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.

DSC03814 DSC03811


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.

Linked up with the Wine Dark Sea


Books for Boys

It’s not only the fact that these books have young boys as protagonists that makes them so appealing to little fellas.  These four authors just tell a really good story, and with main characters who are as likeable as they are imperfect.  But as I thought about why I enjoyed these so much, it occurred to me that strong main characters weren’t the whole reason.

Here is the first thing all four have in common: each one tells a story of a boy with a complicated relationship with disappointing or difficult grown-ups.  Furthermore, each one of the characters has a father who is either absent, alcoholic, withdrawn, or who just doesn’t understand (or doesn’t try).  Their other parent-figures are alternatively helpful, oblivious, compassionate, needy and well-meaning and loving.  Just like real grown-ups in real life.

At the conclusion of each story, there is hope.  Not some cheap resolution, but measurable improvement, and if not redemption, there is neither blame nor despair, either: just hope!


Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Beverly Cleary: I love all of Beverly Cleary’s writing, and my second-eldest loved this one especially.  She practically forced me to read it with her, she was so excited about it, and I am glad I did.

young man

The Young Man and the Sea, by Rodman Philbrick.  I ordered this one after seeing it recommended as ocean-related reading on a website.  I am so glad I did. Although I had originally intended to put it on the reading list for the 3rd grader, I have since changed my mind and it will be one of our read-alouds so that we can all enjoy it together.  I will be looking for more by the same author, too.

first light

First Light, by Gary Crews. This is the only picture book of the set.  At first it also seemed like the darkest to me. Maybe that is because of the full-page visuals of the boy’s dejection in the face of his father’s harshness (as opposed to text-based descriptions?).  For whatever reason, it is a bit of a sad read at first.  But a transformation occurs in the father and a certain gentleness shows through by the end of the book, after they both face danger together on the water and survive a risky fishing expedition.



Maniac Magee, by Jerry Spinelli.  This is such a fun read.  I couldn’t put it down after I picked it up one afternoon, intending only to skim.  I couldn’t even wait to read it all over again out loud to my son, and I won’t mind the next time I get to read it again, either.  It is just an extra perk for me that it is set in Pennsylvania, where I was born, and it makes me hungry for hoagies.  (And racial reconciliation!)


There is good writing and good story-telling and then there is a step further; in my opinion, these four really got there.   Also appropriate for girls, despite my silly alliterative post title.  Enjoy!

New book finds

One of the reasons for this blog is to have a space to celebrate homeschooling successes, however small.  And I have a lot to be happy about today in that department.

Yesterday I spent the ENTIRE day at the library.  They opened at 10am and closed at 6pm, and except for a brief lunch break, I was there the whole time.  Alone.  All day.  (Well, alone in that my husband and kids weren’t there, I mean.)

Believe me, I worked every single minute of that time.  Even during the lunch break when I went over old notes and lists.  I have so desperately wanted to get a long period alone in order to get some planning done that I didn’t let a single distraction throw off my focus.  Not even the ukulele class that took place in the children’s wing just a few feet from my work station!  Nothing was going to stop me from taking advantage of this rare and brief opportunity and a lot of progress was made in respect to scheduling plans, curriculum, matching up with grade standards (more on why I did that in a future post) and generally having a better sense of my goals for the year.

The children’s section of the library has an excellent selection of related books, and quite a large number of non-fiction resources, though their computer catalog is a little tricky to navigate and re-shelving is not always carefully done.  Finding high quality ocean-themed fiction is pretty hard anyway, even without the search obstacles.  But I found some new picture books that I would classify as either good or excellent, and I will now share a few with you in case you can find them at your local library.

Blue Claws, by Walter Krudop

blue claws

This will fall under “Fishing–Recreation” and “Resources from the Sea” in my categorizing system and is a really lovely book about a boy who goes crabbing with his grandfather one day. 

Riptide, by Frances Ward Weller

Riptide is a sometimes-naughty golden retriever whose love for the beach is greater than his desire to obey the chastisements of his owners or the lifeguards.  He runs away from home routinely and is always found at the beach which is irritating to everyone until a riptide pulls swimmers out to sea and the dog is the only one who can reach them.  Lovely illustrations.

We will be using this as supplementary fiction reading during our lesson on “Tides & Currents” and “Water Force.”  Also: just plain old love of the ocean!

Kermit the Hermit, by Bill Peet

This rhyming book is just too cute.  Kermit is a very cranky old hermit crab until someone does him a good turn and he decides to do some kindness in return.  (For our tidal pool explorations and case study on hermit crabs.) 

Life in the Ocean, The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle, by Claire Nivola

The passion of Sylvia Earle for deep water exploration is contagious in this book with its beautiful illustrations. (Filed under “People Who Make Their Living From the Sea”)

Gramma’s Walk, by Anna Grossnickle Hines

No one actually goes for a walk on the beach in this book, except in their imagination.  It is both sweet and inspiring, and it might just make you cry.

Honu, by Marion Coste

This is fiction that is an excuse to talk about the declining state of Hawaii’s formerly pristine beaches and reefs.  We will use it to spark conversation about Conservation efforts and what is at stake if something does not change soon.