Saturday, May 19, 2012

This Week's H/School Journal

In our homeschool this week...
...we went on a Mad Science field trip.  The boys participate about once/month in a Mad Science experience; this time it was about Sonic Sounds.  We were supposed to go on another field trip (a bike rally), but the kids' lame-brain mother simply forgot about it

...we finally started our much-anticipated Big Cat week.  It went pretty well, I think, despite the fact that Seth kept suggesting that giraffes were one of the four Big Cats!

I confess that I was quite anxious about this week's Big Cat theme (silly, I know).  I had been dreading it for a while and had even procrastinated it a bit.  I've been throwing big-cat-related things into a box for a couple of months already and organizing online materials as I've come across them, but putting it all together into something that would interest and captivate my eagerly-anticipating children felt a little bit pressured for me.  This was our first ever unit study specifically on a small group of animals that Matthew picked out of pure interest.  
Last week, noticing that I was waaaaay to anxious about Big Cat week, I decided to try something a little more spontaneous.  I put aside all of my prep.  All of it:  The maps; videos; colouring pages; Q&A sheets; photos; an online curriculum from National Geographic; etc etc.

I implemented a new plan: last week Friday, we visited our big central library and simply looked for books and DVDs that the kids were interested in - all about Big Cats.  We ended up bringing home about thirty+ books and five DVDs (one Big Cats in general; the other four specifically about the four types of Big Cats).  

Finally on Wednesday, after some delays during the first part of the week, we finally started our Big Cat week.  We started by talking about what a mammal is. Matthew knew this already, but of course the little kids didn't...but I bet they could each list at least a couple of mammal characteristics now!  

BTW, do you know how to define a mammal??  
Well, just in case the answer is 'no' these are the characteristics that distinguish mammals: 
* hair/fur on their bodies; 
* warm-blooded; 
(try explaining that to 4- and 6-year olds whose language depth still isn't quite there!)
* birth live young; (ie. not in eggs...with 1-2 exceptions)
* lastly, baby mammals are fed with their mother's milk. 

From the general discussion of mammals, we moved on to a discussion about cats - all types.  We talked about the differences between house cats, Big Cats, and the large cats that don't form part of the Big Cat family.

Finally, we moved on to talking about the four Big Cats: Lions; tigers; leopards; jaguars.

We talked about what classifies these animals as Big Cats and why other large cats (such as the Cheetah) are not considered to be Big Cats.

Finally, we began a long discussion about various points of curiosity about Big Cats:  how many toes; what about those claws; where do they live (nice intro to a geography lesson there); how many bones compared to people; about what makes each of their senses special and the extra sense that Big Cats have on the roof of their mouths; how to distinguish a leopard from a jaguar, given that both are spotted; about their cubs; whether they live together with others of their kind or not; what does it mean to be a carnivore; what kinds of prey they like to eat; about what it means to be endangered; etc etc etc.

It was a fascinating conversation and our first day on the subject went about a thousand times better than I could have anticipated.  I'm not thinking that the younger kids will remember a whole lot about the specifics, but it was definitely a start, and they all three loved talking about it.  We all sat, rapt, in our library for at least an hour: talking; looking at pictures; trying to figure things out.  It was a much richer conversation than I'd anticipated, and I was thrilled that I'd 'gone with my gut' and made it a conversation rather than a more structured session.  I think we all had fun.

Still on our first day, we then went on to watch a National Geographic DVD about Big Cats.  I've been surprised before, and was again, that when the kids watch nature shows, they're not overly bothered to watch an animal kill another animal.  It bothers me way more than it bothers any of them (though I try to hide my dislike, or close my eyes while theirs are riveted to the screen).  They had questions about it, but that simply led to more conversations about things such as predator/prey, life cycle, food chain, etc etc.  They basically seemed to take the many killing scenes in stride. I did ask Matthew one time if it bothered him to watch animals killing and eating other animals, and his response was: "Mom, it's just part of life.  They're all trying to stay alive and they have to eat to do that."  OK then...a good reminder for their mama.

So...that was our first day/session on Big Cats, and it went really well.  

On Thursday and Friday, we enjoyed some more general discussion on points of interest and then began to focus our attention on specific cats.  We spent a chunk of Thursday learning bits about Leopards and watched another fantastic National Geographic DVD about leopards ("Eye of the Leopard" in case anyone's interested).

It was a great starting and middle point to our week on Big Cats and I know Matthew (who has been waiting for this week since December) really enjoyed it.  We'll continue our study of Big Cats during the first few days of next week, and then wind down to get ready for the next part of our spring/summer school!

Places we went and people we saw...
...the week started out with Mother's Day, a chunk of which we spent with my parents and sister/family.  We had lunch at a golf course just outside of town.  It was a pretty good day, altogether...but, as I posted on Mother's Day I was a little taken aback by how complicated it was for me, emotionally.  I actually woke up on Mother's Day at the retreat centre where I do my monthly 24-hour retreats, but ended up just wanting to be home with my family shortly after breakfast.  I also really wanted a hug from Geoff because of my emotional reaction to the day.

...we were spontaneously able to get together with friends on a couple of occasions this week (twice to a park; once to a favourite restaurant for lunch) - it's always nice when something can work out with no forward planning.  

...we visited a few play structures over the course of the week.

...we crossed the first of our "Summer Fun List" items off our list when we went for ice cream at a popular summer ice cream place that the kids saw open up a few weeks ago and have been drying to try out.

...during their Tues/Thurs cycling program, the boys have been learning to jump small jumps and ride briefly on one wheel;  to say that they are loving it would be a gross understatement.  They can pretty much always tell you how many more days until the next bike evening!

...the little kids finished their music class last Saturday so this morning was blessedly a little less rushed. brother flew into town yesterday and we spent some time together this afternoon and over dinner. 

My favourite things this week...
...was our start to Big Cat week.  We really had a few great conversations and enjoyed the DVDs that we watched.  We all learned a fair bit about these magnificent creatures.

Things I'm working on...
...Well, there's definitely something I'm working towards for this coming week!  Next Thursday, I plan to take the kids on a road trip for a week or two.  Yes, I'm a little nuts to be contemplating this with three kids cooped up in a van for as long as we'll be doing, but I'm just going to do it anyway.  The kids and I all love a bit of adventure, so why not just try it!!???  I'll elaborate more in a few days.  It should be interesting.

I'm reading...
...nothing.  Nothing at all.  Other than a lot of stuff about Big Cats!!  I recently had to return to the library unread a bunch of lovely books that I've been so wanting to read...but I honestly just haven't had the energy at the end of everything else.

I'm cooking/baking...
...not that much.  I swerved off of the meal plan this week for some reason that I'm not sure about.  Maybe I was just ready for a break, or to do some more simple stuff that takes less time/effort.  So we did flatbread pizzas one night, scrambled eggs and toast another night, and hot dogs with corn on the cob on Friday get the idea.  It was kinda nice!

I'm grateful for...
...the fact that we're making it!  We're almost a year in with the little kids now, and it's going all right.  There are still lots of challenges (big and small), but it's feeling increasingly like we're a bit more of a normal family with regular ups and downs.

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