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


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.)

Learning Notes 12/15-12/19


We started the school day outside after frantically trying to catch up on some overdue chores, and take care of sick Daddy. Eventually, we made it to the backyard for the daily readings then some nature journaling.  There was a strong breeze which I found lovely but caused some anxiety in the kids that the tallest bamboo would crash down on their heads.

Back indoors, we sat in the livingroom while the kids gave oral summaries of a book of their choice, one that they had read spontaneously over the weekend.  The 5th grader chose a book about George Washington and told us all about his life, with a little prompting for chronological accuracy.*  The 3rd grader spoke about First Light, which I have mentioned here; she didn’t particularly like it, oh well.  The 2nd grader told the story of The Empty Pot, by Demi, which he loved.  He thinks it ought to have won an award.


From there we moved on to Math.  I had made some practice sheets up of my own, to target areas of particular weakness and then we moved on to a short lesson each in their respective RightStart lesson books.  The 2nd and 3rd graders played a math card game afterwards for subtraction practice but when the 2nd grader was repeatedly stumped by simple difference problems (what is 9-2?  8-4?—yikes!), I figured it was time for a snack break.

We read some Johnny Tremain out loud after a snack, with a lot of interjections to translate complex vocab and plot points, and then broke for lunch.  The 2nd grader made us our lunch so that my hands were free for some more chores.  (I am feeling the time-crunch leading up to the arrival of the in-laws later this week!)

The two other kids explored Google maps a little, now that Saipan has had a visit of the “Google car” and that was good for a few minutes of fun.  Then we had a brief quiet time and a swim during the hottest part of the day and came back inside to work on journal prompts.  Today’s was: “Imagine you are an explorer (underwater, on an old sailing ship, or in a submarine) and all of a sudden you are surrounded by whales.  Tell the story.”  They loved this assignment (which is funny: I never can tell which ones they will love and which ones they will find boring, I really can’t) and produced very impressive work.  The girls used this for handwriting practice and the boy dictated to me, as per usual.

We read a few more chapters from Seabird which has taken a plot turn and is now no longer relevant to our study of the whaling industry, oops.  However: it has two chapters with titles relevant to another critical writing piece I have been waiting to introduce.  “The Sea is an Enemy” and “The Sea is a Friend.”  We’ll revisit that tomorrow, hopefully.

L. practiced for her piano recital on Friday.

Everyone completed their chores, and extra.

Daddy is still sick.  I overdid it with the housecleaning and now my injured shoulder (from a weekend hiking trip when I tried to climb up to a higher ledge in a cave) hurts more than ever.  I will need to rest it more tomorrow.


Daddy is awfully sick today.  I went off to get some meds for him first thing in the morning and the girls stayed behind to start in on Math practice, with yet another card game (hurray for RS for making learning Math fun!).  I arrived home to find the girls ecstatic to show me their progress in learning their multiplication tables, but my husband worse than ever, on his fourth day of this illness and begging me to take him to the ER (which I found to be a little dramatic, but I gave in anyway).  We grabbed some library books to return, and the usual water bottles and sunblock and I drove him into town.

To kill time, we did some errands and traded in library books for new ones, got a sandwich and then killed some more time.  At the library, I introduced the new writing and reflection question of whether the sea is “enemy or a friend” and the kids groaned and barely cooperated.  So much for my brilliant plan of inspiring them with that question; looks like we’ll have to work harder at connecting the dots and demonstrating how extensively they are able to respond, now that we have studied the physical ocean in such depth.

Finally, we returned to wait at the hospital for Daddy to be discharged, only to learn that there was legitimate reason to suspect that rather than an ordinary icky virus, he may just have more exotic illness, picked up during our recent travels.

Ah.  That had not even occurred to me when I came home to find him pale and writing on the floor in the bathroom this morning.

We got home around 3pm to a house roasting in the heat.  This will end up being logged as a half day, for sure.


