Wonderful Wednesday – Ornithology

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Growing up, I was never interested in ornithology. Honestly, I am still not that interested in it. I would have gotten more into it if it had not been for this one homeschooled kid who bragged about being an ornithologist.

Cardinal eggs in nest

Cardinal eggs in a nest by our house

I was a college student and he was still in high school. Somehow we were in the same place at the same time one day. He mentioned to me and a few others that he was an ornithologist. It was not a field that I particularly cared for, so I just sort of nodded politely. Continue reading »

He thought I did not understand the word, so he explained in a patronizing tone, “That means I am a bird watcher.” I almost said, “Hey, I knew what you meant! We say ‘ornitolog’ and ‘ornitologie’ in Romanian. It’s a Romance language and most Latin-based words in English are very closely related to what we say…”

But I figured he was too smug to listen to me at that point. Plus I make it a point to be humble especially when other people are not. Anyway, we all have days when we are not exactly at our most beautiful self, so I decided to not be less-than-beautiful back.

Female cardinal sitting on eggs in nest

Female cardinal sitting on eggs in a nest by our home

However, that distasteful episode sat with me for years. When I had my own children and the thought of homeschooling started creeping in, this young man with his ornithological pride and smugness came to mind and I thought, “There’s no way! I do not want my kids to end up like that! Watching birds and proud of it to the teeth! As if we got nothing better to do…”

God worked with me for two years and I finally relented, agreed to homeschool and the rest is history. Bird watching is something we do now and then, as we drive, hike, or look out the window at our house. We have not taken any trips specifically to bird watch. There is a birding park about 50 minutes from our house and I plan to go there one day, but I don’t have specific plans.

Bird nest

Bird nest at our house

Meanwhile, we watch the humming birds, blue jays, cardinals, robins, crows and different birds of prey flying around our house. This year, we spotted a family of cardinals making a nest (especially the female) and then we saw them with a little one, teaching him to fly or supervising his moves at least.

Crow on the ground

Crow in our yard

The female has started sitting on the eggs. When she flew away for a few minutes, I was able to take a picture of the three speckled eggs sitting in her nest. She is back at it again and we try not to bother her. It looks like we have 11-13 days of waiting before the eggs will hatch. I am having the kids keep a log so we can make it into a science learning experience.

After all, it’s right in our front yard. But I am not smug about it. There is a difference between sharing and bragging. I do not intend to brag about anything, especially not about ornithology.


When Pollen Stops Learning

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Where we live, flora abounds. We live five minutes from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, an international biosphere. They say there are more species of flowers blooming in the Park than in all of Europe combined. That’s a lot of pollen.

Skype violin lesson

My daughter plays a piece by heart for her violin teacher, via Skype.

We drink plenty of fluids and limit our desserts, to help the immune system fight all the pollen. When we feel a tingling sensation in our throats, we drink even more water and start taking Vitamin C and oregano oil (one drop mixed with a spoonful of extra virgin olive oil). When our eyes start getting itchy and watery, we even take over the counter allergy medicine to keep the symptoms from ruining our quality of life.  Continue reading »

All this to say, we are careful what we put into our bodies. We want to treat our bodies with respect and, by the way, this is part of anatomy and physiology for their age. How do you deal with sickness? How do you prevent it? How do you keep it at bay? If you will, when a homeschooled child gets sick, all the days could count as science. It is a practical, hands-on course in what they should do one day when their child or friend or spouse becomes ill.

We went on with allergy symptoms for about two weeks but there were no signs of infection. Until we had sore throats and a cough that would not go away. So I took them to the doctor. It was a lovely new clinic that opened up five minutes from our home and my daughter exclaimed as we left, “This was the best doctor’s visit I have ever had.”

Skype violin lesson

The teacher allowed them to do a lesson sitting.

There was no wait time – other than my having to fill out three pages on a clipboard. The lady was efficient and sent the prescription to our pharmacy online. We did not even have to carry a piece of paper to them. By the time we got to the pharmacy, the prescription was already in line to be filled out.

