Counting and the Alphabet

16195557_10154270436273059_8844578467252457715_nLately, the Little Fox loves counting.  We’re counting the lamps in the bedroom, we’re counting our fingers and toes, we’re counting bites during a snack, or seconds while I hold my PT and yoga poses.  We’re counting anything and everything holding my son’s interest.

It’s not the first time he’s been interested in numbers, but it’s a resurgence with an intensity he never showed before.  As I mentioned in last week’s post, he started becoming interested again with the books One Nighttime Sea and Wizard of Oz Counting.

61tkzjdun2bl-_sx365_bo1204203200_One of his favorite things to count — his absolute favorite — is counting letters.  He especially likes seeking out the letters in his name (he learned to spell his name courtesy of a cousin who sent a wooden bench carved with his name in it).  He’s always looking for the As and the Cs.  Sunday night, I read the whole Animalia to him, slowly enunciating all the words.  We didn’t just count the obvious letters, but also those hidden within the art on each page.  Sometimes we went far beyond his knowledge of counting, but he did his best to repeat the numbers I said.  Some pages went up to 23 instances of the letter in question.

This combined interest in both numbers and letters has become an exciting way of integrating the basics.  Though we’d never push him to start reading or doing math so early, we absolutely support him when he shows such passion for something.  Since he’s so focused, I’ve even started introducing the concepts of addition.  When we’re counting letters or animals or some other items in a book, and the items in questions are split between the folds, I count the whole, and then count those on either side of the page and add them together.

For example, seven lemurs are spread across two pages.  We count them as seven together, and then I count four on one page, three on the other, and say, “and four and three makes seven!”

I don’t expect him to repeat this, but by simply talking about it, the concept starts to sink into his mind, so when he starts to focus on adding and subtracting objects in his world, these lessons will have laid a preliminary foundation.

Random ideas for things to count:

  • Legos, ponies, cars, figurines, or other toys they’re actively playing with
  • Sticks, leaves, rocks, shells, or other common objects found on a nature walk
  • Seconds (while doing something)
  • Peas, chips, grapes, or other food that comes in multiples
  • People or animals in an area
  • Fingers, toes, eyes, ears, bones, etc.
  • Shirts, pants, socks, or other laundry items while folding (socks are especially good for counting if they’re learning to fold their socks)
  • Dabs of paint, crayons, or other items with varied colors (also integrates color lessons)
  • Wooden beads, buttons, yarn pieces, and other craft items they’re using in projects
  • The tires on different vehicles (e.g. bicycles, tricycles, car, semitruck, etc.)
  • The limbs on varying animals (counting legs: zero limbs on snakes, bipedal humans, quadrapedal animals, six-legged insects, eight-legged spiders and octopuses; wings or arms vs. legs; etc.)

Another part to teaching and learning counting is the concept of zero, nothing, and none.  This is crucial to all levels of mathematics, although the basic vague understanding of it comes along often in a young child’s life when they’re told they cannot have something, or when they insist they want to eat nothing when they’re cranky with hunger.  Nevertheless, as important as zero is, we often don’t remember it in counting, which is why discussions about limbs, for instance, can introduce zero as a number meaning none.

Whenever your little one starts taking an interest in numbers or letters, it’s time to start playing number and alphabet games, and singing songs (e.g. Hickory, Dickory Dock, 10 little monkeys, the alphabet song, and so on.)  Another great resource are “Alligators All Around” and “One Was Johnny” by Maurice Sendak and sent to music by Carole King (these are two books found in Sendak’s Nutshell library).  And if you’re counting months, don’t forget “Chicken Soup with Rice.”  If your little ones are Seuss fans, there’s also Dr. Seuss’ ABC Book; it’s not my favorite, but my son adores it.

 

 

 

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What We’re Doing: Justice January

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Our year began with a few surprises.  One of them dramatically shifted our plans for the year, as some mistakes came to light — small mistakes hidden from my partner and I until they compounded into something big.  My daughter has withdrawn from Running Start for now.  Though she kept up with the academics and showed full comprehension of the subjects she studied on graded papers and tests, her social anxiety led to a series of events that reflected poorly on her GPA.

For now, we’ve returned to homeschooling, and are seeking a counselor to help give her tools to deal with her anxiety better.  While her choices sadden me, it’s a valuable learning experience for us both.  While it set an unexpected tone for the new year, it’s not all we’ve been up to.