I woke up with a plan and kept to it.  The night before, it had become clear that one of the kids desperately needed some TLC that would require a change of routine.   As much as I hated to pitch the lesson plans so carefully crafted last Saturday, I knew it was the right thing to do.  Without calling attention to my plan, I instructed the girls to get dressed up, and then we all piled into the car.  We ate breakfast at a place we’d never been to before, out on their patio, then we dug a bit in the sand at the beach until it was time for manicures (at $5, it’s one of the Saipan’s only cheap finds!**).  We tried to shop for Christmas decorations but we ended up only buying a single string of lights.  I just can’t seem to find any reasonable prices on anything.  We will try one more time at “fake Kmart” tomorrow, since they are only open Thursday-Saturday, starting at 11 and for 3 hours (I mentioned this store here, awhile back).

Luckily we had made some lovely paper snowflakes on Tuesday evening so after going to piano lessons, we came home and strung those up along with the lights, got a little creative with some candles and japanese bowls, and by the end, the house is looking more festive.


Thanks to our fellow Saipan-ian Kirstin, we made some Christmas cookies which only require 3 minutes of bake-time, which is a must when the cost of running the oven is about $1/minute.

By the end of the day, feeling pampered and happy to be crafting AND baking, the child in question seemed much more like herself again so I feel hopeful that tomorrow we could snuggle up on the couch for some book-learning (and also maybe a pencil for some Math practice?), and still be happy and well.

Meanwhile, Daddy is still quite ill and will go in for more lab work tomorrow in order to rule out Southeast-Asian hitchhiker-bugs.  Phew.



And that is exactly as far as I got on my logging for that week, folks.  We did end up doing a bit more schooling, and then some cleaning and grocery shopping to prepare for our guests.  But I don’t remember much else and I am MUCH too late for the link-up now.  Oh well.

Jeremy stayed sick for weeks and even still is not back to 100%.  Maybe it was dengue fever?  We will probably never know.  But he was flat on his back for several weeks straight which was a new experience for him, and the rest of us.  His parents, having traveled several thousands of miles to see him (and the rest of us, of course) were a tad disappointed, to say the least.

We still had a lovely Christmas and enjoyed as many beach swims and snorkeling trips as we could squeeze in.  Because why on earth pretend that we could even try to replicate a traditional celebration?

At the library, I made sure to gather up some books on George and Martha Washington over the weekend to became part of our “strew” pile, since I am not sure how else we will incorporate the U.S. Revolution part of the 5th grade curriculum.  So far, it seems to be working pretty well. 

** Milk is $8/gallon, or more, and gas has been around $5.20 up until last week.  If you want to eat local veggies, that is possible, but too bad for me because most of my family dislikes: pumpkin, eggplant, bitter gourd, okra and Chinese long beans.  We do all like pechay so that’s nice.  Hey, at least it’s 1 out of 6, right?  Oh, we like “morning glory,” too, also called “King Kang” or “Chinese water spinach” but I still haven’t cooked it at home with any success.  Help?

Learning Notes from 12/1 to 12/5

This is my first time to follow my friend Catherine’s suggestion to link up with Melanie and write out the week’s learning successes.  I did not know what to expect, but besides the extra time it took me to compose the Notes, I found that I also found more to log than I thought I would.  Instead of fretting about all the learning goals we did not reach this week, this has been a positive way to count the ways we did.


Post-travel recovery day.  A low key day.  After waking up around 10am (our flight arrived at 1am in Saipan), we dropped off Daddy at work then ran some errands, re-stocked the fridge, paid the rent.  In the afternoon, after a late lunch we went for a swim.  I made our first home-cooked meal in well over 3 weeks then watched some Candid Camera on Youtube, just for fun.  Our house guests returned around 8:30 and so I whisked the kids off to bed and stayed up for a chat and to say goodbye.


I planned a “transition” school day for today and I so glad I did.  I would have been a control-freak mess otherwise because of the late start.  The jetlag is evidently still not overcome: two of the kids didn’t roll out of bed until almost 9am!  It also seemed unrealistic to expect any of us (primarily myself) to dive back into a full schedule.  So instead, after throwing in some more loads of laundry, we congregated out on the deck and debriefed about our travels for a little while.

