Monday, March 30, 2009

Life in a small town

My grandfather told me this story:

It snowed a couple weeks ago in Baker City. The snow plows had cleared the roads, but his truck was still blocked in the driveway, and he was out shoveling snow out of the driveway so that he could get his truck out. A woman was walking down the street, walked a little way past Grandpa's driveway then turned around and walked back the other direction.

A few minutes later, here came a man on a tractor. He plowed the snow from around my grandpa's truck, waved and drove off.

The next time it snowed, he came down and plowed again. Just a wave and off he went.

Grandpa said he'd like to thank him, maybe take him something, but he doesn't know where the guy lives. A few days ago, he saw the man walking down the road leading a couple mules. So now he knows he can find the man's house. He'll just drive that direction until he finds the house with the mules.

Color Study

We're winding up our color studies. It's been a fascinating and motivating subject for the fine young gents. Which isn't surprising when you think about it. Color is immediate and relevant. It's something we experience every moment. A color study combines, overlaps and intersects art and science, and the experiments are simple, fun and accessible. And memorable. The fine young gents often talk about color in terms of science and art, remarking at the red light waves that must be bouncing off a shirt, for example. On the way home from a visit to Grandpa's, kindergarten gent stared out at the brown hills and remarked, "Mom, I can't see any tertiary colors out there."

At the beginning of spring break, we spent some school time doing color experiments. We're moving on to an astronomy study this spring, but we didn't want to miss some of the fun activities we'd seen online and in our experiment books, so we spent a fair amount of time playing with color.

Catch a Rainbow from Kidzone Science:

You need:
A shallow bowl
Food color--red, blue and yellow
Dish soap
Printable recording sheet (optional)

Drop food color at the edges of the bowl as shown above. Add 2-3 drops of dish soap to the middle of the bowl. Sit back and watch the colors swirl and combine.
Then complete the record sheet:

Is Black Black?
(Pictured in notebook above.)

You need:
Black markers, 2-3 different brands
A coffee filter
Water and an eyedropper
A tray or dish

Cut the coffee filter into strips. Choose one brand of black marker, and color a big black dot at the edge of a coffee filter strip. Do the same with the other black markers until you have a dotted strip for each brand of marker. Set the strips in your tray or dish and drip water on the black dots until they are saturated. Make sure your strips are not touching so that the colors don't bleed onto one another. Wait for the colors to wick up the filter. What colors do you see? Are the colors used by each brand different? The same?

Color Filters

You need:
Colored cellophane, different colors
Flashlight (optional)

Using your markers, draw a rainbow (or other colorful picture) on your paper. Place different colors of cellophane over your picture. What happens to the colors? Now take your cellophane and place it over different colored objects in the room. What happens to those colors?

For more cellophane fun, take the colored cellophane and a flashlight into the closet or other dark place. Shine the flashlight through the cellophane. (Moms: This kept my fine young gents entertained for an hour.)

Make a Rainbow

You need: A prism and bright light

Find a prism and experiment with making rainbows in the sunlight.

Color Mixing

You need:
4-6 glasses or bowls
Food color--red, yellow, blue
Eyedroppers, spoons, measuring cups
Tray and towels or rags

Place the glasses and bowls on a tray. Fill three glasses or bowls with water. Add several drops of red, yellow or blue food color to the glasses so that you've got one glass of each color. Set out the the colored water and extra glasses or bowls for mixing. Use the spoons, measuring cups and eyedroppers to mix colors! Make sure to have a rag handy to clean up spills!

Victory Gardens

Victory Gardens:

Eugene/Springfield--Victory Gardens for All, food does grow on trees:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"Arigato, Makiko-sensei!"

The fine young gents are learning Japanese from their lovely older sister. I've been paying her to teach the boys an art and Japanese class every Wednesday.

She's taking Japanese in high school. She wants to go to Japan this summer. The boys want to learn Japanese. I don't speak Japanese.

She's earning money for her trip, and teaching helps her to use the Japanese she's learning in school. The boys get to learn to speak, read and write a little Japanese, and they get to spend some time with their beloved sister. I get some time to myself to read or make dinner or plan the next day's lessons, or to just sit and stare out the window.


Life is good.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Science: Color and Vision

Last week we took a slight detour from our science and art color study to explore color and vision. We finally got to try the Bird in a Cage experiment from one of my new favorite experiment sights, Exploratorium Science Snacks. Not snacks for the tummy, snacks for the brain! Quick and simple science experiments, complete with thorough explanations. Perfect for filling 15-20 minutes.

You need:
Posterboard or thin cardboard (Scraps work just fine.)
Colored paper--red, blue and green
White paper
Pencil and scissors
Black marker
Bright light--Try this on a sunny day for best results!