 

WHAT WE’RE DOING

logo31We bought a new subscription to the Pacific Science Center and went there for the final weekend of their Sherlock Holmes traveling exhibit, complete with historical documents and artifacts, film and TV props, and a mystery to solve as a family.  My partner and I attended the Seattle Symphony‘s tribute to David Bowie on the 10th, and this past weekend, we saw Curious George and the Golden Meatball at Second Story Repertory Theater.

The Little Fox can now count to ten consistently, and engages us in counting whenever he finds something interesting enough to count.  Much like the Count from Sesame Street, he’ll stop whatever we’re doing and have us count something.  Most recently, it was the number of lamps in my room: three, and the number of fingers on his hands: ten.  The Dragon wishes to one day work for the FBI as a forensic psychologist, so we’ve been checking out books related to her long-term goals, including Criminology, Psychology, and U.S. History.  We’re also working on essay writing and pre-Calculus, as she’s considering doing AP testing as a way to earn some of her college credits.  With the SATs coming up, we’re also considering my father’s advice to take the PSATs first.

 

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Upward Facing Dog

I’ve taken on the Yoga Green Book‘s 21 Days of Yoga Challenge by Carla Christine, and have working harder on improving my strength and flexibility.  Her instructions have been detailed and easy to follow, improving even the basics I already practice (I recommend her for future classes; also, check out my friend Starbird, who teaches one how to flow through yoga). As someone with an autoimmune issue and chronic pain, sometimes it’s easy to lose perspective on the hardest days, so I’m also working on tracking my overall daily outlook using the idea of a Year in Pixels, and a Jar of Happiness. I’ve also been working hard on my writing.  Cress and the Medicine Show, a myth-based novelette, will be available mid-February, and my debut novel, Perdition, publishes in March.  Also, there’s a new class I’m putting together to teach Creative Writing to middle schoolers.

On the whole, we’re finding a new routine all over again, and I’m hoping to incorporate some of these wonderful ideas about gameschooling from SimpleHomeschool.net.  We’ll also be greeting the protesters from the Women’s March on Saturday, and we have some wonderful books checked out from the library to celebrate the memory and message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. all week long.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

0-439-33906-5At the time of writing, I have 45 books checked out from the library and 2 curriculum boxes.  Among them, the collection of Nurse Mathilda stories. Since beginning in December, we’ve completed the first book and are in the middle of the second.  If you’re not familiar, these are the three odd little books, which inspired the Nanny McPhee movies, and all center around a family so large, they don’t know how many children they have.  My son enjoys them, but wants to take breaks every second or third night, so we’re doing a few chapters each week.

My son’s favorite counting books right now are One Nighttime Sea (library copy) and The Wizard of Oz Counting (bought at Costco with the shapes book).  When I checked out One Nighttime Sea, it was for his nocturnal animals unit, but it’s become such a beloved book, we keep renewing it.  It not only counts different sea creatures from one to ten, it then counts even more from ten to one.  We take time to touch each animal and say its number as we go and I ask him where the number itself is on the page.  The Wizard of Oz Counting book is far more simplistic and quite jolly, and we’ve had it since he was a year old.
Along with some criminology books, my daughter is working her way through FBI 100 Years and The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.  There are other books awaiting her, but I don’t want to bog her down.

 

On top of books, we have magazine subscriptions coming in.  We allowed our Ladybug and Click subscriptions to lapse.  I was disappthumbointed when they arrived, as I was expecting the better binding of Babybug, which keep well on shelves as sturdy little books.  Standard sized magazines don’t hold up as well, and the content didn’t inspire as much interest in my son.

While at the library, we found out they have all of the Cricket Media publications available, so we can read them there when we wish each month.  However, I also fell in love with Cricket itself, especially the hilarious stories in the January issue, so I’ve ordered a subscription for it, despite its recommended age range.  Also, we’re receiving Zootles, a fun science magazine for kids given to us as a gift by our cousins.

 

WHAT WE’RE EATING

Recently, my daughter took my banana bread recipe and made a few dozen mini muffins for us in the toaster oven (because our oven still isn’t fixed; we’ve had a lot of trouble ordering the element we need for baking).

img_4394Mama Raven’s Banana Bread

1/2 c. butter (salted, because yum)
3/4 c. raw sugar
3 eggs, beaten
3 aged bananas (mashed)
1 1/2 c. brown rice flour
1/4 c. tapioca starch
1/4 c. oat flour
1 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. vanilla
7 oz. of crushed or chopped pineapple
1 T. pineapple juice
1 T. soured milk (milk with a few drops of lemon juice; wait 20 minutes to sour) or buttermilk
1/2 c. crushed walnut pieces (not option in my house, but maybe in yours)

Mix dry ingredients and set aside.  Mash bananas and stir in eggs and vanilla.  Blend well and add pineapple juice and buttermilk.  Fold wet ingredients into dry, and add pineapple (the pineapple helps keep the bread moist) and walnuts. Put in a greased bread pan and bake 45 minutes in a 350°F oven (or about 15 minutes in a mini muffin pan).

