Day 150: Button Jar Challenge Club

What’s that? You ask. It’s our brand new math and science club, and today was the first day. We met at a friend’s house this morning.

Nine children ages 5-8, divided into three teams. Three five-year-old girls (Girl included), two seven-year-old boys and one girl, and three eight-year-old boys (Boy included). Six moms. Three challenges. (Three moms have an activity table, and three accompany the teams to the different tables. We meet every other week, so that means each mom has to provide a challenge once a month.) The teams get a half hour at each challenge table, during which time they earn buttons to put in their jar. When the jars are full, in some number of weeks, we celebrate.

At my table today we did tangrams. For the two younger groups I showed them the solution to the puzzle, and they had to arrange the pieces like they were in the picture. (It’s more challenging than you’d think!)  For the older boys, they actually worked on solving the puzzles. Every solved puzzle earned them a button in the jar. The tangrams themselves are hard, but what they are learning is also how to work together as a team, to talk to each other, not to grab. Collaboration.

At the second table, the kids made clocks powered by vegetables.

At the third table, two kids sat on opposite sides of a partition. One kid laid out a design using pattern blocks, and then directed the kid on the other side to make the same pattern. No looking. Then at the end, they check to make sure the designs are the same. So again, math-y spatial skills, but also: communication, articulation, patience.

All of the kids did great. The three teams ended up being very well suited to each other in ability and temperament. I was impressed with how well the kids did with the tangrams, and I think I’ll do that again next month when it’s my turn again.

After the challenges were completed the kids got to play outside and eat lunch together. There was a lot of running and sword fighting.

Later when most people had gone home there was quiet, earnest Lego building.

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Tonight at bedtime we read a long picture book about a family in rural Honduras learning some new farming methods from a progressive school teacher (composting, terraces, marigolds, cash crops for the farmer’s market) and how it made their life better. Boy and Girl were TOTALLY into it. I could imagine that book might not hold a lot of kids’ interest, even though it was beautifully illustrated. I felt really appreciative of what empathetic, interested kids we have.

There are some genuinely difficult things about homeschooling, or just having a family. Well, about being alive, if we’re being honest. We all need moments where can see and feel the evidence of being on a good path. Not the only path. But a good one.

Additional note:

Late this afternoon, while the kids were playing in our back yard with a jump rope, Girl fell hard on her hands and knees on the cement, tearing a hole in the knee of her favorite beautiful, flowered cargo pants with very good pockets. Even when we got her calmed down, she wouldn’t let us see her scraped knees. She insisted on going into Boy’s room and closing the door to inspect the damage in private. We could hear her weeping to herself Why, why, why did I do this? Why did this happen? 

She would not let us in, she would not let us see, or help. But she did come out for a popsicle, a cookie, and some hugs and kisses. Later, though, when Boy came inside, she asked if he would come look at her scrapes. She said only he could see them. So back they went into his room, closed the door, and I guess either pulled her pants down or pulled them up over her knees so they could look. They were back there for a while, talking quietly. When they came out, Boy reported that Girl had one ‘medium sized scrape’ and the he recommended ‘the SP-word.’ (That would be: spray.)

Girl wished she had an arnica tablet to put under her tongue like Miss S gave her when she fell on her way in to the American Girl party a couple of weeks ago. She said under no circumstances would she let me see the scrape, so there was no way I could put spray on it. What if she put it on herself? I suggested. Okay! she agreed brightly. Back into Boy’s room she went with the bottle of antiseptic spray. When she needed a paper towel to wipe the excess, I was required to close my eyes and back into the room, holding the paper towel out until she scootched over and grabbed it from my hand. She protested that it stung more than both I and the bottle claimed that it would, but was pleased with herself for taking care of herself.

Me too, little Girl.


Day 149: Mesoamerica

The kids and I woke up at the same time this morning, and the kids worked together to make their own breakfast: toast with butter, honey, and cinnamon, and yogurt with frozen blueberries and raisins. The new kitchen arrangement is really making things a bit easier for them.


It was warm today, so immediately after eating they got dressed and went outside. They stayed out there until 11:30, when it was time to come inside and get ready for violin and the library.

Violin lesson was good, and afterwards we went to the library to return a couple of books and pick up the rest of our holds for next week’s Geography Club meeting, covering Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. We’ve got some books about each of the individual countries, some story books set in each of the countries, both rural and urban, one about the Garifuna, and some books about the ancient Maya. Boy has read all of the Roald Dahl books we got out of the library a couple of weeks ago (Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. Fox) in addition to five or so Magic Tree House books. Today he picked out a couple more, and Girl picked out just one picture book (I heard Boy reading it to her in a spare moment tonight.)

