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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

HTML : Happily Talking about My Learning

I am learning new things this week so I thought I'd better jot them down before I forget.

As you know I have started a blog for each of my two boys. Recently, I discovered a wonderful site that has great free blog templates. D was quick to pick one that he liked. But B was just super picky. He didn't like any of the 500 or so templates! He just is crazy about blue and wants something that is in line with his blog theme; which was sea, sky, bay or beach.

For a while, his blog was more plain as compared to his brother's. I decided to serve the net to find out if I could find something to spruce up his blog. I had in mind a water and sand background and I found the exact textures I wanted on this website that has an extremely wide range of textures.

I learnt how to create a background with pictures using the instructions from these site. (arranged in order of usefulness to me)
I learnt how to meddle with transparency of backgrounds from this site.
B is very happy with his water and sand background. So am I! I feel a tremendous sense of achievement to be able to create THAT from having no knowledge in html to begin with.

I am now in the process of figuring out how to add little ornaments (like some starfish or shells...) on the background. I have been running into problems with resizing when I upload my pictures and also with transparency/positioning.

If I can just figure ALL these out then maybe one day I might just start designing my own templates! Hahaha... Well, it is good to dream...

Monday, December 29, 2008

Creating My Own Interactive Matching Games

In my post, The Kumon Method: How I Can Use It, I shared that I would want to find a free online site that allows me to type in my own matching games. I want to use this to administer Kumon style tests for the vocabulary lists we have in our English book.

These are the criterion I had for the game maker:
1. Have a pair and match format
2. Timed quizzes (nice to have but ok without)
3. Provide feedback to the learner.
4. Scramble question AND answer order each time the learner takes the same test.
5. Web-based

I had just found a site that meets 5 out of 6 of my criterion! Hooray!!!

The site is called "Create Your Own Interactive Games". I like the user interface here. It is easy to use and visually attractive. I have already created a game based on the study lists I have assigned my boys. You can try my Synonyms-1 Matching Game and my Places-1 Matching Game. I chose to enter 15 matching pairs but each games will only randomly select 8 pairs to test. That means you can play the same game repeatedly and they will not be exactly the same.

However, there are limitations. The fonts used in this site are big and cannot be changed. Thus, I could not type in longer idioms and proverbs. It still has its usefulness though for synonyms, antonyms, similes, vocabulary etc.

I continued my search....

And found a free down loadable program that is called "Matching Game Maker"
This program solved the font size problem. So I can now add in tests for idioms and proverbs. Yeah!! The game is saved on my computer so unfortunately I wouldn't be able to share it with you!

This game is also easy to set up. Although it is not as attractive as the former, it has the advantage of more words in each option, even allows for audio matches, AND allows Chinese characters! I will surely be tinkering around with this more...

I am quite please with these 2 matching game makers and they should meet my needs for now.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas Cookies

We baked more cookies this Christmas week. This time we tried out Auntie E's recipe (Thanks E!). Because of our relative inexperience, we took 3 whole afternoons to do it! One to make the dough (then chill it overnight), the next afternoon to shape them and bake them, and the last, to decorate them with icing.

I think they look quite pretty and temptingly delicious. I left them in two bowls with plastic wraps around them before we packed them on Christmas Day, to be given away...

B: Why do you have to wrap the bowls?
Me: Well, we don't want uninvited guests, like ants and other insects to nibble on them...
B: AND cookie monsters?
(All eyes turned to Daddy)
Me: Yes, AND cookie monsters :-)

This lot was given away to relatives and neighbours... ... ...Well, to be honest, we did have a few "nibbles" ourselves. Just couldn't resist it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Watching Daddy Gouge

My boys got to see Daddy at work these few days. He has just started out making a new violin. This is him using his gouge to do a rough arching of the back plate. The boys can't help poking their noses in his workroom every now and then. How could anybody not be curious to find out what all that noise is?!

Lots of planning goes into the making. Sometimes Daddy has to design his own tools to work with. That is part of the fun for him. This picture shows a special violin plate rest that holds the plate down while he gouges. It is his very brand new invention! And he is extremely satisfied with it...

