Fossils and Legos

We’ve been doing school through the summer for a few years now, so it’s nothing new to the kids when the sounds of warm weather reach us in our school room, windows open and light breeze beckoning us to bask in the sunshine with our read alouds.  By design our schedule is less packed in these summer months in order to leave plenty of room for popsicles and swimming. I’ll be counting the blessing of sticking with our work when I don’t have to do as much reading and math review with the littles come fall. I used to spend weeks regretting three summer months off when all phonics and math facts slipped out the door the minute the school year was over in May. Fortunately, as temperatures go up I find we’re actually less distracted by the heat when we have some good books or science activities to throw ourselves into.

This is our first year with Apologia’s middle school science curriculum. So far, Jaelah and Selah are about a third of the way through General Science, which is a great introduction to the scientific method. All I can say is that I absolutely love it. Yes, the textbook is about 2 inches thick, but that is because it is written to the student, and explanations are thorough with ample review throughout. We use the DVD that goes with the book, which is an excellent supplement with lectures and in-depth explanations on all the labs and experiments.

I’ll be honest. I have struggled with the commitment of science experiments. The kids always enjoy them but it can be difficult to gather supplies that are supposedly well-stocked at home only to realize you have to run out at the last minute to get a 2 liter of soda just so you can have the bottle for a volcano experiment. This kind of situation has happened several times, likely due to my lack of planning. I have never been able to get all my supplies just so in preparation for when the experiments were supposed to be completed, even when I bought the expensive science lab kits. However, things had to change this year because labs and experiments are absolutely critical in the upper levels of science. With this in mind, I geared up with materials and we have been able to complete every single experiment so far in the girls’ textbook. This has not been without some serious commitment and flexibility, but we have made it a priority.

One of the greatest “aha” moments I’ve had this year, which actually hasn’t been a moment at all but a slow progression of understanding, is how much I need to delegate to the girls to help them own their education. It’s not like the maturity level has completely changed overnight. I still have to set quite a few boundaries. But I am beginning to see the growth in the kids when they are given more freedom. Less of me giving out the expectations and more of them asking themselves what they need to be successful. So far, everything I can think of, from the girls’ first real research paper, to scheduling their own school curriculum, to doing their own science projects from start to finish has pushed them (and me) much farther than I would have thought possible. It’s incredible to see how much they understand when I take my hands off. In fact, I have begun purposefully using this kind of delegation in other areas of home and family life for all the children in an effort to help them understand how important personal responsibility is. I’ve been reading Debra Bell’s book Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling Teens to gear up for the highschool years and have found several great suggestions for responsibility-building.

I confess that I am not great at delegating. It’s hard for me to watch the kids struggle with something SO MUCH when I have the answer and could so quickly do it myself and get the struggle behind us. It’s also difficult for me to back off when I know there are consequences that the kids are too immature to understand but that will surely affect them if I don’t stay involved each step of their learning journey. It’s a delicate balance with the younger kids and how much freedom they can handle. The older girls are much better equipped at their ages to step into some of the privilege of being in charge of their own time. To say that this “new model” has seriously affected my perfectionism is an understatement. More than ever before, I am asking myself sincerely if I would rather have something done really well and quickly by doing it myself, or if I would rather spend extra time training and training and training again but creating a home and school management system that will practically run itself in a few years, not to mention pay dividends in the children’s own lives after they leave home. The writing has been on the wall for some time now. If I don’t effectively delegate and help the children take ownership of their lives and our family’s space, I am just asking for burnout.

With all this business of learning how to be a better delegator, the girls prepared a fun science experiment tonight for the whole family. We made “fossils” out of modeling clay and Plaster of Paris. We used some sea shells and a Lego man or two for the imprints in our casts. The littlest girls were the only ones who really needed my help, and even they probably could have done most of it on their own. I think I’m going to start to really enjoy seeing the growth around here.

By the way, how do you know when you have a passel of artsy girls doing a science experiment? When the selections of safety glasses colors actually affect the sense of success they have about their experiment. For real.













Lego man cast impression.




It’s a blubbery, blustery day…

…for science, that is. I somehow picked the coldest day of the year (so far) to do our whale blubber science experiment. The freezing weather fit right in with the theme of our day. The idea of the experiment was to re-create the Arctic-cold temperatures of water that whales regularly swim in. We then submerged our hands into the coldness with just a rubber glove (like a layer of skin) followed by a glove slathered in Vaseline and covered with an additional glove (like a whale’s blubber that is just under the outer layer of their skin). The results were hilarious. Petroleum jelly and children do not mix, by the way. And I had just run out of paper towels the morning of the experiment. Oh well. We timed how long we could keep our hands in the ice water with just one glove. I think Jaelah made it to 23 seconds, which was by far the longest. But then when we tried with the layer of “blubber” it didn’t seem as though we’d ever have to take our hands out of the frigid water. What a wonderful way to demonstrate to the kids God’s amazing care for His special marine creatures so that they can survive in such inhospitably-cold regions.

First brave soul to test the waters

First brave soul to test the waters

"WAY too cold, Mom!"

“WAY too cold, Mom!”

"It's not THAT bad."

“It’s not THAT bad.”

