Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fifth Grade: Botany Weeks Two and Three

Weeks two and three have just zipped on by. We've really been enjoying Botany; it's a great study for getting outside!

We packed so much into week two, but we both had a great time and learned much. We started the week by making nature journals. We bought two spiral bound sketchbooks at Michael's  and picked up a kneadable eraser and some drawing pencils. We each painted a water color, to cut down and use as a cover; the sketchbooks looked very impersonal with their black cardboard covers. On our Monday walk at Apollo Park we spent some time sketching a few plants, trying out the sketchbooks and exercising our fingers. And even more fun, we spent Tuesday afternoon in the backyard, just sitting still and observing and sketching our surroundings for 15 minutes. I didn't want to make the session too long, thinking the Boy would rebel. But at my call of "Time's up!" He responded with an "Awwwww, Mom."It sounds so much better at the end of an assignment rather than at the beginning of one. He drew one of our goats:

In our main lessons we moved through pollination, plant classification, and mushrooms. We learned that mushrooms are actually the fruiting body of the underground fungus. (A fact that fascinates the Boy). We drew mushrooms, observed them on our morning walks, photographed many types, and after collecting samples in a torrential downpour, made spore prints.
Main Lesson Book

To make spore prints, collect a few mushroom caps. Place them gill side down on a piece of paper. We used both black and white papers, as we weren't sure what color the spores would be. (Most were white, with one being a yellowish color). Place a glass or a bowl upside down over the cap, to keep it moist and undisturbed. Let it sit overnight. In the morning, remove the cover and the cap, and you should have a spore print on your paper. We pulled out a microscope type toy that the Boy received a few Christmases ago and looked at the prints close up.
Our sample mushrooms
Spore Print

We ended week two with a group field trip to John Rudy park, for a nature scavenger hunt and some much needed social time. Our scavenger hunt was a great success, with all of the kids working together, rather than competing. Walking down the trail you'd hear "Does anyone need an insect? I have an extra!" "I have two pieces of trash, who wants one?" Afterwards we gathered for snack and to display our findings. Several of the kids made bark rubbings, while others jumped on their bikes or scooters and pedaled around the bike path.
Some of the participants in our group scavenger hunt
Over the weekend we spontaneously decided to go camping. After driving our middle son to the bus station (return trip to college in NC) we packed up the car and drove the 45 minutes to Codorus State Park. We spent several relaxing days by the campfire. Really, we didn't do much at all. We ate, walked, sketched, read, and sat by the fire. We learned about American Chestnut trees, found an enormous hornet's nest, skipped stones, and made s'mores. It was a lovely break!
Sketching on our camping trip

Upon returning home, mama was slammed with a three-day migraine, so the Boy joyously spent those days woodworking with his father, watching "Myth Busters," and caring for his mama.

Fortunately the migraine lifted enough for us to join an herb walk on Friday. Our friend Jen, who makes flower essences, took our homeschool group through her farm and introduced us to many plants and their uses. Jen taught us that each plant has a story to tell, and if we listen carefully, the plant will teach us and tell us what it can give for our use. Some of the plants we learned about were: plantain, clovers, roses, elderberry, wood sorrel, goldenrod, ragweed, motherwort, nicotiana, comfrey, and calendula. We'll be heading back there in a few weeks to make a few preparations from some of these plants. I can't wait!

Sundays are for Cheese Dip

Sunday is Raven's Day in our home. Not that we are huge sports fans or anything, but Husband does like to watch or listen to the Raven's games. I enjoy watching him watch the games. And the Boy is in it for the snacks. Today, sticking with the challenge of having to use ingredients we already have on hand, we are enjoying a home made pizza, chocolate chip/pb granola bars and Jon's Cheese Dip.

Last year we had an interesting experiment transpiring: friends of ours, a family of 4, moved in with us. Yes, I guess we are a little crazy, but it was a cool thing to try. One of the bright spots was Jon's sharing of his incredible cheese dip. And because Jon so generously shared with me, I will share with you.