Boys cannot resist playing with the wood chips left on his workbench. Look. They make interesting rings ;-)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Chinese Science Picture Books

I just discovered a set of Chinese Science picture books that is just right for my boys. I like the illustrations that are done in watercolor. Sentences are not too long. And all the facts are weaved into a cohesive narrative that reminds me very much of the English Science picture book series I love, Let-Read-And-Find-Out Science. There are snippets of interesting facts here and there, like in Osborne books. A perfect way to introduce Science terminologies (in Chinese) in a gentle way.
This set is recommended for children aged 2 and above. But don't be deceived, they are advanced even for my 7- year-olds! :-p

Here is the link for this set. You can search the titles of all 8 books to view the sample pages.

This is another set that is recommended for children 4 and above. Here is the link.
(I am somehow more attracted to the former.)

I was delighted to find them ALL available at our public library. :-) Go check them out!

However, I may just buy them anyway because I will need to check the dictionary to know how to read many of the words :-p and I can't possibly write all that hanyupinyin on the library books. Can I?... ... ...Excuses!... Imho, these books are keepers.

Visit Rumphius Chinese Webpage to see more Chinese book recommendations.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Poem : At the Park

My little fellow decided he wanted to blog about our Friday outing at the park too (See my post Sunshine Rain and Friends).

I casually suggested that he try writing a poem instead of the usual narrative form. I gave him the first line and told him to find something that rhymes with "park". We brainstormed all the words that rhyme and then I asked him to come up with a logical continuing line. Subsequently, I asked him what else he wanted to write about, made him come up with a rhythmic sentence and then brainstormed again for rhyming words. We worked two lines at a time in this manner.

I was pleasantly surprised that the rest of the poem rolled out quite painlessly! (I helped with the second paragraph a little more ;-) because his syntax wasn't right at first.)

I must admit that I really like his poem a lot :-D. In the first place, it actually sounds like a poem. lol. And mainly because it really tells of the games he played at the park.

Here it is. Enjoy.

At the Park

My day at the park,
Climbing trees and peeling bark.
Playing golf,
With sticks and balls.

Bowling using sticks as pins,
Doing our best to see who wins.
Soccer was played by kicking balls,
Between goal-posts of trees so tall.

Running about,
Shouting so loud.
Stopping the games,
Only because it rained.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sunshine, Rain and Friends

We wilded our time away at the Botanic Garden yesterday. We met up with our usual homeschool friends. Every Friday, we meet at a different location and do different things.

It is a time for the children to make friends, play together and have fun. It is also a time for us mothers to share our homeschooling experiences and other issues, a time for learning from each other, and (for me) an avenue for "out loading". Honestly, there aren't other sensible grown-ups, who can understand my unique situation, willing to listen, share the same ups and downs, and able to give constructive comments. Thank you friends!

The children were left to feed the swan and fish, run around, climb trees, dig holes, watch a mouse scampering into its hole, observe plants and birds, pick up sticks and stones, play their own version of bowling, golf and football... ... ... There are just endless ways they could entertain themselves. Out there with the huge garden as their playground, the children exercised creativity and learn to enjoy nature the good old-fashion way.

This particular shot below was taken some months back. The children climb trees every time we go to the park that we have stopped taking pictures of them doing that. lol But I thought it will be nice to include this shot here to give you a feel of what fun they can have. A pity I don't have a shot of the girls climbing...

Nap time for the younger lot means mothers pushing strollers round the park to lull them to sleep. Look at this outdoor nursery...

We were thankful for the fine weather.

The rain did eventually come. When it did, we had to dash to the nearest shelter. After some waiting, an ingenious mum offered her picnic mat to be used to shelter all the strollers and children. We managed to "parade" our way out of the park!

Can you imagine four mothers holding the four corners of a picnic tarp, with three strollers and four giggly girls underneath? (The boys had their own umbrellas.) We must have made quite a hilarious sight. Too bad we couldn't capture this moment on picture...

Later when the pouring rain became just a drizzle, the boys had a chance to share their umbrellas with the girls. Isn't that sweet?

We thank God for sunshine, rain and friends. :-)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Last JMC Class Concert

Yesterday was the last of 4 class concerts. Each child had a chance to perform a song item, and play several solo numbers on the piano. It was a time of gift exchanging and farewells too.

The boys received their results and certificates of completion of the Fundamental Survey Skill Test. They have learnt much during this 2 years. This marks the close of one chapter and the beginning of another...

Baking Cookies

I had always wanted to bake cookies to give away. What better time than this Christmas season to do just that!

We tried out Auntie D's chocolate cookies recipe. (Thanks D!) These were packed with a souvenir bookmark and given as farewell gifts to our friends and teacher at the boys' Yamaha Music class.