Alternatives: for dairy free recipes, substitute coconut milk for the buttermilk, and Earth Balance sticks for the butter.  If you wish to add chocolate chips, ditch the pineapple and substitute about 1/4 c. of milk or coconut milk instead.

Enjoy warm and buttered or cold and dunked in chocolate milk.  So good!

What We’re Doing: Decidedly December

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WHAT WE’RE DOING

We started this month with a terrible cold that laid everyone low for almost two weeks.  My partner was working late nights to complete a project by deadline.  I was working just to get us healthy in time to teach my students.  My daughter was rushing around trying to complete her work for coming finals.  Yet, but they time I had my final Reading Selections class of the year, we were coming close to vacation.

After a wonderful class in which my former students sat in on the discussion as well, all the kids and their parents joined us for pizza, and a chance to chat with each other outside of a structured setting.  I saw greater bonds being forged between the teens, and I had a chance to get to know two of the parents better.

My daughter finished her first quarter at the same time my partner’s vacation began.  Even my son was off from gymnastics for two weeks.  We’re at home together playing, cleaning, and exploring through the start of January.

Though some of our plans for a Muppet Solstice didn’t all work out, we did find a medium sized tree, trim it, decorate the house, and find or make presents for the people close to us in life.  Some of the adults had to settle for candy, but I made hand puppets for all the small children.  Tweens and teens got art supplies or books.  My daughter mostly wanted clothes and headphones, and received them.  My son mostly received puppets, puzzles, and Play-Doh, which were all things he wanted in his life.

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Seed Clusters: Mix 1c. bird seed w/ 2T. melted coconut oil. Scoop and press into cookie cutters, poke a hole for the string with a chopstick and toss in the fridge until hardened.

Now that all of our holiday events have passed, we’re working on getting other things in order: my bed has a new frame, bills need sorting and paying, one of the cars needs a quick check up, and so on.  An outing or two are planned for gaming and hiking before we return to our routines.  When we do, there are changes I wish to make with my approach to time alone with my son.  Some items I let fall to the side over the last few months: gardening, outdoor adventures, and more.  Also coming in the new year is a write class I’ve been asked to teach, a book to be published, and convention panels to prepare for.  None of which I feel ready to face, but they’re all steps along the way to my long-term goals.

Oh yes, and my son and I made a lot of cookie cutter-shaped seed clusters for the birds outside.  They were delighted.  So were the cats, who watched them from the windows.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

61wo7aokdhl-_sx351_bo1204203200_As is true for every holiday and birthday, our gifts included books.  Since the first set was ruined by tiny hands and a tiny mouth, we purchased a new set of Maurice Sendak’s Nutshell Library.  All four stories were turned into short animated films and set to music; they’ve been a part of our favorites since my daughter was tiny (it was her set that was damaged).  He apologized for his toddler mistakes of the past and promised to care for the new set, gently setting them back into their box after each reading.

Since I purchased it at the behest of one of my sisters, my daughter read all of the first six Parasyte manga.  This is a science fiction horror manga series, which involve parasitic aliens who take over human bodies, except one doesn’t invade the brain of its host, but instead, his hand.  Great for teens and adults who enjoy horror.  Caution: graphic violence and horrific scenes.

An old friend sent me the first book of Marvel’s Mockingbird, written by Chelsea Cain.  It’s a mature comic, with wit and humor, unabashed feminism, and a lot for readers to enjoy.  Of all my favorite graphic novel series (e.g. Saga, Y the Last Man, Fables, etc.), I don’t think any made me laugh as often and as hard as Mockingbird.  Caution: violence, sex, and zombies.

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

As a holiday treat, my father and step-mother took us all out to see Sing! in the theater.  We adored it.  Lots of popular songs, a lot of humor, and a lot of tears.  How many times did they need to play “Golden Slumbers?”  *sob*  I needed more tissues than I brought, which was zero.

We also recently watched Kubo and the Two Strings, thanks to a friend.  It proved far more beautiful and engaging than the trailers led us to believe.  Poor advertising proved fatal to box office sales, but if you missed it in the theater, I recommend checking it out through DVD, streaming, or at your library when available.  Toby Froud was one of the sculptors!

