Extended Vacay

I’m about to embark on a month long vacation with the two girls. We are headed to visit my family in Illinois for two weeks. Then we go straight to Salt Lake City to visit dad’s family for a week (and dad will meet us there). The last week of our vacation will be a road trip back home to Arizona. We’re hitting 3 of the Mighty 5 UT National Parks…more on that later!

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I am super excited about our vacation and hopefully the most stressful part (packing and prepping to be gone a month!) is already over!

Get those kids socialized!

Anyone who has ever entertained the idea of homeschooling for a nanosecond has heard the no socialization/socially awkward concern from others.  I think homeschooling has the ability to make our children MORE socialized and less “boxed in” by a classroom setting.  In a traditional classroom setting, kids socialize with 25 other same-age students with whom they are randomly grouped. Or they might “socialize” too much and get stuck sitting by themselves at the front of the class.  Not that I’m talking from experience or anything but remember how teachers grouped about 4 desks together but then expected you to be quiet and not talk. How’s that for socialization?  Being in close proximity to other kids does not mean they are learning healthy socialization skills.

But anyhow, what I wanted to talk about was extracurriculars and hobbies.  Homeschooling gives kids the opportunity to explore more of their personal interests.  They can interact with other kids who have those same interests and they are able to make friends with a larger age span.  Sounds more like “real life” or adult friendships if you ask me.

A currently takes a dance class and horseback riding lessons. For now, her riding lessons are private lessons but she will take group lessons in the future.  Her ballet class has anywhere from 5-12 students (age 3-8) depending on the week.  She loves it!  She loves dance, she loves going to the studio, she loves her dance friends and instructors.  She is not socially awkward.  In addition to learning socialization skills, dance also teaches her respect for herself and others, precision, physical fitness, following instruction, and coordination.

She just ended her 2nd year of ballet and performed beautifully in her recital.  They danced to “In Summer” from Frozen.

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Our nerd is showing.

Our first Magic School Bus science club kit came this week!!  We were all very excited to delve in and see what it was all about.  Our first kit was a Stars and Planets theme.  It is not the same Secrets of Space kit that is sold on Amazon but seems to be very similar.  The experiments seem to be pretty similar but there are some differences in execution or materials used.  Our solar system mobile was made with bouncy balls whereas the amazon kit uses Styrofoam.  Based on the picture, the amazon kit also comes with a box to make your constellation box…we had to provide our own shoebox. For the solar system poster, we cut our planets out of (provided) construction paper and the amazon kit comes with planet stickers to use.  Those little things seem to be the main differences.

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The kit comes with a great little manual….very colorful and appealing!  And it’s printed on pretty strong paper that is holding up very well.  There is a page for each experiment detailing the materials and method. Then there is space for your scientist to write results and conclusions (although this isn’t really applicable to a lot of the activities…I am thinking I might have A write her favorite part or something new she learned).  There is extra info on all the pages with facts and details pertaining to that specific experiment or topic.  Just extra tidbits for extra learning. The last 2 pages of the manual are a parent section with answers and more specific information about how activities should be turning out.  Great for the parent that who doesn’t know which planet has rocks, unbreathable air, and clouds of sulfuric acid (its Venus!).

Experiments:

Our kit manual has 7 experiments.  They are really more activities than true scientific experiments.  The first one was to use the star and planet questions provided and make a little booklet.  While not an experiment, this was a great one so that we have the questions and facts at our fingertips.  A lot of this is new info for A so we’ve gone over the questions a few times already.  There are also experiments that use nothing from the kit.  There is one that has the kids use a cd to make rainbows with sunlight.  The manual does have additional information and explanations to go with the experiment though.  I do think this theme is probably a little more difficult than others for true experiments so maybe future kits will have more actual experiments.