My boys are happily rolling the dough and flattening them on the pan here. Super easy and very suitable for children...

Here are my boys, sitting right beside the oven, warmed by the heat, peering in and sniffing the aroma of baking cookies.... mmmmm... ... ... They can't wait to sink their teeth in one of those...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

School or No School?

Every other kid is having and enjoying their school holidays. So the most frequently asked question I get this month is, "Are you giving your boys a holiday?"

I really don't know how to answer that :-p

Are we doing any "schoolwork"? Sure we are. Like I have said in my sidepanel, it is my aim to make education a life, a discipline and an atmosphere. I actually borrowed this quote from Charlotte Mason. Learning has become very much a part and parcel of our life. It feels odd to not do our Miquon lab sheets for example. My boys will miss them and even BEG me to let them do it! And what about our reading of the Illiad, we HAVE to read-on because we just WANT to know what's going to happen next. And wouldn't it be fun to find out just one more thing about Alexander.

Are we doing "school"? You bet we are!

OK. Confession time. We have fewer hours of "structured" activity. More days out for our very own "Wild Days" at the zoo and parks. Why?

Because I haven't been doing enough nature study and feel a need to play catch-up.

Because holiday is IN THE AIR. We feel it tickle us; prodding us to just GET OUT THERE.

And well, also because we are just PLAIN CRAZY wanting to rush out together with the loads of other holidaying children! It is crowds, crowds and crowds of screaming children EVERYWHERE!! Madness really! lol

The next 2 weeks will be even less structured because Daddy will be home and how can we do ANY work when Daddy is home! My boys are "programmed" that way; Daddy at home is a clear indication of a holiday and most importantly PLAY! My plan during this 2 weeks is to catch up on my planning and preparation for the coming year and start (and hopefully complete) a much needed spring-cleaning at home.

So I foresee a slight slant in my next few posts... just thought I should sound you out :-)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mathematics : Volume in Imperial System of Measurement

Alright. I know this is not relevant in the Singapore context. So why am I teaching this? Ops, I mean... why am I learning this?

Reason 1
Our Miquon Lab sheets (from the US) has about 10 pages that teaches the US Imperial System for measuring volume. What a waste not to use them?!!

Reason 2
I myself do not know these units and their conversions. So doing the Lab sheets with my boys will give me a chance to learn! (I love Miquon for this quality... No need to have anybody teach you. You discover the concept by just doing the Lab sheets!) I was quite blur when we were living in the US and everything on the supermarket shelves were in gallons and quarts and pints and cups!

Reason 3
No harm done if we should know it, right? I won't be concentrating on these later (of course I will be teaching the metric units), so an introduction would allow my boys to see that there are other units of measurement, other than millilitres and litres, for volume.

Reason 4
Conversion from gallons to quarts to pints to cups can be challenging. The boys had to put their knowledge of fractions to good use.

Try These...
These are some sums in our Miquon Lab sheets. Try them!

one pint = _____ gallons = _____ quart = _____ cups


3 pt. = 1 qt. + ____ pt.


3 c. + 4 c. = ____ c. = _____ pt + 1 c.

It's funny that D commented, "Hey, but some cups are bigger and some cups are smaller!" :-D
I was glad he made this interesting observation. This confusion comes with using such a common terminology as "cup". I had to explain to them that we are refering to a particular standard cup.

However, I later learnt from dear hubby that a US gallon is actually different from a UK gallon. Hur??!!!

Ok, I won't keep you in suspense... here are the solutions to the sums above:
1/8, 1/2, 2
4, 1 1/2
Did you get them? :-)

Visit Rumphius Mathematics Webpage to find out more about how we approach Mathematics in our homeschool.

Monday, December 15, 2008

English - Copywork & Dictation : Skylar

I found an interesting book that would have tied in nicely with a unit study on birds (or read with Zoology 1 of the Apologia Series) ....accept that I am not currently having a unit study on birds. :-1 Oh well! A good book is always welcomed.

The book is Skylar by Mary Cuffe-Perez. This book is hot from the press; released in 2008! It is about a small group of pond geese who have never migrated before, watching wild Canada geese making their migration journey southward. By some chanced event, they were challenged to make their first attempt. The rest of the story tells the engaing tale of their adventure.

The style of writing reminds me of E.B. White's Charlotte's Web. Simply captivating.