WHAT WE’RE EATING

Crock Pot Duck

For one of the holiday meals I made (we celebrate across three different days because of various traditions across our combined families), we didn’t have a working oven. So, I cooked a duck in our trusty crock pot!

When I asked him what he thought of the duck, he said, “I’m happy the oven isn’t working.”

It’s a super simple reccrockpotduck.pngipe.  Slice several root vegetables (we used turnips, parsnips, carrots, and onions), and create layers on the bottom of the crock pot.  Add 1 – 2 cups of water or broth.  Place a cleaned duck on top.  Prick the skin (not the flesh) with a fork at intervals on the body to render the fat. Add some sage and fresh ground pepper.  Set the crock pot to high and cook 5-6 hours.  I pulled out the duck, placed it in the broiler until the skin browned and crisped, and sliced it up.  It was falling off the bone.  We strained the vegetables from the broth, and reserved the liquid to chill  so we can reserve the fat and use the aspic for a soup.  I also made mushroom risotto in butter and sage with shiitake mushrooms.  Soooo goooood.

 

Privilege

A high school classmate of mine who also homeschools asked our group an important question:

“Question: How do you take part in bringing about equity in education as a homeschooling parent? Homeschooling is a privilege. I wonder how to wield that privilege in bringing fairness in public education. I would love to hear.”

I left the following response:

“Here’s what I’m able to do at this time:

  1. Vote for legislation that helps the public education system.
  2. Talk to local officials about policy changes that help and hurt.
  3. Get to know my neighborhood’s children, and be a resource for them.
  4. Share education ideas with the parents in my life, regardless of where their kids receive their education. Before I could afford to homeschool, I still took fifteen to twenty minutes a night with my daughter to work with her on a project, discuss something, or teach her a new skill.
  5. Encourage other people to do #1&2.”

privilege_quinn_dombrowskiThere was a time when I desperately wanted to homeschool, but as a single parent earning slightly more than minimum wage, there simply wasn’t a chance of it happening.  I probably wouldn’t have been too good at it back then, either (although I still feel rather inadequate as a homeschooling parent much of the time).  It seemed I’d never live my dream of homeschooling my children, but after a disastrous third grade year with a strict, unyielding teacher, and a good friend willing to help, we began this journey.  If I hadn’t become too sick to hold down a full-time job, I’d also have been unable to continue with our educational experiment and I wouldn’t be teaching literature in a small class each month (or soon to be teaching creative writing).

Privilege is a funny thing.  As one person pointed out, a privilege is either a right everyone should have, but not everyone does, or it’s a right no one should have, but some people do.  There was a time not so long ago when homeschooling was the norm, and a formal education for the few.

Despite homeschooling being a right to all citizens in the United States (with some varying laws attached depending on the state), the ability to support a family and homeschool is no longer attainable by all who wish it.  For far too many, there is only public school, and since standards vary by neighborhood (and its residence level of average income), the poorest are often the least able to obtain an adequate education no matter whether it takes place in the home or in a school. A lack of choice leaves many families feeling trapped in a system that doesn’t meet the needs of all its students.

If you’re reading this, then you’re likely already aware of these issues, and I’m preaching to the choir.  However, it doesn’t mean we homeschoolers should wring our hands or throw them into the air for our lack of involvement.  There are other ways to reach out to the schooled community, and while my current list of what I do is short, it’s a start.  Some other ideas include:

a. Becoming a tutor or educational resource for institutionalize students.

b. Engaging in schooled or community activities like youth outreach projects, PTA functions (check your school or district’a rules about participation), and other local functions.

c. Starting a summer camp, a week-long salon during breaks, or providing low cost workshops on topics of interest.

d. Creating a web list or forum for local educational and youth resources, and announcing it among both homeschool and formal schooled groups.

e. Becoming an educational advocate for children struggling in public school (look for them among friends, family, and neighbors), and help fight for their needs in accessing resources the public schools ought to provide.

Have some other ideas?  Please share them below.

 

 

Pick a Book!

Next year, I’ll be attending Norwescon 40 for the first time as a panelist.  One of the sessions I volunteered for is reading a book to children 3 – 5 years of age.  One book, plus a related craft project.  I’d originally been told I would need to make my selection by February, but since have been asked to turn in all of my panel decisions by December 15th.

