Welcome to the New Year!!

2013, where did you go oh so quickly?

Well, welcome to 2014 everyone. I hope the New Year has started off well for you! For us, we had a great family day visiting ICE at the Gaylord, checking out the National Harbor and just being together on the first day of the year.

This year, I intend to do a better job with my writing. Let’s face it, I slacked. Somewhere around middle of the year I completely stopped writing. School work (for me and my son) took on a life of its own and started running around my life like a herd of zombies headed for Rick’s prison. (yes, I can’t wait until February 9th!!)

So a quick recap of the last six months—we went to Disney. We had a fantastic time although I’d second guess traveling with my folks in the future. Halloween was a success with my son being Rick and getting a nice pumpkin full of candy he still hasn’t eaten. Turkey day was a family affair, with only three of us in attendance. We couldn’t travel this year due to work requirements but enjoyed the time off together. We got a greenhouse which is working well with the cold weather plants. We traveled to the Smokies for Christmas and left a day early due to fatigue (who knew having a 5 year old at the grandparents’ house could be so exhausting?)

So there you have it. My life in seven sentences.

We have our first homeschool portfolio review next month. I’ll keep everyone updated as to how that goes.

Now on to the good stuff: New Year’s Resolutions.

1. Work on getting closer to being debt free. This is a biggie for lots of folks. Between car loans, student loans and Christmas presents, there is room for improvement. And accomplishing this goal will help to lead to the next.

2. Paris 2015!! Our goal is to hit Paris in the fall of 2015. We will have 8 days, not including travel days. I am working on my Delta sky miles so I can get good plane tickets for Air France (they are better with kids than many airlines). I have those 8 days planned already but with lots of wiggle room. I haven’t looked too hard into restaurants yet and I don’t have it planned down to times. Mostly, just three or so things per day and the knowledge that we will absolutely be renting an apartment and taking the Roisy Bus as opposed to the RER from the airport to the apartment.

3. Cutting down on the soda. This one goes without saying.

4. Get the dishwasher set up this year. Yes, I have lived in my house for almost four years without a dishwasher. So what? It’s all good.

5. New doors for the house. We need ‘em. This one isn’t all that exciting, but hey.

What are your New Year’s Resolutions?

Looking ahead not behind.

Looking ahead not behind.

Fjords, Vikings and Stave Churches

Norway flag.

Norway flag.

Teaching Norway was easy. My son immediately got into the idea of ancient Vikings, adventures and a God of Thunder. Norway was the second country on our “Around the World” lesson plan which is designed to cover every nation on Epcot’s world showcase before our trip in the fall. Once Mexico was wrapped up, we went to our local library and checked out a number of books about Norway. The materials I used to teach Norway include: The “Countries Around the World: Norway” DVD, Leif Erikson: Norwegian Explorer by Cynthia Amoroso and Robert Nayed, The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Ellen Appleby, What do we Know about the Vikings? By Hazel Martell, Why, Why Why were the Vikings so Fierce and Other Powerful  Questions by Mason Crest Publishers, The Annotated Hans Christian Anderson, How to Train Your Dragon: The Misadventures of Hiccup the Viking by Cressida Crowell and the Disney movie by the same name. Also used were numerous internet resources including Time for Kids and National Geographic.

Each day, we read a chapter or three in How to Train Your Dragon and once we had finished, we watched the Disney version. We discussed the differences between the book and the movie and why Disney changed so much. We also read the Three Billy Goats Gruff and discussed trolls. We even made our own puppets and acted out the story. We also read various stories from Hans Christian Anderson, including The Little Mermaid.

We loved making a troll mask and acting out the Three Billy Goats Gruff.

We loved making a troll mask and acting out the Three Billy Goats Gruff.

As we did for Mexico, we collected the weather for Oslo and our home and graphed them for comparison. We discussed the different animals found in the climate of Norway and even adopted an Arctic Fox from the World Wildlife Foundation. We used the internet to look at pictures of the geography and my son learned about fjords.

