February 26, 2006

Highlights of last week's trip to New York City, in order of importance to Nathaniel and Jessica:
  1. Sighting a live rat in the subway tunnels. "A real rat!" cried Nathaniel, pointing excitedly from the platform among hundreds of jaded Manhattanites intently tuned to their iPods.

  2. Grafitti: "Sometimes they have pictures, and sometimes they're just words."

  3. A boxy, yellow ferry that the children sighted as we tried to direct their gaze to the Statue of Liberty: "It's the Magic School Bus!"

  4. Trash deposited onto the sidewalk in front of businesses.

  5. Burglar bars on windows.

  6. Construction of some sort on every corner.

Their list might not exactly match ours (a broadway play, the shrine of St. Elizabeth Seton, the site of the World Trade Center, Hassidic and Polish neighborhoods in Brooklyn . . . ) but learning takes many forms. At least that's what we're telling ourselves.

February 07, 2006

Updates to Kids' Reading List

The Cates have published the latest Carnival of Homeschooling so we can all catch up with reading homeschooling-related blogs.

Regarding our own reading, I updated the website that we use to track the kids' reading. A simple rating system lets readers rate their books from Bad to Excellent!

I also "Ajaxified" the interface so it retrieves book information on the fly instead of rebuilding the whole page. (That previous sentence may mean something to technical types.)

Anyone is welcome to track his or her reading on this site.

February 06, 2006

Streetwise and Sheltered

Our children, five and seven, are streetwise and sheltered, sophisticated and naive, in very strange ways. I wonder if these paradoxes are typical of homeschooled children.

  • They know about the war in Iraq and the controversy surrounding it, but they don't know Sponge Bob from South Park.

  • They are aware that they have biological parents and foster parents overseas, but they aren't aware that Mom and Dad have ever disagreed about matters of child-rearing.

  • They have some understanding of the major religions' creeds, but they don't recognize curse words.

  • We read them stories like The Island of the Blue Dolphins, in which wild dogs kill the heroine's brother, but we won't let them watch Jurassic Park because of the violence.

  • They are comfortable discussing President Jackson's displacement of the Cherokees on the Trail of Tears but they don't know the lyrics to any Billboard songs.
I guess Mom and Dad are sheltered too. Last week we watched Citizen Kane and Song of the Thin Man, but we haven't seen any of the films that have been nominated for this year's academy awards.

February 02, 2006

Pirate Maps and Compass Directions

One of our recent “science” lessons involved mapping and compass directions. Camille spent roughly a week on the topic and did a wonderful job working in the children's recent learning about early American history: they could understand that the Europeans came west across the Atlantic, and they now have a sense of how western expansion proceeded across the United States.

I got to cap the week with a little lesson of my own. I pulled an image of a pirate's treasure map off the Internet. It showed a desert isle with palm trees and boulders and had a weathered look about it.

Then I overlaid a grid pattern onto the map using the transparency layers built into Paint.Net (my free, image-editing tool of choice). I printed the map, drew a starting point on it, and worked out a series of steps to navigate from here to there on the paper. I put the steps into a “pirate” letter:

Dear Pirate,
A. Move two steps to the north.
B. Walk four steps to the west.
C. Swim three squares to the north.
Hugs and Kisses,
Long John Silver

Another copy of the map served as the answer key. On this copy, I drew a “treasure” on the correct end-spot. The children worked through the exercise, and when they came to the end, they punched holes in their maps. By holding their maps over my key, we could see whether or not they had successfully “found” the treasure by looking through the whole.

A few weeks later, Camille was teaching the children measurement, and I resurrected the pirate maps. This time I gave the instructions in inches: “Move two inches to the north,” etc. Again, the game was a hit.

I'm toying with the idea of creating an online version of the exercise, but I'm not sure kids would enjoy it as much. Our children really savored physically marking up their maps and punching those holes once they had pinpointed the treasures.