Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Photo

Easter Eggs

Easter time means Easter eggs. I boiled dozens and dozens and far too many of them cracked, but we still had over four dozen to dye and decorate. Kara found some new techniques to try on Pinterest. 

First the children tried food coloring mixed with backing soda painted on the egg. After the egg was painted vinegar is poured over it. The egg fizzes. The children enjoyed painting with the food coloring, but it was time consuming. After thirty minutes we still had three and half dozen eggs to decorate. Kara had planned to put Lincoln to bed before we decorated eggs, but I advocated for his participation. He was very good at this technique. (I don't recommend this technique. It's unduly messy and not superior in any way to other techniques, so why do it?!)

Kara brought out the electrical tape and used it to decorate an egg so that when you dye it, the covered portion doesn't take the works somewhat. I'm not sure why they suggested electrical tape. It's easier to cut because it's thicker than masking tape, but I don't think it sticks that well to the curved top and bottom of the eggs. Only two or three eggs were decorated with this method.

We pulled out the egg spinner. It's always a big hit with the children, but it doesn't usually produce pretty eggs. All the colors get layered and the egg ends up black or brown. However, spinning is fun, fun, fun. We were surprised how good Lincoln was at spinning.

Next it was fancy napkins and Mod Podge (thick glue). This technique was slow and sticky, very sticky. Bentley did three or four eggs and Jake and Viva did one each. There were still three dozen eggs to color.

Lincoln was sent to bed before we started dying eggs in color baths. This technique, the traditional one, is the fastest, but has a high potential for disaster. We have a wooden floor and we don't want it turned blue or green or pink. After Lincoln left the children finished coloring the rest of the eggs.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Egg Hunts

The children participated in two egg hunts today. First they hunted eggs at home. The Easter Bunny visits our home the day before Easter, therefore the eggs were waiting to be found when the children got up. Bentley got up early and went Lego shopping with opa without noticing that the Easter Bunny had visited during the night. He maintains that the Easter Bunny came while he was out shopping with opa! (Would he have gone shopping with opa if he'd realized there were eggs to be found?)

At 10AM when Bentley got back home and discovered the Easter baskets on the table, he woke up the twins. They got dressed and raced downstairs. We told the trio they had to help Lincoln find ten eggs before they started collecting their own eggs. Lincoln was a master egg hunter and didn't need any assistance. We let him go into a new room before the older children, but he could probably keep up with them without any handi-cap.

We had another Easter egg hunt to attend at 11AM. Crazy, huh? It was a chili feed and egg hunt that Kara's friend Carmen organizes every year. We went a little late because we figured the children wouldn't eat much. Bentley had water and a brownie with the frosting scraped off. Lincoln spit out broccoli and olives with dressing on them and then poured an entire cup of water on himself. Since the egg hunt was outside in the snow banks, Kara had to borrow clothes from her friends who were better prepared than she and had extra clothes for their little ones with them. Lincoln had his snow pants and coat that were still dry, but he needed some clothes under his snow gear. It's pretty cold outside still.

The under 4 crowd go with the parents and scoop eggs off the ice in the parking lot. 

The children 4+ race for the snow banks on the far side of the parking lot. 

Viva doesn't like to race, so she brought up the tail end of the group. 

Jake and Bentley scaled the tall snow banks. 
Bentley found fewer than Jake because he only wanted to collect well hidden eggs.

The children will have yet another egg hunt with Grandma Karen and Grandpa Tim at their house tomorrow. And then they will do their own eggs hunts downstairs for weeks to come until we confiscate all the eggs and put them away until next Easter.

Views from my Driver's Seat

Happy boys on the way to the mailbox:

The view, ALWAYS, in the backseats.  Child with book.

Evan the Almost Crawler

For the last couple weeks Evan has been getting ALMOST serious about crawling.  He is definitely mobile!  He rolls all over and crawls/scoots backwards and in circles.  Being a bit of a perfectionist, myself, I am inclined to not give him full crawling credit until he perfects the straight line FORWARD type of movement that traditionalists expect.  :)

Evan is happy wandering the floors (and jumping like a crazy man in his jumperoo) for hours, but if he could I'm pretty sure he'd tell us that in two arms is still the best place to be!