From iTunes, I was able to purchase Norwegian classical music from Edvard Grieg and a band called Frigg. We listened to them daily while completing quiet work like printing practice or coloring Viking ships. We made the Norwegian flag from construction paper and completed a Norwegian heart basket craft. We also discussed the history of stave churches and looked at pictures of them online. We discussed how stave churches are very rare and were even built from Viking ships.

My son really enjoyed learning about the Vikings. He made a Viking shield and we wrote his name on the shield in a Viking writing called Runes. Then, we ventured to the backyard to make a homemade Viking catapult which we then used to shoot water balloons at each other on a particularly hot day.


To end our studies, we tied a sampling of traditional Norwegian foods. We tried smoked salmon, made our own Grogg, and made Norwegian puff pastry. Norway is going to be hard to beat since Vikings are such a natural draw for a young boy. But China will prove worthy with her dragons, I’m sure.

Lox, pastry and grogg.

Lox, pastry and grogg.

Teaching Mexico, Epcot Style

Mexico was the first nation we studied on the World Showcase. Since this was our first country, it was a little more disorganized than the countries going forward. Mexico was our learning curve.

Teaching Mexico was a lot of fun with my kindergartner. We started with the basics. My son has a large Discovery Kids world map on the wall in our classroom. The first thing we did was find our country and our home. This was the easy part, since we had done it before. Then, I showed him where Mexico was. We labeled it with the Velcro country labels that came with the map and discussed the continent. The DK map shows each continent in a different color but it does not have state lines drawn on it. So, we went to our globe and discussed the exact country location.

We had gone to the library and checked out various books relevant to Mexico and a DVD from Marathon Films Productions from a series called “Countries Around the World.” We watched the video and discussed what we saw. These videos serve as a wonderful introduction to the countries we are studying. Usually, they feature a child telling a little about the country, their lives, culture, foods, etc.

Next, I went to Google and found pictures of Mexico. I specifically got pictures for each environment type (beaches, deserts, mountains) different cultural depictions (dress, musical instruments, religious figures, and fiestas). I then used those pictures and traditional Mexican music I purchased from iTunes to make a slide show. My son and I sat down and looked at each of those pictures and discussed what they meant in terms of the country. We used National Geographic Kids to help supplement some of the information.

Then, using construction paper, my son made a flag of Mexico. This was accomplished by using a white sheet of construction paper and 1/3 of both green and red. He then drew the eagle/serpent/cactus part in the middle. This was one of many art projects that carry over into the Social Studies realm as well. Prior to making the flag, we had heard the Aztec story that founded Mexico City from the “Countries of the World” video. The Aztecs believed that when they saw an eagle sitting on a cactus eating a serpent that is where their city should be founded. They saw this in the area that is now Mexico City and the flag’s center shows the picture of an eagle, sitting on a cactus, eating a serpent on an island.

Flag of Mexico

Flag of Mexico

Using Google again and Time for Kids I was able to learn a few simple phrases in Spanish to teach my son. We practiced those phrases as well as pointing the country out on the map, the continent and the flag recognition every day of our 10 day lesson. We also looked at famous places, including Chechen Itza and Tulum.

We downloaded the GeoWalk app on my iPad which gave some nice pictures and facts about some animals unique to Mexico. We ordered Mexican jumping beans online. This was the basis of our science/biology area of our Mexico studies. Using fact sheets from online resources and from the retailer, my son learned about the moths inside the jumping beans, their lifecycle and habitat. We are still eagerly awaiting their hatching.

We also used a scientific article on Jaguars and their habitats for both scientific exploration and reading comprehension. The worksheet was located on superteacherworksheets.com which provided both the article describing the cat’s habitat, eating and living habits but also followed the article with reading comprehension questions.

