February 2015- South Florida Winter

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I have this love-hate relationship with February.   It feels like such a short month and we have so many birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Black History, Presidents, great weather for field trips.  So much to do. But somehow we have managed to make the most of our February and squeeze in a lot of learning.

Kate observing the wildlife on the Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, 2/2015.

Kate observing the wildlife on the Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, 2/2015.

Every year we return to Everglades National Park during the dry season and this year we had two visits, including a family camping trip over Valentine’s Day weekend.  Our first visit was with the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of South Florida.   This is our third year participating as nature guides for local children from various non-profit organizations.  My husband and I worked with a great group of kids from an after school program in Homestead.  We spent most of our time on the Anhinga Trail, where we saw wildlife up close.  It was the perfect way to conclude our novel, Alligator Crossing.

My husband teaching the kids about water.

My husband teaching the kids about water.

The best part of this month was the great weather for our morning walks.  We observed the lovely buds on all the mango trees, including the one in our own backyard.  (I never observed this before.) After learning about epiphytes (air plants) and seeing them on the trails at Everglades National Park, we started seeing them everyday on during our walks, too.

Mango flowers in the South Florida winter.

Mango flowers in the South Florida winter.

We discovered my new favorite tree, the Starburst tree and some mornings we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the green parrots that visit our neighborhood.  We decided to put a bird feeder in our front tree, in hopes that from now on we might make some bird friends.

Double-breasted cormorant, one of the wading birds at ENP.

Double-breasted cormorant, one of the wading birds at ENP.

After completing our read aloud, Alligator Crossing we created a book project.  Instead of a report we created a box which contained the elements of the book with words and pictures.  We completed our Minecraft Homeschool Intro class.  Ironically, she enjoyed the actual online class more than the build time on their server.  Each week we learned about five amazing creatures, such as the coconut crab, red panda and the peacock mantis shrimp.   We decided to skip the next session but will probably sign up again in the summer for another of their Intro level courses.

We finally completed Level 1 of our AAR program. We actually started that program around this time last year.  To celebrate we’re going to take a break before starting the next level (for me) and we’re going to visit the American Girl store in Miami (for Kate).   In the meantime, we will work with an online reading program, Explode the Code.  I need something that she can do more independently.  I think AAR is great, but it’s teacher intensive and I need a break before moving to the next level.  I’ve also heard great reviews on ETC so I purchased some of their workbooks to reinforce the learning at home off-line.

As we complete the month we’re spending some time on Black History with a few great read alouds, including


Meet Addy  from American Girl and Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt.  Typically fourth grade is when Florida History is covered, so we will be be starting our Florida History and Geography Unit next month.  We have a few great field trips planned for this unit and hope to visit St. Augustine some time this year, as well.

When the month started I couldn’t imagine how much we would be learning, observing and doing together.  I realized the most important reason why I chose to homeschool was because I wanted to see her love to learn.   I’m trying to tune into what she’s excited about and make those our learning priorities and the result is fewer struggles and a happier kid and happier mom. The other day she told me, “Mom, we’re like besties”.  I initially turned to homeschooling because I felt out of options, but it seems more and more like this was the best option for us.

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January Updates

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We have been pretty busy this month.  I would say it’s been a great month.  We took on a lot of new things, perhaps too many, but sometimes you just need that momentum to keep you excited and engaged.  (Okay, perhaps just me.)  Despite having to travel for a medical visit this month, I still feel we’re pretty much on track and somedays even enjoying ourselves.

During our recent visit to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital.

During our recent visit to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

Kate has handled all the changes well.  We have been having weekly Spanish classes now this month and just love it.  We do these classes through Homeschool Spanish Academy.   Everything I read about this company in other mom’s reviews was true.  The teachers are so nice and highly trained.  Through a Skype connection they work one-on-one with your student and during that time they mostly speak in Spanish. When they assessed Kate they recommended she start with the middle school curriculum because she has grown up hearing Spanish and speaking a little, mostly with my parents.  I’m a native speaker, so I also work with her during the week on the assignments that they ask her to do.  It’s going great because this approach is focused on speaking and hearing Spanish, and Kate is an auditory learner.  So yeah!

Technology

The dictation feature on my MS Word was not easy to work with, so my husband got a Dragon app on his Ipad, which is working out a lot better for writing journal entries.  One thing that using  dictation software is  good for is helping you to organize your thoughts and ideas, which is a challenge for my student.

Kate is enjoying her audiobooks.  She listens to an audiobook for fun each day through Learning Ally. (We finally got all the IT issues worked out by the first week of January.)  The first book she wanted was Ever After High, a book about fairy tale princesses.   I also found her math book and put it on our digital book shelf.  We used it for listening to the word problems. We are just starting to explore these tools, but so far so good.  Also, the Minecraft homeschool course has been a lot of  fun.  I’ll write more specifics next time.

What we’re reading this month:  Alligator Crossing by Marjory Stoneman Douglas

We are using this book as the base for a literature unit with a focus on science (ecosystem), history and geography of South Florida.  This book was written in 1959 and yet the story is as relevant today as back then.  At the time she wrote this book, Everglades National Park had barely been established a decade.  Protecting the natural environment meant that many people were pushed out of their way of life, which included poaching alligators and hunting birds for their plumes.  It also included the freedom of living in nature, something very hard to give up willingly.

While today the challenges are different, their is a tension between the need to protect the environment and the legitimate need of humans to make a living.  Most recently their is a proposal to develop an area of pine rockland in Miami, making me feel that the issues are still very relevant to all of us, especially in South Florida.

This has been a great book to learn about the wildlife and the habitats of the Everglades as well as why this national treasure had to be protected (from poachers and “plumers”).  We’ve really enjoyed all our read alouds, but this book is special because it feels like one generation passing to the next generation the stewardship of something truly amazing.   We hope to finish reading it this week in time for our field trip to Everglades National Park next weekend.

Tomatoes from the garden. We used these to make tomato sauce ;).

Tomatoes from the garden. We used these to make tomato sauce ;).

The other day Kate asked me when we would read the next book in the Kaya series (American Girl); we have read four of the six.  I felt so lucky that we’ve shared all these great stories so far this year and I can honestly say I’ve never seen her so excited about reading, that’s for sure.