Draw a silhouette of a favorite animal onto the posterboard. Cut it out and use it as a template to trace your animal onto the red, blue and green papers. Cut out your colored animal shapes and glue them to your white paper. (We used the science notebook pages.) On another white paper, draw a birdcage, jungle, or other habitat for your animal using the black marker. Place your pages in bright light and stare at one colored animal for about 30 seconds. Then stare at your cage (or other habitat). What do you see?

You should see an afterimage, a colored image of your bird. Your white paper reflects blue, red and green light. You've tired the cones in your eye sensitive to the color at which you've been staring, so you see the other colors more strongly. If your red-perceiving cones are tired from staring at the red bird, for example, the blue- and green-perceiving cones are stronger, so you should see more blue-green light bouncing off the page, which creates a blue-green afterimage.

A common variation on the afterimage experiment uses the American flag. Create an American flag using black and green stripes, and black stars on an orange background. (Directions here.) After staring at your flag, then directing your eyes to a white page, you should see the traditional red, white and blue American flag.
3D Stereograms: Magic Eye

Magic Eye, by Magic Eye, Inc.
Check Magic Eye books out of the library. They will keep the kids entertained for what seems like hours. It's fun snuggling on the couch staring at the pages, trying to get the seemingly random patterns on the page to pop out into 3D pictures. Having trouble? Read this: How to see 3D for an explanation of how it works.

Then make your own stereograms online:
Create your own 3D stereogram
This application lets you draw your own picture and choose your colors. We're having a blast with this. The fine young gents drew their names and printed their personal stereograms to paste into their science notebooks.

Choose from different backgrounds and pictures at Easy Stereogram Builder. (The stereogram above was created using this site.) Then read about how they work. There's a great explanation of stereo vision here: What is Stereo Vision?

We love Bill. Watch Bill Nye the Science Guy: Light and Color for some color and light science fun.

"Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill!"

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Happy Pi Day!

It's almost over, but it's not too late!

Celebrate Pi Day!
Pi is the symbol for the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Pi = 3.1415926535... Pi Day is celebrated by math enthusiasts around the world on March 14th.

About Pi

The Pi(ano) Song

How to Celebrate Pi Day

School in the garden

Yesterday I was feeling achy and tired and yucky. There's something going around. I really wasn't up for our Friday nature outing.

I thought, "We need a day off." I said, "Maybe we should just read all day." I grumped, "I don't want to doooo anythiiiing."

Instead, I took the fine young gents outside. We've got nature in our back yard too. We shoveled the last of our dirt pile into the wheelbarrow and hauled it into the back yard. Good heavy work for growing bodies. The boys told me that the dirt was good for the garden because it has lots of nutrients. We leveled our front yard planting area and planted second grade gent's dahlias and his brother's lilies. They read the packages to follow the planting directions. We discussed what we'd like to plant in that spot this spring, and they seriously considered what our family eats and enjoys most from the garden. More strawberries, they think. Then they voluntarily pulled weeds and explained to me that we needed to leave the weeds root-side-up so that they couldn't get nutrients or water from the soil. We dug up a garden box and they told me that we needed the light new planting mix mixed into our boxes because it will make the soil less dense so roots can grow. They have absorbed so much from our casual conversations about the garden.

Then I was pooped. I really am a little under the weather. The work was just what I needed and it did me good, but now my body was saying "Time to rest." So I hung in the back yard hammock. I was soon joined by two busy giggly wiggly little bodies. We swung and giggled and then we calmed to listen to the birds. Later the boys drew their dahlia and lily bulbs in their nature notebooks, and pictures of what they think the flowers will look like once they bloom.

My boys work really hard when given the opportunity. Every time this week that I was out there hauling dirt, they were right there with me. Meaningful work is important, not just for adults, but for children too. They need to see that they are making a difference and that their time is valuable. Ditching the books for the morning and spending our time out of doors was a good decision. I forget sometimes, in our drive for academic rigor, that we need a balance. Time to read and learn from books, time to explore and experiment, and also time to work, time to play, time to cuddle, time to rest. We got a little of each yesterday, and we were refreshed at the end of the day.
A note for Dawn....
This has nothing to do with my post, except that I took it while we were outside yesterday. Dawn, until you get some warm weather, I'll share our spring with you:

I can't wait to see your crocuses when they bloom.
And a garden note....
Look at this urban farm: Urban Homestead, Little Homestead in the City: Journal of a Self-Sufficient Urban Life

They call themselves eco-pioneers. They've got ducks, goats, chickens, and a beautiful garden on a fifth of an acre in Pasadena, California. Check it out!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Spinning Color Wheels

Spinning Color Wheels

You Need:
Posterboard or light cardboard
A pencil and a ruler
A sharp point to poke a hole in the cardboard (The pencil will do in a pinch.)
A straw and a craft brad OR string OR a pushpin and a wooden dowel, optional
(Shirts also optional if you're at home and it's sunny out.)