Luckily for him he has a lot of happy arms to oblige him.  It's good to be little and the youngest!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Japanese Drumming

Last week we had the chance to go check out some Japanese drummers who were in town for the weekend - San Jose Taiko Drummers to be precise!

It was fun and just the right length of time!  It was a special 1 hour presentation just for kids.

Of course the performance got the kids all excited about drums.  Luckily, upon arriving home, Grandma had a new drum that was just waiting for some child love.

Notice Evan there in the background enjoying the drummers.  What a good groupie!

Here's a close up of our favorite Lincoln with the drum:

It's a lovely drum.  We haven't really researched drums yet (go figure... !), but I do know Alaskan drums can have problems because it is so dry.  The wood and surfaces crack often.  Grandma had found this one, a Remo, on Amazon.  Great price as well as a nice sound.  If you like the sound of a loud drum, that is.  :)  I have to admit it doesn't take too much drum time before Mommy declares the drum has to head downstairs!

The only problem?  5 children and 1 drum, obviously that's not ideal!   (Unless it's this one, which I am thinking is NOT going to happen.) They quite like it but I have not yet determined if I have the mental fortitude for a few more.  I could have my own traveling drumming group.... right?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

All Things Droon

Since the children have spent hours and hours reading the 44 books in the Secrets of Droon series, I wanted to record a few facts about the series and their reading of it.

I found this very short plot summary of the series online at Droon Wiki: "Three children named Eric, Julie, and Neal discover a magical world called Droon in Eric's basement. Throughout the series, they work with a princess, a wizard, a spider troll, and other Droon citizens to defend Droon from the evil sorcerer Lord Sparr. In later books, Sparr is supplanted by a new villain named Emperor Ko, an ancient enemy of Droon. Near the end, Ko's right-hand dragon, Gethwing, supplants him." Eric is ten years old. 

We've owned book 1 in the series for months. I bought it at the used book store. It was sitting on a book shelf in the children's room collecting dust, taking up space, and being ignored. Then sometime in the first part of January Viva decided to read it. When she finished Droon 1 she requested Droon 2. That day (January 16!) I went to the library and checked out the next 9 Droon books. The Droon reading frenzy began. Bentley dived in and read Droon 1-10 within a week. Opa started making regular trips to the library. (He works just a block from the library.) 

At the start of February Bentley had read the first 19 Droon books. Viva was on Droon 5 and Jake had just read Droon 1. Bentley finished the entire series by the middle of February, four to five weeks after he started it. At that point Jake was ahead of Viva in the Droon series. Viva was finishing the Dragon Slayers Academy series which she started much later than the boys. However, by the beginning of March Viva was 10 books ahead of Jake in the Droon series. Jake likes to spend time playing Legos.

Last weekend Viva finished the last book in the series. WOW! She reads quite fast. She read Droon 1 before Bentley, but then she took a break to read other books. She dived back into Droon, but then went to Las Vegas for week. We did not let her take library books with her. I give her credit for reading the series in 7 weeks--a book a day. That's impressive for a kindergartner. 

Last weekend Jake was reading Droon 21 and he has read Super Edition 1. He wants you to know that he read almost the entire super edition in one day. He's not a slow reader; he's just not as focused on the Droon series as his siblings were. We are going to have check the books back into the library and check them out again. That's okay. It's better than owning them all and having to find storage space for them until Lincoln and Evan are old enough to read them.

You must be wondering (I was!) how many words are in a Droon book? How long are they compared to other children's books? Here's the scoop.

There are 44 books in the series, 36 in the regular series and 8 super editions (slightly longer books that tie into the series). The books in the series get longer as the series progresses. (I found the word counts for all the books online and then I made rough estimates.)
books 1-5 average 7700 words
books 6-9 average 9000 words
books 10-19 average 10,900 words
books 20-29 average 12,500 words
books 30-34 average 13,500 words
special edition 1 was 17,000 words
special edition 4 was 20,500 words
special edition 8 was 28,700 words
My estimated total for the entire series is 670,000 words.

