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Wednesday, January 31

Wooly Bully (Sam the Sham)

Not exactly a ZOO study, but we got to take a field trip to Just Right Alpacas, on a very cold day!  The owners, John & Janice Robinson, are just the nicest people you'll ever meet.  They taught us all about their alpacas, including how they got into alpaca farming, all about the animals, and how the fibers are harvested and used.

Alpacas are :
  • green & sustainable
  • herd livestock
  • very easy to care for, with minimal shelter
  • thrive on a few acres
  • produce organic fertilizer
  • produce soft, versatile fibers
  • are naturally hypoallergenic
Be sure to check out our other Zoo Studies!

While we were there, the kids got to take a hayride and ride on a horse.  For some of them, it was the first time they'd ever ridden!
At the end of the day, the kids got to make wool dryer balls out of alpaca fibers and old pantyhose.  It was a neat, easy craft, and we're still using them in the dryer today!

Want to know more about these cool creatures? Here are a few pieces of information we’ve learned:
  • An alpaca is a camelid. Other camelids include camels, llamas, vicuñas and guanacos.
  • Alpacas are native to South America, especially Peru.
  • There are two types of alpacas: Suri and Huacaya. Gia and all the animals we work with are  Huacaya. Suris have a different texture of fiber – almost like dreadlocks.
  • Alpacas are herd animals, so you really can’t and shouldn’t keep just one. But you can raise as many as five on a single acre. Interestingly, many alpacas develop particular “friendships” and will make noise if they’re separated from their friend.
  • An adult alpaca might weigh between about 120 and 200 pounds. Bigger than 200 is Alpaca Diet Time!
  • Alpacas eat primarily grass and hay, and in fact, some of the ones from our local farms are used by a nearby farm market in their solar panel field as “grass-mowers!” 
  • An alpaca is like a cow in that it has a multi-chambered stomach and chews a cud. This helps it get the most nutrition possible even when the foliage they’re eating isn’t particularly great.
Resources :

Monday, January 29

Under the Weather (KT Tunstall)

It's hard to believe that only a few weeks ago, we were hanging out on a sunny, warm beach, soaking up the atmosphere....  The gorgeous days were outweighed only by the peaceful, mild nights.

These days, we're battling the roller coaster of an Oklahoma winter, with seventies on one day and snow the next.  It's a different kind of gorgeous, and we've been enjoying running through the freshly fallen snow singing Walking In a Winter Wonderland, followed by a perfect cup of hot chocolate.

We've been using the weather to our advantage for school as well.  For art class, we took the Christmas candies that were leftover and began making sculptures, like this sleigh!

As part of the knot-tying exercises for Boy Scouts, we built a rope bridge in the back yard.  It only spans the creek, but it's just as thrilling to cross!

There's nothing better than getting out as a family and mussing up all that new snow.  We enjoyed a very long (and somewhat vicious toward the end!!!) snowball fight with the boys, and then traipsed around the acreage, enjoying the beauty that God had laid out before us.  Tomorrow it will probably be in the sixties again, but today we will enjoy snow...

Wednesday, January 24

Colour My World (Chicago)

What’s a kid’s favorite thing about traveling? Seeing the beautiful scenery. Visiting new and exotic places. Learning the history, culture, and geography of the places he visits.

Yeah, right. Who are we kidding? It’s the souvenirs.

LittlePassports lets you travel the world, collecting all kinds of fun little artifacts that encourage kids to learn more about the places they’ve visited.  Sam and Sophia do the “traveling,” and each month they send Little Passport subscribers a goody bag, geared towards kids ages 5-10, full of souvenirs and facts about each place they visit.

The first month, kids receive a sturdy Little Passports suitcase to store all their souvenirs in. The suitcase is much more durable than I expected it to be. It’s made of a heavy-duty cardboard-type material with a metal handle and latch. Barring any serious abuse, I’m expecting it will hold up quite well for a long time.

They also receive :
  • An introductory letter from Sam & Sofia
  • A huge, colorful wall map to locate each country visited and to map their adventure
  • A passport book
  • Stickers
  • An activity page
  • A boarding pass with an access code to play games on the Little Passports website
Each month afterward, subscribers get a package from a different country.  Each month’s kit comes with:
  • A fact sheet
  • Stickers for the passport, suitcase, and map (a push pen to show where you’ve “visited”)
  • A photo
  • A souvenir (some of them are amazing!!)
  • An activity sheet
  • A boarding pass to unlock a new area in the Little Passports member section
Little Passports is a perfect opportunity to sneak in some fun, low-key geography, or you could use each Little Passports package as a jumping-off point for a more in-depth geography study. You could do a mini-unit study, create some notebooking pages, color the country’s flag, learn about its animals (always a must around here), make a related meal…there are dozens of possibilities.

No matter if you decide to keep it low-key or go more in-depth, Little Passports provides a quality, exciting learning opportunity for young kids. I’ve already told my sister and friends that they need to look into Little Passports for their kids because this is stuff that gets them — homeschool or otherwise — excited. Kids anxiously watching the mailbox for educational stuff that they just think is fun?  Definitely!

Little Passports markets their subscriptions for ages 5 to 12 years old, which at first sounds like a very wide age range, but when you look at the subscriptions they have to offer it makes sense. Little Passports offers two different types of subscriptions: The World Edition and The USA Edition.
While both subscriptions explore a country and/or state each month, the materials for the World Edition are more suited for the younger age group and the USA Edition provides more in-depth activities better suited to older children.

