Camping, Friends, and Up North.

power outage

Neighborhood power outage on a hot day brought all the kids over. They all played games and had snacks until the power kicked back on.

4th july

July 4th backyard fireworks.

5 kids in tree

Climbing trees with pals.

com garden

Our backyard community garden. All the kids helped weed and plant and learned about worms and composting and some wild edibles.

neighbor treasure hunt

Neighborhood nature treasure-hunt.

parachute

Always fun to bring out the parachute!

Summer has been busy with many neighbor friends hanging out with us. The kids have been playing nearly every day with groups of friends. It’s become very normal to have a house full and yard full of children of different ages playing music, dancing, playing games, reading, drawing and arts and crafts, projects, video games, and playing outside. It’s going to seem very quiet here when the neighbor kids return to school. We will get to return to our homeschool group meet-ups, classes, and activities for the year. I think we can be sure that the kids had a blast this summer!
We have also gone on several camping trips this spring and summer. Ava went camping with her grandparents while the snow was still on the ground and stayed in a camper cabin, hiked, and roasted marshmallows and visited the campground nature center.
I brought the kids and two of their friends tent camping for the first time. They learned how to build a campfire, had lots of beach time, and worked on the campground activity sets the campground let us borrow. The horseflies were terrible but other than that it was a great trip.
We also went up to a cabin we rent for a week way up north. There is so much valuable family time and learning opportunities. It’s fantastic for the kids. Swimming, visiting the wolf center, kayaked (Ava recently got her very own kayak!), used the rowboat, found a caterpillar we brought back which is in a cocoon right now, fed chipmunks, roasted marshmallows, used the telescope to see the stars and so much more. My parents camp across the lake during part of the week, so my dad and I brought the kids to the Soudan underground mine where we rode an elevator 1/2 mile underground and toured the dark cold mine on it’s very lowest level (level 27). It was a really interesting tour.
And recently went on a group camping trip with relatives and friends. Ava went on a 2 hour kayak trip in her own kayak with the group down the river. We sat around the campfire and roasted marshmallows, played in the water, they played with little cousins, and listened to their cousin play guitar and sing for everyone. It was a hot humid weekend for it but they still loved sleeping out in the tent again.

The kids also love spending time at both sets of grandparents. We are so lucky they have such wonderful grandparents who love to spend time with them. They get so many special memories from all the special time they get to share with both John’s parents and mine. We are so grateful the kids feel so much love and feel so special to so many people. Family and friends and the quality time they spend with them are extremely important to the kids and to John and I.

That’s a few of the highlights from the busy summer. Looking forward to beginning the fall season soon!

ava's first twins game

Ava attended her first Minnesota Twins game with her dad. It was a great night to be in the new open stadium.

mine voice

Noah in the underground mine. “Mom, why is my voice so quiet down here? I can’t talk loud!”

morning at lake

Early morning by a lake listening to the loons.

kids in tent

Playing games before falling asleep in the tent.

noah frog pines roasting marshm starting campfire suvanna three girls3 kids in cabin ami drawing glow ava kayak kids n john cabin mine mine2 noah kayak rowboat telescope fenske three kids table winter camping ava mom