Here is the paragraph I have selected for copywork:

Skylar, looking like a plump, feathered general, marched up and down in front of his small flock, inspecting, nodding and making curious clucking sounds. The announcement has been made: Skylar would lead the heron to Lost Pond, and he expected the four pond geese, as his flock, to follow. Now he waited for the excuses, complaints, refusal, which he was sure would come. He stared hard at each goose as if he meant to find a weakness and expose it.

These are the words my boys were to check the meanings of:
1. urban
2. peril
3. flamboyant
4. flouder
5. commotion
6. lurch
7. plummet
8. glower
9. flail
10. strode
11. intently
12. careen
13. strut

I used to let my boys check our big fat dictionary and copy the definitions. To save time, I am now trying out letting them cut and paste from an online dictionary, then print these vocabulary words out for them to study from. I found one at this site which suited my purpose.

Visit Rumphius English Webpage to find out more about how we approach English in our homeschool.

Friday, December 12, 2008

History : Mapping Out Alexander's Invasions

My boys were intrigued with Alexander and his invasions and conquests. We have decided to map out the main points of his conquest. The book You Wouldn't Want To Be In Alexander the Great's Army! by Antram and Morley was the book that first sparked this idea off.

We found the etext of The Story of Greece by Mary Macgregor in the Baldwin Project website. This book has a few chapters regarding Alexander the Great. This together with a few other library books were the main source of our latest project.

We presented everything in a 3-fold lapbook. The boys sieved through all the books and webpages to pick out key points at each location of Alexanders journey. They typed these down in a Word document. They also googled to find pictures to correspond with their write-ups. Grandad helped with printing them on his colour printer. I helped with the layout.

Here is what we have gathered and put together.

These are the events we zoomed in on:
1. The Battle of Granicus
2. The Battle of Issus
3. The Battle of Tyre
4. The Conquest of Egypt
5. The Battle of Gaugamela
6. The Battle of Persepolis
7. The Battle at Hydraspes River
8. The Death of Alexander in Babylon

Can you tell how crazy my boys are about Alexander? :-)

Visit Rumphius History Webpage to find out more about how we approach History in our homeschool.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Kumon Method: How I Can Use It

I was browsing through the library shelves and came across this book "Every Child An Achiever: A Parent's Guide to the Kumon Method" by David W. Russell.

Reading this book has renewed my interest somewhat in the Kumon Method and its possibilities. It led me to rethink how I can use this method to my advantage.

Here's my plan to add a dash of Kumon in the 3 core subjects: Mathematics, English and Chinese. Essentially, I am looking at say 5 to 10 min a day per subject. This sessions will be perfect for much needed individual work during the times when I am busy preparing meals in the kitchen.


I am currently using a Math worksheet that already employs the Kumon method. Calculadders uses progressive math drill sheets that the learners have to complete. Each worksheet needs to be completed and their time taken to complete is jotted down. Learners can only move on to the next level when mastery has be attained. Mastery is indicated by completion of the worksheet in a specified time.

So far, I am quite happy with how the boys are progressing with Calculadders. I do find a big jump in some levels and intend to generate my own mid level worksheets to bridge the gaps. This, I felt were necessary to maintain high confidence levels.

My boys have reached the level of single digit multiplication (after completing 4 digit addition and subtraction). I have not really insisted on them memorizing their multiplication tables since I found that they can remember them just from repetition by attempting many of such sums. Skip counting has also eased the process.

Most of the multiplication sums goes like this (You can use the sums on this site if you do not have Calculadders.) :

3 x 5 =

3 x 8 =

I will want to add sums such as:

3 x ___ = 15

___ x 8 = 24

I know these are essentially using the concept of division. But I think it is important to make the link between the two right from the start.

I am encouraged that the founder of the Kumon method, Toru Kumon started out setting his own daily Mathematics sheets for his son. If he can do it, so can I! ;-) ... or anybody else for that matter!


At this lower primary level, I am mainly using the Charlotte Mason Method to teach English. However, I do see the need to supplement this method with more drills and even memorization. Let me explain.

[Be forewarned. If you are a Charlotte Mason purist. Don't read on! Because what I am about to describe would probably make you cringe.Hahaha...]