All 7 experiments: Make fact book, cd rainbows, night vision flashlight, constellation box, constellation cards, solar system poster, and solar system mobile. MSB2 MSB3

A and I had a lot of fun with this, we did 2 activities the first day (the booklet and mobile above) and they took us about an hour.  Today was the constellation box (technically 2 activities as they have the box and constellation cards as separate activities) and it took an hour, including time for the paint to dry. If we do 2 activities every other day, the kit will take us a week to complete all the activities.  But the lessons on stars and planets will last much longer than that since most of these activities produce a tangible learning tool that we can keep using.

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We couldn’t leave K out of the fun, even though she is definitely too young for anything in the actual kit!

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A is 4.5 and I think this kit is perfect for her.  She does need moms help but we planned on that anyway.  A doesn’t read yet so obviously mom helps her read the instructions and information.  She was able to do a fair amount if the activities herself. You do have to provide some materials…shoebox, flashlight, cd, etc.  But they didn’t expect you to have anything outrageous on hand.  I think this kit would be good for 4-7 years.  If given the chance, an older child might be able to blow through the activities in a day or two but if its paired complementary curriculum, this kit could might a great addition to any space theme in your homeschool.  Or if you have a science nerd like me, this could keep them busy and entertained during summer break! For the $10 we paid, this kit was definitely worth it to us.

We also found out what the kit themes will be for the rest of the year: acids & bases, air, bacteria & fungi, fossils, the human body, lights rainbows & mirrors, magnets, solids liquids & gases, water, volcanoes, and weather.

Here is the link to The Young Scientists site but this yearlong club frequently goes on sale so if you are interested, check groupon or Educents.  The list price is $240 but I paid $120 and just saw it on sale for $108 so definitely don’t pay full price!

Grand Canyon

Last spring, we crossed the Grand Canyon National Park off of our bucket list.  We went in mid May.  The daytime weather was perfect for hiking but it got pretty cold at night.  We tent camp and weren’t using air mattresses so we were freezing at night!  Our last morning, we woke to SNOW! In ARIZONA!  We knew in theory that it snowed in AZ but since we’re in southern part of that state, we don’t see it.  It was fun for the girls but a pain trying to get everything packed up.

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We camped in Mather Campground inside the park.  It was a great campground!  We were able to get a site near the potty which was important with A.  Really big campsites with picnic table and fire rings.  The best part?  The wildlife came to us!  There were deer and elk literally walking right through our camp.  The girls and I were amazed.  Dad was less than thrilled as he is a hunter and felt they were taunting him!

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The visitor center is huge with an awesome map of the Canyon spanning the wall.  They have short movies to watch and exhibits with various Canyon features.  We started off our hiking by doing the rim trail to Mather Point that is right off the visitor center.  It’s a short walk but gives you a great first look at the Canyon.  Our big hike this trip was The Bright Angel Trail.  We went as far as the 1.5 mile resthouse (3 miles roundtrip, 1120 ft one way elevation change).  Both girls were in backpack carriers.  The way down, you feel great…like you could go the whole way!  Dad wanted to keep going but I put the kibosh on that and after our snack/potty break, suggested we head back up.  Good thing too because you really feel that elevation change on the way back up…our calves were killing us.  But we made it!

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We also did the Desert View scenic drive.  There were a lot of scenic pullouts on this drive, mostly just ‘side of the road stuff’ and not many small trails to take but that’s because the road is literally on the edge of the canyon.  We went to a museum of ruins that is on this drive and it gave a nice break to get out of the car, run around, and of course, see the ruins! The drive ends at the Desert View Watchtower which you can climb for a top view of the canyon  (this is also a visitor center and snack shop now).

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We loved our visit to the Grand Canyon and there are just no words to describe how you feel looking over it for the first time.  It is truly one of the wonders of the world and I am so glad we were able to experience it and show it to our children!

Look for our next National Parks posts in August…we’re visiting 3 Utah parks in July!!

ASL

As I’ve mentioned before, A is very self motivated.  So much so that one day she asked to learn sign language.  A does not know anyone who uses ASL on a regular basis or as their first language.  I believe this interest came from a Sprout channel show that teaches one sign a show/week (Yep, we let our kids watch TV…SHOCKER!).