The Walker, U of MN, and Freezing Weather

snowman

I’m trying to pick up on documenting again! I was amused noticing how my documentation in my book for September through November months is so detailed, then come the holidays things get busy and I lag off, then when Spring comes near I realize I want something to show for all the amazing learning the kids have been up to! So, here’s some catch-up:
I brought Ava to the U of MN for the afternoon this fall, simply to have a little tour and ride the buses. We had such a nice day together! Of course, she loved the bus rides. She also loved the art gallery, walking over the river on the walking bridge, she got a kick out of a tree that everyone throws shoes in, and thought the chemistry labs were really cool, too. I was hoping we could find someone to bring us in the labs but she only got to look through the windows. Maybe next time. She loves science. U art gallery, ava u bus ava u cow and ava U snoopy n Ava
Fall was full as usual, and always a favorite for us. Apple orchard and scarecrow festival, pumpkin patch, our homeschool group Halloween Party, a Halloween festival at the nature center, a Halloween party with our vegetarian family group, and of course, Trick-or-Treating.fam hay ride Before it got to cold, I brought the kids to the Walker Art Center to finally get to see that giant cherry on a spoon they’ve always wanted to see up close. They were interested in a lot of the structures in the sculpture garden and loved the green house area with all the different plants and flowers. Oddly, the brochure with a map of the exhibits was a huge hit with them. They were so excited opening it all up and seeing where they had walked and which ones they had seen and where we should go next. And the bridge over the busy traffic was pretty cool, too. They waved at the traffic and people honked at them. They were thrilled.spooncherry 11-24-12 112412

The kids came with me to vote this fall, as well. All three came into the booth and were part of the process. They were all three actually really interested. Their little noses were just a few inches from the pencil as they watched me mark the ballot. I’m glad I brought them all with.

We also attended a really REALLY big potluck for the Turkey-Free Thanksgiving this year. It was incredible! And ALL vegan! The kids’ eyes nearly popped out of their heads. The desert table alone had about 15-20 dishes. The main dish table was three or four long tables pushed together and packed full of different entrees. Amazing! They also had kids crafts and a stage all the kids had fun playing on with their friends.

When it started getting cold and the ice came around, we used some food coloring to make some really pretty ice colors outside. Also we froze some colored water in water balloons for some cool colored spheres for the sidewalk. On one of the coldest days, we put out different water solutions to see which freeze first. After learning that the salt solution doesn’t freeze easy and actually melts ice, Noah went out to salt the sidewalks so they wouldn’t get to icy.fzn waterballoon 10-31-12 freezing

One of my favorite places to bring the kids is the Science Museum. I’m just love watching how curious they are and how independently they find information. We went to the King Tut exhibit, which of course, included mummies, Ava’s long-time obsession. We had watched a documentary all about King Tut before we went. While I walked around with the younger kids, Ava took it upon herself to go in and talk with the “Pharoah” who was there to talk about the mummy. While everyone else passed through, Ava stayed in the room asking amazing (and difficult!) questions. When I see her so interested in something like this, I forget she’s seven. I’m blown away by her questions and the way she talks. After a while, the Pharoah led her and a few others over to another mummy case to learn more. The staff there is always incredibly patient and talks directly to the kids, very seriously, answering their questions and not rushing them. The amount of information she gets from them must be enormous with how intensely interested she is. She just soaks it up.

So, now, 2013…
When I looked back at my last entry, I realized Noah has only been writing, really writing, for a few months. His improvement has been really incredible. All on his own. He’s went from barely able to write a recognizable letter this fall to writing very legible words. He’s loving it. And I’m loving how it just happens! As I mentioned in the last blog post, he wasn’t into writing, or into writing his name yet, and that was okay. And, as expected (though, faster than I expected!) he now writes everything. He writes his name proudly on his art and writes his favorite words, asking me how to spell words and practicing the ones he doesn’t know until he does. And he’s so giggly and excited doing it.fossil digging

Amora has also been busy writing her letters and can write her name, practices writing our names, and types her name and phone number on the computer. Pretty great for three!

The latest craze was the Eagle Cam that was watching a pair of local Eagles who laid their eggs (too) early this year. The kids checked on them a few times a day, watching the poor eagles sitting on their three eggs, covered over with snow in the snowstorm, only to find out a few weeks later they wouldn’t hatch. Sad reality but very interesting to see these birds up close and taking turns sitting on the eggs and bringing back food.

