Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Playdough Mat Maps and Furry Distractions

Getting ready to head into two different novels set in Canadian provinces, Farley Mowat's Owls in the Family, in Saskatchewan...

...and Margaret Craven's I Heard the Owl Call My Name, which takes place in British Columbia...

...it seemed like a good time to throw in a quick country study.  We normally begin our country studies with a sugar cookie map project.  This morning though, noting from a number of posts in my blog reader, that it was play dough appreciation day, and seeing at the same time a couple of interesting mapping ideas from Die fantastischen 5, and angelicscalliwags  I decided to take an easier route, and follow the crowd.

Before the children got up this morning, I printed out a couple of maps of North America, one with the provinces, and states colored and labeled, and another that was just a blank outline.  I slipped the maps into plastic page protectors, and placed them on the breakfast table with a couple of cans of Play-Doh.

C (age 8) took right off covering the provinces, and a few states that matter to her, with Play-Doh...

...while E (age 9) began covering all of Canada with a single color of dough.

I had great plans for having them mark capital cities, and add major rivers, and such, until I spotted the baby bunny trapped in one of our basement egress window wells, and all thoughts of Canada were forgotten, in favor of a full scale rescue mission.

Which is not in anyway to say Canada is boring, or even the least bit uninteresting.  But, really how could any country compete with so much cuteness?

I had my hands full convincing the children, that unlike Farley Mowat's heroes, they could not keep their rescued "pet", and that wild animals, no matter how soft and cuddly, belong in the wild.  Thankfully for my cause, the only owls we've seen since moving into the neighborhood have been either on the pages of our books, or the walls of our dining room, or I'm quite certain we'd have a stowaway rabbit being "kept safe" in somebody's closet tonight.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Macrame Owls and Canadian Set Fiction

For some odd reason, I can't quite explain, I decided it would be fun to make macrame owls, this weekend.  My original intent was to craft alone, but after finding a 2010 post from That Artist Woman detailing a 4th grade art extension project, to go along with Farley Mowats Owl's in the Family...

...I decided it would be fun to bring my younger four (ages 8-13) in on the project, as well.  The owl pattern That Artist Woman used with her class doesn't seem to be available online anymore.  But, our library did have a copy of Owls in the Family on the shelf, and the after a little trial and error, I settled on a simple, easy to follow pattern from Free-Macrame-Patterns.com for us to use with it.

We made our owls from yarn, because we have a pretty good selection of fall colored yarn on hand...

...and the children raided the button box, trying out different combinations of yarn, eye, and beak colors until they were happy.

Having a very limited knowledge of macrame, I needed a pattern that was simple.  Somehow, I managed to live the entire first half of my childhood through the 1970s, without ever tying a single macrame knot (or doing any of those nail and string pictures, either).  Fortunately for me, the pattern we found, only uses four different knots: a larks head knot, for fastening the yarn onto a stick, or necklace string...

...a series of square knots for forming the top of the head...

...double half hitches to outline the face, and form the wings, and a couple of standard overhand knots to attach the bottom stick (broken chopsticks, in our case).

Each of the knots are explained, and demonstrated in the instructions in a way simple enough for even my eight year old to follow, with the smallest amount of help.  We worked on our owls on top of cardboard box lids, attaching them to the cardboard with bread ties, and using small pieces of clear tape to hook the yarn to the back of the board, when it needed to be kept at a certain angle, or pulled tight.

I worked with the children one at a time, and one step at a time, throughout the weekend.  It is a small project, that could have been completed all at once, but we took our time, and really enjoyed the whole process.

Finally, taking one last bit of inspiration from That Artist Woman, we displayed our completed owls, hanging them with clear tape on either side of their top sticks...

...perched on the branches of our fall to-do tree.

While the younger children and I enjoy Farley Mowats tale of life, and wildlife in rural Saskatchewan, I've picked another owl themed, and Canadian set story to read together with my teens...

...which I haven't read since I was a teen (in Saskatchewan, strangely enough) myself.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Coloring Overlapping Leaves

For a quick time killer this evening, I put together a simple leaf-themed coloring activity in our Paint program, modeled after some of the overlapping circle projects I'd meant to do with the children this summer, but never got around to (like these).

First off, I started out by sketching out a rough maple leaf, and then copying, and pasting it across the page.

Then, I drew a sort of aspen-type leaf...

...to copy, and paste over the top of the maple leaves.

I printed out a few full page copies for my younger girls (ages 8 and 9), and they colored them in, picking one color for where the leaves overlapped...

...one for the parts of the aspen-type leaves that were not overlapping the maple leaves...

...another for the parts of the maple leaves that were not being overlapped...

...and a final color for the remaining background.

