A quick look back…

In my last post, I wrote this for the “Friday” entry:

Today was supposed to be the last day of our Ocean-themed study and so we did some wrap-up discussions and writing.

I considered explaining in more depth and realized this final assessment and wrapping-up of our “ocean life expedition” deserves a post all its own.


So yes, we finished our “Ocean” unit.  We have worked on it steadily since September, with a brief break for some travel and global-awareness themed study in November.  My first feeling is relief.  I am happy to be finished, I feel happy to be able to switch gears and tackle something new.  I feel pretty good about what we accomplished.

Let me correct that last one.

As I have reflected more about what it is that we accomplished, what projects we completed and which books we have read, I am really very proud of it all.  Sure there is plenty that we did NOT get to, there were plans and outlines I had to throw out because they didn’t suit after all, there were books we never got to and art projects we never completed, and sometimes I was just too tired to do as good of a job as I would have liked.  That’s just normal, I am pretty sure, and I am happy to let those sort of disappointments or regrets go.  I don’t even really care anymore–there is too much more out there to be excited about and move toward.

Last Friday, we went to the beach very briefly, just to kill some time and it occurred to me: we have done this so very many times since September (and before then, too).  At the beach, without any research agenda or even a nature log.  Without taking notes, without even needing to talk about it later.  The kids play, or look for hermit crabs, or dig, or swim.  Whatever they want.

They love the ocean.  They love the seashore.

They also care about it, they know about how interconnected life in the sea is to every other part, and they want to preserve it— they want to protect the creatures whose habitats are threatened.  They know more about who is working to do so, who the so-called experts are and some of what their jobs involve.

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Sometimes I opted for more reading-for-pleasure than the Plan allowed for.  At the time I wondered if it was the best use of time, but now I don’t regret any of it.  The kids love literature, they love stories about sailors and fishermen, and folklore about the sea.  They appreciate good writing even more than they used to, and they notice more about the writing.  We all love books more than we did a few months ago.

As much as I am disinclined to judge myself, or them, in terms of a traditional report card, it is hard not to see that as a tremendous success.


Of course, there were other moments that did not seem as successful.  That’s because they were not.  I won’t pretend that everything I tried worked, or that I even worked as hard as I could have.  I am only one single person and there is only so much I can do because there is only so much I have the energy or creativity, or spontaneity to come up with on the spot, to do.  That is something that I have a hard time accepting sometimes, but it’s just what is.


As I look forward to June, I am tempted to think of cramming in as much as possible of crafts, and outings, and fieldtrips and so on.  On the other hand, I am happy to leave those to the side and pile on the reading and moments of simple play and unstructured discovery.  (I am often tempted to think in extremes.)

The kids are, most likely, going back to a traditional classroom this Fall.  But when I feel the press of time and feel the urge to rush, I hope I can also remember that we simply can’t afford to do that.  There is just too much fun to be had out there; I can’t waste time ruining any of it.  I hope I don’t.


Learning Notes 2/23 to 2/27

linking up with Melanie and others


We were out the door by 7:15 once again for babysitting duty.  The little gal was happy and played with us for a short time and then she took a nap for over 2 hours.  Easy-peasy.  We managed to tackle some geometry (5th grader) and general practice for the other two with addition, subtraction and multiplication.

Then came writing.  It was a struggle for the 5th grader to hear some critical feedback on a persuasive writing piece and she resisted going back over it to rework some more.  By the end, I think she was happy with what she accomplished and we resolved to do more tomorrow.  The other two chose their own topics: the third grader wrote a list in prose on the topic of “what I still want to do before I leave Saipan” and the second grader selected, “How I would like to spend my next birthday.”

The Internet connection was being difficult so we did not do as much work on their Final Project as I had hoped before it was time to relocate and return home.  But they live on the hill overlooking the lagoon and it was a beautiful day, so who cared!  As if we even needed an excuse to be outdoors and kick a ball around…

We practiced spelling words with the BananaGrams tiles and played a round.  Then the girls spelled out difficult words as I read aloud from Rifles for Watie.

The 2nd grader and I read a couple of chapters from Young Man and the Sea.

