after “The End” comes the bonfire, of course.



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And then, because they are safety-conscious, they put down the flames with squirt guns once all the papers were burned.


The End.

So that’s it.  We finished our school year on Saipan.  The kids have graduated into 3rd, 4th and 6th grade.

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Hooray for summer vacation!  Hooray for no more Math!  Hooray for sleeping in and staying in our pj’s as long as we feel like.


Back when I started this blog, I set out to chart the successes here, and I have stuck to that resolution and veered away from posting anything that may leave me, or a reader, discouraged. So if sometimes it has all seemed a little too good to be true, that’s because…um…Saipan is a wonderful, magical place where all your dreams come true.

Yeah right. No place that has this many cockroaches could truly be magical.  (I grew up with them and you’d think I’d be used to them by now, but I am not and I never, ever will be!)

But Saipan does have wonderful, magical beaches at sunset. (Have I mentioned that already?)


In case you have never homeschooled, ever, and are wondering if a tropical island is the place to start your home study career, I would definitely say ‘Yes.’

Here are some plus-es: There is no winter during which to catch a bad case of cabin fever.  There are plenty of places to send grumpy students to play outside, all year long, so they can work out their grumps.  There is a very decent and respectable collection of library resources, for such a tiny and remote island.  We have a remarkable breadth of ethnic diversity, with folks from east and southeast Asian countries such as: China, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan, Korea and Malaysia.  Not to mention the odd European, Australian or even Mainlander (yes–we are here, though in small number!).  Internet access is pretty reliable (I understand that some houses do not get great connectivity, but ours has been quite good).

But back to the tough stuff for a minute: there were definitely times when I, as an amateur teacher with no formal training, felt the way I do during long races: is this over yet?  

I am so tired, I want to stop. Right. Now.  

The finish line seems so far away!  There is no way I will ever make it.

Kind of like how during the third trimester of pregnancy where you start to believe that you will definitely, most certainly, for SURE be pregnant for ever and ever for the rest of your life and never be able to see your toes ever again.


Here I am, during a recent half marathon. It is a blurry shot because I am so hot and soaking wet from the rain and tropical heat. (Well, that’s how I remember it, anyway…)

And then, after not quitting, and after reaching the goal, you realize: I can rest now.  This feels great.  I actually pulled it off.  How DID I do that?  Yay it’s over!  I can stop running now.

You feel kind of like this:


It was a good time, I am glad we did it.  There were more benefits than I even hoped for, and more blessings than I can count.

Time for donuts.

Saipan Homeschool Field Day 2015

This was the idea: to gather as many willing homeschool students as possible, and then cram in as many of our favorite island activities into one day as possible.  Get some exercise, some sunshine, and have fun with friends.

#1: Hiking


Our brave and fearless explorers [Before]

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Sometimes it gets slippery in the drippy jungle. And sharp too. The coral rock is covered in moss but do not be deceived: that stuff hurts if you bump into it the wrong way.


Still brave. Just a little dirtier and sweatier. [After]

#2: Tennis

I actually didn’t take any photos of the tennis part, but I promise it was fun!  The courts were taken up by a competition, so we used the practice wall and did some drills.  When we got too tired, and hot, we headed for lunch.

The kids had pre-selected our picnic spot, at American Memorial Park, because it is the top of a little mound and under a leafy tree.

DSC04796I confess I was a little apprehensive about this part of the plan—eating outside in the heat of the day—and I had considered skipping the picnic and opting instead for some indoor venue downtown with A/C.  I am glad I didn’t.  It ended up being breezy and lovely and very comfortable.


And there were extra-beautiful blossoms around, and some fresh coconuts that were just begging to be split open on the pavement:DSC04798


#3: Soccer, plus Track Races

The kids did some warm-up soccer drills then played some short little 3-on-3 games.  We sprinted a little, and did a three legged race and a crab walk race.  But it was the heat of the day, and there was no shade, so we cut it short.  (again: no photos–sorry)

#4: Swim and Snorkel at the WWII tanks at Oleai Beach

DSC04800This was pretty much the perfect way to cool down.  It was extremely low tide so we could wade the whole way out to the first tank–and the second one, for that matter.  The kids could still jump off the barrel of the gun and make some splashes, and we spotted a few cool fish (pufferfish!).  Fun times at one of my family’s favorite beaches.