I was not an avid reader when I was in school. So, much of the vocabulary I learnt were learnt from lists that I was made to "study". (Did I hear you gasps?!... ) Do I believe in such an out-dated method? Well, the truth is that it has worked for me. I learnt the meaning of words (or idioms, proverbs etc. ) first, before I meet them in context when I did eventually pick up on my reading. I don't think my love for the English Language was smothered in any way.

I have an English grammar book published by Cosco. I like the lists of synonyms, antonyms, idiom, proverbs and such at the back of the book. I intend to let my boys systematically study these lists. I will attempt to make a series of worksheets that correspond to their assigned study list. They will have to score a perfect score on a worksheet (perhaps within in a specified time) before they move on to learn more.

I have been thinking how best I can administer these worksheets. I could do it the old-fashion pen and paper way. I found an online testmaker called Easy Test Maker that can help speed up my time in generating worksheets. There is a choice of multiple choice, fill in the blanks and matching.

I could also try to make Montessori 3-part cards. But this will be time consuming as well as of high material cost.

Alternatively, I could make online quizzes that can give instant feedback. I am now currently fiddling with a few websites that allow me to create my own test. ClassMaker is one that I have tried, but I am not fully satisfied. There is only multiple choice format. Thinking up plausible distracting choices is too much work for me on a regular basis. I was thinking a pair-and-match format would be more useful to me.

The ideal quiz maker would have these criterion:
1. Have a pair and match format
2. Timed quizzes (nice to have but ok without)
3. Provide feedback to the learner.
4. Scramble question AND answer order each time the learner takes the same test.
5. Web-based
I will post an update when I have found the perfect free online quiz maker. Please do drop me a note if you have one to recommend.


I had a fellow homeschool mother who shared with me how her sons were fairing in a Kumon Chinese enrichment class. She patiently described how the class was run and this has helped give me some ideas to work on. (Thanks K!)

Repetition is one of the key to the success of the Kumon method. Say for reading and comprehension, Kumon students are given an audio recording of the passage they are to learn. Thereafter, they are expected to read the passage aloud. I guess (correct me if I am wrong) if the child cannot read fluently, he will listen to the audio recording again, repeating this process until he can master it.

Of course I could be the "recorder" to read to my boys. But recently, I found a resource that could help spare me that agony of repeated readings. ETutor, the people behind the popular hao peng you magazine, created a series of CD-roms. The plus point about this company is that their products always follows closely to the syllabus set out by MOE. Thus, the difficulty level is just right. One of the CD-roms focuses on comprehension. A reader with perfect diction reads a given passage. Passages are short and very manageable. (The text are highlighted like in kara-ok style.) Eureka! Problem solved!

(As a side note, I would also recommend their CD-rom on listening comprehension and composition. They are just what I need to expose my boys to more spoken Chinese.)

Another possibility is to use the readers that I have that comes with audio CDs!

My views on the Kumon method

I don't buy much into the idea put forth by David Russell that the Kumon method is a gentle, child-centered and child-respecting approach. His description even sounds vaguely as "noble" as the Montessori Method! I am not fully convinced.

I only agree that if the method is used with discretion, careful thought and sensitivity, it can instill a sense of "pride, satisfaction and confidence that comes with studying something difficult and then mastering it".

On the other hand, if it is administered thoughtlessly (and ruthlessly), it may backfire and lead to frustration, discouragement, low self-esteem and such negative effects.

Taking all these into account, I feel that the method does still have a role to play in my curriculum, albeit a minor one.

Visit Rumphius Mathematics Webpage , English Webpage or Chinese Webpage to find out more about how we approach Mathematics, English or Chinese in our homeschool.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

History : Alexander the Great

Our history readings brought us to the times of Alexander the Great. Story of the World vol 1 (SOTW) describes briefly some important facts about this great man. It was a little of an anti-climax because my boys, having read on their own a few books about Alexander, knows more about him than was covered in SOTW! As such, their narrations were "adulterated" with information from those other books. However, I welcomed those "extra" information.

I am reminded and assured that my children's learning don't always depend on my teaching them. They are perfectly capable of discovering and learning themselves. Don't we parents worry too much about that sometimes!!

As we were searching for images to accompany their narration, we came across an interesting etext of James Balwin's Thirty More Famous Stories Retold. Baldwin is no stranger to me as I already have his other book Fifty Famous Stories Retold. I was thus pleasantly surprise to find this. Baldwin's version of the Gordian Knot was different somewhat from what we read in SOTW.

Below is my boys' narration of the Gordian Knot as told in SOTW. Read the two versions yourself and see the difference.

