Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Club Day. The Nature Version.

Today's Club meeting could have gone with the tagline, "Just Play With Your Food."  Which is exactly what we did today.  But it was all with a purpose.  You see, we were experimenting with different bird beak designs and discovering that certain beaks are engineered specifically for the preferred food of its owner.

First, let me introduce you to the tools of our discovery snack.  We used toothpicks (for the birds that like to stab at their meal), spoons (for birds like pelicans that scoop up their food), clothespins and tweezers or chopsticks (for those that grab their meals) and straws (for those who suck their meals, like hummingbirds).

Next, let me share the exotic fare we dined on today.  Cheese transformed itself into caterpillars (you could use marshmallows too); raisins became grubs (any dried fruit would do, though); chocolate sprinkles were the most delicious ants I've ever tasted; puffed rice became insects; sunflower and pumpkin seeds were, well, seeds; oranges were for the fruit-lovers; and apple juice was nectar.  Other things to try include cooked macaroni and peanuts with or without the shells, but I opted to avoid those due to allergy concerns.

The table was set with each clubber having their own set of tools laid out on a napkin, a plate and a glass.  The morsels of delectable food were gathered in the middle which I served.  We tried each of the tools for each kind of food to determine which worked best and wrote our answers down on the chalkboard.  The only rule was to have one hand working the tool while the other hand was firmly behind one's back.  And we had a lot of fun as the Clubbers tried to slurp pumpkin seeds through their straws, stabbed their puffed rice with toothpicks, and attempted futilely to pick up chocolate sprinkles with a clothespin.

Yes, it was an action-packed, fast-and-furious snack.  And, as a warning to you if you try it at home, it will most likely leave a big mess on and around your table.  But such is the way of scientific experimentation!

As the club went about finishing their snack using their tool of choice, I read the book Beaks!  It has beautiful illustrations.  The reader can read the basics of the different types of beaks and their functions or can deep dive to learn about different bird species, what they eat, and how their beak has evolved to make it easier to enjoy their food of choice.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Turning a mountain into a molehill.

Many of our spaces are in need of a purge.  There's messy build-up in pockets, corners, and rooms.  In an attempt to just get a couple of spaces to the point that I could walk into them without cringing, I simply dumped what I could find into laundry baskets or totes and hauled them to my room, with good intentions to get through them in peace and without a little one wandering in and inspecting every item that was in the recycle/toss and giveaway piles. 

For the most part, it worked.  Except that there is now more messy build-up in my room.  Clothes that no longer fit, or need to be mended, or moved to the next stage of their lives (think pants that will now be shorts due to the holes in the knees), were piled on the chest at the foot of my bed.  I was feeling that exasperated, cringe-like feeling every time I entered my room now!  It turns out there is no escape from it unless it is dealt with once and for all.

So a couple of hours were spent with my sewing machine to reduce the mountainous pile down to a manageable molehill.  I think I put together a pretty well-rounded summer wardrobe for my older two, who now have an abundance of shorts. 

And what to do with the cut-off legs below the hole?  It turns out they are the perfect size for most of the panels in the Indi-go bag pattern that is in Reinvention:  Sewing with Rescued Materials.  My pile of jeans is now down to this:

Ahhh, now a wee bit more room for clarity!

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Club Day. The Birds of Prey version.

Yes, Birds of Prey Club is still happening, though my part in it is solely of the supervisor and snack provider nature.  Most meetings the boys conjure up fantasy roles and then spend most of their time talking about the role they've created for themselves, kind of like they're trying to one-up each other as to who has the most fantastical swords, grotesque bodies, or amazing superpowers.

Today, though, I was really hoping they would be up for some fort building.  You see, our neighbour shovelled the snow off her roof, and quite a bit of it landed between our houses...like four feet of it.

Having the sinking feeling that the folks the neighbour hired wouldn't be coming back to clean up the mess they'd left to seep into our basements, I took the kids outside, intending they would play happily and I would move snow.

But given that snow is everywhere around here, even though it is starting to melt, I quickly came to the realization that simply throwing the snow in the direction of the sidewalk would just be tiring.  And, as it happened that the top of the pile between the houses had a nice icy covering and the stuff below was being compressed by the stuff above, it was coming out in big chunks.  Perfect chunks for a snow fort to be built.  I called the kids over and suggested they start designing their fort.  And they did!

Here's what they built with about one third of the snow I hauled out.


