Friday, June 24, 2005

Buy Me Some Peanuts and Crackerjack!

If you are reading the ezine you already know about the baseball history unit my daughter did this year. The cuminating project was to record an interview with her grandfather about baseball in New York in the 30's, 40's and 50's. It's actually pretty interesting, music and everything. It's here, if you've got kids who may be interested.

So, my dad and I thought it would be a nice idea to take the kids to a minor league game. Lancaster, PA just got a baseball team and this being the inaugural year, it seemed like the place to go. They are called the Barnstormers and are a Class A Advanced farm team for the Orioles. Theirs is an interesting story in bringing baseball back to Lancaster after decades of no teams. Thursday night they played the Bridgeport, CT team and we were there.

I did think some learning would be going on; the kids still really didn't quite get the rules. My son would run with his bat to first base whenever he played with the neighborhood; strikes, foul balls, it was a little hazy. This ballgame did serve that purpose well. We showed them how to read the scoreboard and soon they were able to follow the game pretty well. We had a nice show as the Barnstormers had 4 homeruns (I think) and one or the other of the teams had a triple, a double, a steal, one player even stole onto first base when the catcher lost control of the ball. In the end, the Barnstormers lost 8 to 6.

The real learning opportunity that night however was MARKETING. They have some geniuses in that department. Of course every square inch of the place was covered with advertising. The scoreboard was dynamic and even tied into the speaker system so you were essentially watching commercials. Almost every half-inning there was some sort of giveaway game: a Herr's potato sack race, kids racing vegetables around the bases, some dental surgery outfit had kids brush the bases with giant toothbrushes for a prize. And it works! On the way home, Erin was quick to point out that we just passed a Royer's Flower Shop.
"Why is that significant?" I ask.
"Well, they like the Barnstormers," she said.
"How do you know that?" I ask.
"They had that contest during the game where they gave roses away to the best kissers!", she answers.
(Of course this is the same child who at 6 sang the praises of "moving men" (those little plastic discs you put under furniture) after catching part of an infomercial - we don't do TV anymore.)

One promo I thought was pretty clever and had a nice charitable component: Amelia's Grocery "shake it up" macaroni. You contribute $1 to a charity they've chosen for 2 boxes of special mac and cheese. It's got the Barnstormer's logo, Amelia's logo and instructions on it. During the game there is special music to which you are to "shake it up" with your box. At the end of the game you give the mac and cheese back and it is donated to the local food bank.

All in all the giveaways and promos served to keep the energy of the crowd up and who doesn't like to think they might catch a T-shirt they are throwing into the crowd or have the winning signature in their program? But, and maybe this is just me, I'd take a reasonably priced lemonade ($3.75 for about 12 oz - I am NOT kidding!) over a chance to win a t-shirt. Parking was free.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A homeschool retreat

This is definitely something everyone should do. Ask some friends to take your kids for a couple of days (you could offer to take theirs at another time) and reflect and plan. We didn't start with the practical, but with some faith-building scripture and prayer. Then we asked some questions - what are we moving into? - where are the challenges?- what are we anxious about? After getting all that on the table, we went to bed. Things like that benefit from a good "sleeping-on". The next day it was easier to see how the issues could be resolved and what direction we wanted to move. Ideas were flowing on how to keep Julius busy (pre-cut wood models and kits), how to engage Erin in taking more initiative (meld art, math, language and science together as much as possible), and how much to do with Sadie (about a half-hour of directed work per day).

It is not all finished, there are many decisions (especially about outside activities and lessons) to be made, but there is a framework and a shared vision. We like to "school" with a loose structure that accomodates the various ebbs and flows of life. This wasn't about building a structure, but only pounding a few stakes in the ground to hold up the tent. Those stakes can move with the tent wherever our learning adventure takes us.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Botanical Blossoming

I've been wanting to come back to plants for some time. We touched on it briefly a few years ago; we discuss leaves in the fall and maple syrup in the late winter and flowers in the spring and summer. But it has never gotten much past the obvious. We've never dived deep. This may be the year.