I compared this series to the children's other recent favorite series, The Dragon Slayers Academy. I could not find word counts for these books online, so I had to figure it out myself. I counted the words on six pages and I counted the pages without words (pages with illustrations and pages only half filled with text) and figured out an average word count for 3 of the books in the series. This series did get longer as it progressed and there was only one super special edition. My quick math for this series was 11,000 words per book (twice that many for the super special) for a total of 220,000 words in the 19 book series.

The word counts for The Secrets of Droon series and the Dragon Slayers Academy series are typical of chapter books for the early grades (grades K-3). The recommended word count for that age group is 6,000-15,000. Young readers feel good about reading when they can finish a book in a week or less. (Our trio reads much faster than that!)

Earlier this year Bentley read the Warriors series by Erin Hunter. It was about clans of cats. There were four different subseries of six books each in this series. Typical middle grade (grades 4-6) chapter books are 20,000-35,000 words long. The books in the Warrior series ranged from 62,800 to 73,400 words and the super editions were 110,000+ words. Bentley read all 24 books in this series plus 2 of the super editions (He didn't like the super editions as much. He said they were too long.) I estimate the 26 books he read at 1,900,000 words.

I checked the word count on the average adult book. It varies by genre, but overall 100,000 is a good estimate. There are much longer books and much shorter books. This is an average!

One last piece of trivia: The Harry Potter seven book series comes in at just over 1,000,000 words. Book 4 is the longest at 257,000. We haven't given this series to Bentley yet because it gets rather intense (scary) and he's a sensitive kid that way.

Kara has requested that I let folks who read this blog know that the children don't only read children's fantasy series. Bentley also reads classic literature. He just finished a juvenile edition of Edgar Allen Poe. (That guy's writing is almost too scary for me, so you really need the edited version!) The twins have only been reading chapter books for maybe six months, so we don't direct their reading too much...YET! We are letting them strengthen their reading muscles before we assign them serious reading material.

*****     *****     *****     *****

Another benefit of homeschooling is that homeschooled children have a lot more time to read than do children who attend public school. When you take into account the hours spent at school (6.5 hours), getting to and from school (.5-1 hour), and doing homework (.5-1 hour), public school attendees have very little free time left to read. They can't stay up late and read because they have to get up early to go to school. Yes, we do school work at our house, but the children don't dedicate 6.5 hours to scheduled school activities. When you individualize a program to a student they learn more in less time. Our trio has lots of free time and they choose to spend some of it reading. It's a win-win!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Baby Giggles

Good entertainment doesn't take much.

Easter Dresses!

Every spring Costco brings in a large selection of Easter dresses. Back in February I first saw a nice selection of Easter dresses there. Viva was with me and she helped pick out two different dresses, but when she tried on the green dress with pink flowers she said it was too itchy. (Viva finds a lot of dresses itchy. She has very sensitive skin.) A few weeks later Kara was at Costco and there were different dresses, so Kara picked up another two styles. Since then we've seen yet more styles show up at Costco, but we are not buying more. Three new spring dresses is enough for one little girl even if she is the only girl child in the family. (The green dress was returned after our photo shoot.)

Here she is modeling the four dresses:

After she loosened up, we took a few fun shots:

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Review: Adventus Piano Software

For the past 6 weeks or so the kids and I have been busy exploring a software package called Children's Music Journey, which is part of MusIQ Homeschool, an awesome creation of the folks at Adventus.

We started in Children's Music Journey (CMJ) 1, which is the first in a 3 part series aimed at the 4-8 age crowd.  CMJ 1 has 25 lessons, and CMJ 2 and 3 each have 35 lessons.  For older children and adults you can jump right into Piano Suite Premiere which includes four sub programs of its' own:

We use CMJ 1 daily and it's not hard to convince Bentley to hop onto the piano bench and spend some time.  During this time we've been reviewing the program I focused mainly on consistency with Bentley but I also spent some time on it with Jake and Viva.  All three of them give this fun program a thumbs up.  We try to spend at least 15 minutes, and sometimes closer to 30, and we use the software 4-6 times a week.