Jon's Cheese Dip

1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 3/4 c milk (divided, 1 cup and 3/4 cup)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic minced
olive oil
3 Tbsp cornstarch
1/4 c beer
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne (or more if you like it really spicy)
1/8 c lime juice

1. Saute onion and garlic in olive oil. Just until translucent.
2. Add beer and bring up to a simmer
3. Add 1 cup of milk, bring to a simmer
4. Stir 3/4 c milk into 3Tbs cornstarch to make a thin paste.  Add to pot. Stir constantly until mixture thickens and begins to bubble.
5. Turn heat to low and add cheese, stirring until melted.
6. Add spices and lime.

Variations: you can add all kinds of things in step 1. I like to add diced tomato, but you can add diced greens, tomatillo, peppers, etc.
I also like a lot of garlic in mine, so I use 3-4 cloves. And I like to use Guinness beer, but you can use any kind. it's really not a science. I've played with the recipe a bit, and made a version that is now my favorite.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Watercolor Painting

The boy and I really enjoy painting day, in our case, Monday. Ironically, it was one of the subjects I was most anxious about. So many thoughts going through my head, "I'm not an artist." "The supplies are too expensive." "What if I don't get it right?" "Do I really have to tell a story while demonstrating?" In the end, it turned out to be a subject we both look forward to.

Fortunately, I've spent a bit of time in the Waldorf classroom. In this way, I was able to observe how his teacher presented painting. Plus, I've done a lot of reading and checking out various websites. I felt like I was getting a hang of the technique. Just recently I found "Water Color Painting in Waldorf Education," available as a .pdf. It doesn't include the color plates, but there's a ton of information...for free!

Now for the supplies.Yes, water color supplies can be expensive, but this is where a little homesteading ingenuity really helps. I decided to go ahead and spend the money on those things that mattered: paint, brushes, and paper. And scrimp on the rest.

Does it really matter if we're painting out of lovely little pots in a wooden holder? No, it doesn't. Does it matter if the paper absorbs paint unevenly? Yes, it does. So, we saved some bucks but still acquired quality supplies: 3 Stockmar paints: red, blue, and yellow; Fabriano paper from Dick Blick, 2 "professional" grade brushes bought on sale at Michael's (A large flat brush for washes is all you need in K-3. We added a smaller flat brush in 4th, and this year we've added a third pointed sable brush; we're moving into more detailed work.) 

Where did we save money? I used half-pint canning jars for the paint pots and an old refrigerator door shelf as our "holder." Instead of $18 painting boards, which look lovely to use, I spread a $2 shower curtain over our table and clip it to the table using tablecloth clips/clamps. I also bought natural sponges at the hardware store, for blotting excess moisture from the paper. Painting aprons came from a donation from a former grocery store employee.

A few more money saving tips: If you buy your paper in large sheets,  tear them in half prior to painting, you'll get 2 paintings per sheet. The water colors get watered down; don't use them straight from the bottle! Squirt a little "worm" into your jar and add water, about an inch to begin with.You want the colors to be translucent. The 3 bottles I bought last year will probably take us through this year as well. Cover and refrigerate the paint pots to keep the paint fresh. If you or your child like to do freestyle paintings (not part of the painting lesson) determine if you can use a lesser quality paper. We've been using cast-offs from a friend. The paper is kind of yucky, but it works for just "playing."

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Fifth Grade: First Week of Botany Block

The first week of school is already behind us. Wow. Even amidst the chaos of way too much rain and the subsequent flooding, a dying refrigerator, and a sick car we accomplished so much! 

We fell right into our daily rhythm of morning verse, breakfast, animal care, walk (we skipped this on two days because of the deluge), beginning verse, and IAO verse. We added two new items to our list: daily dictation (that's how I'm getting grammar and spelling in, all year long) and mental warm up —math and/or reading questions and movement. 

We began our Botany block by taking a walk in a local park on Monday just to observe. Husband came with us and we had a pleasant, albeit wet, morning. That afternoon we made our sketch books using the rubber band and stick method. 
Walking in Apollo Park
Over the week we covered roots, stems, leaves, and blossoms. In the Waldorf pedagogy, a fifth grader doesn't receive heavy scientific nomenclature or detailed descriptions of processes. We learned the basics: what does a root do, what types are there, what is the purpose of a stem, the leaves, the blossom. We also made a chart of how to identify a plant by it's leaves— (shape, arrangement, margin, venation). We talked briefly of photosynthesis as that was of interest to him. I tried to present the material imaginatively and artistically, creating chalkboard drawings of each topic and getting outside to observe as much as possible.