I don’t know sign language but I thought it was an awesome idea when she brought it up.  So we headed over to YouTube and found some ASL learning videos for kids.  I contemplated buying a set from Signing Time but I contemplated long enough that it showed up on Netflix (yay!).  And we recently found a class at our local library that we are going to try (it is a beginner class but geared towards the seniors in our area who are losing their hearing….so we’ll see if it is general enough to teach A).

She first asked to learn around her 4th birthday and 9 months later, she is still really interested in it.  She knows her alphabet, how to say “my name is A…”, mom, dad, and tons of other words.  She incorporates signing into everyday conversation.  Although neither of us know enough to have an entire conversation, she will use signs in spoken conversation whenever she knows one.  And at least once a day, we look something up when she says “I wonder how you sign…..”

I think one of the huge bonuses of homeschooling is to be able to focus on your child’s interests at that moment.  If she was in a public school, do you think the teacher would or could change the entire curriculum or add an entire subject based on one child’s interests?? No. It just isn’t feasible in that kind of setting.  I love that we can focus on ASL because she has a deep interest and curiosity in it.  And later, we can alter our course to include whatever else she is passionate about learning.

At this point, I’m not sure who is the teacher and who is the student in our relationship.  I am certainly learning things I never knew on this journey.

Some of the sites we have used:

http://www.signingtimekids.org/

http://www.lifeprint.com/

http://kidcourses.com/sign-language-asl/

Like an oven.

As I’ve mentioned before, we live in SW AZ.  It’s pretty normal for our summer temps to be 110.  Several days this week have been or will be 115. There is nothing normal about 115.  Walking outside feels like walking into an oven.  When it’s 100-108? Actually, not that bad (I know, it is ridiculous to think of any temps over 100 as “not that bad”).  Yes, it is hot but we usually have a couple hours in the morning and a couple more before bed where we can go outside and play.  And we go to the waterpark too.  108 seems to be my personal threshold where the temp goes from “Holy crap, its hot outside!” to “Holy hell, I’d rather climb inside my oven than walk to get the mail!”

Sooo anyway, I knew it was going to be extra hot this week so I looked up some fun indoor activities that we could do to keep the kids entertained and not just parked in front of the tv (and if you don’t live in HELL*, you could use these during snowy winter days or rainy days….we don’t have any snow here and very few rainy days.)  We made an early trip to Target to gather some supplies so that there was no need to leave our cozy air conditioned house for the worst few days….

darts

Our dart game was the biggest hit!  Those foam darts were in the Dollar Spot so the girls each picked one out and then we bought the 50 cent posterboard.  I made the different size holes worth different points and we spent several hours playing this game, trying to beat each other, moving the board higher/lower, etc.  K cheated and just walked right up to it but she still didn’t get bored of it very quickly.

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This picture just cracks me up. K cracks me up.  We bought balloons for a few different games but they had the most fun *trying* to blow them up themselves.  We bought a set of large paddles in the $3 Dollar Spot and then used a balloon to hit back and forth and also play ‘keep off the ground.’  We tried the balloon powered straw on a string thing but it was mostly a fail.  I mean, it worked in the technical sense but it wasn’t very fun for the girls.  They couldn’t blow the balloons up themselves so I was doing most of the work and they lost interest pretty quickly when we realized there wasn’t much they could do with that.

We had also picked up new crayons and a giant coloring book (both were on cartwheel!).  And in my gift closet (I buy tons on sale and save for future gifts), I had a bath paint set that I broke out for the little ladies.  We had plenty to keep us busy for the worst of the weather.  They were having so much fun, they forget to beg me to go outside….WIN!

*HELL does refer to the town I live in right now but I don’t actually hate it as that might make it sound.  I hate it this week when its 115 but generally, I really like our town and we have awesome winters….only 4 more months before we start to cool down.)