How does it all work?  You need a keyboard with MIDI on it, which you hook up to your computer.  Then you power up your computer, turn on your piano, and open the program!  Upon logging in you see the lesson icon front and center in the middle of the screen.  Lessons are taught by famous composers who tell you about themselves and their music throughout your lessons.  From Bach to Beethoven to Joplin and Mendelssohn.  After lesson time the practice room opens up and you can practice what you learned about in the lesson.  In addition to the lessons and practice rooms there are games, a library (more info below), and an improv room (more info below).

What's to love?

  • The integration of great music pieces and historical information about famous composers.  I love that you "have" to sit through this part before your lesson starts!  Great exposure for the kids.
  • The fact you can use Adventus with your toddlers all the way up to your virtuoso pianists.  There are skill levels to cover it all in this great program.  There's even a few levels of "ear training" coaching, which I am really looking forward to trying myself.
  • The price - it's $10.95/month for music instruction that all the kids can use.  Not a hard call in my opinion.  If you think you're going to use the program for years there is also an option to buy the software as opposed to paying a monthly subscription.
  • It's fun and it gets kids playing music quickly.  It keeps them engaged and wanting to come back for more.  
  • The "game" like components that draw kids in.  There's a library where you can listen to tunes you've created, practice extra songs, and enjoy the classics.  There are games to help develop everything from your listening skills to your timing and tempo talents.  There's an improv "lab" where you learn to compose your own notes with or without the backdrop of great classics.
  • The focus on improvisation and the constant encouragement to compose your own tunes.  It's not just about learning to play existing pieces, but also about the development of your own creative genius.
  • The extra resources that come with the software.  It's not simply a computer program, it's a well thought out curriculum and includes additional study tools and handouts.  You can see some of them at the Adventus blog, here.
  • How easy this program is for parents to oversee.  It remembers what levels you have completed, and lets you know when you can move to the next level.  While practicing you can't "move forward" in practice, or a song, until you get it right.  You get warned with a "careful" if you aren't hitting the right notes and at the right time and for the right length of time.  It's all built right in!  That being said the company does recommend that parents take time, at least weekly, to watch their children play and offer encouragement and enthusiasm for what is being learned!
  • I love that this program helps reinforce the quality of perseverance and the rewards of consistent practice.  Piano skills don't develop overnight, but the extra "fun" that Adventus provides makes it easier for kids to be consistent.  The fun doesn't mean it's a light weight program though - I have been impressed with the breadth and scope.
  • The flexibility to use this program many ways.  Use it as a fun supplement to existing lessons.  Use it in a hands off way as a tool to get the kids playing the piano.  Use it in a more structured way, with additional parent guides you can purchase, to offer a complete and quality music education for your kids.  Or do a combination of those as time permits and interest calls!

The $10.95/month subscription gives you access to all of the different product offerings Adventus has.  You will download the program software to your computer (Piano Suite requires Windows and Children's Music Journey can work with both Windows and Mac), and then put in your login and password to validate you have access to a active subscription. Then you're good to go!  We have had a few instances of program "hiccups", but computer reboots have solved those problems.  I'm not sure if the problem was in our use of the software or somewhere between the keyboard and the cable.

I really love this software!  I have been amazed at the progress Bentley has made, and how easily and happily he has taken to it.  I love it when the use of technology can add something new and valuable to an existing arena of instruction and I think this program is a great example of this.  Seeing the notes you're playing on the screen in front of you, with instant feedback, is awesome.  The visual cues that help you learn rhythm and timing are great!  If you have kids interested in piano and you want to get them started in an easy and painless way I'd defintely recommend checking out Adventus.  If YOU want to learn piano I'd recommend checking it out as well!

Even Lincoln endorses this program:

Still reading, and intrigued?  If you want to learn even more try checking out the Adventus channel on YouTube which features some great clips from the software.  Also be sure to check out other This Old Schoolhouse reviews of the Adventus software here.  Reviewers from This Old Schoolhouse have tried out not only all the different levels of the CMJ, but also different pieces of the Piano Suite Premiere package.  I'm off to read those particular reviews myself!

Activities the Boys Enjoy

Last Thursday opa did a quick tour of the house and shot these photos of the boys engaged in some of their favorite activities.

Playing with Legos

Reading a Book & Hanging out with Evan

Playing with Hats & Scarves

Enjoying the New Carpet