Monday, July 30, 2007

How Weather Affects Crops

Before we moved to Kansas, I knew very little about farm life. I knew even less about planting and harvesting. It's amazing how much you learn about different parts of the country simply by relocating and then paying attention to what is around you. We don't life on a farm, but we live in a farming community so how successful the farms are greatly influences the economics of our town.
When we first arrived in Kansas in January 2006, we were in the middle of a drought. That winter was very moderate and I think we may have gotten one round of snow. We also had very little rain, and I kept wondering how the wheat crops would be affected by the dryness. The talk around town was all about how much yield each farmer would get, and would it EVER rain? Then the "moderate" fall and winter turned into a scorcher of a summer, and I think there were over ten days of temperatures close to 110. If memory serves me correctly, this was during or after harvest, so the crop was not affected by this (although, I'm sure the farmers were!)
Then came the rain. And the snow. I can't tell you how many times it snowed in late 2006 and early 2007 because I lost count. And some of the snow came on top of other snow or ice that never melted. Praises to God for all the precipitation could be heard in all the churches! Imagine how well the wheat would do this harvest!
In the spring, storm after storm flooded basements, flooded towns, and even flattened completely Greensburg, KS. Being naive, I imagined what a great harvest we would have in June! But the rain didn't stop. And harvest time came, and the wheat could not be harvested. Most farmers began harvest as soon as the wheat was dry enough. Then more rain would come, putting harvest off again. What I never knew is that there is a small window of time when the wheat is ready, and if it can't be harvested because it is too wet, the window might be missed.
A few days ago, I had to drive an hour away into Wichita. The effects of the rain were very clear, as across the landscape I could see acres and acres of burning fields. Crops that could not be harvested had to be burned as much of it had grown mold from the wetness. The rains, which were such a blessing to the growth of the crops, had become a curse to the harvest. The economic impact is even worse than the year of the drought.
Farmers have insurance to cover these losses, but it certainly doesn't cover the full amount that they would have received with a good harvest. This means that the next year will be tight, and there won't be much excess for many families in Kansas. When I lived in the Georgia suburbs, I did not know any of this. Sometimes ignorance is bliss! It has been a great educational experience for all of us, not only learning about the farming end of things, but also how the weather can affect the economics of a region. It makes me wonder what else we are missing, and do we need to move to another part of the country to learn about it? I hope not!

Friday, July 27, 2007

"Sensible Addition" Just Released

When I first started this blog, I mentioned that I developed a method of teaching addition facts that worked very well with my son. I have since put together a kit which all parents can buy for their children who are either struggling with memorizing the facts, or who simply want to learn them faster. When I started using this method with my son, he literally learned the facts twice as fast as he had before, even though the facts were getting higher in number.

Sensible Addition assumes that the child already has an understanding of addition and what it means to add two numbers together. It does provide suggestions for teaching the addition concept, only to let parents know what their child should have learned in school. While most homeschooling parents understand learning the concept vs. memorizing facts, many parents who depend on teachers to teach the concepts may not realize that their child is having trouble memorizing facts for concepts that don't make sense to them. This is where math starts to go "down hill" for many children, who continue to struggle as more math concepts are built on shaky ground.

With Sensible Addition, any parent can sit down with a few manipulatives, find out how much their child understands about adding numbers, and move forward with practice, and finally with memorizing addition facts. You can learn more about teaching addition facts and what Sensible Addition is (and isn't), and buy a kit for your child today!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

What Being a WAHM Means to Me

Recently, being a WAHM (work at home mom) has become even more important to me. Because I also homeschool, my children are with me for most of their days. This can be a pain, but when I see other adults that might have some influence on them, I am glad that I can raise them the way that I think they should be raised and not people who don't share our beliefs!

When I had my children, it was not in the plans for me to have a job. It just sort of happened. I used to go to Bible studies for moms, craft nights, and other fun outings, and now I balance my time between working, house work, kid stuff, school, and oh yeah- bathing regularly!