Other interests the kids have been up to:
Ava: Ava got an interactive globe for a gift and sits in her room and plays on it for an hour or so now and again. She now knows all the continents (in three languages! haha) and many countries of the world. She also learned to crochet this winter so decided she is starting a business called Cat Natural to sell a crocheted cat toy she makes. She also has been using her little loom to make potholders for family, and is making beaded jewelry as well. She’s been loving to play Yahtzee which is so great for math skills. I watched how she, without being shown how, added sixes together by counting by fives and adding on the extra ones without a second thought, and was a bit giddy. Those little things are so cool.  2-1-13
I also recently set her up with her own email account so she can email friends and family. It’s been great for her spelling and reading and sentence making. She does much on her own but asks me when she can’t spell a word. I’ve noticed how fast she’s learning to spell more words just by using them so often in her emails. All three of the kids have been playing a new video game called Little Big Planet from their Grandpa. She came up the other day so excited that the person she was playing with (you can play others) understood what she was typing to them.
n ice pancakeNoah: He’s all about Physics Games online, organizing things in his room and then reorganizing. Loves boxes and containers. He loves sorting, building and pretends all day with his little sister, playing Spiderman and other action figures and has an imagination that just takes off. He’s great at story-telling when he wants to be. We play a game at night where I give the kids three completely unrelated words and they have to put together a story to connect them. He also will take off in imagination if you ask him about how he’s going to create something and how it will work. He has an amazing mind. His other favorites right now are sharks, spiders, painting pictures of bugs, and is just getting into Minecraft. He loves learning about how things work. You literally cannot pull him away from something he’s trying to figure out. And he’s really good at figuring that stuff out. His mind already does things mine doesn’t do. He’s just got this physics and mechanics thing going.004
Amora: Amora is all about Spiderman, Firestar, and the Avengers right now. She shares Noah’s imagination and they play together for hours. Her other favorites right now are Play-doh, and board games like Busy Town Mysteries and she’s trying to learn Checkers. She loves computer games now too. She plays on ABC Mouse and Starfall online a lot. She loves music as Ava always has. One of her favorite daily activities is putting on the letter songs from ABC Mouse, cranking the speakers, and dancing and singing loudly to them in the living room.
And over the fall/winter months, we caught a few plays as well. We saw Cat in the Hat and The Grinch at the Children’s Theater, and Elf at the Ordway. Lots of laughs and it’s always a special activity to go to a play together. We’re all looking forward to the warmer months now. We have some camping trips planned and the kids can’t wait to ride their bikes and scooters and skateboards again!2-3-13 2-21 12-6-12 12113 ava hay elkriv t or t 2012 NYE 12,13 all kids and john xmaskids12

Starting Up Fall with Science, Writing, and Painting!

We started off the “official” school year with a “Not Back To School” PJ day at the park with other homeschool pals. Then went out for some raw vegan ice cream at Ecopolitan, one of our favorite restaurants. There’s an open view into the kitchen and the kids love watching the staff make the ice cream and usually inundate them with questions while they work.
Ava took a nature photography class for a few weeks which was right up her alley. They learned about the digital camera and went on hikes each day to take pictures. At the end of the course, the kids brought home a pop-up picture displaying the pictures they took as well as some buttons with their favorite bug shots! On the last day of class, Ava wanted to show us the trails she hiked on and we came to a fort-building area where the kids worked on forts for a while with some other homeschoolers. I love watching the kids work when adults stay back and they do their thing! I cringed as I heard one of the older kids yell “timber!” and push over a tall heavy wooden piece three times their size leaned up on a tree. But of course, they had first planned a safe area and made everyone move back away before it. They then measured the board/log with their feet to see if it would fit across some other structures near-by. Then they all worked together to carry it over and test it out.

Ava and Noah ran a kids run during one of my 5K events. Ava did the half mile and Noah did the quarter mile. Amora ran the finish stretch with Ava so she got a medal as well. They did great and were so proud of themselves! During the event they also got to climb a climbing wall and press apples for apple juice.