We finished the day with dinner and drinks on yet another beach, so we could eat and watch the sunset (and finally sit our tired bodies down in a proper chair).

I hope the homeschooling crew will continue on the tradition next year, it was definitely a success and who knows, maybe it couldl become a “first annual” (hint, hint, Valeri & Joy)!

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(Phew. Is it bedtime now??)

School Assignment: Sunset Dinner Cruise in the Lagoon

Recently, after much pleading, the kids submitted a persuasive case for doing homeschool while sailing offshore and sipping on unlimited (juice) cocktails, with a sunset view.

Truthfully, it wasn’t too difficult to convince us.


It also helped that the cruise company offered them discounted ($5!) tickets when they heard it was for education.


local fish for dinner, fresh off the grill!

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For several decades, the Jade Lady III has combined the best of Saipan’s tourism, fishing, entertainment and restaurant industries into a thriving and popular business.  Since we have been studying “ocean-related careers on Saipan,” and since this business spans multiple fields, it was a great learning opportunity.

Besides, the views are unbeatable.


During a break, the 3rd grader interviewed Jerry, who provides the music and entertainment, 7 days a week (except during typhoons).


Like I said, the Jade Lady does a great business.  No one leaves this sunset cruise with a frown.  Nobody.  We sure didn’t.  And we also gained more insight into how some folks on Saipan make a pretty fun “living from the sea.”


Dance party finale



oh, I almost forgot: this is the sunset part of the “sunset cruise.”

And that, folks, is what we call homeschooling over here in the CNMI.

Art Day

For a long time, I had been planning to devote an entire school day to making art.  As we came close to the academic year finish line, we decided to just pick a date on the calendar and go for it!

We colored and painted and sketched.  I only wished we had done this sooner, there were so many benefits, and so much creative joy! (*)

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this was a color-by-number by the 3rd grader


I worked on this for quite awhile and only completed a small portion. Phew. I may never finish.


The third-grader came up with this idea: she picked some limes off the tree, rolled them in paint around a sheet of paper and, voila!

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I don’t know if this is where she got the inspiration, but after reading this book about how Wanda Gag got her start as an artist and author, our very own 5th grader artiste started producing her own greeting/postcard designs:



(*psst: We also had a “Reading Day,” too!  All reading, all day long.  At home, at the coffeeshop, at the library.  THAT was a fantastic idea, and a great day.)

Our unit on Mapping and Mapmaking: Misc.

The kids took turns playing “navigator” while we visited Korea for a couple of weeks back in April.  (Find cheap airfares from Saipan to Seoul through Jeju Air!)  Seoul is an especially visitor-friendly city, with multilingual guides in red vests and information booths placed at strategic spots around the city.  The kids even figured out the subway maps, too, and would get us from A to B fairly smoothly by the end of our time there. (It also helped that we rode alot of subways…)



There are some great reads out there for kids on the topic of maps and mapping.  This is a great book that I do not own, but I had hoped to find it in the library here.  I purchased this one and this one and the kids will just spontaneously pick them up and browse through (especially that last one), which was what I had hoped they would do.

Val Ross’ The Road to There is simply fantastic.  With a couple of exceptions, she tells the same stories of the makers-of -maps as you are likely find in other books, only she tells them better.  She doesn’t leave out tales of the hilarious or morally horrifying, either. Such as: Henry the Navigator’s role in introducing the African slave trade to the European market. Or, on a lighter note, how very little restraint one 12th-century European monarch exhibited in dealings with his so-called Christian advisers who wanted him to do away with some of their Muslim neighbors.  He paused, then lifted up his leg and loudly passed gas: “That’s what I think of your advice, folks!” he more or less said.

I will say this for Val Ross: as an author of children’s books she certainly knew the way to a kid’s permanent memory.

Aaseng’s “You are the Explorer” is a fun read, too.  With some vocabulary help along the way, both his book and the Ross one were thoroughly engaging, even for my 2nd grader.


One evening, as I was preparing dinner, the eldest was inspired to draw up a treasure map for me.  She left this chart as a reference for me and then guided me to my first of many tiny paper clues with coordinates of longitude and latitude on them.



In case you wondered, the final clue led to a Mother’s Day card and such priceless gifts as free neck massages and snuggles.  Best ever!


