Tuesday, May 31, 2011

US History: Over There

This past week or so, we have been going through World War I.

I decided to keep the focus on three main facets:

1. the alliances and entanglements that led to the war

2. the advances in technology that made this war so bloody

3. the ultimate futility of the war and the desire for retribution.

OK, we also looked at the involvement on the homefront. After viewing 50+ WWI posters, I had the kids make their own! I asked them to make them one of three kinds: enlistment, war bonds, or food production. Here Klenda does her take on food production.

Back to our scheduled topics: You wouldn't think the byzantine politics at the root of the Great War could be made clear, let alone funny, but here it is:

The technology side of things really made the war what it was: poison gas, machine guns, tanks, barbed wire and airplanes. It surprised me to find that, at the beginning, everyone thought the war would take 2 to 4 months. I asked my dad about it and he pointed out that, before this level of technology, most wars were pretty short (not counting civil wars). Moreover, most battles within an individual war took a few hours, up to a day. The Battle of the Somme alone took months.

My parents visited Verdun a few years before I was born, more than50 years after that battle had ended. They said you could still see the craters overlapping craters and bayonets and helmets scattered about. My dad picked up a belt buckle that was embedded with shrapnel.

The most interesting part of that trip, I heard from my mom. They had been driving along the battlefield when my dad stopped the car and they walked around a low hill. It was a crumbling underground command center, a warren of rooms extending two levels down with space for horses! She wasn't sure how my dad knew it was there, but remembered thinking at the time that if it collapsed on them, they were unlikely to ever be found...

We finished up our study on the War to End All Wars, with a Memorial Day visit to Arlington. Actually, we visit Arlington every Memorial Day because the Emperor's dad and grandparents are there (veterans of WWII and WWI). His family keeps up the lovely custom of decorating the graves of all our family on Memorial Day.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Happy Birthday, Choclo!

Choclo is SIX!

His two big favorite things in the whole wide world are:
Hero Factory

(This is Mxyl dressed up as Surge in a costume he created. It was so convincing that Choclo smiled hugely and backed away slowly.)


This is a spice cake shaped like a penguin.

He was convinced, anyway!

To celebrate, we had a pizza party with friends.

A battle broke out.

Well, battle chess anyway.

The birthday boy was more interested in his puzzle.

Happy birthday, my sweet, wonderful six year old!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Vacation in a Box

This was a birthday present to me, lovingly made by Klenda and Leena.

The beach is my favorite place to go on vacation, but my favorite part is the little magazine they made for me to read while lolling about!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


We did a science class on the moon. Well, about the moon anyway!

We started out talking about satellites and moons and how many each planet had. This segued into an interesting conversation about why the planets closest to the sun had no moons, and the relationship of gravity to mass and distance.

In other words, Mercury is too close to the sun to have a moon (because the sun would pull the moon out of mercury's orbit), but he further out you go, the less the sun's pull becomes an issue.

My personal favorite moment was asking our visiting 7 year old how many moons Jupiter had and, without hesitation, he gave the (correct) answer, "63." Dude, I had to look that one up!

We moved on to eclipses. These are easy to demonstrate with a dark room and an unshaded light bulb. We set up the lamp and used our globe for the earth and an apple on a stick for the moon.

The first trick was to use the apple to block the bulb, giving the effect of a solar eclipse. This worked pretty well (you could see the light rays shining around the blocked bulb) as long as you remembered to close one eye. The distance between the lamp and the apple varied with the kid holding the apple.

We then looked at the "solar eclipse" by casting the apple shadow on the globe. I explained that everyone in the shadow would see the eclipse, but people far from the shadow wouldn't see anything.

On the Earth, of course, the shadow has fuzzy edges where people can see partial eclipses.

While we had the room dark, we did the moon phases. We kept the lamp (as our sun) stationary. The kids took turns being the Earth, a few feet from the sun. They stayed in one place, but pivoted to face me. I held a softball as the moon and I walked around them slowly. As they turned to watch, the light on the ball went through all the phases of the moon.

While we were at it, I showed them the lunar eclipse behind them, and they could see why a lunar eclipse can only happen during a full moon.