It had started raining while we were out, so when we got home I made popcorn and hot chocolate, and we sat on the couch and read a book about the Ancient Maya together. Then I put together this week’s discovery table.


Then Boy got ready for ballet, and Papa came home and took him. While they were gone, Girl and I made masa dough for corn tortillas, and I folded laundry and washed dishes while Girl worked on a paper project. Girl helped me put laundry away, and then she started making the tortillas out of the dough while I cooked them in a dry cast iron skillet.


Boy and Papa got home, and Boy asked if he could make some of the tortillas from Girl’s dough. Girl said okay, and I let Papa manage helping them use the hot skillet themselves while I folded more laundry. We ate tortillas and pasta with parmesan cheese and nuts and seeds and capers and black pepper, and then the kids took baths. Boy is bathing himself now, and Girl is trying to, though she can’t manage her hair alone. While Girl was in the bath, Boy sat in the big chair in his towel, looking at a book about El Salvador.

At bed time we read a story about a boy going home to El Salvador from San Francisco for the first time since he’d had to flee with his family years earlier. The kids were mesmerized, but asleep almost before I was finished reading.

Last night I was thinking about what to do for Monday’s meeting. I think we are going to make/bring ceviche for lunch, make Guatemalan worry dolls for a craft, and MAYBE try some Garifuna dancing. Mayan dancing done by children seems pretty subdued. Garifuna dancing is not. We might bring a couple of drums and see if they can play a simple beat together to try to dance to.

Tomorrow: first meeting of Color Wars (our new math and science club).

Day 147: Mexico

The kids and I made breakfast together this morning.

Then: Geography Club.

It was Mexico Day. We looked at some things, we looked at the maps, I read two books, one about Day of the Dead. We made calaveras masks, we colored flags and map pictures, we danced a special Day of the Dead dance. In this dance, boys dress up as very old men, and dance like they are tired and stiff and their backs ache. As the dance goes on, the boys grow younger and younger, until they are dancing with youth and joy. The kids danced twice just us, then once in front of everyone in the other room.

In addition to their academic endeavors, the older kids made Aztec calendars out of salt dough, and the teens colored elaborate calaveras designs. One of the moms did Day of the Dead face-painting.

We ate tacos and had (non-alcoholic) sangria. The kids played outside for an hour with swords or climbed trees.

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When we got home, Girl’s friend A from down the street came over to play for a short while. I heard them playing in our toy kitchen, making a pretend Day of the Dead meal so they could “remember all of our family who we love who died.” It made me happy that they seemed to grasp the spirit of the holiday, since it is such a nice tradition. Then Papa took Boy to ballet (Girl resolutely refused to go). So she and I made corn tortillas and cleaned up the house.

After dinner, Papa and I washed dishes. Boy asked if he could dry the ones that went in the kids’ area and put them away himself. He did that, and cleared and wiped their table.

At bedtime I read them the first story about Guatemala, and Boy finished Fantastic Mr. Fox on his own.

Tomorrow: co-op.

Day 146: Day of the Dead

Today was Sunday, and we needed to get ready for Mexico Day in Geography Club tomorrow, and enjoy the warm sunny weather.

I woke up to the sound of Boy making breakfast for everyone, taking advantage of the new arrangement in the kitchen. Honey toast, carrots, and water. Breakfast of champions. He was so proud of himself.

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Girl started on her Day of the Dead crafts early, making a scene like she read about in the library books we’ve been reading.

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After that the kids and I played outside with the dog for a couple of hours. With the snow gone, the yard is just brown.


Then we came in and I made the kids lunch and started on the Dulce de Alegria, a traditional Day of the Dead candy made from popped amaranth seeds and honey. I’ve heard that it may descend from an Aztec treat. Ours has pumpkin and sunflower seeds, too.

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After they were done, I went out back with Boy and the dog again, and threw the Squeaky for the dog while I watched Boy shoot baskets. (I love watching him; he’s so good at it!)

Next we put on some Day of the Dead music and practiced our dance for tomorrow, something we read about in the wonderful Day of the Dead book we got from the library. In this dance, boys pretend to be very old men, and dance slowly and painfully, but as the music continues they grow younger and younger until they are upright and dancing with energy and joy. We’ll be doing this with both boys and girls of course. The kids did a really great job, and I hope they will feel comfortable showing their friends tomorrow.

