Sunday, June 30, 2013

Lego Police Stations

Jake and Bentley have been building police stations of their own design. Jake's has the back hoe in it and Bentley's has the helicopter.

Jake has also been working on other Lego sets. If you need a Lego set put together, Jake is your guy. I bet we could hire him out! (I've been told that some children like to play with Lego sets, but not to build them.)  Below is a sampling of what he has been working on the past month, but it is not a complete list. I can't keep track of everything that boy builds.

He's been working on the Town Hall set for his dad. It's a very intricate set. Each floor (there's three) has offices in it with people working or going about their business. When it's complete I'll get Mark to take photos of each floor. 

One afternoon Jake asked to build some of my Star Wars advent set. It was purchased in an after Christmas sale, so it wasn't used an advent calendar. It contains 25 very small builds with minimal directions. The trio worked on a few of the packages over a year ago and then the set was put away, but not forgotten--not by Jake!

This is the completed design of Jake's boat that I featured in the blog a couple of months ago when he first started working on it. It looks pretty cool, but is it too top heavy to float?

Jake has, of course, started working on the three new Lego sets that he got for his birthday. Here he is on his birthday already building The Lone Ranger Silver Mine Shootout. Bentley helped him on it for while.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Recent Photo Session

Last Saturday we had a photo shoot. Opa set up his studio downstairs and we coaxed the children to come over and pose for us. Here is what we got:

The Klingon

The Fighter

The Girl with Attitude

The Charmer

The Competition

The Boys

Friday, June 28, 2013

Review: Moving Beyond the Page Units

Last month I was sent a set of units to review from Moving Beyond the Page.  

I met Kim Howe, the co-founder of Moving Beyond the Page, at a curriculum fair this spring.  She was very engaging and had obvious passion for her company and so I was excited to see her company's name on a vendor list with The Old Schoolhouse!  The vision behind the company developed when Kim, who home schools her three children, was frustrated with the resources available for her gifted right and left brain learners.  She wanted something that was more "outside of the box", and something that would better engage them.  

And so Moving Beyond the Page was born and has quickly grown into a flourishing business.  Moving Beyond the Page offers complete curriculum packages (just add math) for students in the 4-12 year age range.  This summer packages for the 11-13 and 12-14 crowd are going to become available.  The curriculum is literature based and composed of 3 areas - language arts, social studies, and science.  Each one of these areas, for a particular age group, has 12 unit books.  The areas are designed to be completed concurrently and they complement each other.  For example - we were sent a literature unit, called Communities and Cultures.  We were also sent the complementing social studies unit, which is called Communities Change Over Time.  Each of these unit books come with a set of awesome books. This complete integration of all subjects tied together around literature is awesome.  For a great article on why an approach like this can work so well, go here.

If completed at a typical pace you would complete the whole curriculum package in a school year.  The packages have an age range on them, and you can use guidelines on the webpage to determine if the 5-7, 6-8, or 7-9 is a better fit for your 7 year old (for example!).

Within each unit book you will find a set of lessons (9 in the ones I received) and a final project.  Most lessons can be done in 1 day, but there are a few that have a suggest pace of 2 days.  The units all have books that go along with them, and during the course of the unit there is assigned reading from the associated books.  The activities and worksheets also revolve around the books being used to study particular concepts.