We talked about the journals each of the kids kept while we traveled and whether or not they enjoyed keeping them.  Would they like to continue?  Were they aware that there are different journaling styles available to them (for ex, instead of logging your activities and movements, you could write about some thoughts or feelings you had that day, I suggested.  “But wait, how would I know what I did that day?”)  No one liked my ideas.


All photos courtesy of candid-photographer L.

For writing prompts, I consulted the brainstorm list I had composed while on the road, scribbled down in a notebook during some downtime at a cafe in Bangkok: “If you could travel by any mode of transportation at all, what would it be and why?”  The 5th grader’s choice: a portal.  The 3rd grader made up a fictitious flying vehicle.  The 2nd grader chose a camel (“because of the two humps”).  As usual, I took dictation from the 2nd grader to help him along with his.  This is a tip I ran across on a homeschooling blog somewhere, and it has worked very well for this very imaginative boy whose hand, and patience, do not keep up with the flow of ideas.

For Math, we did some mental exercises and became reacquainted with the abacus from Right Start.  No written work today.

Our current Read-Aloud is Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes.


It’s a nice change from Swiss Family Robinson which was long, and dull by the end.  Johnny Tremain is neither and although I have to “translate” some things for the sake of comprehension, it is still a good read.  At a later time, we will use this as a springboard for the 5th grader learn about the Revolutionary War in greater historical detail.

Art: I pulled out an activity booklet about Japan and the kids oohed and aahed and took turns looking through it and making origami hats and coloring kimonos.  The 5th and 2nd graders moved on from there to photo collages while the 3rd grader worked on a photo essay on the family blog about the various uses of bamboo in Myanmar.

Advent:  We read the First Reading from Isaiah 11 and talked about the “root of Jesse” and about the Jesse Tree we won’t be putting up this year since it is at home back in the US and in storage.

Music: the 5th grader practiced for her Christmas recital.


Daddy had the day off so we took advantage to spend the rest of the afternoon swimming at the Grotto, though it turned into a safety lesson on how important it is to turn around and head home because water is just too rough and unpredictable.  We ended the day at a beach in the lagoon and we all enjoyed the sunset and played in the sand while we became acquainted with a newly arrived physician who is here temporarily.


I made sure to wake up the kids today instead of letting them sleep late.  It is time to get over the jetlag and back to a regular schedule!  We managed to start school just after 9 so that was better than yesterday.

We began with math: the “Corners” game from RS.  Part of the concept of the RightStart approach is that math is better learned through games.  It seems to work pretty well, and it’s a heck of a lot more fun this way.

I meant to continue with some word problems for the 5th grader but I forgot.

The writing prompt also doubled as part of our “Travel Expedition” and helped the kids reflect on the trip a little: “What did you learn that was entirely new to you during our travels?  What did you leave Saipan not knowing and then return knowing?  Write a page describing a place/event/custom that is new to you, as if you were writing for the benefit of someone else who still doesn’t know about it.”  The girls each chose to write about a fruit (rambutan & mangosteen) and the 2nd grader wrote his as a letter to a friend back home in the US and explained the rules of the game of takraw.  Later in the day, we typed up his letter as an email message and sent it to his friend.

For our Expedition, we also remembered something else that was a new discovering for us: lotus weaving.  We watched a video tour of a textile factory on Inle Lake similar to the one we visited while there.  Then we tried to have our own weaving session, with paper and watercolors, but we got delayed because the paint would not dry for several hours.  (Yay for tropical climes!)

While we were waiting for the papers to dry, we did our journaling and then read some Johnny Tremain.  I forgot all about the Advent reading of the day.

We did a little better with personal chores today and everyone earned their “ticket.”  (five assigned-chores tickets plus a “V” ticket for a chore they volunteered for = $1, which is what they can earn in a week, if they choose to.)


In the afternoon, we had piano practice with the 5th grader’s tutor while the 2nd grader and I did some read-aloud together (we alternate paragraphs so he doesn’t get too tired or discouraged), and then made a visit to the children’s section of the library where everyone found something new to check out and I collected books for the next phases of our ocean careers study: whaling and exploring.