Basically, being a WAHM means that I can be there for my children no matter what. I can work around their schedule. I can use my business to teach them about computer graphics and web design, marketing skills, accounting, organizing, and other things that interest them. My four year old has already learned that when we buy something online, it does NOT print out on the computer! She loves to help me stuff envelopes and put postage on them. And she loves how we can take pictures of things and then they show up on the computer. One day when it occurs to her that we can make it show up on everyone else's computer when they visit our site, it will totally blow her away!

Most importantly, what being a WAHM means is that I can teach my children that they don't have to depend on someone else to hire them to work a JOB. When you develop the right skills, you can build your own business and work for yourself. It isn't easier than working for someone else. Heck, I remember being able to push papers all day and get paid for it, no matter what got accomplished. I also remember being totally unfulfilled. Having your own business is a LOT of work. But it is worth it to me because of all the benefits that come from it.

Going to a JOB is easy. Sending kids to school all day is easy. But doing it all yourself is one of the most rewarding things you can do for yourself and your children. And it's TOTALLY worth it!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Teaching Habitats

When we learned about mountains and valleys, of course a shoe box came to mind! We built this model this past winter, I believe, and the kids had so much fun with it. It's amazing how "trash" can become so useful if you think about it! We used a brown paper bag and a shoebox to build the mountains. We used cotton for the "snowcaps." We got pictures of different animals online and colored and cut them out. The water is just blue paint and some clear wrap on top of that. The trees and shrubs are simply green construction paper cutouts. We never did put fish in the water, but we still have this project to add to when we want. Please feel free to share other ways in which you used shoe boxes and/or taught about different habitats. We'd love to hear them!

Click on the pictures if you'd like to see a larger image!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Death in the "Family"

Last week we had a tragic event occur in our "family" that was a great learning experience: two of our frogs died. They were the last of the eight to turn into frogs, so when we had to name them for the funeral services, we lovingly called them "Seven" and "Eight."
I'm not really sure what happened to them, but my best guess is that they didn't get enough oxygen in their Planet Frog habitat. We put the top on, and I'm guessing the little air holes didn't allow enough air in. It was a sinking feeling when I looked in one morning and saw that Seven was discolored, and Eight was on his back. Believe it or not, I even choked up a little when I said a few words before we buried them in our planter on the front porch. I felt so guilty. But then, having 6 out of 8 tadpoles turn into frogs AND survive is an incredible feat!
I tried to get Anna to sing her new favorite song, "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow," but she would not. She probably doesn't remember singing, "Twinkle, Twinkle," at our dog Sandy's funeral when she was 2 1/2 and perhaps she was just too devastated to sing. But after the services for Seven and Eight, life went on, and hopefully their little bodies in the planter will grow some beautiful plants for us!

Monday, July 9, 2007

Five in a Row

Becoming a homeschooling family requires many decisions, most importantly how your child will learn. Will you unschool and use natural teaching moments to learn fractions (baking), measurements (building), and science (raising tadpoles); or will you create your own classroom at home with desks, chalkboards, and textbooks? Secondly, you will need to choose a curriculum- or not. The decision can vary from one extreme to the next, and the best part is- the decision is YOURS.

Our first year of homeschooling was kindergarten, and we used books from here, books from there, and learned. We used Hooked on Phonics for reading and my son is reading amazingly well. Having been taught to teach, I find myself waivering between "schooling" and "unschooling." And I think this works perfectly for us. We use natural moments, and textbooks as well.

For first grade, I have chosen the Five in a Row (FIAR) curriculum. I selected this curriculum for one main reason: I had no idea where to start when it came to selecting books for my children to read. FIAR does this for you. The curriculum is described as, "a unit-study approach to early education based on outstanding children's literature. Together, the three volumes of Five in a Row provide 55 lesson plans covering Social Studies, Language, Art, Applied Math, and Science in a way that causes children to fall in love with learning."

Since we "learn" during summer as well, we have already done our first book, which was Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. Because it was available, we also purchased the lapbook to go along with with this book. We had a lot of fun cutting, pasting, and putting together a memorable "book" that can be flipped through at future times when we want to remember the story and everything we learned about steam shovels, flexibility, and good stewardship. My son is not a big artist, so he left almost everything uncolored. And one day if he changes his mind, he can color the pictures in his lapbook if he wants to.