I’ve narrowed it down to the following four beloved books:

norwesconbooks

Dragons Love Tacos
https://www.amazon.com/Dragons-Love-Tacos-Adam…/…/0803736800

Children Make Terrible Pets
https://www.amazon.com/Children-Terrible-Starr…/…/0316015482

The Curious Garden
https://www.amazon.com/Curious-Garden-Peter-B…/…/0316015474/

Olivia
https://www.amazon.com/Olivia-Ian-Falconer/dp/0689874723

Craft ideas so far: make a paper dragon, make your own terrible pet (puff balls and paper plates), plant seeds in mini pots, something with ribbons or coloring pages.

So, dear readers, what book should I pick?

What We’re Doing: Outstanding October and Unbelievable November

It’s been a while since my last update (apologies), let me tell you why …

wboctnov2016

 

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Our October was almost as busy as our November.  We had our emergency room appendicitis false alarm, my first full Reading Selections class, and a visit to Oxbow Farm’s harvest festival.  A dear friend came to spend a week with us as a house guest.  At the same time, I worked on a new story, and launched a Patreon page, even making an intro video and a reminder on Halloween. (Note: I’m really uncomfortable with seeing myself on video.  Still photos, sure, but videos?  Blech.)

Since the end of October, I’ve been working hard on the third annual Flash Dash Challenge.  Instead of participating in NaNoWriMo (I have plenty of novel projects in various stages of drafts) the past three years, I’ve set myself a goal of writing a new piece of flash fiction every day for a month.  In 2014, I only wrote about a dozen stories.  In 2015, I wrote about two dozen.  This year, I’m going for all thirty stories.  (Thus far, I have sixteen stories for sixteen days).

My son and I have been working on understanding autumn, eggs, our bodies and senses, and we’re heading into American legends and Native Americans.  He recently made a new friend through the library, and we’ve been meeting weekly for play dates.  My daughter’s dating a wonderful young woman, and enjoying her classes, especially the Japanese.  At this point, I think she’ll have a solid B for the quarter, though I’m hoping she’ll swing an A- in at least one of them.  This past weekend, we spent a couple of hours on a dreary afternoon at the Reptile Zoo, petting turtles and a baby alligator, meeting snakes, tortoises, spiders, frogs, and two rather large alligators, Barnabus and Basker, the former of whom was particularly keen on watching my son and I together.  (I’m fairly certain my son was just the right size for a feast.)

Quick tip for Running Start families: We didn’t realize this until it was too late (I swear I don’t recall anyone telling us in the three or four meetings we had with advisors), but the paperwork from the district we’re to take in for each quarter to the college’s Running Start office needs to be in as much as two weeks before registration opens for the new quarter.  So, although the Dragon should be able to register for Winter, she can’t until her paperwork is processed (late because we didn’t realize).  From now on, I’m getting it done two weeks in advance, so she can enjoy priority registration and not miss her preferred classes.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

41cm1mfx5el-_sx342_bo1204203200_My daughter hasn’t been reading much outside of her school books and fanfiction, but she recommended the book Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, which is part of her Psychology curriculum.  Though it’s poetry, she said it reads like prose, and puts readers into the shoes of an African American woman, making her experiences relatable to most.

While I’ve been working through rather mature graphic novel series (e.g. The Preacher (big ol’ trigger warnings for this series), Bitch Planetand Saga), my son and I have finished reading books about autumn and books about eggs (and those who lay them).  I’ll post more about the books in the latter category, because we came across some amazing materials!

where-s-the-elephantOne book outside our preschool lessons worth noting is Where’s the Elephant?  While it appears to be a simply drawn and colorful book of seek and find a la Where’s Waldo?, it proves to be a more striking message young children can understand about deforestation and city sprawl.  It doesn’t feel at all soapboxy or preachy, but not knowing what it was about as I was reading it, I had that encroaching sense of dread when I figured out what was going on in the book.  Thankfully, my just enjoyed finding the elephant and his friends among the trees.

 

WHAT WE’RE EATING

One thing that’s been a big comfort through the fall is making a simple side dish alongside almost any seasonal vegetables and meats.  It’s worked well with salmon, squash, Brussels sprouts, sausages, chicken, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, and so on.

What is it?

Sage Rice

2 c. short grain brown rice
3c. chicken broth or stock*
2 tsp. sage
pinch of salt
ground black pepper (optional)

Combine ingredients in a small pot and bring to a boil.  Turn down to low, cover and simmer for about 20 – 25 minutes.  Serve on the side or beneath the vegetables and/or meats.  Excellent with a mushroom white wine sauce.

*If you’re vegetarian or vegan, I highly recommend mushroom broth as opposed to vegetable broth to give it an earthier body and flavor.