Oh, and the 3rd grader squeezed in some cursive handwriting practice, too.


We started off the day with some Advent readings and the St. Lucy Novena.  Didn’t forget this time!

Math took us a full hour today.  But only because we were having fun!  Learning how to write and add quantities of money using the decimal point ($2.36 + $5.03).  The 5th grader did her own review and luckily Daddy was on hand to answer her questions so I could devote myself to the younger two.  They loved this lesson!  Who knew this would be such a hit.

Writing:  Today we switched from our “Travel” theme back to the “Ocean” theme for our learning expedition.  The 5th grader is still working on her “Swiss Family” report.  The other two had begun a simple comparative piece on Island of the Blue Dolphins and Swiss Family Robinson for their journal prompt but we were all interrupted by a Skype call from the grandparents.  Those are so few and far between (because of the time difference) that they merit a pause in schoolwork.

After a quick lunch, we dove into Seabird (Holling) for our study of whaling-for-oil.


During our tidal pool case study on hermit crabs, we had read Holling’s Pagoo and enjoyed it.  But we had to move slowly, and barely covered a chapter or two a day over the course of several weeks.


This is a much more action-packed book, with a real story and the science bits are tucked in ingeniously; its not nearly as difficult to plow through.  We finished a third of it in one sitting.

During the heat of the day, we had to slow things down a little.  2nd grader and I did some read-aloud from our current chapter book, Journey to the Center of the Earth (Verne, Illustrated Classics abridged version). We went for a little swim.  Then we sliced up our only potato and made some stamped Christmas wrapping paper.  It took a good long time to gather up gifts for cousins and once again, our plans to speed through a simple project were foiled, waiting for paint to dry…

We ended the day with more Johnny Tremain.  The kids are just loving this book.


There was some bickering around breakfast time, so I opted to start the day by gathering us all on the couch for a read-aloud from Seabird and a short youtube clip by a young student about Nantucket’s role in the whaling industry.  I hoped this would help foster some sort of peaceful and harmonious feelings.  It worked SO well that everyone was so sleepy and comfy by the end of the half hour that they had to drag themselves over to the table to buckle down for Math.

Math took a full hour again today, but not because we were having fun.  There was a little more discouragement, and a bit more whining, but once that was overcome, it was smoother going.  The 5th grader continued with her mental math strategies practice and the 2nd and 3rd practiced adding sums of money with the help of the calculator which, it turns out, is not as easy as I thought it was and there is quite a lot to learn about typing in the decimal points and leaving out extra zeros and all of that.

For writing assignments, the 5th grader finally completed the critical essay on The Swiss Family Robinson.  The 3rd grader worked on a creative photo-essay piece and the 2nd grader lagged a little behind on his sums.

The Catechism lesson of the week was on “Generosity,” the virtue of the month according to our “Virtues in Practice” series from the Dominican Sisters of Nashville.  I like this curriculum for a lot of reasons, only one of which that it offers plenty of suggestions on activities and reflections but it is still very wide open to creative additions by instructors or parents.  We seem to inevitably end up in long conversations that take up the whole of our “class time” and rarely get to any of the suggested activities!


The afternoon we spent at the beach, mostly because of a transportation issue, but I am so glad we did.  Not only did we get to read books, play in the sand and hit a volleyball around, but we also got to swim.  Ha!  So many of our favorite things to do.  We all really wanted to be able to attend the First Friday Film event at American Memorial Park and since we only have one car, this was our chance to get a ride into “town.”

The evening program was not too far above the kids’ heads and they said they enjoyed it: there was a slide show by a local marine biologist about the coastal marine area of one of the CNMI’s northern-most islands, then two films about the Mariana Trench (one by the local organization called APASEEM, and the other by CBC).  Very cool.


I was inspired to choose this week as my first to try out “Learning Notes” because I knew I would have one less day to log since we took Monday off to recover from travel.  And guess what: I just heard that Monday is a school holiday!  Yay, another short work-week.  Smaller, more manageable chunks of time are so much less intimidating for me right now.