In the afternoon, I started on a creative project in honor of some fellow-homeschooler who are due to arrive on Saipan later this week and L. helped.  A. read for a long time from her new chapter book and BR made some videos of himself and his Legos.  Later in the evening, we said goodbye to another friend who is leaving the island, and played on the beach a bit after sunset.



The eldest woke up with a fever and feeling icky so I excused her from schoolwork for the day.

We started out with a BananaGrams game because my middle child challenged me and it seemed like a decent brain challenge that would be an appropriate way to wake us all up and get us in gear for the day.

The younger two and I completed a Geometry lesson that we had started last week; it was pretty much just a puzzle and a lot of fun.  Then we tackled the first part of the next lesson about fractions but we got distracted and ended up putting that to the side because they thought it was so much fun to do addition/subtraction in “miniature.”  I basically just wrote some sums down in teeny, tiny font (by hand) and challenged them to complete them.  They thought it was Hilarious.  I might just have to use this trick again, for writing assignments or something…

They both whipped out some writing really fast, one chose the topic of “What kind of pet I think a teacher ought to get for a classroom” and the other went with, “My favorite part of the day is…” and we read them out loud.

I read “Coconut Kind of Day” which is a collection of island poems by Lynn Joseph and that inspired the youngest to get his father to go outside and crack open a coconut for us all to share.  Then I pulled out “Exploiting the Sea” and read a short excerpt on harnessing energy from waves and tides and it inspired us to look up online to discover more recent developments on that front (that books is 20 years old, at least).  But only for a few minutes, because BananaGrams is all the rage around here right now and we can hardly stand not to be playing…

coconut poems

The kids took turns working on the Final Project online, but I will have to supervise this more closely because it is clear that they not are capable of doing it alone.

After lunch, I read aloud with BR from Young Man and the Sea again.  It’s getting to the exciting part.

My middle child is trying out tennis and her first time was this afternoon.  She loved it.

We ended the day with a viewing of “Plastic Paradise: the Great Pacific Garbage Patch” on Netflix streaming, which was very straightforward and easy for the kids to understand.  They want me to share the link on Facebook, in order to spread the word about the dangers to wildlife, our health, and the health of our planet should we choose to continue dumping plastics and other wastes into the world’s oceans at the current rate.  I will share it here, too:

Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Trailer from Angela Sun on Vimeo.


The kids started the school day without me.  I coached them on what I expected from them in the next hour, then they worked alone on the sidelines of the court while I had my regular tennis lesson downtown.  As you can imagine, this system does not always work out as well as I would like.  In fact, I hadn’t been to tennis in three weeks, in part because sometimes I get tired of feeling behind, right from the beginning of the day.  But today they were all self-motivated and kept each other on task, playing a Math game, completing their writing assignment for the day and playing BananaGrams all together.  They were supposed to each read a chapter from their respective chapter books, but they ran out of time.

After tennis, we snuck in another 30 minutes at the beach, just because.


I read the Second grader’s chapters out loud with him later in the day during his sister’s piano lesson.  Both of the girls finished their own books later and the 3rd grader gave me an oral report of hers.  I cannot possibly keep up with the girls’ readings.  The best I can manage is to keep supplying them with quality books and urging them away from the silly, “fluffy,” badly written stuff.  Earlier in the school year I asked them to keep a log of what they complete, but I don’t think they’ve done a super job with that.  We’ll try to do better.

We made some more progress on the Final Project.  Someone practiced their typing and their Korean.  There was soccer practice.  We played even more BananaGrams.


Math: we continued with geometry.  The kids are getting more into it now, but it took awhile for the enthusiasm to spread.  The lessons have been fun, combining vocabulary, fractions, physical skills (intricate line drawing, and manipulating several rulers at once), symmetry and patterns, and learning how to make shapes.



We went to the library and finished up writing projects there, worked on the Final Project online, and found new books to bring home.

The 2nd grader and I continued to read out loud from Young Man and the Sea.  He listed it as one of his favorites for this Expedition.

I, very guiltily, left the kids at the library with their dad and went across the road for a noon-time swim with some other folks at the WWII tanks.  In very shallow water, as I was swimming alone, a very large ray came up right to me and slowly swam away.  That was a first for me and I immediately recovered from my any guilty feelings!