Noah has started writing and drawing more. While this was something his big sister was always so in to, Noah hadn’t had a lot of interest in it. He wouldn’t even allow me to show him how to hold a pencil. So, I left it up to him. He drew his first real picture a few weeks ago. It’s of him and me. I treasure it! He also has started writing letters. It’s so interesting to me because with Ava I made such an effort to show her each letter and she’d draw it over and over. She enjoyed it and I was still sure that was the only way they learn to write. Noah, has had no such instruction. He hasn’t wanted it and hasn’t been interested in it. Though he does enjoy computer games and the Leap Frog videos which introduce him to the letters, and has liked an occasional worksheet to do on his own. Yet, he asked me how to spell a word recently and as I said the letters, he drew them! And well! I didn’t even realize he already knew what they all were in his head let alone be able to transfer it onto paper so easily. But yes, they learn! They learn without us. Without us forcing them, without us teaching them, without us having them write over and over on paper. They do it because they want to do it. Because they see others around them doing it. Because it’s a natural part of their environment and they want in on it too! I adore learning this as we continue homeschooling. Wow! It’s just so different from what most would have us believe about kids.
In the same way, Noah doesn’t write his name yet. He’s five, and if he were in kindergarten he’d be pushed to do this on a daily basis, which, knowing our son, would frustrate him immensely. He might even be considered failing if he didn’t write his name by a certain age. But he’s simply not interested in it at this time. He refuses to have me write his name on paintings and projects he makes, he thinks it looks “stupid.”  So he likes to do things like take apart an old VCR, or experiment with water, and is into organizing things into his own special “keeping boxes.” That’s awesome! I love watching him work. And I’m not worried that he doesn’t want to write his name. When he’s seven or so, he’ll certainly be able to do so without even thinking about it. Or even if it’s later than that, he will learn it. He will learn it when it makes sense for him to do so.

Science has been a fun subject around here lately. Though, I don’t really find it necessary to separate life learning into subjects, the kids LOVE when we do science experiments and visit the science museum. Our recent visit to the science muesum was so wonderful. Noah’s main reason for going is always the dinosaurs. And this time, was no exception. All the way there he asked about the dinosaur exhibits and confirmed, “this is the museum with the dinosaurs, right???” However, he and Ava got so caught up in a wind catching tunnel that he really didn’t have any interest in the dinos this time. They each got to design a wind catching object using a paper cup and other materials, then test it in the wind tunnel to see if it would catch the updraft up to the top. They spent so much time there and then began teaching other kids that got there how to make the best wind catcher.  Amora worked on a little wind turbine. And not just played at it, but really worked at it! She tried over and over to get the blades at the right places and angles to catch the wind from the fan.
We also watched Tornado Alley at the Omnitheatre which the kids thought was pretty awesome, and saw the actual vehicle featured in it on display. Later, we went up to see the real, live, (well, dead) mummy. Ava chatted with the woman staffing the exhibit asking questions about it (and some other life/death questions the staff member handled with grace). As she was busy I went to see what Noah was up to and found him talking all about the bones and artifacts with a man who was chaperoning a group of older children. For a while there I wasn’t sure what to do with myself! So Amora and I put together a puzzle while the kids were learning from the resources they had found.
Also this month, we went to homeschool days at the aquarium, a fall festival with scarecrows, a wagon ride, and apples, and we broke out a science kit with the neighbor kids and learned about test tubes, pipets, and combining colors and trying (unsuccessfully, of course) to mix oil and water.  Ava got her own lap top computer for in her room. She spends so much time in there now working on games, listening to music, and typing/drawing. Also, she continues with gymnastics and art classes and Noah had an insect class that he absolutely loved, at a local nature center.