They really enjoyed the process of seeing their pictures change from a jumble of lines to recognizable leaves and patterns as they added to them color by color.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Fall Leaf List - Things To Do Before the Leaves Fall

With fall crafts, and baking starting around our house this week, and since we've been on a leaf kick anyway, it seemed like a good time to put together our fall leaf list.

As usual, we taped up, and pieced together a paper bag tree (cut from a single grocery-sized paper bag). 

Then, we covered it with construction paper leaves, that each have one item from our fall to-do list written on them.  The leaves on our tree will  "fall" as we complete each item on our list.

A (age 13) took charge of the list, this year.  So far, this is what she's come up with for us:

  • Watch Mr. Peabody and Sherman on Amazon (releases 9-23-14)
  • Watch Maleficent (releases 11-4-14)
  • Celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving
  • Mom's birthday
  • Dad's birthday
  • E's birthday
  • Make Owl Cookies on the first day of fall
  • Make homemade candy corn
  • Make apple muffins
  • Gut a pumpkin
  • Make pumpkin muffins
  • Have pumpkin pie for breakfast
  • Make homemade applesauce
  • Donuts on a string
  • Unpack the last box
  • Spot a wild turkey
  • Get driver's permits (G and T)
  • Roast pumpkin seeds
  • Find a new fall festival
  • First snow
  • Make gingerbread men
  • Pumpkin science day
  • Drive to the nearest Starbucks for a pumpkin latte (Mom and Dad)
  • Make paper bag owls
  • Re-read Beverly Cleary's Ramona series (so younger girls will understand paper bag owls)
  • Watch How to Train Your Dragon 2 (releases 11-11-14)
  • Spot a turning snowshoe 
At least we think the little rabbits we've been seeing all over town are snowshoes.

Time, and the first real snowfall, ought to tell.  In the meantime, I've got some serious unpacking to do, if the "unpack the last box" leaf is going to fall before Thanksgiving, when we traditionally take down our tree.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Fall Leaf Lesson Cookies

After covering the patio with fall sidewalk chalk leaves yesterday, the girls were cold, hungry, and ready for a snack.  I figured they'd appreciate a plate of warm, fall scented cookies fresh from the oven, and so had slipped inside to mix up a quick batch of sugar cookie dough, with a fall twist.

I mixed together our usual 2 cups of flour, 1 cup of sugar, 1 stick of butter, and two eggs, but left out the standard teaspoon of vanilla.  Instead, I divided the dough into fourths, and added a different flavor, and coloring to each portion of dough.

I chose baker's cocoa (about 2 tablespoons), maple pancake syrup (about 1 and 1/2 tablespoons) with red food coloring, and enough additional flour to offset the stickiness of the liquid, instant hot cider mix (about 2 teaspoons) with yellow food coloring, and pumpkin pie spice (about 1 teaspoon) with yellow and red food coloring to make orange.  To be honest, I didn't really measure the add-ins, but just added enough to make the dough smell good.

And, it did smell good - delicious in fact.

I gave the girls some of each color of dough to blend together, and roll out, along with a few freshly printed fall leaf identification sheets (from here and here) to use as guide for cutting leaf shapes from the dough with butter knives.

They didn't really try to match the appropriate colors to the shapes on the sheets, but did have fun discussing which type of leaf they were trying to copy.  And, thanks to a leaf anatomy sheet from the forestry section of about.com...

...they could name features, such as the midribs and veins, as they added them to their cookie creations.

The cookies smelled wonderful while baking (350°F for 13 minutes).  The children were skeptical about mixing the flavors together, but they blended nicely, and tasted as good as they smelled.

And, here we were thinking that with no trees in our new yard we'd be left without a leaf pile to dive into, this fall.  Problem solved.

Now, we just need to find a local fall foliage guide, so that as the leaves change around town, we can take a drive, and hopefully be able to identify some of the trees that are new to us, in this region of the country.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Sidewalk Chalk Leaves - Good-bye to Summer

The calendar says we still have two weeks of summer left.  As usual though, the weather disagrees.  48° and cloudy out today, didn't feel like summer.  So, we compromised.  I sent the girls outside to use up the last of the sidewalk chalk (that sounds summery, right?)...

...the fall colored chalk, anyway.  Their mission was to use up the last of the chalk by covering the large, but homely patio of our new house...

...with fall leaves.  I printed out a fall leaf identification chart for them to use as a reference, since our new yard is completely devoid of trees.  There might not be any giant leaf piles to jump in this fall (or any raking to be done for that matter), but our backyard now looks suitably prepared for the season...