I took A. to tennis lesson and dropped the other two off at “homework club” then we had some car trouble, and I whipped up dinner and tried to figure out where the day had gone.


Everyone was so hyper this morning that when they begged to start off with some picture books, I quickly agreed, hoping that would calm the mood a bit.  It worked.  One of the books was The Song and Dance Man which is such a fun book and made me want to look up videos of tap-dancing and vaudeville but I controlled myself and we went directly into Math next.


Math is taking forever this week.  We spend at least an hour a day.  But it’s good stuff, and I can see their little brains making connections that will endure.  At some points earlier this academic year, I haven’t been sure what to think about RightStart, but I am pretty much sold on it now (however much I look forward to recuperating my initial investment, phew).

Today was supposed to be the last day of our Ocean-themed study and so we did some wrap-up discussions and writing. The kids added more to our Final Project site that is definitely not at all finished but what to do.  I introduced the next one (it had been a surprise) and they are very enthusiastic.  Should be fun!  Stay tuned…

We finished reading Young Man and the Sea and we watched the first twenty minutes of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea from 1954 and it is entertaining so far.

We went to practice some tennis on our own and we discovered that we need lots more practice.  Big shocker.  We had some time to kill so we went and dipped our toes in the ocean for 10 minutes since we were only a few blocks away.

The kids participated in a craft and games and Veggie Tales themed study of some kind at a local church.  They were mellowed out by the end and thrilled at the thought of sleeping in tomorrow morning.


The second quarterly report is due imminently.  I haven’t yet counted up our total number of completed school days, but we are supposed to have finished up 90 by now and I think we are on target, more or less.

Unfortunately, I have been aware of the deadline for this report since early January and it has been getting me down.  Rather, I have allowed it to get me down.  “Are we really not even halfway through the year yet?  Oh no!”  Or, at other moments, “We are almost halfway already? Oh no!”

And variations on that theme.

There are so many tasks we have not yet gotten to, and skills yet to be mastered.  There is so much left undone, but then I am also at a loss on how to wrap up the “Ocean Expedition” we began back in September.  I no longer feel inspired to head to the library to browse for even more books.  Instead, lately it has been feeling like a chore.  The kids and I both are a little fatigued of the same-old, same-old.  In January, Daddy went away for a week and we were on our own at home.  Then we all went away for a week.  For a fun adventure, but it was work to plan it and then I quickly became overwhelmed trying to hold it all together, while living in a single room and out of suitcases, and in a new and unfamiliar place.  Then we returned to even more disruptions to the all-holy Routine.

Long story short, we are back to basics: what was this year about, anyway?  What was the original vision?  What do we still really, really want to do before we end this school year–and this year abroad—away from our established home?  Forget the must-do List, what is the this-will-help-us-finish-well List?

This is what I came up with.

We want to spend a lot of time reading together, and enjoying what we read.  

We want to spend time outdoors together and exploring.

We want to paint and draw and doodle together.

We want to work on mastering some life-maintenance skills (chores, goal- and list-making habits, etc.), and do them happily.  Me included.

We started the year with some weaknesses in Math skills that needed to be addressed and we have made progress.  We just need to finish strong.

We want each child to be able to pursue their interests and likes, and not be bound by a larger-classroom curriculum that can’t be catered to individual tastes.  (for example: If there were questions about Marine Biology, we wanted our budding marine biologist to have the time to gather resources, get online, and try to answer those.  And for me to do it right there with her.)

There is more on that list, but those are some of the general outlines of how I first envisioned, and hoped, we would spend our time on Saipan.  Once I overcame my paralysis (slash, panic) about academic progress so far this year, it does feel good to assess where we are mid-year, and where we still need to go.


We also wanted to be sure that Daddy stayed involved in the Science lessons.  They are strategizing for a “Science Fair” of their own…

Warning: this may appear super amazing, but…



Since last posting, we have had quite a few outings.  It was a January goal to get us all out “in the field” more, and away from books alone, and by golly we did it.  One event was a long-overdue fieldtrip to the Dept. of Land and Resources Division of Fish and Wildlife office.  The office handles a broad range of activities including conservation and designation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), fisheries, law enforcement, and (as pictured above), the “Turtle Program.”