Our Summer 2012 In Pictures

I paused in the blogging and documenting over the summer, but of course, learning is an ongoing thing. So instead of writing a bunch about our wonderful adventures during our week up in Ely, camping in Itasca, and all the rest of the fun learning opportunities during all the gardening, biking, beaches, nature centers, libraries, classes, gymnastics, art, writing, experimenting, etc. etc. etc….I figured I’d just show a small selection of our busy summer in photos:

End Of The Year Fun

The kids had their end-of-the-year celebration at an indoor games/sport center with their grandparents recently. They did bumper cars, jump houses, arcade games and got to play laser tag for the first time! The end of the official school year is always exciting despite the fact that not a lot will change as far as learning goes at our house. Learning is always happening. The summer calendar is already quite full of gymnastics classes and camps, art camps, community ed classes, library days and events, camping, roller rink days, and playing with friends. And that’s just the scheduled stuff. We are always looking for more ways to learn and have fun. There are so many resources around us that are throughout the summer months. Whether it’s out in the community, up north, or our own back yard, the world is full of wonder and learning opportunities if you look for them.

While looking up the Bell Museum of Natural History online, I saw that they were doing a big nature survey off campus. My mom and I brought the kids, unsure of what to expect. It turned out to be a really neat experience for them! While out searching, we saw bird’s eggs in a nest, snake’s skin, and caught bugs with one of the researchers from the U of MN. She was so patient with the kids and her enthusiasm for catching and identifying insects showed. She showed them how rolled up leaves often have someone hiding inside them, how to carefully catch insects in the net, and where to look for them. There was also a planetarium dome set up inside where the kids got to view a presentation on constellations and stars.

The next day, we went up to my grandpa’s house with the family and saw deer, made homemade ice cream (we made a vegan version for us!), roasted marshmallows and veggie dogs, and spent the night at our Aunt and Uncle’s big bunk-bed room in their cabin, which the kids thought was pretty awesome!

Snake skin!

Nest of eggs.

Ava counting a selection of plants with a staff-member.

April-May Fun

Okay, back on. I’m switching bloggers due to technical difficulties.

Last month Ava started gymnastics which she is loving and improving fast on. I love watching her realize how practicing during the week makes a big difference in how well she does in class! She started out hating to do the splits and cartwheels because she couldn’t do either. Now she does them both all the time, showing off to relatives and practicing. She’s getting really good at climbing the big rope in the gym too! She made it over half way to the top last time and was so proud of how high she got.

Jumping in the foam pit.

Also this month, we went to a vegan egg hunt put on by the Vegkins group. The kids had so much fun searching for easter eggs and they won two sets of chocolate bunny ears and some block puzzles made from recycled greeting cards. There was also a vegan bake sale going on at Ethique Nouveau that I made some muffins for and we bought some AMAZING homemade vegan treats after the egg hunt! Then the kids spent the rest of the time at the park playing with their pals.

This month at our homeschool group the kids made May baskets for the first time. When we got home, Ava made several more and delivered them to all the neighbors doors. We are lucky to have so many wonderful neighbors surrounding us. The kids love to visit them all, many of them are grandparents and are so patient and kind to the kids. The kids love to bring them arts and crafts they make, extra veggies from the garden, and help with yard work.  They help pick up sticks, sweep driveways, and rake for them and help water outside plants while they’re away.  Sometimes they are even rewarded with a dollar or stuffed animal for their efforts. Also they’ve been given seedings for the garden for them to take care of and transplant. One of the neighbors has nesting robins near their deck so the three of them got to go over and watch the babies learning to fly!

Ava with her friend, Gerald. One of our many wonderful neighbors.

Another neighbor who often comes across to give them treats, brought Ava a plastic ring he had got that resembled the one Princess Diana had worn. This started an interest in learning more about Lady Diana. Ava wanted to look her up online and see her wearing the ring. We got a book all about her also and Ava showed her ring at Show and Share with our group which started a conversation about her too. I love it when something naturally sparks their curiosity like that…that’s how real learning happens! I love to be a part of it and watch it in action; watch their little faces light up with excitement while learning about new people and places and ideas.