We not only studied standard mapping practice, what legend and scale are about, and how much bias there can be in map projections, but we also considered that mapping can be used for many purposes outside of physical geography.  For instance: maps of places that have never existed, such as Narnia or The Shire, or not-to-scale maps that make a political statement, or the role of tourist maps in guiding visitors toward a place’s “best face.”


It was fun.  I love this stuff.  I could read about maps all day.

On a more reflective note, I believe that the time and effort I invested before moving to Saipan on crafting the direction and scope of each of our “Expedition” studies really paid off.  Not surprisingly, I suppose, choosing topics that I love meant that it was so much easier to “infect” the kids in a really natural way with their own curiosity and affection for learning.  They each came away with a version of their own appreciation for maps and mapmaking, in particular, and I love that.

Learning Notes, first week of March


We dove into our new Expedition, first thing in the morning.  Want to know what it is about?  Maps!


We will be studying what maps are used for, what kinds of things (not just places and spaces!) you can map, the makers of maps, the history of maps, and whatever else pops into our heads along the way.  Suggestions are welcome, especially (as usual) reading suggestions!

We discussed what we know about maps, and what can be mapped, and a whole lot of other things that I can’t remember now (it was a long discussion) and then the kids each drew, freehand and without measurements, a “birdseye view” of one room of their choice in our house.  It was fun and it was supposed to introduce them to mapping without all the pressures of precision and mathematics and all that stressful stuff.

Then we googled “floorplan” so that they could appreciate some standard use of symbols in plan-making (such as gaps where windows or doorways are.  They loved this and loved imagining the interiors to some of the obviously larger and more luxurious living spaces that we came across.

We did some Math afterwards: they drew clocks inside circles with an octagonal frame.  It was challenging but they enjoyed the final result.  I introduced the eldest to the formula to calculate the area of a triangle and then we divided the octagon into triangles so she could calculate the area of the octagon.  Also challenging, but she got into it.

There was some drama about the handwriting assignment and I am trying to decide if it is worth the battle…

After lunch, we read from Rifles for Watie and of course the kids played BananaGrams while I read, practicing spelling out some of the more difficult words.  Those tiles are really quite useful.

They also made a gazillion paper airplanes (“for the science project, Mom!”) and they are Everywhere now, hooray.


We started the formal school day rather late because we were pretty busy watching the newly-emerged butterfly shake off the cocoon and the wet goo on his wings and figure out that whole flying thing.  So cool.


In Math we just worked some basic sums and played a “Corners” game.  It was fun and there was no whining at all.

Then we relocated to the library, since I don’t have a single atlas with us and getting online just doesn’t compare with having one of those mammoth books to thumb your way through.  We gathered a few and just took our time browsing on our own, then we all gathered on a couch to read a book that introduced some basic mapping vocabulary and concepts (scale and key and that sort of thing).  I can’t remember the name.

We collected books to bring home, both picture books and more fact-based books.  Two finds that I am happy to have stumbled across at the Joeten-Kiyu library here on Saipan are:





And I have already mentioned this one, about timezones, in an earlier post.

We had a couple of stops to make on the way home, one of which was to buy a compass that actually works so that we could work on these beauties:


I found the idea here.  The kids LOVED the practice with the compass, especially.

For their writing today, I had them write “notes.”  It was supposed to be a pre-writing assignment wherein they made a “map” or “plan” before they started writing, but we were short on time so we just practiced writing down notes from memory.  It worked pretty well and I could see some lightbulbs going off in the little brains…

Then it was time for A.’s tennis lesson where BR served as “ball boy” and L. read about a third of a new chapter book (of course).

We met the new homeschooling family who just recently arrived on Saipan (woohoo!) and the kids played on the beach together.  We read a couple of chapters of Rifles for Watie before bed.


Daddy began the day with part 2 of the Science Fair lesson.  They refined their research questions, did some preliminary research online and got some coaching on next steps.  They are all gung-ho.

Math came next and the two younger ones did a Review Lesson (which is a RS code word for test) while I explained to the 5th grader about shifting decimal points right and left, depending on whether you are multiplying or dividing by factors of ten.  We’ll need some more on that, I can tell.

Then it was time for L.’s second “work experience” gig at the Java Bakery.  She loves helping out there.