Then we talked about gravity. Why does the moon orbit the Earth? (Gravity) What would happen if the moon were closer to the size of the Earth? (They would orbit each other like Pluto and Charon) How much smaller is the moon? (1/6 the size of Earth) Does the moon pull on the Earth, too? (Yes, but just the water moves and that causes tides)

I wanted to come up with an experiment to show why the moon could pull the water, but not the rocks. I filled a cup 1/3 full of pebbles, and another cup 1/3 full of water, and had the kids try tipping the cups slightly. The rocks moved very little to not at all, but the water moved freely.

One sixth the size means 1/6 the gravity, means you could jump 6 times as far. So we went outside and the kids took running leaps from the carport into the driveway. I marked and measured where they had landed (yay, sidewalk chalk!) and then I marked where they would have landed on the moon. Woah! Mxyl could jump clear across the street! All the kids loved this project, but I had saved the best for last...

The crater experiment! I filled a large pan with a few inches of flour and then dusted the top with cocoa powder. It's the opposite color scheme of the actual moon, but I wasn't about to fill the pan with cocoa and dust with flour!

We started dropping small rocks. Next we stood on a chair and dropped the rocks. We went up to progressively larger rocks. Wow! The rocks ejected the flour over the dark surface. The craters overlapped, creating mountains and valleys.

So fun!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Early Reading Idea

Here's an early reading tool that's fun, fast, and easy (did I mention cheap?).

You take a piece a paper and cut six slits in it (three sets of two).

You take a second piece of paper and cut it lengthwise into strips (however wide you made the slits).

You write some letters on the strips. I used c, s, h, m, p, f, and b for the first strip; a, e, i, o, and u for the middle one; and t, n, s, m, p, and g for the last one. Personally, I think it's important to use lower case letters, but you can do anything you like.

That's it! Oob has been quite fascinated and will play with it (with or without me) for quite a while. I think Choclo is interested as well. I may make one for him that includes a silent e (fourth strip alternating e and blank space).

I suspect this idea could be adapted to math (matching dots and numbers, simple addition or subtraction problems), science (life cycles of plants, frogs and butterflies), or other things.

Monday, May 23, 2011


What's more fun than webbing your siblings into their bunk beds with string?

Webbing them in with scotch tape, of course!

Then the spider sticks on the web.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Nuclear Zoomlians

A while back, when I asked the Zoomlians what they wanted to learn about, Zorg had said, "Nuclear energy, nuclear waste and nuclear bombs." Do we detect a theme?

When I was a kid, I got to tour a nuclear plant (energy, not waste or bombs!) so I thought I ought to be able you find something like that for the Zoomlians. I was wrong! Evidently they don't do that kind of thing anymore since 9/11. Although you can play Nuclear Tourist on line.

On the other hand, you really can find almost anything on the internet. I thought this was the best website for explaining nuclear energy. It's actually from the US Energy Information Administration, and it seemed fairly balanced. It's worth looking at their games and activities page, especially the one on slang used in the energy field.

We also found the BrainPop videos on nuclear energy, radioactivity and Marie Curie very helpful. Speaking of Madame Curie, in a bizarre crossover with the US History unit, did you know that the discovery of radioactivity happened during the same time as the Wild West and the Industrial Revolution? But I digress.

Best of all resources, as it turned out, were You Tube videos!

This is a good basic virtual tour of a nuclear power plant done by a power plant with a strong emphasis on how SAFE they are. Aside from that, it's an excellent clear explanation of the process. Did I mention it was safe? Ironically, I think what they are showing is a Japanese plant.

There are tons of clips of nuclear explosions on You Tube, many of them set to obnoxious music, none of which I can really recommend except this one, cribbed from a documentary.

This video I found on nuclear reactions more than made up for that, however! Here it is:

Which reminds me, have you seen Moon?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

US History: Industry

Industry covered a lot of ground. We looked at the movement of people from farms to cities, as well as people moving from other countries to America. We also looked at the explosion of new inventions, the sudden abundance (and cheapness) of manufactured commodities and conflict between workers and owners. It was seismic cultural shift.

As it happens, one of my all time favorite movies explores all these themes (although in England) so we all watched North and South. How did I watch a 3+ hour Victorian epic with this constellation of ages? I fast forwarded the part before Milton and explained the essentials of what happened. I intended to fast forward more of the "grownups talking" parts, but as we (or I) got sucked in, I found I skipped less and less! Here is nice clip:

It's available on Instant Watch on Netflix, although be sure you get the BBC Victorian drama instead of the 1984 Civil War series!