Unfortunately, there was still quite a bit back there, and it needed somewhere to go.  But Birds of Prey Club was too lost in their imaginary world to be pulled out for a few blocks of snow.  Oh well.  They had fun.  They had a creative outlet.  And my kids have tomorrow to build another fort.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Playing with wolves

Jaelyn requested a deep dive into the lives of wolves when we returned to our normal rhythm after the winter holidays.  I must confess that I didn't put in a lot of effort into ordering our activities - they just sort of happened as the books we requested from the libraries started trickling in.  Here's a peek into the resources we used and the activities we did.

We started off our unit by reading Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George.  This is the story of a 13-year-old Eskimo girl who was lost on the tundra and resorted to befriending a pack of wolves in hopes they would bring food to share with her until she made her way back to civilization.  We learned a lot about how wolves communicate and the incredible loyalty wolves possess for the members of their pack.  In fact, there was one day that Jaelyn started giving me commands with wolf-talk - she put her hands on her head like ears, pointed them at me, and bared her teeth.  She was telling me to lie on my belly.  We also learned about the social structure of a pack, as well as Inuit and Eskimo traditions.  Later, we also read through the last two books of the trilogy - Julie and Julie's Wolf Pack.

When Julie met the wolves in Julie and the Wolves, there were pups in the pack.  We further explored the first year of a pup's life by reading Look to the North: A Wolf Pup Diary, also by Jean Craighead George.  This story describes the timing of a pup's development stages with changes in nature or important milestone dates children might remember.  It doesn't use specific dates, and we had difficulty relating to some of the milestones (such as when certain flowers or birds appear further south) so I printed out a calendar and we did our best to identify the development stages based on the milestones we did know (such as when the fireworks fly).

We learned about the important role that wolves play in maintaining healthy ecosystems by watching Wolves:  A Legend Returns to Yellowstone.  We supplemented this by reading When the Wolves Returned, which provided even deeper insight.  For example, it mentioned the detrimental effects of rising elk populations on the trees, which impacted the number of bird species and other animals in Yellowstone.  Since the wolf was reintroduced, there is more diversity in the park.  I really appreciated how a complex subject could be written about in simple terms.  The book ended with a simple food chain that showed the trickle-down effect of wolves on both plant and animal species.

Lastly, we watched several other videos:  Living with Wolves and Wolves at our Door.  Both these videos were shot by a husband and wife team (Jim and Jamie Dutcher) living in a yurt in the mountains of Idaho.  Their closest neighbours was a pack of wolves, which they were observing to learn more about their social behaviours.  This duo also put together a book with amazing photography called The Hidden Life of Wolves

For each book or video we watched, I asked Jaelyn to draw a picture from a favorite page or scene.  Later, she would narrate what she had drawn.  Other activities we did during our study of wolves was creating a wolf from modelling wax and building a diorama of a wolf pack's habitat.  And there has also been lots of impromptu play-acting - like the "pups" ganging up on the alpha male and trying to assert themselves as the alpha, or Jaelyn identifying herself as the pack beta and making sure all was well with each pack member.  This play-acting is by far my favorite part of homeschooling.

We finished off our unit on wolves with a trip to the zoo while on vacation.  Our hope was that the wolves would be active and we could try to guess what their behaviours were communicating.  Unfortunately for us, the wolves were communicating that they were sleepy.  I guess that happens in the life of a wolf too - it just doesn't make for good TV or reading.

What projects have your little ones been immersed in?

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Club Day. The Nature Version.

After an extended hiatus due to family vacations and my own continuing professional development, Nature Club was back in business.  I committed to working through the Feathered Friends materials from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  I started the program late, though - it is a program with activities for September to May, but we didn't really get into it until we started up in January.  Aside from the activity about migration, which is listed as an October activity that I will postpone until April, the topics haven't been too dependent on the seasons.

Our focus at this meeting was moving like a bird.  We watched a few select videos of birds that have developed distinct ways of moving (this link has a select video for each bird that highlights its specific adaptations, while this one gives you a whole library to look and listen through).  Each Nature Clubber got to act out one of the birds we watched, and then we talked about how the bird was built for its movement.  For example - the ostrich is built to walk or run because its size prohibits it from flying.  Loons are at home in the water, partly because their feet are built to make them excellent swimmers.

We took our bird movements one step further by heading outside to play "Birdy Says", inspired by Simon Says.  We worked out a few bird movements for other birds - hummingbirds, vultures and penguins, then had fun flitting and jumping and waddling around in the snow. 

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Dreaming of days to come

My, it's been a while since I've found myself in front of this blank page.  I think it's been partly due to my will extending my after-Christmas holiday, partly due to our ramped-up winter busy-ness, and partly due to the coldest February on record for these parts.