...no matter what the calendar might say.  And, while watching the fat sticks of chalk disappear was entertaining enough to keep the girls coloring away for even longer than normal, by the time they were done with the patio, they were ready to pack the summery colors of chalk, left in the box, away for the season, as well.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Kindle Apps We're Playing - DragonBox Alegebra and Geometry

We currently have three Kindles in our house.  T received one for Christmas, last year. I purchased a second, as my "big expense" for this coming school year.  Then, A won one from our library's summer reading program, and all those Kandinsky cookies, and craft stick bridges we worked on through the summer ended up paying off doubly.  We had the fun of the projects, and the three girls swept the prizes, A with the Kindle, C with a cart of blocks, and E with an all day ride pass for the county fair.

The fair started the day we moved, so that pass went to a very grateful friend, but we've been making good use of the blocks, and the Kindle.  With school coming on, and our life in boxes...

...finding a few good educational apps has been a high on my priority list.  The catch being, of course, that my children absolutely despise any game with even the smallest hint of a suggestion, that it might be educational.  The only educational game they've ever willingly played, and truly enjoyed just for the sake of the game, and despite its educational value has been Cosmos Chaos!...

...a truly enjoyable, and completely educational, vocabulary game for Nintendo DS.  And, actually now that I think about it, it was really only D (age 11) who really liked that one.

That is not to say that I have given up, or that I can never get the children to try out a new educational game for me - just that I usually try not to use those two words together when presenting it to them.  Which is how I found myself purchasing We Want to Know's DragonBox Agebra 5+, a game promising to secretly teach basic algebraic concepts to children ages six and above.

DragonBox Algebra 12+, basically the same game as DragonBox 5+, but with more levels and operations to learn.

And DragonBox Elements, leaving algebra behind, and moving on to geometry.

First off, let me say, I love these games.  When I say that, I mean as a player, rather than I as a mother.  To see what they were like, I grabbed up one of the Kindles, and played my way through DragonBox 12+, and partway through DragonBox Elements.  They are fun, logic puzzle type games, and since I enjoy logic puzzles, I enjoyed the games.

Do they teach algebra and geometry secretly?  No.

It's hard to teach something secretly when you tell the person you're teaching, over and over again, what it is you're planning to teach "secretly".  In the intro, the ads, and every write-up from the game company, they mention that they are teaching children algebra secretly.

As soon as my children read those words - they were done.  These were clearly educational games, and they didn't want to play - without a little convincing, anyway.

Do they teach the concepts of algebra and geometry, secretly or not? Not really.  More than teaching, they are games that allow students to play with algebra and geometry.  Which to my way of thinking is much more valuable than a game integrating algebra and geometry into the play, anyway. 

There is not a lot of instruction.  Students must fumble there way through, and figure out what is expected, and how to accomplish the goals through trial and error.  This can lead to a lot of frustration, but also some real breakthroughs in mathematical thinking.

However, if you're looking for a game that students can play through, walk away from, and be able to pass a textbook style algebra test - these are not the games you're looking for. But, they do come with downloadable teacher's manuals (on the website), and printable worksheets to help you, as the teacher, walk your students from the games through into actual math terminology, and concepts.

Did my children enjoy the games, once they got past the educational aspects, and agreed to play them? Some did, and some didn't, but they were all willing to play through to the end of whichever game I gave them.

To begin with, I gave DragonBox Algebra 12+ to D (age 11), and asked him to try it out for me.  He likes math quite a bit, but does not like to be frustrated.  So, in order to convince him to push through his frustration to the breakthrough moments, I bribed him with a Lego set he's been wanting (not that I recommend bribing your children, just because I bribe mine on occasion).

He then sped through the game, and even requested DragonBox Elements.  He found the second game entirely frustrating, and with no further bribes being offered, gave it up after the second level (hence, the reason I don't recommend bribing your children).  Now that I know there is a manual for that game as well, I think I will print it for him, and see if the explanations there can help to alleviate some of his stress with the game.

E (age 9) who loves to compete with her brother, was happy to play through DragonBox Algebra 5+, without a bribe.  She really wants to make it through 12+ too, but so far has needed quite a bit of help in order to make through the higher levels.

I suggested to my teens (ages 13, 15, and 17) that they play through the Algebra 12+ game as an intro, or review to Algebra (depending on their age) at the beginning of this school year.  They have been faithfully playing through the levels, and seem to be "getting it", but I wouldn't say they love it.  In fact, when I asked them what they thought of the game, they answered with an, "It's okay."

They're no Cosmos Chaos, but for "educational" games, they're alright. The graphics are cute, the levels increasingly difficult, the instructions scant, but understandable, and with the additional resources on the website, I'd say it's they are a good concept, and worth the five to ten dollars we paid for the apps on Amazon.

Oh, and no, I am not being paid for these opinions - they are just for your information, one parent/teacher to another.  Really good apps and games are few and far between, and I'm happy to mention any we find along the way.