We got a call that the Turtle folks had caught 6 the morning after our fieldtrip and did we want to go watch them do their tagging and weighing and so on?  Did we!


beach on Tinian


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This is the runway from which the Enola Gay took off on Aug. 6, 1945


We also visited Tinian, the island closest to Saipan, now most famous because of its role during the last year of WWII.  The battles for Tinian and Saipan were fought entirely because of the strategic location of their airfields: the U.S. utilized them for air raids against Japan, most famously to precipitate the end of the war in August of 1945.  At the time, Tinian’s airport was either the busiest, or second-busiest in the world, depending on who you ask.

Today there are around 3,000 inhabitants, some of whom are native Chamorros, and also from the Philippines, China and Nepal.  It is once again a sleepy, tropical paradise.

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(we got caught in a downpour. And then the sun came out immediately afterwards.)

DSC02924 DSC02887  The “House of Taga” site is just as fascinating as I had hoped it would be.  There is so much about the ancient Chamorros that is unknown and it is just awe-inspiring how much uniqueness and diversity there is between civilizations, along with so much sameness, too. To any readers who might end up visiting Saipan, I highly recommend the little “NMI Museum” on Middle Rd., just across from the Sugar King Park, for a brief history of who the Man of Taga might have been, and with which accomplishments he is credited. DSC02875

We attended a public viewing of a film on “Aquaculture” about the benefits, and sometimes disastrous outcomes, of farming sea creatures.  We visited the Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality (BECQ, on Middle Rd.) to learn about how their lab goes about studying water quality (marine AND drinking water here on Saipan, in Tinian and on Rota).  Good stuff.

The fifth grader spent a morning doing some observation at a local business, a bakery/coffeeshop that uses a shipping container as its base of operations.  She had been intrigued by it and wanted a chance to experience what a day’s work is like inside that big orange box.  She loved it.

We have gone hiking and snorkeling and then hiking again.  There has been soccer and piano and I even helped judge the “Musical Solo” acts for the local Thespian club (there is a local Thespian club, fyi).  This morning I conducted homeschool while caring for a friend’s newborn.  Luckily for me, she is the quietest, most easy-going baby in the world (I had us all dressed, lesson plans and individual checklists ready, everyone dressed and breakfasted and at her house by 7:15.  I felt like a champ).  It was pure pleasure.


We haven’t had a “normal” week in what feels like a very long time.  I squeeze in the Math practice and Writing assignments between travel and fieldtrips and visits with guests.  We haven’t been to the library in weeks because it feels like we haven’t slowed down long enough lately to do any of that sort of thing.  It’s fun, and it is also difficult to keep up the pace.

It has provided plenty of time for me to feel insecure about The Results.  How much of this will the kids actually remember?  How much of practical use are they really gaining from all of this?  Once we do settle down, what skills do we need to hone in on that have gone neglected for a few weeks?  It is hard not to think in these terms, and I think those are good questions to ask, anyway.  I do have to answer for my work here at the end of this year, and I should not pretend that I do not.

So, onward and forward, whether we are outdoors or in.

How to get to Managaha for free, and a Mayor’s ID

There is a way for local residents of Saipan to get out to Managaha for free.  I had heard about it from a friend but we never tried it out until last week.  It is a little involved and the whole there-are-no-physical-addresses-on-Saipan thing makes it extra tricky, but now that we know how, we can do it as often as we want.  Probably.  (One alternative we know of is to pay $8/person to go, but that adds up really fast for a family of 5.  A third option is to pay one of the boat operators who hang out at the Fiesta resort beach to take you.  I don’t know how much that costs, but I know you can try to negotiate a bit with them.)


from the dock in Lower Base, it is about a 2 mile ride over to Managaha, or about 20 minutes

Here is what to do:

1. First, you need to get local IDs for everyone who wants to go, children included.  This could be a driver’s license, a Mayor’s ID*, an employee ID (there is a comprehensive list of acceptable IDs in the Tasi Tours office).