I am also thinking of showing the older kids part of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, which has many similar themes about class struggle as well as an elegant solution: "Between the Head and the Hands must be the Heart." I have to go back and see if there is any objectionable content, however.

I had asked the kids to come up with their own hands on activities, and they did: Klenda and Zorg demonstrated a monopoly. Klenda was selling oranges to Zorg at increasingly higher prices. Zorg, at a certain point, would refuse, and Klenda would wait until he got too hungry to refuse. Interestingly, as he began to run out of money (he was using his actual bank), she lowered her price just enough to so that he could afford it if he spent almost all of his money.

That was instructive to me because the only thing I had told them about a monopoly was that if only one person had an item, they could charge a higher price - everything else they deduced for themselves through experience. Also, I learned never to play Klenda at Monopoly!

Friday, May 20, 2011

US History: Wild West

This has been an interesting section. We spent a lot of time on Reconstruction and then we got bogged down with a Geography tangent. Around April we came back and have been moving toward high tide again.

This period of time (late 1800s to early 1900s) is amazing. It's the Wild West and it's Sherlock Holmes. It's Edison spinning off ideas like sparks from a roman candle and it's my great grandmother living in a sod house, traveling West. It's the railroad and the Statue of Liberty. It's the age of the American aristocracy (Rockefeller, Carnegie, Hormel, etc.) and the time of crushing poverty for "huddled masses."

We spent a little while on the Wild West which of course, brings up the Native issue. There is just no way around it. The kids read books on Annie Oakley, Wild Bill Hickock, Geronimo, and Custer and then we all discussed the books.

The Custer book was from the 50s and portrayed Custer as a hero. Mxyl had picked that one and I decided to talk to him about it after he had read it. I don't think he knew who Custer was before he picked up the book. His take on it was that what Custer had done to the Indians didn't seem right and he could see why they killed him. Good to have a critical reader! We talked some and then watched this with all the kids:

We ended up with a good discussion of perspectives on history. Who tells the story of what happened and why? People can almost always rationalize their choices as being good - the Nazis did not think they were evil. What influences our conscience and how can we make choices that are objectively good?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Would You Believe

They would let these two kids get married???

But they did, 21 years ago today!!

We've now been married more years than not!

Here are 21 things I like about being married to you:

1. You taught me to pun (everyone else might not be so happy, but I am).

2. You make the bed.

3. You volunteered to be the "Nighttime Parent." That should count as 15 things right there.

4. We talk about real stuff.

5. We talk about silly stuff.

6.My opinion is important to you.

7. You let me know that my opinion is important to you.

8. You pray with me.

9. You give me beautiful children.

10. You like my cooking.

11. You thank me for cooking, even when I do it every day.

12. You notice when I clean the house.

13. You don't notice when I don't clean the house.

14. You juggle.

15. You read to me (should count as another ten points as least).

16. You watch Jane Austen movies and Godzilla movies.

17. You chart.

18. You still think I'm beautiful.

19. You notice my hair.

20. You are fun to smooch (wink, wink).

21. It's like a slumber party every night.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Another Gray Hair

Today's gray hair brought to you by Choclo and Oob.

This resourceful team waited patiently until the Prime Minister and the older Zoomlians were discussing the building of the Panama Canal.

They then crept into the guest room, removed the hose from the vacuum cleaner and made their way into the sacrosanct Guest Bathroom.

Here they designed a system to transfer water from the sink to the shower via the vacuum cleaner hose. The hose was short, but stretchy. Undaunted by the water splashing about their ankles they continued to refine their technique, right up until the Prime Minister noticed that it was raining in the basement...

SPROING! See? Another gray hair!

UPDATE: Choclo and Oob continued their rampage later by mixing orange juice, milk , and eggs mostly in a cup. They came to me to tell me about it and ask if they were allowed to have straws with it. That was when I discovered that they had tried to clean it up with toilet paper and fruit. SPROING!

As you can see, all has been forgiven.

(OK, really he is saying, "Do you like my hat?")

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Barreleye Fish

This comes under the category, "God is More Creative than you Think."

It's a barrel eye fish. You might think that it's pensive expression reflects the fish's confusion about who exactly thought those eyes looked like barrels. Why not the bubble headed fish?