Another scientific area we studied was the climate differences between Mexico’s capital city and our home. We took the weather readings daily from weather.com, gathering temperature and precipitation. At the end of our Mexico studies, we graphed the results and discussed how Mexico compared to home. This crossed into the math studies as well.

For additional math studies, I created a homemade “Souvenir buying” worksheets. I used pictures of the types of souvenirs which may be purchased at the Mexico pavilion and gave them whole-dollar price tags. From this, I created math problems involving adding and subtracting money (prices and change) that help him not only understand math concepts, but concepts of money.

For the English/Language Arts we focused on two areas. The first, writing. I created a worksheet for writing “M-E-X-I-C-O” with the use of Microsoft Word. This worksheet listed each letter and an elementary style lining for him to copy the letters. He also practiced writing on the reading comprehension worksheets and weather worksheets.

For reading, we checked out a number of books from the library that covered various areas of Mexico and its culture. Those books varied in reading levels, some being very simple and read by him and others more complex and read to him.

Art is always a pretty easy subject to teach. Other than completing the Mexico flag, we also made an “eye of God” craft, homemade maracas, and a homemade piñata. To top it all off, we created a suitcase from cardstock which houses postcards he creates depicting scenes from each country. It is decorated with flags from the various countries. We have also created a passport which has space for each nation’s flag, various information about each of the nations and a place for each of the pages to be stamped at Epcot.

To end our study of Mexico, we had a Mexican fiesta, which included various Mexican foods, drinks and snacks , Mexican music and the breaking of the piñata.

Making the pinata.

Making the pinata.

The finished product.

The finished product.

We also watch The Three Cabilleros to end our study of Mexico and tie Disney back into our trip. For those who have not yet been to the Mexican pavilion at Epcot, the ride has scenes from the movie. It also features a large Aztec/Mayan style pyramid which is a architectural feature that my son is now very familiar with. I can’t wait to take him to Epcot. I plan to quiz him as we enter each pavilion to see if he can determine which country we are in.

Breaking the pinata.

Breaking the pinata.

So, that’s it…. Until Norway.

Disney Schooling

How to turn a Disney Vacation into the ultimate homeschool field trip:

1. Epcot is your friend. So many people think Epcot isn’t for kids. I beg to differ. We took my son to Epcot for the first time at 3 years old and he loved it. There are so many areas that are made to stimulate their imagination.
A. Study the Oceans in your homeschool lessons and then use the Living Seas pavilion to reinforce what you’ve learned.
B. Start a garden and then head to the Land pavilion. There you can discuss plant life cycles, hybrid plants or hydroponics techniques, depending on the age of your child.
C. Study the 11 countries on the World Showcase. The age of your child will dictate how in-depth your study will be. With my kindergartener, locating them on the wall map, learning their continent, studying their language, environment, unique animals, and a small overview of their culture, history and religion is good enough. We plan about 10 days for each country.
2. Even Magic Kingdom presents opportunities for education. Most people don’t realize that most Disney movies are based on books, poems or stories from all around the world. For instance, Mulan is based on the Ballad of Mulan from early China. Reading the primary materials and comparing them to the Disney version can be great for not only providing your child with a great base of classic literature, poetry and mythos.
3. Animal Kingdom provides a unique opportunity to view animals in their habitats. It is also a chance to study African and Asian countries typically not covered in traditional schools.
4. Disney has a multitude of cultural experiences available to enrich your child’s understanding and exposure to the world. In each of the World Showcase countries, the cast members who work at the different pavilions are originally from the nations represented. This gives your child the chance to interact with the people you have been studying, practice their new language skills, and ask questions about things they have learned about in class.

In the coming weeks, I will post how we have incorporated the world showcase nations into our learning. I hope you enjoy!