2.  At least 24 hours before you want to go to Managaha, take photocopies of the local IDs to the Tasi Tours office on Beach Road (they don’t want the originals, just copies).  It is located just south of National Office Supply and Star Water, and just north of Triple J Motors and an eye doctor’s office. There is a sign but it is set back from the road just enough that you have to be looking for it or you might miss it.

The office is open from 8 or 9 am until 11am and then closes for lunch until 1pm.  Then it is open again from 1 to 3pm.  They will sign you up for the ferry of your choice, or, if it is already full (priority seems to go to paying customers of Tasi Tours), then you will have to settle for another time and/or date.  Sometimes they try to be accommodating.


3.  Show up for the ferry 30 minutes ahead of time on the day you are scheduled to go.   It is located in Lower Base (basically directly west from Isa Drive at the Capitol Hill turnoff–you can get there either by driving either north or south on Middle Road, and then turning west–towards the ocean–at the first opportunity), behind the Utilties power plant.  You cannot count on friendly service on the ferry, but you can expect a free boat ride to Managaha where you can enjoy the best snorkeling around, and turquoise water like this:


*How to get a Mayor’s ID: If you are residing on Saipan or currently employed on Saipan, you can qualify for a Mayor’s ID. I believe those are the only stipulations.  It costs $18 for an adult, and $7 for a minor to get a Mayor’s ID.

First of all, take your passport or driver’s license down, along with cash, to the Treasury office.  (The Mayor’s Office does not accept payment for the IDs.)  The Treasury office is located on Beach Road, just south of the highschool, also on the left if you are headed south.  It is in the Courthouse building, more or less across the street from Naked Fish restaurant & the “Sabado market” (an outdoor farmer’s market held on Saturday mornings. They have excellent soups, too!).  You do not need to have filled out the application beforehand; just tell them you want to pay for an ID and they will take care of the rest.

Then take your receipt over to the Mayor’s office (I recommend going in the morning for better service), along with the individuals who are getting IDs (because they will need to be photographed).  The office is located further up north on Beach Road, past the Joeten Motors dealership and First Hawaiian Bank.  It is in a two-story coral brick building that also houses the Armed Forces Recruitment office and a business called “Noni Noni.”  The Office is on the second floor.

Fill out the application, get photographed and voila.

(Can you even believe that it only took me six months to figure all those steps out, get IDs for our whole crew, and then actually sign us up on a day we could all go?  I feel like a HERO.)


Stay tuned for a future post on “how to buy groceries on Saipan.”  It is not as straightforward as you might think…

Learning Notes 01/12 to 01/16


We began the week by starting a “Gratitude” poster.  I got the idea to keep an ongoing list of things to be thankful for from Ann, of course, and the kids wanted to draw it in rainbow colors (of course).  The goal is to keep it going until the spiral reaches the center.

Math: we were off to a good start, with me devoting my attention to the 5th grader while the 2nd and 3rd did some simple online practice with games.  When all of a sudden, the noises from outside along with the smell, triggered something in my brain and I sent the eldest outside to investigate.  The crunching sound I thought I was hearing was actually a crackling sound: the field at the end of our driveway was on fire and the winds were so strong that I was afraid the flames would leap up onto our roof.  After calling 911, I grabbed my purse, our laptops and passports and nothing else, and jumped into the car.  I figured that even if the house burned down, we and the car would be saved.  Besides, the last time I phoned in a fire here on Saipan they sent an ambulance, so I did not want to wait around to see what might happen.

We relocated to a coffeeshop where we were able to get online on our laptops I fudged with our lesson plan a little to keep us moving in a school-ward direction.  We read about women oceanographers and others who work in ocean research of some kind, as well as the support staff that makes their work possible.  The younger two didn’t find much to be inspired by, career-wise, but the 5th grader got into it and started googling one of the marine biologists she encountered in order to learn more.

From there we headed into town and made a few stops to inquire about future interview or fieldtrip options.  We set one up for the following day at the NMI Museum on Middle Road.  Mr. Hunter is the curator there and always eager to share his knowledge with visitors.  We want to visit with him so he can tell us “everything he knows” about Tinian.  Tinian is the closest neighboring island to Saipan and second-largest in the CNMI; there isn’t a lot of information about Tinian out there, but we want to be prepared for our upcoming visit there.