Actually, it's pensive "eyes" are it's nose. It's actual eyes are in the middle of it's head beneath those green domes. They are, well, barrel shaped and swivel about like binoculars, although most of the time it is looking straight up through it's head.

More information here, and a tip of the hat to Mr.Bill for bringing it to my attention!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bobbing Along

What happened to last week? I have no idea!

Well, OK, some idea. I had Mother's Day and a birthday, but I do that every year.

We went Down by the Bay (where the watermelons grow) and found the most sharks teeth ever: 50 teeth, 15 ray plates and an assortment of bone fragments!

We planted all our warm season veggies: peppers, basil, cosmos, nasturtiums, sunflowers and so on. I also got a knockout rose (Blush), a hydrangea (Nantucket Blue), some lily bulbs, and a foxglove for Mother's Day, so it was a garden heavy week.

The most exciting thing, however, was Oob's continued interest in reading. He read two Bob Books. Which made me realize I had lost the rest of the first set. Theoretically, I suppose, I could still have a complete set from when Mxyl was learning to read. In my actual life, however, any given set will last 1 1/2 children (meaning there are some gaps for the next kid but we can make do). I just ordered my third set from Amazon. Still worth the money!

I actually have been doing a lot of reading instruction by writing things for Choclo and having him read as I write. He likes it some of the time, but he misses the feeling of satisfaction from finishing "a whole book."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Outside the Window

We have robins nesting in the roses!

We had a pair of robins that nested near the house for several years, and we have always enjoyed watching them rear their families, but this has been one of the easiest to observe.

One year we saw the parents teach their fledgelings to fly. That was interesting because there was one chick who had a hard time learning.

We watched as the dad tried progressively smaller and easier flights until the chick "got it!"

All I could think was, "That's what we do! When a kid has a hard time with something we break it into smaller and easier steps to provide more structure. And we keep at it until the kid gets it."

The Zoomlians take on it was that all robins are homeschooled!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Homeschoolers on Parade

Our homeschooling friends down the street had this great idea: why don't we march in the town parade?

Actually, she's got quite a few kids too, so with three families we had 16 kids, I think. Quite a respectable showing!

The Zoomlians helped make the banner the night before.

The morning of the big day, they decided it would be more fun to dress up!

The idea was to represent things we had actually studied recently, but the Emperor nixed the all Jedi idea.

So Mxyl went as a robotics engineer: lab coat, safety glasses and a robot arm waving a flag.

Klenda went as biologist: lab coat, big glasses and microscope.

Zorg wore a cowboy/frontier outfit from our US History unit: he was carrying the banner and would bow with a theatrical sweep of his hat to all the onlookers. He was a huge hit!

Leena continued the theme by being dressed as a Native American.

Choclo and Oob both wore lab coats. I overheard someone remark, "It must be a science club."

Super fun!!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Happy Birthday, Oob!

Oob is 4! Can you believe it?

I mean he was just: and now he really is big feet tall!

He had a great day!

Not quite the day we had planned, but a great day nonetheless. We had planned to go to the Zoo. In fact, we did go to the zoo, we just didn't get out of the car...

Let me back up a bit. First of all, we went to Mass for Oob's birthday. That was pretty much the only thing that went as planned. We came back and I baked the cake. I had asked if he wanted chocolate, strawberry, spice or carrot so, of course, he picked peanut butter.

I made the cake and then started packing a lunch. Sometime while I was doing that, Oob emptied half a container of fish food into the 5 gallon tank in a misguided attempt to feed 5 tetras and a Betta.

The fish swam about in the pink water, looking like like survivors of some bizarre nuclear tragedy with an occasional flake of fall out drifting down from the top of the tank. It didn't smell too good.

It took 40 minutes to clean up the tank, so by simple arithmetic, we were ... 40 minutes late leaving for the zoo and therefore arrived midway between the last parking lot closing and the parking lot attendants realizing all the lots were full. Oops.

We decided to go playground hopping instead. This was the first time it's ever taken me an hour and half drive to get to a local playground, but, guess what? Everyone was happy! The birthday boy loved it! We alternated playgrounds and home for popcorn and presents the rest of the day.

I think a few kids ago, I wouldn't have seen that a four year old can be just as happy doing free silly things close to home as the Big Plan, and I would have been unhappy at the "wasted effort." As was, I could just let it go and we all could be happy.

Happy birthday, Oob!