Of course, we won't do a lapbook EVERY time we do a new book, but I think it's fun every once and a while and a great learning experience for children. I will never forget how my son's cub scout group created a scrapbook page because it's in their scout book. I thought it was a little strange for boys to do it, but whatever! The next day, my son wanted to do more pages for school. So I got out my papers, stamps, stickers, etc. and I think he created 2-3 pages. It is AMAZING what scrapbooking teaches little ones! I saw so many little light bulbs going off while we worked together. He got to use the paper cutter to trim the pictures, and the corner punch to make round corners. He had to select coordinating papers and then design the page before gluing the items down. I coached, and let him do the work. It was so much fun!

Anyway, back to Five in a Row! If you are unsure of what to use for your own child's learning, you might want to check it out. FIAR is appropriate for ages 4-8, and after that, there's "Beyond Five in a Row" for older students. We do use a separate math curriculum which you definitely have to have, especially if you have an advanced student who excels in the subject. We selected BJ Press math for Grade 1 and we mix that with another book called The Complete Book of Time and Money, which is one of the books we used for kindergarten. I like this book so much that I will be ordering it for my 4 1/2 year old daughter to start using soon. For other subjects, we have tons of books, maps, and computer games to learn. We vary it and change it up, and mix in natural learning moments as much as possible.

We know many parents would freak out if they tried our method. But it works for us, and it seems to be working for our children as they continue to flourish and excel in many areas!

Friday, July 6, 2007

It's JUST a Geoboard!

Last week we were at the school supply store and I remembered reading about a geoboard in the next week's lessons when I saw one in the midst of the math supplies. I thought, "It's jut a board with some nails in it!" and put it down. Then I noticed it was ONLY $3.95 or so and figured we might use it at some point, so I added it to my pile. I didn't get the colored rubber bands because we had perfectly good rubber bands at home!

I put it with the school stuff and the next time we did school, brought it out with the lesson materials. Before I even had to say anything, my 6 year old was adding rubberbands and creating a design. Before we finished school he was fighting over it with my 4 year old. They LOVED this thing! He played with it all day, and then, get THIS: he put it under his pillow at bed time! Here is one of the designs that he created. He also took the picture! He made countless designs that day, and I bet if I look, it is still under his pillow. Here is a great resource for geoboard lessons.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Our Tadpole Project

We have gotten more than our share of rain in Kansas and when you have puddles, you have tadpoles! Our friends collected some tadpoles from their wheat field and we were fortunate enough to obtain eight (yes EIGHT!) tadpoles for our "Planet Frog" habitat that had been sitting empty for close to two years. It didn't occur to me at the time that we might actually get them all to the frog stage without losing any, but now, I'm wondering what we will do with eight frogs! The first picture shows my son and daughter watching the tadpoles that we just brought home.

And here is a close up picture of the tadpoles and what they looked like on June 11, 2007. (Click on the picture to see them up close.) They weren't very small, but we didn't know how long it would take for them to morph into frogs. After reading extensively online, we learned that some frogs take much longer than others. We also learned that distilled water was good for the tadpoles' habitat, which was good since we have lots of that on hand! We tried collecting rain water but it was a pain! The Planet Frog habitat proved to be too small for the eight tadpoles because we had to change the water almost daily. So we split them up into two Pyrex dishes and put some rocks from our yard into these dishes. The tadpoles liked to swim under these as much as they could at the edges.
After we had the tadpoles for seven days, guess what appeared? That's right: LEGS!! Well, back legs anyway. The tadpoles still use their tails to get around, and the legs are just sort of there as if the tadpole doesn't realize it. The tadpoles didn't all get their back legs at the same time. In this picture you can see how one has more legs than the other, and some of the tadpoles had nothing at all. You might be wondering what to feed a tadpole. We were told they eat fish food, so we got the only kind available: tropical fish food, which they seem to like.