What does a day look like?  We like to start with the language arts material.  There is normally some reading from the books being covered, which your child can do alone.  There are some activities and worksheets and discussions to do together!  Then you move on to the social studies area, where there is more reading (most days!) and activities/discussions.  In all it took us 1-2 hours to complete the lessons. If you were doing the science unit too it would take a bit longer!  Note: this curriculum has LOTS of projects/activities.  If your child really gets into them they could spend a lot longer than 1-2 hours on them, not that this is a bad thing!  
There is a lot to like about these units:
  • The work pages aren't your typical "fill in the blank", mindlessly, and be done type.  They introduce children to everything from plot development to venn diagrams in a natural way.
  • The books used by the units are great!  There is a nice selection and all were carefully selected.  There is no fluff here, it's quality material but also books that are fun for kids to read.  All 3 of mine have devoured the Time Travel Agency books that came with our units.  And, importantly, they can tell me facts they've learned about Egypt and the Middle Ages from reading them.
  • You can choose to purchase this curriculum in many different ways.  You can buy hard copy, or you can buy access (three month) to an online version of the unit books.  You can get a discount (substantial) and purchase all of the units and their books bundled together for the year, or you can pick and choose just the ones you want to try.
  • The parent instructions are clear and easy to follow.  There isn't a lot of prep work, and it's easy to open the book and go.  You may have noticed, from other posts, that I favor these kinds of curriculums.  :)
  • Spelling, vocabulary, craft projects, literary analysis... it's all here!  But not in an overwhelming way.  The flow of the program is easy to pick up despite the completeness of the offering.
  • The program is designed with the gifted student in mind.  I like that there are questions that make your kid go "hmmmm...", and "I don't know!!!".  After further thinking and reflection Bentley could normally come up with an answer.  But it was more of a challenge than some of the worksheets/programs we've used in the past.  Critical thinking = good!
  • I like the type of discussion questions raised by the lessons.  We covered everything from poverty to how to weave linen and why change happens to what culture means.
  • Awesome topics, like economic cycles, how people change the world, and more.  These are concepts beyond the basic "core" standards (which Moving Beyond the Page is aligned with) - the core is covered, but in ways that are really meaningful and applicable to *real* life.
  • I like that there are intros, conclusions with wrap up questions, and summaries to review what is being learned.  Things aren't just mentioned once - you see them a few times.  This helps if you're a fan of the mastery approach to education.
  • The final projects are fun!  One of ours, for example, is a time capsule.  The fact that there are only 9 lessons in a unit means you will get to do lots of final projects.  These shorter units are more gratifying than one long unit because you see progress and completion on a regular basis.
The units we used cost $46.89 (hard copy) or $42.83 (online, access for 3 months) for the language arts component and $41.97 (hard copy) or $37.91 (online) for the social studies unit.  The units vary in price because the books needed for the units vary in price.  You can buy the accompanying books from Moving Beyond the Page, or find them on your own if you'd prefer.  I prefer the hard copy to the online version - it's nice to have it all printed and in front of you to use on your own schedule.  In addition, if you need additional student workbooks you can get them at a very discounted price after you've purchased the first one.

As mentioned I think a lot of the exercises/questions raised by this program do a great job of promoting critical thinking skills in kids.  There are also a fair amount of "crafty" type of projects, like doll decorating and mask creation.  If your child has a low tolerance for crafts (that would be Jake, around here!) then you will want to consider that or modify the projects to suit your child!  All in all?  I find this curriculum package to be quite wonderful.

Unfortunately, it is hard to do this complex product the justice of a thorough review without making this post far too long.  :)  If you are looking for a complete curriculum package, or if you are looking for some fun supplemental units to use for particular topics, I'd suggest giving Moving Beyond the Page a good look.  Their products are well thought out, thorough, and a pleasure to use.

For more thoughts (and there are a LOT of them!) on this great company, please check out some other reviews from The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew.  We were all sent different units for different ages, so there is tons of great information available.

New PJs

The children have been suffering at night because it is too hot and they don't have enough sets of summer weight pajamas. They don't usually need more than two or three sets of light weight pajamas to get from one laundry day to the next. Not this summer! Because of this problem I decided to go shopping at our local Kohl's store during their summer solstice sale.

I didn't buy Evan pajamas because I ran out of time before the Early Bird special ended. Kohl's is an interesting place to shop. They always have a sale going on. Some days there is an additional discount if you shop later in the evening (night owl special) or early in the day (early bird special). In addition if you use a Kohl's charge card, you always get an additional 15% off and occasionally you get 20% or even 30% off. AND--yes there is more!--on a really hot sale you get $10 of Kohl's cash for every $50 you spend. The Kohl's cash is for use at a later sale, not during the current sale, but it is "free money." It gets a little crazy! I got 30% off when using my charge card, so while Jake's lounge shorts were initially priced at $20, I only paid $5.60. Lincoln's little pajama set was $7.56 down from $24. Viva's pajamas were $5.98 and Bentley's were $6.30. Hmmm, I paid the most for the littlest guy's pajamas. What's with that?! Of course, when you're shopping for five children, it adds up to a significant sum even when the sale is fantastic like this one was.

I earned enough Kohl's cash to buy a few pieces of Fiestaware in lapis which hits the stores July 1st. AWESOME! Maybe I should buy the grandchildren a few more clothes? We never have enough jeans for the boys or dresses for Viva.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Loussac Summer Concert

Last Thursday I took the children to our first summer concert of the season. We were late and it was hard to find parking. It was more crowded than I've ever seen it. 