We visited a fire station last week for a children’s tour through Homeschool Adventures. Needless to say, it was a hit with the kids. We’ve been to several different fire station tours and open houses now and each one is so different and the kids get to see and do different things at each. This time they got to try on the firefighter gear for the first time and got to have their EKG/ECG done in the ambulance. And of course, they got to sit in the fire trucks which is always cool.  At other tours they’ve got to squirt a real fire hose (with help from the firefighter!) and watch a real (controlled) car fire. There’s always something new and cool to learn about at these kind of things.

All three have been helping me get the garden going this spring again. They’ve been a big help weeding and planting seeds. Gardening with kids means things won’t likely come up in nice neat rows, but the importance of learning to grow one’s own food is immensely important. I’m learning right along with them as this will be only our third year having our little garden! The kids have become pretty good at what they do. My mom recently had surgery and wasn’t up for weeding her gardens out so Ava went over for the day to help her weed and do other yard chores. Plus, Ava got some time to play her favorite game, Wildcraft, with her grandma and read books to her and decorate greeting cards.

I love all the time the kids get to spend with their grandparents on both sides. It’s so great they get to play games, do crafts, and help with cleaning and yard stuff with them. They absolutely love to go visit all of them.
The this week while hanging out at their other grandparents’ house they got to see a duck with ten ducklings who has nested next door. They were ecstatic about this and talked about it forever. It’ll be cool to see them next time the kids go to grandma and grandpa’s to see how much bigger the ducklings have gotten and if they’re trying to fly.

Also, a couple of weeks ago, the kids painted bird houses with them which turned out really cute!

Last weekend, we took the kids to a big local art fest called Art-A-Whirl. There were some really cool things the kids enjoyed too. We went through a retro room where we got show them the stuff we remember from the ’80s, when we were their age. Many of the stuff was well before our time too. There were 8-track tapes, those giant music centers with radio and record player, and old toys like lite-bright and really really old match-box cars. Then inside another old four-story building, each room had a different artist’s work, so the kids were getting so excited going in room after room and seeing the different artwork. Some they were interested in, some they weren’t. But it was really neat to watch them in there!
After the art show, we made an attempt to try to see the partial solar eclipse that evening. We drove up on an empty parking ramp and squinted a lot, but since we didn’t prepare by bringing along any viewers or dark enough shades, we couldn’t really tell.  However, it was still exciting to run around up there anyways and talk about what was happening. Plus, the kids got to watch a train go down the track below them and they thought that was way cooler than looking at the sun. Haha!

Play, Museum, and Hike

Since I’m so behind on my blogging, I’m doing two in a row. So this is the second part.

We went with the Vegkins group to In The Heart Of The Beast theater in Minneapolis for a kids production. The performances are all hand made puppets and paper mache, this one was a glowing play called “Gnip Gnopera”. Then afterwards, the kids got to go up on stage to see the puppets and set up close.

The weekend before, we visited the Children’s Museum and their Grossology exhibit which the kids thought was pretty great.

All about molding! This machine molded and made a plastic spoon!

Grossology…a big burping guy.

Ava climbing a gross skin wall.

Yep! A giant Operation game!

We headed out for a Spring event at a nature center last weekend with friends. It was rain or shine…of course, it was raining. The kids look forward to this all year though so we had to go, plus I bought advanced tickets! It was still lots of fun and the kids didn’t mind getting wet. Ava got to see her favorite characters from the movie Tangled plus many other characters and got lots of candy along the way.

We then headed over to Lake Maria for a dryer afternoon for my dad’s birthday. They set up an egg hunt for the kids and we went on a big hike!

The kids have been getting to go to John’s mom and dad’s once a week while I get some cleaning done. They have so much fun hanging out with their grandparents and get to do fun activities there too. A win for all! One of their favorites was making red light/green light/yellow light signs. They still use them at home outside on their bikes. They also love having fun with Grandma, trying to beat Grandpa on video games, and helping to take care of their bird, Sam.