Seven days after the back legs appeared, we spotted some front legs! After hearing that tadpoles in captivity had to get a certain hormone in order to develop their front legs, I did some research on-line. Apparently, the stress of a puddle drying up (for example) releases a hormone which causes the tadpole to turn into a frog, because if it didn't, the tadpole would die without the puddle. So by the time the puddle dries out, the tadpole needs to have all legs to hop out. So what we did was place the "almost frogs" into the shallow glass Pyrex pan, and let the water naturally evaporate so that the hormone would be released. It must have worked! Once the front legs appeared, we noticed that they use these while swimming, and of course, the tail begins to disappear.
Once the tails were disappearing, we knew that we needed a bigger habitat for the frogs, and one that had a top. We went to PetsMart, where we got a new habitat and their new food: crickets! I sort of doubted that these tiny frogs would eat the crickets almost as big as they were, but the young man sounded knowledgeable so I went with it. In this picture, you can see how the frogs are losing their tails at different rates. We also noticed that the frogs were developing in pairs. At this point, we had three habitats going: one for legless tadpoles, one shallow dish for "frogs in training" and the frog habitat. We had an assembly line going that seemed to produce healthy frogs! (Or are they toads? Hmmm) The picture of these two frogs were taken 17 days after we brought them home. Time sure flies!

I'm still not sure about the crickets. We left a dead one on the rock for a "frog in training" so he could sort of check it out. I think they only eat them when we aren't watching them (or are they getting out of the habitat?) because they are disappearing, but we aren't sure where they're going! It has now been 25 days since we've had the tadpoles, and the frogs have gotten pretty active.

Yes, I AM wondering what I'll be doing with eight frogs, and I've only promised that we can keep two. The rest we will probably set free somewhere, like the turle that we set free at our lake. The kids only had that turtle overnight and still talk about it (they named it Snappy). We had a frog show up in our backyard one night ("Donut"), and I felt so bad for it that I made the kids let it go in our garden. My 4 year old daughter broke down! She could not stop crying; it was such a pitiful sight. But it made me feel good to know that she has such a BIG heart!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Why I Stay Home

Fourteen years ago, when I graduated from Georgia State University with a teaching degree, I never imagined that one day I would be a stay at home mom who homeschools. But after two years teaching middle school kids, I realized this career was NOT for me, and that I would never put my children into school.

Fourteen years ago, homeschooling was somewhat a novel idea. Many years later when I finally had children of my own, the decision to stay at home was a no-brainer. When my son was two and my daughter was six months, I had become a work at home mom selling cloth diapers and other baby products. With two in diapers, that was a no-brainer as well! As they both grew and flourished, the demand on my time was pulled between my kids and my business on a daily basis like a tug-of-war that no one ever won. I quickly realized how difficult it was to have a home business as well as spend quality time with my children. I also learned how to make every moment count, by providing educational toys for my children that would help them grow and connect synapses in their brains, and by playing with them and talking to them during play.

I remember one day that I had on a t-shirt with writing on it. I don't remember what it said, but I do remember my son pointing and saying the letters. It was then that I thought that there should be an entire line of products geared just for the children of WAHM's (work at home moms) so that children could learn letters, numbers, shapes, colors, etc. in day to day life as they connect with their moms between phone calls and errands. That was over three years ago, and I still think there is a need! Maybe one day, but right now I am developing things for my own children that I hope to get into the market very soon.

We have just completed our first year of homeschooling, and I have to admit the decision was not easy. We now live in another part of the country, and in a small town. Out of selfishness, I convinced myself that this would NOT be the same situation as the school in which I taught. Somehow, it would be different. A month before school started, God began to speak to me. All of a sudden people I had never met before came into my path- all homeschoolers. Things began to happen that made me realize that school is school, no matter where you live, and if I wanted the BEST for my child, school was not an option.

Thirteen years after getting my degree, I became a member of the homeschooling community. Ironically, all those psychology courses they shoved down our throats in the teaching program convinced me that school is not a place for my children! So I stay home, and continue my business, and teach. The tug-of-war has become weaker over time, and it is my prayer that one day I will smile from ear to ear when my children say, "What can we do to help, Mom?" And I will know that I have raised a Stay At Home Child.