Trace a circle onto your posterboard or cardboard. Using your ruler divide your circle evenly into sections (this makes a fun mini math lesson!) like the picture shown above, or like this:
For one side of your circle, choose two primary colors, or two complementary colors (colors opposite one another on the color wheel), and color the sections of your circle alternating colors. On the other side of your wheel, color the sections using colors of your choice.

Once your circle is colored, poke a small hole through the very center. Use the hole to poke your craft brad, push pin, or string through your circle.

Craft brad and straw: Poke a small hole into the straw, insert the pointed end of the brad that's already sticking through the circle, and widen the ends of the brad so that it won't slip back through the straw. Spin the wheel!
Push pin and dowel: Poke the end of the pushpin through the center of the circle into the dowel. Make sure it's pushed in firmly so that it won't fall off. Spin the wheel!
String: Thread the string through the center of the circle. Holding both ends of the string (one end in each hand), swing the circle around and around, twisting the string. Pull the string tight and watch your wheel spin!
Or....just spin your wheel!

What happens if you use two primary colors? What happens when you use complementary colors?

Why does it work?
Color and Spinning Wheels at Newton BBS Ask a Scientist.

This is a simple project, and lots of fun! We used this lesson plan: Spinning Color Wheels from It calls for using string through the center of the circle. We used several kinds of string and yarn, and attempted to fasten our circles to the string in various ways, but we could not get our circles to wind tightly enough on the string. They just flopped around and refused to spin. It wasn't time wasted. We found all kinds of techniques and materials that just won't work. Next we experimented a little with methods we've used in the past for other projects: A straw with a craft brad was just the ticket for preschool gent, kindergarten gent used a push pin and a wooden dowel, and their older brother cut straight to the chase, deciding to forgo the spinners altogether and spinning his circle on the floor instead.

Check this out! Color Matters--Amazing Science of Colors. Chockful of information, experiments and color facts, including Color Matters for Kids.

More science, art and vision fun for adults: Here's a fascinating web exhibit entitled Color Vision and Art: Vision Science and the Emergence of Modern Art.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Read this book: Hot, Flat and Crowded

Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America, Thomas L. Friedman.

"What kind of America would you like to see--an America that is addicted to oil and thereby fueling the worst autocracies in the world, or a green America that is building scalable alternatives to crude oil and thereby freeing ourselves from the grip of countries who have drawn a bull's-eye on our back and whose values we oppose?

What kind of America would you like to see--and America that is steadily outsourcing more and more blue-collar, labor-intensive manufacturing jobs to China, or a green America that is building more knowledge-intensive green-collar technology jobs...which are more difficult to outsource and will have to be the industry of the future, as fossil-fuel energy supplies dwindle and world population grows?

...a green America where the U. S. goverment imposes steadily higher efficiency standards, forcing a constant flow of new thinking around materials, power systems, and energy software making us the most energy-productive country in the world?

...a green America where inventing a source of abundant, clean, reliable, cheap electrons, which could enable the whole planet to grow in a way that doesn't destroy its remaining natural habitats, becomes the goal of this generation...

...a green America that is seen as the country most committed--by example--to preserving our environment and the species that inhabit it, earning the world's respect?"
(from Chapter One, "Where Birds Don't Fly," p. 23-24)

Everyone should read this book.

Make no mistake, it's hardly a light feel-good read. It's depressing and challenging. But whether you agree with Friedman wholeheartedly or not, he's right about one thing: We are rapidly outgrowing our available resources. Something has to change, and now, or humanity's ability to survive on this planet will be compromised. And our country has a choice: America can lead the way or we can get left in the dust.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

From the Hult Center website:

Soaring in the Soreng

Location: Soreng Theater

Presented by Bridgeway House

At the Hult Center, hopes and dreams take flight as children and young adults affected by autism perform in this original showcase of many talents. Crafted by the performers, Soaring in the Soreng offers a limitless horizon of perspectives on having wings and taking flight.
Each uniquely talented performer showcases an ability to rise above the personal and societal obstacles with which they are presented each day. Bridgeway House offers each performer support in finding their own way of soaring as they demonstrate that 'the sky's the limit!'

Sat, April 25, 2009 - 1:00pm

Lovely lady will participate in this Bridgeway House Theater event. Read about her previous performances here: Theater

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Sling

I cleaned out my hallway storage chest today. It's a quick seasonal job, doesn't take long.

I ran across my baby sling. I really need to move the darn thing, because I run across it twice a year, and I always think the same thing: "I should give this away to a new mom, someone who really needs it."