I don't know if it was the good weather or the Japanese Taiko drummers that drew the big crowd.

Bentley, Jake, and Viva ran up and down the hill like they always do. It's not the music that lures them to the summer concerts, but the opportunity to run and roll down the library hill and to climb on the big rock near the fountain. Lincoln sat on my lap while he checked out all those strangers. Later he ran around a little with Viva.

After the concert we went inside and checked out a few books. Then we returned to the hillside to play a little more. Viva was intent on reading her new book while the boys played on the stage.

On our way out, I made a valiant attempt to get a great group photo. I have one on my desktop from last summer of the trio standing on a bench in front of the fountain. 

Photo One: The children are playing King of the Bench and not looking at the camera.

Photo Two: The boys are paying attention. Viva is having an allergy attack.

Photo Three: Lincoln does not want to sit next to Jake. Viva is still rubbing her nose.

Photo Four: Viva is finally in good form. Lincoln and Jake are not.

This is the photo from last year. I had forgotten that the trio were making funny faces. 

If comical is what I wanted, then I did get a great photo this year.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wow! 2 More 6 Yr Olds... !!

It's hard for me to believe that I now have two six year olds and one 7 1/2 year old.  Not to mention those little tikes too... !  It was a busy (but fun) day for the twins.  With Grandma Darlene in town Matt has taken some time off of work, so I was able to cash in on the extra help and send him on an outing with the kids!

First up?  The Princess of the Day (in reality of the year, as she is the ONLY princess around here!) requested donuts for breakfast.  Daddy ran out to the store to get them while she snoozed away.  Bentley and Jake got up at 6 am to start the day - the excitement of a birthday is overwhelmingly awesome, you know!  They opened a present each with breakfast (Star Wars movies!).

After breakfast we decorated.  On time is better than a day late, although not QUITE as good as early . Ah well!

Matt, Bentley, Jake, Viva, Lincoln, and Grandma Darlene then headed out to the bouncy house.  They bounced and bounced, and then stopped off at the Party store for birthday balloons.  Because everything is better with balloons.  Ask any small child, they all agree.

Next up we decorated cake!  Viva had a very particular vision for her cake.  Angel food with purple frosting and lots of sprinkles and sparkles.  Jake picked out a cake that he enjoys AND that he knew his older brother would enjoy (Bentley doesn't care for frosting normally) - isn't Jake a sweet brother?!  His cake was a chocolate bundt with Reeses.

Jake and Viva opened another set of presents (dance gear and legos), and then Viva and I headed out for dance class.  While we were out Jake, of course, started his new Lego set!

Evening already.  Looking back it SOUNDS less exhausting than it WAS!  We had pizza for dinner, and Grandpa Tim and Grandma Karen joined us.  Lots of presents later, we ate some cake and ice-cream!  We also had "Pink Princess Punch" - a special request of Viva's!

Jake's gifts were themed around Lego.  Lego books, lego games, lego sets... !  Viva's gifts were more girly.  Clothes and more clothes, barbies and dance stuff! (She got a Lego Friends set, too.)

The day ended with popcorn, a Star Wars marathon, and an all nighter in the tent.  Great-Grandma Darlene is being a trooper and busy watching the marathon/being indoctrinated into Star Wars.  We'll see if she begs to watch the other movies in the series... :)

Jake & Viva Turn Six

I asked Matt, Kara, and Opa for input on the list below. Bentley gave me only one item: Jake likes to play Wii with him. 

Jake at Six:
* obsessed with Legos
     * spends hours every week building with Legos
     * loves to look at the Lego catalog when it comes
     * talks, talks, talks about Legos
     * fixates on new sets he wants
     * plays with his built Lego sets

* an extrovert
     * likes to share what he's thinking
     * needs to share what he's thinking
     * shares a lot: very talkative
     * "Did you know that?"
     * forcefully inquisitive

* happy most of the time
     * enthusiastic
     * easy going
     * charming
* smart
     * great reader
     * math whiz

* passionate
     * LOUD--especially when upset
     * hates injustice (treat him fair!)
     * fierce
     * hot-tempered (easy to provoke)
     * persistent

* best friends with Bentley
     * likes what Bentley likes
     * accommodating to B's plans
     * plays games, sports, Wii with B

* exhausting
     * larger than life
     * sweet one minute & sour the next
     * sometimes overwhelms Evan with too much love
     * doesn't always stay on task
     * first one of the trio asleep at night
* favorites
     * the color orange
     * his twin Viva
     * Cello Wars
     * Legos!