The horticultural garden visit earlier this month was the beginning of an inkling with my eldest. She talked of wanting some herbs to plant herself. "We'll see," I thought, knowing how our wishes of the moment are often not meant to turn into reality. This past Sunday we had the very good fortune of meeting up with Nancy Webster at Brandywine Battlefield. She was there (in historical garb) with part of her collection of colonial medicine and equipment. We stayed for awhile; Erin didn't want to leave. She wasn't furiously asking questions, just listening, intently. Although a little grossed out by the preserved leech (she knew what it was, mumbling something about an American girl doll book) and the amputating saw, the medicines and tonics derived from plant material intrigued her. I was intrigued myself as Nancy explained that she has been making these medicines for 32 years and recently met some doctors doing research into herbal medicines -- she's even been helping them with their research! Turns out that the potency of a homemade herbal medicine is dependant on the amount of rainfall that year. This year's crop is not going to be as potent.

Perusing through the library yesterday, I picked up a few books, just to see if this is the right time for a dive into the botanical pool with Erin. The Flower Hunter; William Bartram, American's First Naturalist and My Favorite Tree: Terrific Trees of North America were received well and I was just told that I can count her to read the rest. The second book sounds simple but gives you very specific information just right for 3rd-6th graders as well as memories of the best trees for sitting under, or climbing, or picking fruit from. Tolkien would have liked this book.

If it is too hot to play tomorrow maybe we'll take a dip with the on-line exhibit of Phyllotaxis - the study of the spiral arrangements of botanical units - and sneak a little math in there with Fibonacci numbers and the Golden Mean.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

What's going on in their heads?

I was watching my 5 year old play today. Really watching.

She was "feeding" her baby doll. If she knew what quotes meant she would be furious because to her she was feeding her baby. Baby was eating take-out tonight, so she asked me to watch her while she grabbed her coupon and purse to head out to the restaurant (upstairs). When she arrived back home, the same room upstairs had become the kitchen. Everytime she needed something it was back upstairs to the kitchen. (And I'm thinking, take a rest, why not make the kitchen the chair 5 feet away?) She shook the food on to the plate, not with a cursory shake, but each container for 15 seconds or so. She was making sure that every last bit of "food" (there I go again) made it out of that jar. She explained how this food was supposed to be served and as she served it, she scraped every last morsel. (Good mothers never waste food.) She later informed me that it was time for her baby to color. "Isn't she a little young for that?" I asked, expecting her to agree. "No," was her matter-of-fact reply. She went on to recount how a friend's 8 mo old baby brother colored on a piece of paper and "didn't scribble scrabble" so her baby could do the same.

I don't recall whether I ever had that developed an imagination or not; but I do know, I don't have it now. Of course, she's learning, practicing, because probably one day, like me, she'll have to actually prepare food and bathe children and help them color. I've learned all I've needed to using the "imaginative play" method. Or have I? I'll have to think about that.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


My husband loves etymology, so when he decided to give the kids a mini-lesson in how we got the word alligator, I wasn't surprised. Apparently he was reading his American Heritage Dictionary and discovered that alligator comes from the Spanish el lagarto, the lizard. So, that leads into a mini-history lesson about Spanish explorers in Florida. But, how you may ask, as we did, does el lagarto turn into alligator? Well, of course the American Heritage tells us:
Such changes, referred to by linguists as taboo deformation, are not uncommon in a name for something that is feared and include, for example, the change in sequence of the r and t that occurred between el lagarto and alligator.

This led to more discussion about words and the English language. Apparently, our 9 year old thought that "Old English" was when people used thee and thou. Well, it makes sense, and her observation that English has changed is a good one. When dad reached back into his memory for the opening lines of the Canterbury Tales (hear it by clicking) she realized that Middle English is basically a different language than Modern English. Who knows where this will lead?

If a common word like alligator can take you back to the Middle Ages, I wonder where you'd end up in a discussion of the origin of school . If you like word history or want to find want to do more than have your children memorize greek and latin roots, check out this Take Our Word.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Kool-Aid dyed wool

The pictures I promised yesterday. Fluffy kool-aid dyed wool; lemonade is the yellow, grape is the red/purple and for the blue, I used straight blue food dye. (If you are in my area, you can get it cheaper by the pint or quart at Shady Maple in Lancaster County.
(I did have the pictures working, but then, well something happened...)

