drop into the library on my next errand day to pick them up. We have discovered and enjoyed countless books using this method.

However, there is still something to be said for going into the library and browsing the shelves. Some of our very favourite books have been discovered this way. Flute's JourneyLynne Cherry's remarkable biography of a wood thrush, also Jonathan Bean's wonderful book Building Our House and Robert McCloskey's Time of Wonder fall into this category. With my family of three little boys and a baby, library visits happen less often than I would like, but we did manage to go one morning about two weeks ago. This time, I discovered Patrica Polacco.

Patricia Polacco is a prolific author and illustrator who actually did not begin to write children's books until she was forty-one years old! There is a wide variety in the type of stories she tells. There are legends and folk tales, poignant stories from history, and stories drawn from her own life and her Ukrainian/Russian heritage. Despite the diversity of her themes, Polacco's beautiful illustrations make her books instantly recognizable and unite them all.

Our (very small) library has quite a few of Polacco's books on its shelves, and we have just begun to explore them. John Philip Duck, Appelemando's Dreams, and Thunder Cake are three that we've really enjoyed. But our very favourite so far, and one that SA(6) has already asked to hear approximately ten times, is Luba and the Wren.

This is a Ukrainian version of the classic tale of the Fisherman and the Flounder. Instead of the fisherman, there is Luba, a sweet, gentle girl. Instead of the flounder, there is a wren. Instead of the fisherman's wife, there are Luba's discontented and demanding parents. I won't spoil the ending for you, but just tell you that I think the ending to this tale is much more satisfyingly thought-provoking than the original.

At our house, our 6-year-old enjoyed this book more than the younger children, and I do think it is best for children of his age and older. This is a library book that's so good that it's going on my to-buy list (a very select list, by the way...).

Go, check it out!

I'd also love to hear what wonderful books you've discovered on the shelves of your library.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Review: PianoWithWillie from JazzEdge

If you know me in real life, I know what you're thinking. What, Nelleke? Jazz? Edge? JazzEdge?
Yes, boring, classical, stick-in-the-mud Nelleke was learning some jazz piano. It was a lot like learning a new language, and it was fun!

I've been thinking for a while that I need to play the piano more often, especially as my children are growing. As the busyness of my family life has increased, I have played less and less. SA(6) is beginning to learn how to play the piano as well now. The thought has struck me that trying to teach him without first inspiring him by my own example would be a lot like teaching a child to read without ever having read aloud to him. And then the Schoolhouse Review Crew offered me a chance to try out Studio Access to PianoWithWillie from JazzEdge in exchange for my honest opinion. "This will be my catalyst," I thought.

PianoWithWillie is like an online piano teacher for the experienced piano student (JazzEdge has other programs for beginning students and younger children, such as Easy Piano Basics or HomeSchoolPiano). With a high speed internet connection, you can stream videos with a variety of "Foundational" (technique, rhythm, reading) or "Fun'dational" (songs and improvisations) lessons. Course materials and sheet music are also available for download.

Since it has been a while since I've played the piano regularly, and the whole world of jazz piano is new to me, I began to follow the "Piano Start" guide.

I downloaded and printed the course materials for the "30-Day Success Playbook" and began to go through them. I quickly realized that the first lessons were too easy for me, so I skipped ahead to Day 21 (with the teacher's permission, of course!). I easily sight-read all the music for the subsequent days, but began to realize that understanding all the complex chords would be a challenge.

I began to watch the video lessons corresponding to the days I found challenging. This is where I ran into trouble. We have "high speed internet," but we live in rural PEI where that doesn't mean much (Though I hadn't anticipated problems because Netflix and even YouTube work fine here.). Even with all the settings turned down to as basic as possible, the video lessons only streamed seconds at a time before stopping to load another few seconds. After chatting online with someone on the JazzEdge support team, I paused the videos for a few minutes to allow them to load more before playing. Even so, I could never get them to load more than three minutes at a time. Needless to say, this was extremely frustrating. I began to watch the videos while doing other things, just so the wait every couple of minutes wouldn't drive me completely crazy. Once I was done with the 30-Day Success Playbook and began to try other lessons, I realized that I did not have the same problem with all of the videos on the site. (My computer-tech husband tells me that they may have been recorded differently, and indeed, the videos that worked well for me did seem to be a bit older.)

Jazz was not a natural choice for me. However, I do like the complex chords and the clean sound of some jazz piano. And I found that PianoWithWillie is not at all limited to jazz, but has lessons on gospel music, pop/rock, blues, and even a bit of classical music! I spent the rest of my time on the "Fun'dational" side of the lessons, trying out different songs. I especially enjoyed "Precious Lord, Take My Hand." Having done that, I know I will need to dig into the more "Foundational" lessons to really get the most out of PianoWithWillie. I really want to learn more about chord formation now, and that's where I'll focus next.

SA said to me just last week, "Mama, I like the way it sounds when you play the piano." PianoWithWillie has done what I hoped it would --it has inspired me to play the piano regularly once again. And my children are listening. I am proud of how diligently SA is practicing his own piano lessons now, and I don't think it's unrelated to the fact that I have been practicing myself. I look forward to continuing to learn from PianoWithWillie.

For more reviews on PianoWithWillie and other JazzEdge products, click the link below:
JazzEdge Review
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