We do see signs of spring on the horizon, though.  We can feel that the sun's rays are warmer on our faces, and we rise earlier in synch with that giant yellow orb in the sky.  Our local Seedy Saturday event came and went today, and there was a flurry of garden planning and eager anticipation before we bundled up and headed out the door.  The seeds are now here, recorded in my handy little spreadsheet so I can track what will be planted inside, when it will ideally be planted, and where it will go once the time arrives to introduce it to its outside home.  Yes, last night included mad scouring of companion planting tables, wishing that potatoes and tomatoes got along better (or at least could find one friend they had in common to go between them), and resolute determination to try out the three sisters method of companion planting.  Fresh in my mind was last year's vow that this year would be better, and plans were made for preventing the onslaught of weeds and late-night waterings.  Oh, and ideas for a quick to put together shelf by our huge south-facing window have been hashed out and should be doable within the week.  I'm so looking forward to this garden!

Also on my mind is how to give this garden and it's much hoped for abundance the attention it needs with these three little ones in tow and a schedule crammed full of springtime fun and games.  The first question that I've been pondering is how I'm going to look after myself.  I remember the many late nights of preserving, chosen intentionally so as to avoid heating the house during the hottest part of the day, and partly because that was really the only time the work would get done.  And it seemed to go on for days.  And weeks.  And months.  So something to fill my cup is definitely needed to run the marathon that lies ahead.  Something like waking half an hour earlier and doing a bit of yoga (outside, when the weather's nice, perhaps?), and soaking in the quiet morning moments sounds so nice to me. 

Working out something do-able and sustainable for keeping an eye on the children while working in the garden will take a bit more experimentation.  While last year's ideals were lovely (yes, I thought the combination of gardening and art would be alluring and keep everyone nearby), I soon found myself just trying to make sure we had all the gardening essentials.  Potential fixes could include having the kids pack up their essentials the night before, having our circle time out at the garden, ensuring there are books and a blanket to curl up in, amongst other things.

In the meantime, I'll keep on simplifying here and there.  I'll take the time to get myself organized so that when the time comes to jump into action everything is there waiting.  I can stock up on stuff like Pamona's Pectin and lemon juice, vinegar and pickling salt, garden stakes and gloves, well before we're in the heat of the moment, and I find the rest of the city is also hunting for such goods.  After all, I have a couple of months before I get to see and feel that black earth.  The work done today will ease the load tomorrow. 

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Two birds with one stone

I wasn't planning on sharing this little 20 minute adventure, as it isn't a pretty one, really.  It's quite filled with grime and messy build-up actually. 

I've been on a simplifying adventure.  I've been working on little pockets here and there - the mudroom, the storage closet that holds our luggage and children's clothes waiting to be handed down to the next little one, the dress-up bin, the pantry, the door of the refrigerator.  Well, now that I look at the list, most of them took quite a bit of time.  But they look and feel so much better now!  Anyway, my task has been to get rid of the stuff that is no longer needed or no longer fits with our lifestyle choices, then organize what's left.  It meant that we reduced the number of mitts and hats to choose from in the mudroom, that all the bulk goods in bags were moved into jars in the pantry, and that the boxes with the children's clothes have been sorted through so that only a reasonable amount of clothes remain.

Today's quick project was underneath my kitchen sink.  It's definitely not a glamorous spot that will receive a lot of attention, but my reason for cleaning it out had nothing to do with the mess or grime that was under there.

You see, we have a weekly chore day.  On one afternoon a week, Tuesdays this winter, all of us do some sort of chore.  Vacuuming and cleaning the bathrooms are always on the list and Nicholas and Jaelyn alternate doing these.  I'm available to help, if it's needed, but I also do chores, whether it is folding laundry or doing dishes, or de-cluttering a corner.  What I discovered was that the person responsible for cleaning the bathrooms would inevitably disappear, citing that I hadn't gathered the cleaning supplies fast enough.  During a moment of clarity, I realized there is no need for me to keep the cleaning supplies up high because Astrin never was into eating or drinking our cleaning supplies.  As she watched me fanatically scrubbing the cabinet and we talked, it became clear the thought of chowing down on the stuff under the sink had never even crossed her mind.  And the cleaning supplies are baking soda and vinegar.  The same stuff we put in our baking and our pickles.  I think we're safe.

So, my quest for an accessible and logical place for the cleaning supplies led me to under the kitchen sink.  Here's kind of what it looked like before, once I pulled all the empty jars out (which I intended to use for pouring grease into - did I really think I would need that many?).  I couldn't get too close, as I didn't want to immortalize the mess under there!

And here's what it looks like now.  Minimal.  Accessible.  Simple.