In the afternoon, the kids worked on some free writing pieces, which they loved and couldn’t wait to share out loud. 

And my log says that we read a chapter of Revenge of the Whale which I don’t remember now, but we must have done so.


We went to the NMI Museum in the afternoon and had a great visit with Mr. Hunter, learning all about the ancient Chamorros up until the sugar cane era on Tinian and then more recently, when the island was near a major fishing grounds for Russians and Japanese.  Evidently, in the ’80’s and ’90’s they had so much success catching sizable bluefins that they used to toss them off their boats when there got to be too many which then attracted various sharks.  Swimming in Tinian has been very dangerous up until the last decade or so because the sharks still hung around, hoping for the feasts they had become accustomed to.

That was really the highlight of the day and the rest of it I would frankly rather not remember.  It was the kind of homeschooling day that makes you want to quit and maybe ship your kids off to boarding school instead.

Nothing some apologizing and a good night’s sleep couldn’t repair, however.  So I can postpone the boarding school research for now, at least.


We started the day with a visit to some west-facing cliffs.  The wind had been howling through the night and we guessed that the waves would be large and worth seeing.  The kids entered their observations into their nature logs.


Afterwards, we visited the Saipan Zoo for the first time.  We have wanted to for a long time but I never seem to remember to schedule it in.  It was a cool and breezy day so it was ideal weather for a visit.  It is a small zoo with a surprising variety of animals: bengal tiger, rabbits, coconut crab, various tortoises, macaws, a hawk, a vulture, a kinkajou, a couple monkeys, a lion, a bobcat, a leopard, some deer, monitor lizards, lots of chickens, pigs, an emu, some koi.  Evidently they used to have a red fox and a black bear, too, but no longer.

I can’t say I recommend this zoo.  With the exception of the monitor lizards, very few of the other animals seemed well cared-for, or happy.  The cages were tiny and often dirty.  The lion seemed particularly depressed.  This was a one-time visit for us.

After lunch, the kids did some reading on their own and then we went for the weekly piano lesson.  The 2nd grader and I read aloud from Call It Courage which the girls had already finished over the weekend.

To compare with the other coast, we then went to visit Kagman beach (since we were only a few blocks away, at the piano lesson).  It was almost scary it was so rough.  But beautiful.  The kids took photos and collected hermit crabs and the 5th grader experimented with trying to float a coconut away, but it kept washing back up.  We laughed to think that had it been a shoe, or something personally valuable to us, the ocean would have sucked it right up, never to be seen again…


Kagman Beach

We stopped by the library briefly and then the track at MHS where everyone got some much-needed exercise.

Our friend Neda came over to keep us company for the evening while we ate “brinner” picnic-style on the livingroom floor and watched part of the movie Whale Rider.


We began the day with journaling prompts about the fieldtrips of the day before and each one produced a solid single-page report.

Math was difficult for the 5th grader and I realize now that we need to do a lot more work on understanding fractions.  The 2nd and 3rd graders had subtraction card games on the docket and it is a little on the easy side for the 3rd and still frustratingly difficult for the 2nd grader.  It is hard to find a balance to suit them both and I may need to separate their work even more.

With the winds being so strong this week, it seemed appropriate to read Energy Island.


It is very inspiring to the kids (so much so that they wondered if it might be fiction!) and then we finished the rest of Whale Rider.  They were NOT impressed with that movie.  They felt misled by the title, they didn’t understand the accents, they didn’t see the point of the story…the list of complaints was long.  We discussed mythology and the sea again, but even that failed to interest them.


We did something else this morning but I just can’t remember what, anymore.

We read a chapter in Revenge of the Whale over lunch and then headed over to the library for the next few hours.  I found some resources for our Tinian trip, read a half dozen picture books to the 2nd grader and tried to collect as many chapter books for the girls as I could for our week on Tinian.  I understand that their library is not consistently operational so it is best to be prepared.

In the evening after dinner at home, we went to Thursday Market, just to meet up with friends and enjoy the vibe.  It’s always fun to go there, even if you don’t want to eat.