Except then, as I hold it in my hands, I am flooded with this:

Babies. I miss the way they smell and the way they sound and the way they smile. I miss walking with baby cuddled close to my body, snug and warm. I miss shopping with a baby slung to my chest and little ones holding my hands. I miss round heads and little fingers. Chubby knees, fat feet, tiny ears. Soft bellies, big watchful eyes, round cheeks.

I miss my babies. When I wasn't paying attention, they grew long legs and cheekbones and big boy voices. Why do they have to go and do that?

I cried a little and put the sling back in the chest. That little piece of fabric is still carrying my babies.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


It's been perfect weather for the backyard gardener. Rain in the evening, clearing throughout the day, sunny and cool, or even almost warm, in the afternoon when it's finally time to get out into the garden. I've been gradually preparing the garden for spring planting. This week, I tidied the raspberries: Pruned, thinned, weeded, mulched. The photo was taken about halfway through the process. Here's a clear, concise, step-by-step article on how to prune rapsberries: Time to Tame the Raspberry Jungle.

Three days ago, I was digging up and whacking away at bare sticks. Today many of the larger canes had tight reddish buds with green leaf tips peeking through. Spring has sprung.

Wordless Wednesday: Spring(ish)

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Color Study:Shades

You Need:
White paper (we folded our papers in half lengthwise to create narrow strips)
White paint, black paint and one other paint color of your choice
Paint tray, old yogurt cups or lids, or something similar for paint mixing
A rag or two in case of spills

Prepare your area by setting down newspapers, setting out your materials, and choosing your paint colors and brushes.

Read Color(Step-By-Step Science) by Robert Snedden and Sabrina Crewe. This is the best kids' book on the science of color that we've found so far. It's got thorough and colorful explanations of different aspects of color, and several color-related activities and experiments, including step-by step directions for making a shade chart.

Squirt two big squirts of your chosen color paint onto your mixing tray.

In the middle of your paper, paint a stripe of your chosen color.

Squeeze a drop or two of white paint into one of your squirts of color, and mix thoroughly. What happens to your color? Paint a stripe of that color onto your paper, to the left of your original color. Mix in a few more drops of white paint. Paint another stripe to the left. Continue mixing in a few more drops of white and painting new stripes until you reach the left edge of your paper.

Now try the same thing in the other squirt of your original color, this time with the black paint. Be careful to start with only one drop of black! Black can quickly overpower your original color, so it's better to start with one drop each time, then add another if you need to. Paint a stripe of that color onto your paper, this time to the right of your original color. Continue mixing in a drop or two of black and painting new stripes of color until you reach the right edge of your paper.

Set aside your shade chart to dry. Try another color! Or make another shade chart by mixing your color with its complementary color (the color opposite your color on the color wheel) instead of using black or white. What happens? What happens if you mix your color with a color adjacent to it on the color wheel?
Color Wheel and Color Mixing at Enchanted Learning

Lesson Plan: Tints, Tones and Shades

Memory Poem

All Things Bright and Beautiful
~Cecil Frances Alexander

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

Each little flower that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colors,
He made their tiny wings.

The purple-headed mountain,
The river running by,
The sunset, and the morning,
That brightens up the sky;

The cold wind in the winter,
The pleasant summer sun,
The ripe fruits in the garden,
He made them every one.

He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell,
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.

Printable version of All Things Bright and Beautiful at Classic Children's Poetry

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Sun Bread

Sun Bread, Elisa Kleven.

Sun Bread is a lovely story about a baker who tempts the sun back to her cold and dreary village by baking a delicious warm loaf of bread shaped like the sun. It's a charming story, and Kleven's illustrations make the book a delight to read. A sun bread recipe is included at the end of the book, making story time transition naturally and delightfully into the kitchen, especially on a dreary winter day.

Every once in a while, the fine young gents just fall in love with a book. Elisa Kleven is one of our favorite author-illustrators, ever since we chanced upon The Lion and the Little Red Bird. As a matter of fact, I was looking for The Lion and the Little Red Bird as a fun accompaniment to our color studies. It wasn't on the library shelf, nor was another Poohsticks favorite, The Paper Princess. (Poohsticks review of both The Lion and the Little Red Bird and The Paper Princess here.) But Sun Bread was on the shelf, so I checked it out instead. The fine young gents have been reading and re-reading it ever since.

Today I found Sun Bread at Robert's Bookshop, so I bought it. The gents were delighted when I walked in the door with an armful of books, and even more delighted to find a special favorite to keep on our shelves.

Read more about Elisa Kleven, her picture books, and her art at her lovely website: There's even a link to a delicious recipe for sun bread!