Last night and today I had a chance to spin some yarn . I made some yarn a few weeks ago and was going to make a pair of socks.....well, there was only enough for one sock, so here are the singles waiting to be plyed for the second sock. I'll have Erin do the plying, it is good practice for learning how to spin, it is hard to mess up, and it goes fast. That last point especially appeals to her - results!
(Ditto here about the pics!)
There is a great Civil War reenactment event tomorrow (today too) at Pennypacker Mills in Montgomery county. I'm beat lately and not sure I'm up for the humidity and crowds. My son is very excited about the prospect though....we shall see.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Fiber Fanatics

I've met another fiber enthusiast. We got together with the kids today to share knowledge about wool, felt, spinning and such. I was really intrigued by needle felting and added some designs to my felted slippers. Erin, who is almost 10, was also interested but I'm a little concerned that she might hurt herself with those sharp needles. We'll have to see on that one. All the kids tried spinning on the wheel, some with more success than others. They didn't really have the patience to keep working at it long enough to "get it". I think I'll keep trying the "learn to ply first" tactic that I started with Erin. Not so much to think about and relatively hard to mess up, but you still get the feel of the wheel. Nancy (the other mom) picked it up quite readily.

Nancy had brought some small felted animals and doll that she had needle felted. They were very interesting. She first makes a form with wire and then stuffs it with wool and then needle felts on top of that. The other thing she brought was a felt picture her daughter Megan had done. Essential you rough-up a piece of felt and then drag different colors of loose felt over it. Some stick and some don't and you make a picture. You could then needle felt after that to make it more secure.

Earlier in the morning I had kool-aid and food color dyed some wool. I got a yellow, a purple and a blue. Not too bad. Sadie thought it was funny that I "cooked" the wool in the oven. (The dye works a little faster when it is warm, one set of directions I read said to put the bowl with the dye and wool in the oven at 150 degrees.) I'll try to post some pictures tomorrow.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Mann Center and Fairmount Park

It started off as a dreary day, but the sun came out as we strolled the nature trails at the Horticultural center in Fairmount Park. But before that, we saw TapKids at the Mann, the beginning of their Free Young People's Concert Series for the summer. Free parking, free concert, you know I'm there. The TapKids were very good. The shows was a kind of play with tap dancing playing a major part. It traced the day of ordinary kids on the day of their school dance. Hey, that right there was a lesson for my homeschooled bunch. Cafeteria trays? Detention? The rhythm of the props (basketballs and the cafeteria trays) and shoes and the energy of these young dancers made for a very engaging hour long show. The next concert is more than a month away - check out the schedule.

We'd been to the horticultural center in April for the Cherry Blossom Festival. Since it was so close to the Mann, I thought it would be nice to see what was blooming now. We spent a little time in the greenhouse where we saw an artist painting. He was very friendly and let us sneak a peek and answered some questions. We then walked past the pool to the sundial. My two younger children didn't understand it at first, so I explained and we waited for the sun to show itself. This sundial was built in 1906, I think, and was quite interesting. It had more than just the hours denoted. Around the dial were months of the year and cities of the world with the appropriate adjustments in time. Kind of like at the train station where there are many clocks, each set to a different city.

Now that we knew what time it was we decided to head down a nature trail. Along the way we saw interesting plants, some common birds and even a little chipmunk. At the end of this particular trail was a most unusual gazebo. Designed by the artist, Puryear , it was built in 1993(?). What makes it unusual is that you literally walk into the tree tops. It is open all around (although safe due to heavy wire fencing) and on the top too. It feels like a tree house. Delightful.

On our way back to the car we stopped at the gardens by the greenhouses. There were 4 or 5 ladies there tending to the plants as well as planting. Sadie, my 5 year old, exclaimed, "There's salad growing!" Her astonishment caught me off guard; I had to remember that planting a vegetable garden was one of things I'd dropped since she's been born. The kids started asking questions about the names of plants and other things I couldn't answer. Fortunately for me one of the women patiently told them not only the names of plants, but their uses, both medicinal and nutritional. They were particularly interested in the herbs, so Kim (the gardener) plucked a generous bunch of tarragon, oregano and peppermint for them to take home. She encouraged them to put some on their chicken, pizza and in their salad. They've hung the oregano, per Kim's instructions, waiting for it to dry to they can crumble it onto their pizza. I didn't need to beg for help later in the day set out to move some perennials around and plant a few annuals. And I've had more than one offer to tend their own piece of land. Thanks Kim!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

What never makes it into the e-zine

Published the monthly ezine for the Philadelphia area today. Lots of fun, but so much more is in my head that I want to write about, but not have to worry about getting it all perfect. That's what this is for, I'll tell you of our trips and hope that you will write back your experiences, wherever they are, in the comments section.

I am hoping to make it to one of the first Mann concerts tomorrow. TAPKIDZ sounds like much fun and we haven't been anywhere in a week, so we could use a nice break. They are all listed in the calendar.