We had a very, very late start to the day.  A combination of me feeling sick yesterday and then a pretty rough night with the kids.  We started school around 10am, no joke.

The kids each have a book they are writing (my son informed me that I am the “only one” who doesn’t have a book in the works right now) so they each spent some time typing away at their books as their writing practice today.  My second opted to work on hers outside, sitting peacefully in the yard on a blanket.

They continued to work on the “Gratitude Spiral” after that.


(that one over there on the right looks too bored to be grateful, doesn’t she…)

We moved on to Catechism and discussed the Sacraments and read and memorized a portion of the Baltimore Catechism.

Math: I gave them each some practice work in areas of particular weakness.  Reducing fractions for the 5th grader, multiplying by a number in the hundreds (3rd grade) and some lengthy sums and subtractions for the 2nd.  It was a challenge for each of them but I think they are finally getting the hang of it.  The 2nd and 3rd grader and I then played a subtraction card game from RS.

We don’t usually do this, so I had them practice reading aloud.  We used Around the World in Eighty Poems and Sea to Shining Sea for material.  On their turn, they each had to stand up and read clearly and through their mouth (not their nose) and try to do the “voices” if applicable.  This is especially challenging for the 5th grader but she is getting there.

We got a chapter of Revenge of the Whale in before a late lunch.

I read aloud with the youngest from Call to Courage while the girls had their own free reading time.

The girls did a “mirror symmetry” painting project but the Boy didn’t want to.  That was it for today.

Linking up with everyone else as soon as possible.  Being 17 time zones ahead makes me look like an over-achiever, heh heh…

Learning Notes for the New Year 01/05 to 01/09


Despite my hope to start in on schoolwork right at 8am, the girls needed some extra rest to recover from a weekend sleepover.  We began at 8:45 with some stretching outside, some breathing in and “listening in” and “smelling in,” just to greet the day.  The weather is just lovely here this time of year.

After some handwriting practice we moved on to some Math warm-ups.  I knew that everyone would need a little help to remember what we had been working on before the Christmas break so I tried to ease us all in slowly.  Maybe not as easy as I thought, after all, oops.  Once we recovered from that, we conducted short “interviews” with the video setting on the camera and used those as our “writing” for the day.  The prompt was: “My ideal school day would be…”  They thought this was fun and we typed up the transcripts and will work on enriching, expanding and of course, multiple draft-ing, for the rest of the week.

We moved on to discuss options for fieldwork and I distributed the interview questionnaires the kids made up and we discussed possible options for sites: they are looking to interview folks with “ocean-related careers” which can include anything from seafood restaurant owners to scuba instructors to fish sellers to marine biologists…and anyone else who might fit the criteria of making their living from the ocean.  It has been harder than I expected to coordinate with local departments (Fish & Wildlife, Bureau of Coastal Resources Management) for fieldtrips, but I haven’t given up yet.  I am trying to devote January to getting out of the house as much as possible for our learning.  We’ll see if it works out.

Next we had a quick lunch, quick swim (in a rainshower–surprise!), and then we read Johnny Tremain some more.  We are almost finished.

After quiet time, I did some read-aloud with the 2nd grader and finished up Journey to the Center of the Earth and then an art lesson on Kandinsky through this great site that was recommended by a friend here.

It was too gorgeous to want to stay home, so we went to a west-facing beach and watched the sunset in the evening and the kids dug around in the sand.  We never get tired of doing this, ever.


The school day started off with handwriting practice and today it was more successful and our dear students exhibited much less resistance.  The results were very good and they are well on their way to memorizing the verse they are copying over and over.

Math: that was a little bit rougher on the 2nd grader.  After multiple meltdowns and interventions from his papa, the little guy finally completed his work for the day.  I kept feeding the girls more assignments in writing and language arts in the meantime, which worked out really very well.  They love the little brain puzzlers in a book a teacher friend back home in the Great Southwest had lent me.  I will definitely use it again.