In Waldorf, the subject of human reproduction does not come until late middle school but, botanical reproduction lays a light path in that direction. After all, that is why flowers exist: to reproduce. We examined flowers in our backyard, finding many different arrangements of stamens around the pistil and ovary. Using an idea from  Kovac's Botany book, I told a story of the flower seeds being like a Sleeping Beauty awaiting her Prince. Prince Pollen comes riding in on his horse, Bumblebee, to gently waken the princess.

We did a few activities this week, too. We took magnifying glasses out in the yard and looked at various flowers. The rose of sharon and flower maple had beautiful, easy to see flower parts. We put a sweet potato in water to sprout as a root project. For stems, we dyed a glass of water blue, then placed two celery stalks in the water and let sit overnight. By morning, not only were the leaves turning blue, but you could actually see how the blue had risen up through the stalk. Very cool. 
Stamens and pollen of a flowering maple

Blue stems in the celery

Leaves are turning blue

Week two will find us creating nature journals and learning about plant partnerships and plant families.  We will also start a book by John Muir as our nightly reader.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Homestead Woes: The Failing Refrigerator

Sigh. This has been a crazy week. We, in the Mid-Atlantic, have been subject to unprecedented flooding. Roads have been shut down, homes washed away, life put on hold. Fortunately, our little homestead is on a hill but, that didn't save us from the dreaded wet basement. I have spent many hours the past two days bailing our basement out by hand. And even though it wasn't fun, I feel fortunate that I had a basement to bail and I know it will dry out in the end. Some of our friends fared much worse.

But, troubles come in threes, right? Yesterday husband's car developed clutch issues (master cylinder) and my spare refrigerator went kerplunk. It actually sounded like that when I tried to adjust the temp.

Keeping my fingers crossed I let it run all night hoping I was wrong. Ok, I was in denial. Yes, it is just a "spare" refrigerator, but it is packed full! When I grocery shop, I look for major sales on items that we use frequently. Then I buy enormous quantities and throw it in the spare fridge or freezer. We also buy a quarter of a beef steer each year, and process our own chickens. My kitchen fridge, spare fridge, and chest freezer are all three full, due to some planning and thrifty shopping.

I rearranged some of the goods, getting the frozen stuff jammed into one of the two other freezers. But most of the stuff in the fridge wouldn't fit anywhere else so, it's in a cooler. And now I have a challenge for the month: to prepare our meals only using what we already have stored. I think we'll be eating a lot of oatmeal, rice, and fruit smoothies!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Fifth Grade Rhythm

Day two is complete. We seem to be falling into a rhythm already.

Light Candle/Morning Verse
Animal Care and Morning Walk
IAO Verse
Beginning Verse
Weather Check
Warm ups (Reading and/or Math questions)
Dictation (Spelling/Grammar)
Main Lesson
Snack Recess
Specials: Painting, Form Drawing, Handwork, Piano Lesson, Library, Woodwork
Piano Practice
Specials or Extra Main Lesson
30 Days of Drawing
Quiet Time
Prepare Dinner

Today we did 10 subtraction problems as our warm up. And for dictation, a sentence about plants. I dictated the sentence, which he copied into his practice book. Then he read it back to me, with the spellings and punctuation while I wrote it on the board. He corrected his work. On  Friday we will have a compilation of four sentences that he will put in his main lesson book.

One special today — wet-in-wet painting, for which we used a poem as our inspiration. We painted  a sunflower with its roots in the warm brown soil and its blossom bobbing toward the sun. I also let him do a free painting. He chose to do wet-in-dry of a squirrel, his current favorite animal.