Monday, January 22

Strange Attraction (Cure)

If you do any amount of travelling, then you know how important an accurate map and compass are.  This week, we studied the history and applications of magnetism to maps & globes...including latitudes / longitudes and a funny Cub Scout movie about reading a compass.

We started out with a lapbook on the basics of maps and globes.  This was a great opportunity to continue working on continents and oceans with the youngest.  My oldest fashioned his own globe out of a styrofoam ball that we found laying around and two toothpicks.
We read the Magic School Bus : Amazing Magnetism and completed an accompanying unit (free!).  The boys built their own compass using the same methods from as Miss Frizzle.  We also used the Young Scientist Series : Magnetism kit.
For our field trip, we took a trip to the zoo to test our map skills.  Not once (including this trip) have we visited the zoo without getting lost!  While we were there, we stopped in to see the baby rhino that was just born.  (Everybody say "awwwwwww.")
We learned about how magnetism helps animals, such as butterflies, with their migratory paths.  And we finally got to see the chameleon at the herpetology house.  While in the herpetology house, we brushed up on our knowledge of local (and venomous) snakes.
The front of the zoo has an enormous world map.  The boys were challenged to find someplace they had recently visited, and go stand on it.  One is at the Great Lakes, while the other is by New York City.
We enjoyed a nice little hike as we attempted to find our way out of the maze that they call the's always an adventure!
We walked next door to the Science Museum to take this adventure into cooler, and less humid, temperatures.  At the entrance, we found an extra-large globe, and enjoyed pointing out where different family members live.  See the world's largest globe in Maine!
We talked about different types of maps, as well.  Here is a cute map of the solar system and an astronomical chart of the stars during different seasons.
In the hands-on section, we learned about magnetic fields, how magnetism and electricity are related, and how magnetism affects gravitational pull.
We have been studying Leonardo da Vinci for history, and reading the Magic Treehouse : Monday with a Mad Genius .  In the book (spoiler alert), Leonardo's secret to happiness is his perpetual curiosity.  As we had just completed the book, I found this wall mural to be relevant and fascinating.
Back at home, we created maps of the zoo and learned about animal classification.  There were some great sections in the animal classification unit about how the earth's magnetic pull affects different animals.  It was a nice, albeit unintentional, segue.
My youngest took this photo.  He says that I never put pictures of myself on the blog posts.  I told him that it was because I took most of the pictures, so he decided to put his own artwork online today.  In my defense, it was very hot and humid!!

Tuesday, January 16

Debunking Myths About Latin...

You’ve gotten the hang of this homeschooling thing…and then, you enter the high school years.  One of the changes is the addition of foreign language.  About half of families begin foreign language in the elementary years, while the other half wait until high school.  If you’re trying to decide which language to select, may I make the case for Latin?

Let’s look at some common misconceptions about Latin…
  • It isn’t practical.
I really have to laugh at this one!  Have you been to a doctor recently?  How about a lawyer?  Read any higher-level books recently?  Been to a church?  If you’ve done any of the three, then you’ve already been encountering Latin in daily use.  Maybe your student is interested in other Romance languages, but can’t decide which to choose…Latin is the foundation for Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, and Romansh.  Learn the one, and they’ll have a leg up on several.  

But maybe your student is just a struggling learner who has difficulty making sense of the English language.  Why on earth would you want to try and teach them another one?  (I had the same question with my struggling learner, with some amazing results.)  By getting that good foundation with words that they don’t know – thus having to really put the effort into paying attention – your student will come away with a better grasp of the English language and how it works.  They may not master the language, but you will see results in their English reading and writing abilities.
  • You should have begun teaching prior to high school.
While it’s true that exposing a child to a foreign language early on can be very beneficial for fluency, it isn’t really necessary with Latin.  Many families start in middle school – and that is when we began, as it helps to provide a strong grammar and language mechanics foundation.  Even if you wait until high school to begin, that same foundation is going to bolster ACT and SAT scores.  By then, too, your student’s brain will have developed enough to be ready for some of the more advanced reasoning skills needed for true success.  Don’t sweat it – start in ninth grade and put in the required two years…or three or four, for brownie points!
  • It’s only for the ‘smart kids.’
Are we really going to go down that road?  I like to tell my kids that “it’s only easy if you know it,” and Latin is no exception.  All learning requires determination, but if you’re interested in learning something, you’ll make the effort.  I would argue that Latin can be a big boon to the below-average student, particularly those struggling with language arts, as it will help to provide a stronger grammar and language usage foundation than the typical English class.  Maybe it’s not the ‘smart kids’ that make up a Latin class….maybe it’s the class that turns them into the ‘smart(er) kids.’
  • It’s a dead language.
Well…not in this house.  We actually have a book called How to Insult, Abuse, and Insinuate in Classical Latin.  I kid you not…it is the most popular book in our car (that would be – books that stay in the car for those “are we there yet?” days).  It’s true that Latin is usually an unspoken language, but my children wield their Latin phrases like swords against each other!  And, (ducking my head), they’ve even been known to insult others in Latin, too.  Thankfully, said folks were unawares.  My point is, it’s NOT a dead language if you don’t want it to be.  You can choose to get caught up in the (unfounded) stereotype that Latin is boring and drudgery, or you can choose to make it fun!

Click on the pics below to find out Why We Teach Elementary Latin and to access some of our favorite Latin resources!
 Why We Teach Elementary Latin Resources