After their re-writes of yesterday’s prompt about ideal school days, we moved onto a discussion about ocean-related professions.  We perused this book


of simply lovely paintings and my artiste fifth grader was so impressed by it, especially when she learned that Jim Arnosky had had to paint quickly to capture the waves or the winging gulls just so.  We ended up sending him one of our interview questionnaires via email, in case he wants to share more with us about his life as an artist and author.

Here’s a fun thing that happened: I had scheduled to meet up with a friend for an ocean swim during her lunch break, so I snuck off to do that while Daddy taught a science lesson!  I came home to three happy children who were all eager to tell me about the “awesome” science class they had.  I should go for midday swims more often.


In the afternoon, they interviewed the owner of a beach equipment rental shack (even though they were shy and nervous) and then we went paddleboarding for fun and exercise.

We ended the day with some digging in the sand and running around on the beach.  Not too bad at all.


I have a tennis lesson on Wednesday mornings for an hour and I usually bring the kids along, but with Daddy at home, I left a checklist on the fridge and urged them to work through as many items on the list as possible during that hour.  Surprisingly, it was a complete success!  They were proud to present me with their work when I returned and we read their “free-writing” assignments (L.’s idea) out loud.

We moved on to reading about lighthouse keepers, in keeping with our focus on ocean-related professions.  It was fascinating stuff and prompted all kinds of questions so, at the end of our reading, we grabbed the laptop and worked through our questions one by one thanks to the Internet.  It was fun.

After lunch, I finished the last chapter of Johnny Tremain then rushed the 5th grader to her piano lesson where I managed to squeeze in some questions for my much-more-experienced homeschooling mama friend.

The third grader reminded me that I had mentioned sinking our great galleon from our Explorers week, so we set about prepping.  First, we read this fun article together.  Then we collected pennies and nickels and outfitted everyone in appropriate attire (we had a couple of reporters, some scuba divers, some shipwreck-ees and a videographer—everyone had several jobs).  The results were hilarious.  (See here and here)

We ended the day with a couple of chapters from Revenge of the Whale about the Whaleship Essex way back in 1819.  So far everyone is still enthralled although I have to paraphrase sometimes and skip ahead other times when it gets long.


Having to drive Daddy into work was a good excuse to start school “in town;” we had our Catechism lesson in the chapel at Kristo Rai.  We had a little snack at home that we picked up at a local bakery/coffeeshop that we are trying to support.  Our detour for a scone prompted my ten-year-old to request an internship day at the bakery, just to “see what it is like to work there.”  Sara thinks that’s a great idea and so do I.  I will try to plan that in during the next week or two.

At home we did some Math and the 2nd grader is really struggling this week.  To change it up a bit, I let him practice some basic subtraction facts with a simple online game.  I don’t usually let the kids use the Internet much during school hours, except for research that we all do as a group (like yesterday’s lighthouse-related searches), but now and then it might not be a bad idea to allow it, just to keep things interesting.

After this…things got a little harder.  No one was interested in my writing assignment suggestion and everyone was hungry for lunch.  I worked through it with the 3rd grader, one-on-one, but decided not even to try with the 2nd.  I am pretty sure that was the right decision, since it took over an hour to coax out a single page from her, even with me taking dictation.  So very many tears, so very much drama…

We tried to watch some of Stan Waterman’s ocean films online, but we couldn’t find much that was interesting.  It is hard for elementary aged students to fully appreciate how much went into filming some of the first underwater footage ever made.

We finished chapter 3 of Revenge of the Whale.

One of my son’s playmates came over for the rest of the afternoon so they ran around and played Legos and went swimming which is exactly what he needed.


Finally, finally, we got tickets to go on the free ferry to Managaha (a teeny tiny island off the coast of our slightly larger tiny island).  We read some Revenge of the Whale while we killed time before departure and the rest of the day we snorkeled and explored and did a little “nature walk.”

It was fabulous.  We can’t wait to go back sometime soon.


But wait, you might say, what is so fabulous about visiting a tiny tropical island, given that you already live on one?


I really don’t know!  It’s just that they don’t have any tall buildings at all, just a few picnic patios and a little beach rental shop and some white sand and coconut palms.  That’s it.

There is a reason they call this the “jewel of Saipan.”  Talk about picturesque.

(Linking up with Melanie.)