Then we made some sample masks, and I cut out the shapes for all the kids to make them tomorrow.  We’ve got some books so kids can see examples of what traditional decorated skulls look like, and we’ll have craft stick to tape the masks to.


Papa got Mexican food from Moe’s for us for dinner, and then we did our last craft of the evening. I’d promised Girl we could do these all week, and even though we couldn’t finish them (with clothes and paint) they came out pretty adorably. These guys will make a nice addition to the exploration table tomorrow morning.

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Day 145: Spring cleaning begins

Today is a Saturday, and the first day of spring cleaning. Pretty sure I won’t be done until sometime in April. I cleared off my stainless steel kitchen island, scrubbed it, washed everything on it, and rearranged to give the kids a work space and easy access to plastic cups, bowls, and plates. I’ve been telling them I’d do this so they can more easily start to make some simple meals for themselves.

Later I raked the cement and paver areas in the back yard, the side walk, and swept out the carport. We decided in the fall to let the back yard go ‘natural,’ since the grass was spotty to begin with and the dog was tearing up what was there.  We’re going to let the leaves and pine straw cover the ground, but we still have to clean off a couple of areas. We’ll focus on making/keeping the front yard tidy and more ‘suburban.’ After that I pumped ALL of the tires on ALL of the things with wheels, bikes to wheelbarrows, full of air so they can be used.

Day 142: Scenes from a morning

The latter part of today was busy, and complicated, and I don’t have the wherewithal to write about that right now. So instead, I’ll show you some pictures of what the kids were up to in the morning, before 11am.

Not pictured is Girl playing outside with the dog for an hour by herself.

Boy reading a Magic Tree House book.
The Mexico-themed Learning table has been getting a lot of attention, though today the kids were mostly interested in the atlases.
Girl copied these animal names from the pages about grasslands in her atlas. She writes from bottom to top, and often from right to left, or around corners. But the letters are all there.
Looking at the names of forest animals to write down.
Boy reading his atlas.
I found this on the kitchen table.
And I found this Wall-E, too.

Day 141: Beeswax butterfly

Today was co-op day.

Girl had a nice morning in Play and Learn, and I was in there, too, helping with my charge. They learned about the letter ‘O’ and opposites. They did a nice craft, played some nice movement games, and listened to a nice story. During lunch she went to the nursery to play, and spent most of the hour there. A little before it was time to go to her science class, though, we all realized that she was missing. The door locks from the inside, but she must have snuck out when someone opened it. I went out to the main hall and asked if anyone had seen her; one of the moms said they’d seen her walk by a few minutes earlier. I found her sitting in her science classroom, all alone. Just waiting for everyone to come. Quietly in one of the tiny chairs, just sitting, looking straight ahead lost in thought. Sometimes I think it’s hard to overestimate what these classes can mean to the kids. How they can feel, not just like they’re doing the things that they want to do, but like they are who they want to be, that they are becoming what they want to be. And my Girl wants to be a scientist.

In Biographies this morning, Boy learned about Paul Revere, made a cork horse, and wrote a beautiful sentence. Then he had Forensics, but I didn’t hear too much about that class. (He also was fooling around with two other kids and got a bleeding mouth injury that resulted in my getting called downstairs to make sure he was okay, but whatever.) During lunch he went outside with his friends; when I checked on them they were playing baseball with icy snowballs and a pointy stick for a bat, and I saw Boy get hit right in the face, and he had snow all in his collar and down his sweater, but he shrugged it off and kept playing. So I just went back inside. After lunch he had his Fables class, and he made a beautiful beeswax butterfly.

It’s so funny, because that class, which is as far from STEM as can be, is Boy’s favorite. He chose it over the continuation of Mini-Makers. And that’s why I let the kids choose their own classes, because I think when you think you know what your kids like and are interested in, you can miss things.

The last thing Boy did today was make a working periscope from a Pringles can in Daring and Dangerous Boy’s Club. When class was over he and his friends went outside again and continued their snowball fight until it was time to go home.

We always used to watch TV after co-op while I made dinner, and usually I’d make them popcorn or something, just to relax and take it easy. But we haven’t watched any TV for a couple of weeks now, since we decided to see if that could help Boy with his meltdowns.

Today Girl changed into her snowpants and boots and went out back to play with the Dog. Boy, who’d already played outside for a while at co-op, wanted to stay inside to read. He finished the Magic Tree House book he started this morning, and then picked up a book from our Mexico-themed Learning Table and read that. At bedtime tonight he listened to two stories then started reading a play about the Underground Railroad on his own.

It’s funny that a month ago I was feeling like Boy never wanted to read and Girl never wanted to play outside.