I have never had to cancel school for one whole week due to sickness. It was strange, but I think the kids loved it. They listened to Adventures in Odyssey a lot – we have about 45 CD sets. They have heard it all before, but it was about two years ago, so some of the material was a bit over their heads. Now they can experience it all over again from a different perspective.

The only activity I did not cancel was our Skype violin lessons. Our teacher is an internationally renowned concertmaster and it is hard to re-schedule. Besides, the kids were allowed to sit during the lessons and they actually did very well. They just had to take some breaks to blow their noses. But here’s my point: if they have enough energy to sit and program with Scratch, – which they asked to do while they were sick, – they have enough energy to hold the violin up and play a little for their teacher.

Even though I was ill too, I got a lot of things done around the house and I really should not have, to conserve my energy. By the third day, I had no energy but to stay in bed and read. So I read. I finished one book which I have dragged on and on for months, and a couple others which were due back to the library very soon. I hope to start school tomorrow, but we will see.


Ijams Nature Center

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In Knoxville, a rather large city, there are many places where you can experience nature in a surprising way. Ijams Nature Center is one of these places but it is one of the top places, as voted by local residents. We have wanted to go to this 304-acre urban greenspace for some time, but something always prevented us from actually making it over there.

Ijams Nature Center

Ijams Nature Center

Finally, a friend invited me over there. She has three daughters about my children’s ages and we all loaded up picnic food in the cars and went to visit after church. The place is free to visit, but there are paid activities inside. We just wanted to let the kids walk around and experience the nature. They have play areas made out of natural materials – branches, leaves, or wood. It’s called a playscape. Continue reading »

They have picnic tables everywhere. One could hike the trails, look at the animals they keep in there, the frogs in the pond, the birds flying all over etc. There is a boardwalk on the banks of the Tennessee River. They have a quarry and birding trails. One visit clearly cannot cover it all.

Boy and girl enjoying Ijams Nature Center

Playscape at Ijams Nature Center

And that’s the point. We want to go back there on a regular basis. It is so peaceful. Of course, the place can be rented for different events – weddings, birthdays etc. The scouts use it on a regular basis for their activities. It’s just a wonderful natural setting and lots of people visit, but never to an overwhelming degree.

They organize all sorts of programs for different groups and they also offer summer camps. There’s something for any nature enthusiast out there. If you are ever in the area, you should definitely consider visiting Ijams.


Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 15

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Chapter 15 dealt with three things, all of them happening in the New World. First, we looked at the Wampanoag’s war against the English colonists, also known as King Philip’s war. Such a mess! It is one thing to inspire the children with stories of brave explorers who sailed across unknown seas in search of a shorter route to India. It’s another thing altogether to talk about the aftermath of such explorations and colonization attempts.

But history must be taught, no matter how painful and sad it may have been. Since history repeats itself, we want to make sure that we learn what happened in the past so that we may not repeat others’ mistakes.

Boy and girl in camo

Having fun in camouflage outfits

The second story dealt with the French having trouble in New France, today’s Quebec. One trouble was the lack of women and the other was the attack of the Iroquois. Since we are vaguely making plans to visit Montreal and Quebec City one day, we made a mental note of Marie-Madeleine de Vercheres and her statue which we should definitely see. Continue reading »

King Louis XIV paid women to cross the ocean in order to live in New France, where they could meet lonely soldiers, settle down and have families together. Somebody should come up with a similar idea for the Chinese these days, but that is another history lesson for another time.

The third story was about William Penn’s holy experiment or the beginning of Pennsylvania. We talked about Quakers and I showed them the oat box – Quaker Oats – which has a man in his characteristic Quaker suit and hat on the label. We eat a lot of oatmeal for breakfast. The children are very familiar with that box. Now they know what the man represents.

My children are going through an army phase, so it was very easy to get them dressed in camo for this chapter’s project of blending in.


Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 14

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Chapter 14 covers the very interesting country of Prussia in early modern times. With my renewed interest in all things German, thanks to Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, who hailed from the small German principality of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, this chapter provided a lot of information we all received eagerly.

German flag

The flag of Germany today still reflects the colors of the old flag of Prussia.

I told the children about the three colors of the German flag, which can be found in the coloring page from Story of the World, on the Prussian emblem. With everything going on now in the European Union, reading about how these countries used to be really puts things in perspective. Continue reading »

I have friends and family who live in Germany and I feel very concerned for them. They have so many Muslims there, it is only a matter of time before a larger terrorist attack will happen in Germany. That is my sad, sad prediction.

For our project, we studied a bit of German. Now German is one language I have not attempted to introduce because I simply think we are doing enough languages. But I used to study German and I know a smattering of expressions, so I found it easy to follow Susan Wise Bauer’s list of German words.

If you don’t know how to pronounce German, never fear. She provides a pronunciation guide for each word. No excuses now. We found it fun because the children remembered how Mr. Weenie in Open Season used to say “Nein! Ja!” and eat yet another biscuit.

For a quick, funny example of the German accent in English, there is another scene where Mr. Weenie teaches a friend to say “I am wild” which sounds like “I am vild” in English. Mr. Weenie’s “I am vild” is – well – wild.

We talked about the national anthem of Germany which is the melody of the Christian hymn “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken.” The words were written by John Newton on a melody by Franz Joseph Haydn. This song is called Austria because it was originally the national anthem of Austria. We noticed how the colors of the modern-day German flag (red, yellow, and black) were used on the old Prussian flag.


National Gallery Library

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Did you know that the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. has a library and all of us may borrow books in the mail from there? I just got my first volume and we are enjoying it immensely.

An Eye For Art - a book we borrowed from the National Gallery of Art

An Eye For Art – we borrowed it from the National Gallery of Art

The process to sign up for this library is as easy as 1-2-3: (1) you create an account; (2) you choose the learning resource you want to borrow; (3) you click “request this resource” right there on its page.

There are no late fees and the borrowing times are generous. We just received our book and we do not have to return it until December. Yes, you read that right. Continue reading »

You can also ask for resources ahead of time, to have them staggered. The process is very intuitive as you work your way through the borrowing windows.

Many resources are available as downloadable images and PDFs. You will find that you may not need to borrow physical books that often, but, of course, it depends on your needs and your children’s ages and level of interest in art.

There are CDs to borrow, too, and DVDs with all sorts of art documentaries. One other resource I would recommend are the videos on the YouTube channel of the National Gallery. You will learn so much about the two buildings in D.C., who donated the land and the money, how and why it is not part of the Smithsonian Institution, and about the collections themselves.

Our family lives about eight hours away from the National Gallery. We have already visited the Smithsonian in D.C. and walked past the National Gallery, but, alas, we only had time for the Air and Space Museum and the Natural History Museum. The next time we visit D.C., which I hope is later this year, we will definitely have to go into the National Gallery.

There are collections we can view ahead of time on their website, so that the children may feel excited about seeing these masterpieces in person. Also, there are treasure hunts. These Family Guides which you can print at home or request when you get there will enhance your visit as you go from gallery to gallery.


Prince Albert, Homeschooling Dad

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After watching Victoria on PBS for a few weeks, I was very interested in learning more about Prince Albert, her husband. My local library carries The Uncrowned King: The Life of Prince Albert, the most comprehensive biography of Prince Albert, written by Stanley Weintraub. I read it after watching Weintraub’s lecture about the book on YouTube.

Uncrowned King: The Life of Prince Albert

The most comprehensive biography of Prince Albert – I learned a lot from it

Through it all, I learned that Prince Albert was a wonderful homeschooling dad to his nine children. Albert and Victoria enjoyed 17 years of a happy marriage until his unfortunate death at the relatively young age of 42. Prince Albert wrote about his children’s studies extensively in his diary, which makes him a blogging dad by modern standards. So what kind of education did he give his royal children? Continue reading »

We know that he taught some of the subjects and for others he hired private tutors. The children had their own garden plots at Osborne House, the royal family private residence on the Isle of Wight. They tended to their farm animals. They also took piano lessons, French, German, Latin, history and math. How to write and read English was taught as well, of course.