I read out loud with the other two and mapped out where Uri Shulevitz had lived and moved to in his early life, which was pretty mind-blowing to the kids until we mapped out where they have moved to and lived so far!

The girls finished up their writing assignments for the day before lunchtime and then it was time to go to piano lesson and then soccer.

We watched a pretty worthless documentary on some prehistoric fish and then read Rifles for Watie.

The butterfly progress was monitored throughout the day and I expect that until the last one flies away, we will not have any rest from the continuous updates.


We had set a Skype date for first thing in the morning (because of the timezone difference) and that pushed school back to 9am.  Then everyone was pretty rowdy so I had to do a “calming activity.”  Then I gave up and we all went outside to map the yard.  They used the heel-to-toe method to measure the fences, and then we came back inside and measured their feet and multiplied.  And then divided in order to figure out how many feet and yards, etc.  They also plotted the position of trees and made up symbols for the different shrubs and varieties of trees.  It worked pretty well.  It also counted as our Math practice for the day.

The mapping led to a discussion of the Forestry Service folks we had met on Tinian and their project to map out the vegetation within plots of a certain size (can’t remember now what it was, exactly).  Everyone appreciated how much work would have to go into a project like that, and how adverse weather could really make things difficult.

We tackled a map tracing project, but it turned out to be quite difficult so we decided to continue that tomorrow instead. The little kids read a book on maps and then reported back to me.  Also, the final butterfly hatched so it was hard to focus.

Then I rushed off for a swim while they turned on a documentary, intending to be back in no more than an hour.  But I lost the car key somehow while swimming, and I needed to get a locksmith to come out.  And felt awfully silly standing there in my swimsuit when he finally did, and then he lectured me about the stupid lock system we had had installed on the car (“I remember this car.  Didn’t I have to come unlock it some other time, at Forbidden Island?”  Yup, that was us, all right…).

At least the spare and the ignition key were safe so it was not more of a hassle than the $30 and the embarrassment.  Also: I saw yet another ray up close which was fantastic.  One of the regular swimmers told me that he often spots a pair who evidently make their home near the tanks.  I hope to take the kids there soon and with any luck, we’ll spot them.

I got the kids working on writing assignments once I returned, and ate a very rushed lunch.

Then we drew a compass rose following these step-by-step directions which covered Geometry and Art for the day.

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We began the day with a Catechism lesson at the Adoration Chapel at Kristo Rai.  If you go early enough in the morning, it’s not too hot in there to be able to bear it inside.

At home, I took the kids through a geometry tools lesson one-by-one (since we only have one set of drawing tools) and they loved it.  They have finally caught the drawing-geometric-designs bug and have learned, along the way, what happens if you are not careful to be as precise as possible.  While waiting for their turns, they added some more to that Gratitude Poster that we’ve been working on since January and will probably never finish at this rate.


We read aloud from this clever book: Maps, Getting from Here to There, by Harvey Weiss.  I love it and I find it very readable, but we only made it 3 chapters in and then I realized the 2nd grader didn’t care any longer.  I changed gears and opted for a hands-on activity.  We took the author’s advice and pulled out some string to measure on one of our own maps at home.  We measured all around Africa and then did the calculations: the kids came up with 16,775 miles.  We compared online and what we found said that the coastline is 16,100 so we were off by less than a thousand (we did not measure Madagascar or any other islands) which was pretty cool!

Working with the string reminded us that we had never made the old fashioned “can telephones” we had talked about making so we pulled out a couple of old cans and cut a long piece of string and played around with that for awhile.

A. had begged for a picnic lunch a few days ago and today seemed like an ideal day for a change, so we ate lunch outside.  I set us up in the shade, which is also just under some awfully creeky and flexible bamboo that makes some of us (ahem, L.) very nervous.  Hardly a relaxing picnic for her, I am sorry to say…


We read a long chapter from Rifles for Watie after lunch and I am still surprised at how enthusiastic my youngest is about this particular book choice.  Something about the author’s style is very engaging for his little mind.

A. wrote some more thank you notes for birthday gifts and a journal entry and the other two completed their chores and then messed around with the string and the cans.

In the evening, we attended Stations of the Cross and then the First Friday Film event at AMP on “Future Food” which was too far above their heads to have had much educational value, I suspect.

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