After lunch we headed off to the library to welcome our new librarian, Ellen. Home again, home again trying to avoid the soaking raindrops. Ran into the house and snuggled up with a book and a juicy peach.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Fifth Grade: First Day Rhythm and Nature Journals

First Day of fifth grade

First day of Fifth Grade! The weather has been grey and dreary, but we made a cheerful start to our new school year, anyway. I know this is Labor Day, but we chose to start school today so Husband could be with us. And I’m glad we did.

We began our day with lighting a candle and reciting last year’s main lesson verse:
The sun with loving light, makes bright for me each day.
The soul with spirit power, gives strength unto my limbs.
In sunlight shining clear, I reverence O God, the strength of humankind
which Thou has graciously planted in my soul.

That I with all my might may love to work and learn.
From Thee come light and strength; to Thee rise love and thanks.

After a nourishing breakfast of baked oatmeal, we ventured outdoors to feed and picket the goats and feed the chickens. From there we headed out on our morning walk, gathering flowers along the way. As we entered the house, I turned to my son, offered my hand to shake and welcomed him to fifth grade. He placed the flowers in a waiting vase and checked over the posted schedule.

First thing: review last year’s main lesson books. It was amazing to see how much we covered last year, especially in math.

We then packed up our nature walk kit: magnifying glasses, scissors, plastic bag, sketchbooks, crayons, pencils, and camera and headed to Apollo, an undeveloped park, to do some observation.

I chose this particular park because there are no distractions — no rocks to climb or playground calling. Just a path that winds through several terrain changes: pine and  deciduous woods, a replanted valley, and the edge of a field. It’ll be a good spot to observe the changing of the seasons.

While out and about, I tasked the boy with looking for different types of plants. We found  ferns, mosses, mushrooms, pines/firs, deciduous trees, vines, and flowers. I also asked him to look for a model tree for drawing this year’s weather tree. We decided on a black gum (tupelo, of the dogwood family). Well, he decided on a black gum.

We collected a few samples of interesting plants, then headed home for lunch. After which we made drawing journals. Boy has verbalized several times that he “can’t draw,” and doesn’t like to draw. My thought is that if we draw some simple object every day for 30 days, we will hopefully improve our skills. If not, we will at least become more comfortable with sketching.
The “rules:” 
  • The object must be simple and something you can set on the table.
  • Only graphite, no color. 
  • You may draw it as many times as you wish, as will fit on one page. 
  • You may not erase the entire thing or scratch it out; find a clean place to start over. 
  • Only one object per day.

Here’s how we made our “sketchbooks:”

Fold as many sheets of paper in half as you will need for your book.
Each "paper" gives you four surfaces. Cut two notches in the spine.

Insert a rubber band from the outside of the book to the inside

Slip a stick through the rubber band on the outside of the book.
Pull the rubber band through the bottom notch and slip over the end of the stick, on the outside of the book.
Finished book

Friday, September 2, 2011

Weather Tracking with a Weather Tree

Last fall I was searching for a unique way to track the weather. I also wanted to teach my son about graphing, but I knew that could be kind of dry. I looked at some weather journal ideas and charting examples and it all seemed so blah. Data, data, data. Where's the creativity in that?  After looking at a bajillion websites, I cobbled together the idea of creating a weather tree.

I taped two large sheets of paper together, then we drew the "skeleton" of a maple tree. We chose maple since we have lots of them on our property. We drew one branch for each month of our school year. For us, that's Sept - May, so 9 branches. Then I took some of my water color paintings and cut them into maple leaf shapes, making sure there was an assortment of colors. Time to start tracking!

Each school morning at 9 o'clock, the boy would check the temperature on a thermometer outside our kitchen window. He would also evaluate the weather condition. Is it sunny? foggy? snowing? Then he would choose an appropriately colored leaf (orange or red for hot, yellow for sunny, pale green for a soft spring rain, silver for snow, etc.) On each leaf he wrote the date, temp and a symbol for the condition. Then he would glue it to the tree on that month's branch. I think it created a pretty nice visual of what our weather "looked" like.


I kept a running list of his data and at the end of each month, we worked on a weather graph. It was a great way to get him to use his ruler; to measure and to divide. September's graph was quite simple, just marking the temps. And I did much of the work as a demonstration. By the middle of the year, he was creating the graphs himself and had added a second data line for weather conditions.