Don't know how I feel about this goopy stuff

Don’t know how I feel about this goopy stuff

Blubber makes me all warm and fuzzy

Blubber makes me all warm and fuzzy

Lost our glove, making the mess complete

Lost our glove, making the mess complete

I’ll be scrubbing my sinks for a week, but it was worth it!

Apologia Swimming Creatures Ocean Box

Words fails to express how excited the girls are for this year’s major science project. Swinging from the ceiling fans would be an understatement. Having used Apologia for all of our science thus far (this is our third year with them) we have never done a project of this magnitude and duration. We are going to be creating an ocean box (diorama) that features clay creatures from each unit we study for the next 26 weeks. Not only will this help us remember details we’ve studied, but it gives the girls a very much-needed creative outlet. They will know that even if we don’t get around to doing lots of art projects in a given week, they will still get to make a marine creature and stick it in their ocean boxes.

Just last week, we spent the evening covering some old diaper boxes with blue paper to create a background of ocean personality. Yes, Pete and I did the lion’s share of the cutting and taping, but that didn’t hamper the eager jubilation one bit. Throughout the year, I’m going to post pictures here of our progress with the boxes and what we learn along the way. What a fantastic way to enhance our studies! The little girl in me can’t wait to get out the clay and start molding! Maybe some glitter paint and googly eyes too…

Here the girls are with their finished boxes. Ah, the freshness of a blank canvas and oh, the possibilities! 1/18/14


We added toothed whales and baleen whales to our ocean box today. Jaelah fashioned a dolphin and a blue whale, while Selah chose to create an orca and a blue whale. I suspended the whales with blue pipe cleaners to make it appear that they were swimming. Of course, they are not to scale at all. 1/26/14












For Lesson 3 in Apologia’s Swimming Creatures, we made Pinnipeds. Selah’s creature is a true seal while Jaelah made a sea lion. In this short video clip the girls explain a little about these awesome creatures. 1/6/14













The dead ants are raised

We love science around here, especially when it comes time to do projects like the one we completed this past week.  We’re going through Apologia’s Young Explorers series (Flying Creatures).  After studying the three parts of an insect, we learned that an insect’s abdomen is used for breathing, and it has special tubes called spiracles that will protect it from drowning during particularly heavy rain.  The insect will close these tubes and only open them once it is dried off completely.

So we did the Lazarus project this week.  After spending quite some time in the backyard looking for the “perfect” insect, the girls finally decided on a couple of ants.  I think they were a little nervous that attempting to drown an ant wouldn’t be as scary as, say, the nasty, suspiciously-large pillbugs that collect under their picnic table.  Anyway, we set out our materials and the girls went for it.  I didn’t like the idea of trying to drown insects on purpose, but the science book said that water-deluge was a completely natural experience for them and that no harm would be done.

To be totally honest, I think the girls enjoyed holding the insects under the water a little more than I liked.  I guess they figured it was payback for the untold horrors they’ve experienced with this particularly buggy-bug summer we’ve had.  One ant we dubbed The Hulk because he WOULD NOT DROWN.  We were supposed to only have to wait about 3 minutes before the insects stopped moving, but this guy went on thrashing for about ten minutes.  Finally, we dumped their little carcasses on the paper towel and poured salt over them.  True to the book’s instructions, the salt dried them off quickly and they were both up and crawling on their merry way!  We happily released them back into the wild.  So wait, you’re telling me that all those spiders I’ve washed down the kitchen sink are actually alive and well today????  Actually, no, spiders are not insects, and as far as spiracles, I’m not sure they even have any.

Gliders in flight

Today we did our first science experiment for the year.  I could never get away with building or preparing anything science-related without all the kids getting on board, so this particular experiment was offered during awake hours because I knew it would be a huge hit.  Our science curriculum this year is centered around flying creatures, so of course this includes the dynamics of flight as well as the study of various kinds of wonderful animals.

To test “lift,” we built two gliders that were identical except for the wing size.  One had to have a long, narrow wingspan and one had to have a short, wide wingspan.  Our job was to determine which glider would stay in the air longer.  The girls got to try out words such as “hypothesis” and “aerodynamic” and “thrust” and “variable” and as you will hear on the short video clip, I am barely able to contain my laughter.  For some reason, the girls both still think that they have to pick opposing hypotheses in order to compete against each other, even when they both know the correct one.  I suppose making it a game is more interesting.  Today was no different.  Jaelah chose the short, stubby glider and Selah chose the long, skinny one.  Both were convinced their gliders would win.  Our only variable was supposed to be the size of the wings so that we could accurately judge flight distance based on the shape of the airfoil alone.  However, Mrs. Pregnant Brain completely forgot about that and let each girl throw her own glider (obviously resulting in very different outcomes, not just based on wing shape).  Oh well.  The results were still quite clear even after several flight attempts.  Jaelah was not too happy with her outcome, but she quickly forgot her disappointment when I allowed all the children to stay outside and play with their gliders all afternoon on this unseasonably warm day.  And what would a family science experiment be without a little bee drama?  Or a lot of it.  I swear those vile creatures sense fear and come calling, however we were still able to get some good video footage before everyone went screaming into the house.  It’s been awhile since we’ve had this much fun.