Confessions of a Homeschooling Mom

Our Classroom

Our Classroom

Whoever said this was going to be easy was lying through their teeth. That isn’t to say it isn’t enjoyable or worth it. I have never once questioned by decision to homeschool (since I got started, of course). But just because I know it is the right thing, does not by any means mean it is easy.
One of the hardest parts of homeschooling has honestly been keeping up with my son’s pace. He is smart. Smart as a whip. Every time I introduce a new learning concept, he picks it up in a matter of a lesson or two. Of course, he requires practice to hone the skill and develop it further, but I usually plan two to three days worth of simple instruction and then three to five days of practice. I find myself having to readjust the lesson plans just so he doesn’t get bored. He is easily annoyed with my questions such as “What continent is Norway on?” and “Can you show me China on the map?” After an eyeroll and a “Mom, you know where it is,” he effortlessly points it out or names the continent.

The real struggle here is not him, it is me. Between working full time and being a full time graduate student, finding time for lesson planning can be challenging. Library days are a must. He gets time to play with the materials at the library and I get time to research our next country. I also have pulled from the internet quite a bit. Superteacherworksheets.com has been indispensable for providing simple math and English worksheets to help cover a concept he has just learned. Especially when I haven’t had time to create one myself.
Mostly, I find that simple books from the library give us our best social studies, science and English lessons. Currently, we are working our way through 11 countries. Those countries are: Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, the USA, Japan, Morocco, France, the UK and Canada. The clever eye can spot the reason for the nation picks; they are the 11 countries on Epcot’s World Showcase. These studies will be punctuated with a “field trip” to those “countries.”
While this might seem like a cheap way of justifying a Disney trip, it is actually a great way to teach my son a little about the world. We have looked at each nation on the map (he can point out the ones we have studied), learned their continent, environment, architecture, culture, language (short phrases, obviously), religion, mythos, history and stories. For each nation, we are choosing a Disney movie that depicts or originated in the nation we are studying. Then we are reading the original text. My son was surprised to discover that Mulan was only a one page long poem. Or that the book that How to Train Your Dragon was based on was NOTHING at all like the movie.
Overall, I’d say it’s a win… most of the time.

Why the Boston Marathon Bombings are not a failure of intelligence.

1. Remember the Patriot Act? Remember how much of an uproar was caused by the simple suggestion that the government can monitor your emails, tap your phones, sequester your phone records, and record your banking information?
2. Remember how we balked at the idea that the CIA, NSA, DHS, FBI, ICE, ATF and other government agencies were keeping records about each of us?
3. The 19 year old was an American citizen.
4. Those who travel overseas do not wear ankle bracelets. We don’t always know where they go, who they talk to.
5. Russia is not exactly our BFF.
6. Do you want the FBI monitoring your YouTube channel for signs that you *may* be an insurgent?
7. What if you are a grad student studying terrorism? At what point after numerous searches on bioterrorism, CBRNE, extremist groups, threats against America, ect should the FBI be able to haul you in for questioning.
8. The FBI is a law enforcement agency and must abide by the American Code of Justice, meaning they cannot follow you around like the paparazzi.
9. Would you really want them to do number 8?
10. Lone wolf terrorists act alone. They are by definition secret, discrete and nearly impossible to trace.
11. Intelligence agencies like the CIA are prohibited, via the National Security Act of 1947 from operating on US soil. That means “intelligence agencies” in their truest form could not investigate American citizens.
12. The FBI has an intelligence division which must abide by the same laws as other law enforcement agencies, including getting a search warrant to search your home, records, and computer.
13. Not everyone who buys a pressure cooker has to submit to a background check first. I’d go as far as to say that no one who buys a pressure cooker gets a background check first.
14. Even now with one dead and the other talking, intelligence officials are still struggling to discover why. How could we have had those answers before we even knew who they were?
15. There were approximately 500,000 spectators. Just take a minute for that to sink in.
16. After the bombings, every person with a backpack was a social media suspect.
17. This is AMERICA. We are FREE people. As long as we wish to remain FREE, 100% protection against terrorism is impossible. DEAL WITH IT FOLKS!