As they grew older, they learned to fish, shoot guns, and hunt with their father. The girls learned to embroider. Special attention was given to art: painting with watercolors and sketching, as well as art appreciation. The royal couple had an impressive art collection for the children to enjoy.

Prince Albert was a Chancellor at Cambridge University and brought about educational reform in that institution, based on the standards of German universities that he had attended or visited. Until his tenure, Cambridge did not teach science or any history after medieval times. As you might imagine, he had an uphill battle with the academics of his time, but he managed to improve the curriculum.

After the first World Fair, The Great Exhibition of 1851, which Prince Albert organized through multiple committees, he was able to use some of the money earned through tickets to buy land in South Kensington, in order to establish a series of museums and institutions of learning. Known today as “museum row,” that area of London continues to be one of the most visited places in the world.

The other part of the money was placed in interest-bearing accounts in banks. The interest earned by that money is used to this day to foster learning and support scientists and artists. Another Prince Consort handles those funds today: Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II’s husband. Several Nobel laureates and famous artists have benefited from the funds which can be traced down to Prince Albert and his Great Exhibition.

In those days, corporal punishment was part of the normal way of educating a child, so yes, he administered it. Other than that, we cannot find much fault with his homeschooling.


Standardized Testing

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Last week, my children took their annual standardized tests at our umbrella school in Knoxville. In Tennessee, one can sign up under the local school district, or with an umbrella school. Umbrella schools come in different shapes, forms and sizes. Some are remote places that will not require much of you in exchange for the piece of paper which shows that you are not truant.

Terra Nova 3 test prep materials

Test Prep books we used – our test is called Terra Nova 3.

Others are local brick-and-mortar schools with a homeschool umbrella program. As such, they will give your child a diploma when high school graduation comes around. The diploma will not even mention the word “homeschool,” which makes the umbrella school hold parents to a high standard. Many such local umbrella schools require annual testing.  Continue reading »

Our umbrella school, Berean Christian School in Knoxville, requires testing starting in second grade, with an optional test in first grade. I know people who are not registered officially to homeschool for fear that their children will be required to test. The conspiracy theories abound among such people. That their children will freeze and not score high or, on the contrary, do a great job, but the test providers will give them a bad score, which forces the parents to put them in public school etc.

I have made up my mind that I will not be truant. We live in a free world, governed by laws. As long as I follow the law of the land, I want to believe that nobody will come knocking on my door to ask for my children. I have documentation on hand which shows we are registered legally for homeschooling in the State of Tennessee.

And if testing shows my children do not score well, then I am the first one to put them in a different academic environment or the change what we are doing. But, as it turns out, my children score well. We will only know the results of these tests in April, I think. Judging from the previous two years, we should be fine this year, too.

This year, one of my children said the test was “very easy.” The other one had time to draw three pages of detailed comics during the test – they finished that much ahead of the allotted time. So I am not worried.

We like to cover a lot of material before the test even though it is not an end-of-year test. This is simply a preparation for the ACT or SAT – whichever we will decide to take once college plans must be made. It is also a tool for me to know if we are doing a good job or not. If we have gaps in our knowledge, we had better know about it, right?


Art Field Trips

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Now that the standardized test is behind us, we can have some fun with subjects like foreign languages and art, which I tend to de-emphasize in the months leading up to the test. We visited two art museums recently, to get our art juices flowing: Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg and the Knoxville Museum of Art.

Girl looking at digital art

My daughter looking at digital art, in Knoxville, at the Museum of Art

At Arrowmont, we caught the tail end of the juried exhibition from Sevier County residents. We live in a community full of talented artists. It was inspiring to see all the different pieces and media.  Continue reading »

Arrowmont displays their permanent collection and then temporary exhibitions. The museum is free and they also have a library filled with art books and magazines. On Wednesdays, volunteers come to cull through their collection and discard what is not needed anymore in the school. They fill up a bookshelf with giveaways or heavily discounted art books.