Viva at Six:
* obsessed with books
     * great reader
     * reads a lot in her free time
     * a wide variety of books
     * loves fairy tales & princess tales
     * loves the comics

* fiercely independent & stubborn
     * she can and will do it herself
     * dislikes advice from others
     * hard to motivate, bribe or incent
     * doesn’t care what others think about her
     * free spirit

* a thinker
     * clever
     * creative
     * curious
     * often asks why?
     * daydreamer
     * absent-minded at times

* an introvert 
     * needs her private space when upset
     * likes daily alone time
     * quiet
     * really dislikes friendly strangers
     * doesn't like to share what she's thinking

* good helper
     * good with Lincoln
     * likes to bake

*sugar & spice
     * likes dresses
     * loves ice cream with sprinkles
     * likes the colors pink & purple
     * charming if she wants to be
     * snarly & surly if she's unhappy
     * hates vacuuming

* likes dance class 
     * flexible
     * strong
     * pays attention!

* not a morning person
     * she's the last of the trio out of bed
     * takes an hour to get dressed & eat breakfast

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Great-Grandma Darlene Is Here!

Great-grandma Darlene arrived on Monday from Idaho to visit us for a week. She is going to stay in our home for the first few days and then she will move up the hill to stay with Grandpa Tim (her son). Matt has already posted photos on Facebook about some of his adventures with her and the children. Kara has promised to grab some of those photos and post them here soon.

The Best Eater in the House!

The new best eater in the house.  He can put away 3, 4, even 5 different foods (in not insignificant quantities!) at a time.  He hasn't found any foods that he rejects, AND he's good at feeding himself.  (Okay, okay... maybe he can't use a spoon yet - but he has an awfully good pincher grip for finger foods!)

Baby, I adore you.

*Philosophical rant about poor eaters ahead:*

Those older children?  They continue to exasperate me!  Lincoln wants whatever he sees, but loses interest after about 2 bites.  (He used to be a better eater.) I am trying to cure him of his extreme attachment to milk, milk, and more milk.  I'm not sure I'm winning.  Bentley, Jake, and Viva?  Bentley still wins pickiest eater but that may just be because he is openly vocal about how disturbing he finds the idea of eating most foods.  I think Viva may be almost as bad as him but she just wages a quieter resistance.  :)  Jake eats a few more foods than his siblings, but I wouldn't call him a lover of new cuisines.

Obviously the common link between all these dysfunctional eaters is me, the mother!  But I'm pretty sure I'm not interested in forcing children to sit at the table and gag down food until the plate is gone.  So I continue to aim for tolerance, and not allowing myself to express TOO much sarcasm when they do, on random occasions, try a new food and express amazement that it's not awful.  :)  We eat lots of nuts and veggies around here, along with drinking copious amounts of milk.  Last week we went through 5 gallons.  I told Matt about this and he laughed at my amazement - claiming that teenage boys will go through even more (which, I imagine, is true).

Anyway.  I'd rather have children that don't like to eat than children that don't like to read.  So I think I'll count myself lucky that this is my battle - it's irksome but not incredibly significant to me.  As long as they're eating enough foods to get the nutrients they need and grow?  I suppose variety can suffer.  I've read children like to focus on food because it's one area they can control - it's very hard to force a person to eat.

And perhaps they'll grow out of it.  Haha!

Gap Tooth Smile

The boys went to the dentist last week and the dentist told Kara to get a good photo of Bentley's gapped tooth smile because new teeth would come in soon. Here is our charming (usually!) seven and a half year old showing off his gaps.

 Viva has been complaining the last few days about a loose tooth. Here we go again...

Monday, June 24, 2013

Summer Fun

Although we're experiencing the hottest June ever, I've only set the pool up once. We kept it up for two days, but the children complained it was too cold the second day even though I emptied the hot water tank to try and warm it up. With all this hot weather, you'd think we'd be out there every day, but it's TOO HOT. The children don't want to go outside. I don't want to go outside! Last summer I did yard work while the children played in the pool. This summer it's been too hot to do yard work. Last summer the hot days were so few that we felt like we had to drop everything and enjoy them. This summer the hot days are so numerous that we don't feel so compelled. Odd how that works, isn't it?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Summer Sun Stats

We have had the hottest June EVER in Anchorage. I exaggerate not. Not only have we had an Alaskan heat wave for the past two weeks, but the forecast promises more of the same. 

Normal June: average high temperature is 63 degrees
June 2013: average high temperature is 70 degrees (from June 1st through 21st)
We are 7 degrees above the normal average high temperature. WOW!

Normal June: 3 days will be 70+ degrees
June 2013: 15 days hit 70+ degrees  (from June 1st through 21st)
I read online that "The temperature in Anchorage creeps above 69 degrees Fahrenheit an average of just 12 days a year." It's only June and we've had 15 such days already. 9 days the temperature was 75+ degrees. 

Normal Summer: no days of 80+ degrees
June 18, 2013: 87 degrees! (some thermometers showed 90+ degrees)
This is a new record high temperature for Anchorage. (Mark thinks they’ve moved the official location where they record temperatures, so is it really a new high?!)

Friday was the summer solstice and it was cold. The high for the day was 57 degrees which was the lowest high for the month. I don't think you'll find too many Alaskan complaining, though. We Alaskans melt with too much heat. I celebrated the day by putting plants in my perennial bed. Last winter was the worst winter for perennials in living memory. I've spoken to a number of gardeners and it was a very, very bad winter. In the late fall it rained and then the ground froze. Then it thawed. We didn't get snow until very late in the year. The spring was unusual, too. A lot of plants rotted in the ground because of the rain, freeze, thaw, freeze cycle. I lost 75% of the plants in my perennial bed. ARG! The up side is that I was able to redo the spacing since I was replanting almost the entire bed. The bed looks much better now and I was able to avoid planting during the heat wave. YES!

The past couple of years we've seen a lot of extreme weather. Anchorage set a new record for seasonal snow fall the winter of 2011-2012. The following summer the Weather Channel placed Anchorage first on its list of worst summer weather. We had an abundance of cold, cloudy, rainy days. BRRR! Then came winter 2012-2013 which was freakishly brutal for perennials. Now it's June 2013 and we've a heat wave. What next?! Tornados?

     *****     *****     *****   *****

June has ended and here is the final tally:

June 2013: average high temperature was 69.8 degrees from June 1st to 30th

June 2013: 19 days hit 70+ degrees. 11 days were 75+ degrees. 2 days were 80+.

On 12 days in June 2013 new record high temperatures were set for that particular day of the year. In addition on June 18 a new record high temperature (87) for Anchorage was set.

According to an AP press article this was the second warmest June since 1940. (Really?? Some other June set more records than June 2013? I find that hard to believe because when I was looking, I didn't notice any other year popping up regularly as a record setting year.)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Spiderman's Friend

I know it's been posted before, BUT?  I still can't seem to get over the oddness of seeing children that scale door frames.  Maybe this is normal and I just haven't seen enough youngsters?  In any case, this happens to be one of Genevieve's favorite activities.  She likes to carry a dust cloth up there in her teeth and "dust" the trim and top of the wall for me.  Because she can, I guess.  :)

P.S. (by grandma julia) I wanted to add that Bentley was the first to climb the doorway and he continues to do it occasionally. He scaled it horizontally first (hands on one side of the frame and feet on the opposite side frame), but he also climbs it vertically like Viva. Jake hasn't shown an interest.

Friday, June 21, 2013

From Playhouse to Treehouse!

We had a playhouse in the yard, but for the past year it hasn't been very useable - the darn wind knocked it over, so we picked it back up.  Then the wind came back and knocked it BACK over, obliterating the swing side of it at the same time!

We've had grand ambitions to get it fixed up again, but our ambitions haven't been realized.  Until now!  Enter Tony, the awesome handyman.

Our playhouse has been moved from the side of the house (where the wind, quite obviously, believes it should not be) to the nether regions of the yard.  A yard which my kids haven't explored much, but I am hoping that since they're getting a bit older I can convince them to venture a bit farther and explore the great outdoors.  I hear that's what kids are *supposed* to do.  :)

Anyway.  The playhouse was moved, reinforced, and leveled.  The kids wanted a treehouse and I had to explain to them that scraggly Alaskan pines don't make the best treehouses.  But a playhouse NEXT to the trees?  That we can do!

Apparently we're not the only ones that like it.  Here are the midnight visitors checking out the new addition:

Cute, right?!  I just wish moose ran on batteries instead of ornamental greenery.  :)