Boy and girl at Arrowmont

My children at Arrowmont

I picked up several free beautiful art books and a $1 large coffee table book on London. How would you like to travel to London for $1 and not worry about terrorism, flight inconveniences and jet lag? With such a book, one can.

The children enjoyed the art and got a lesson in art marketing. They were shocked at the prices of some of the pieces. The most expensive one was $16,000 and most of them were in the $300 range.

In Knoxville, the Museum of Art is also free. They have a Children’s Corner filled with art books for children, a Brite Lite wall, two art easels for drawing, and many craft opportunities. While their gift shop offers pricey items, I have also found some of their offerings to be the same price as Amazon or Walmart. If you are watching your budget, the gift shop is not a bad option for some of the art products they carry.

Girl at KMA Lite Brite Wall

My daughter at the Lite Brite Wall

Play sticks are available in the Children’s Corner

The permanent collection upstairs houses, among other things, Catherine Wiley’s beautiful Impressionist paintings – my favorite part of going to KMA. I discovered Catherine Wiley’s paintings of motherhood and women six years ago, when my children were in diapers. Wiley’s depiction of motherhood helped me transcend Pampers and Huggies.

One of the temporary exhibits is an interactive, digital art display on loan from the Thoma Foundation and the other one is a beautiful collection of abstract art by Jered Sprecher, a UT art professor. His “Respiro” and “Calling” spoke to me in a personal way. The first one reminded me of Ramazzotti’s “Respiro nel blu” and the latter reminded me of homeschooling, because I feel called to do it.

"Respiro" by Jered Sprecher

“Respiro” by Jered Sprecher, at KMA

"Calling" by Jered Sprecher, at KMA

“Calling” by Jered Sprecher, at KMA

Art museums, for me, represent these spaces where I get in touch with parts of myself I do not usually see or feel. I talk about “art therapy” and that is because I feel more complete or aware or healed when I come away from these places. On a more specific note, I think that we are still healing from the shock we suffered in November with the wildfires, so yes, we need some art therapy.

The children love everything about the visits: the art books, the art corner with its manipulatives, and the exhibits. At KMA, the Thorne Rooms offer a collection of miniatures that delight them. I enjoy looking at them as well and they came in handy, after all the history lessons we had recently. These dioramas show actual living rooms from medieval Spain or Victorian England or the American Frontier.


Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 13

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Chapter 13 was all about the Sun King of France, none other than Louis XIV. We made masks and talked about Versailles and the man in the iron mask. It was a bit of a crazy story to tell. Maybe I did not explain well, because they had a lot of questions about it.

Versailles Mask

Versailles Mask

A few years back, I watched the famous movie about it with Leonardo di Caprio but I remember some of the action was inappropriate for small children, so we will not be watching that any time soon. Maybe I can look up some books on the subject. Continue reading »

We talked about Versailles and I showed them pictures online. Of course, my daughter and I love the dresses the ladies wore back then. As we were admiring them, my son rolled his eyes. Typical boy, what can I say?

Scary Versailles Mask

Scary Versailles Mask

About the craft: we made these Versailles masks but I could not convince my daughter to accept that the tips go up. She wanted them to go down. Therefore, the mask covered her whole face. Also, if you did not want to do an elastic, you could just glue a popsicle stick to one side of it. Not all balls were fully masked and secretive.

Susan Wise Bauer mentions this as an option as well. They did not necessarily want to hide their identity. It was more of a fun thing to do – keep a mask in one hand and cover your face now and then, depending on the conversation.

The Sun King, of course, was quite a topic. I am not impressed with absolute monarchs and neither are my children. We discussed the divine right of kings – again. It’s important for them to understand why these people behaved this way. As soon as you invoke God’s permission for your actions, you need to tread carefully.