When his father died, Alexander took over his throne. He went across the Aegean Sea toward the Persian Empire. He found a chariot tied up with a knot that was bigger than a man’s head. No one could untie this enormous knot. He was curious so he asked a stranger about it. The stranger told him that there is a legend that says that whoever can loosen this Gordian knot can take the chariot and will rule the whole of Asia.

Alexander used his sword to cut the knot into half and loosened it. Nobody thought of this method before.

Alexander eventually became king of the Persian Empire. He marched his army down to Egypt and was crowned Pharaoh. He also conquered Mesopotamia.

Alexander’s empire was the biggest empire that the world had ever seen. He was known as
Alexander the Great!"

It brings to light some important points. History is NOT an exact Science. History is written by people. Different people see and interpret events differently. People may also embellish their writings with interesting details that may not be accurate.

This gives me a chance to point out to my boys that as a reader, we must not always believe what we read (or hear or see...). We should always refer to different sources, so that we can see the bigger picture, and also be in a better position to evaluate a piece of information.

Visit Rumphius History Webpage to find out more about how we approach History in our homeschool.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Music: Yamaha JMC - FSS

My boys had been attending the Junior Music Course(JMC) at Yamaha Music School for the past 2 years. The course is coming to an end this year. This week, they will be having their first music examination. Its called the Fundamental Skills Survey(FSS).

This test, though not at all a recognized test, as compared to the ABRSM examination, turns out to be quite a challenge. It tests not just on the playing skill but encompasses a more holistic approach. Musicality, voice projection, coordination, improvisation, pitch recognition, knowledge of musical notation are some of the more unusual aspects tested.

In the test, the child has to play 3 solo pieces (one of which he has to "fill in" the bass notes himself), sing one of the songs learnt during the course (to be sung with action, dynamics and expression all of which will be assessed), sing one song in solphege (of about 16 memory songs), identify chords played and read or explain musical notations.

As such, we have pulled up our socks and attempted to have more intensive practices this past few weeks. Normally, each boy practices about 30 min a day. Now, we stepped that up to an hour at least. I had to play an active role here because I had to "test" them on their 16 memory songs, "test" them on their chord singing and recognition by hearing, and coach them on their singing item.

I found it necessary to practice with one boy at a time. So all in all, it is 2 hours a day just on music for me! Obviously, school time was reduced to accommodate this. We just had our "Year-End examination" anyway so that gives us a good excuse to cool off a bit. Even then, I am still exhausted!

It is heartwarming to see them improve through the practices. I just wish I had the energy (after 4 to 5 hours of school) to keep up with their music at this pace ALL THE TIME. But the truth is, I can't. I had prayed hard that Daddy will take over this aspect of our boys' education soon! This, he has graciously agreed. Hooray!!!

Piano lessons with Daddy will officially start January 2009!

Daddy has taught piano playing before so this is not new to him. I have discussed with him and of the two popular curriculum, Alfred and Bastian, he prefers Bastian. That will provide a basic framework to teach piano playing. We felt that more have to be done but haven't made any concrete plans so far. We would like to continue to train the boys in their hearing skills (which currently has lots of room for improvement). I will likely be borrowing the methods used in Yamaha.

I am expecting lots of trial and error in the months ahead...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Year-End Exam Fever

The time has come for me to administer our Semestral Examination for the purpose of updating the Ministry of Education on the progress of my boys. The grades of three subjects are to be submitted. They are English Language, Mathematics and Chinese Language.

I have decided to allocate 50% of their scores for each subject to Continual Assessment done under test conditions. These are either self-designed work that I set or exercises taken from store-bought assessment books.

The other 50% comes from the the boys' scores on the Semestral Examination papers of well-known local schools that I obtain from this site.

I spent a week to concentrate on drills, reviews and generally more seat-work assignments in preparation for the actual papers I intend to give them under test conditions. This is not exactly the most fun part of school but necessary nonetheless. Aren't we glad its over now?!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Science : Roots

We started out our study of roots by reading from Exploring Creations with Botany. After that, it was intensive work producing mini books and notebook pages for this chapter. Look at our work zone...

Here are some notebook pages that we added into our botany file. This page shows a flap book where the boys narrated what they have learnt about roots; their functions, development and morphology.

Our attempts in trying to make a mini tab book on geophytes (as mentioned in our Botany book) led us to google search for pictures. We found useful diagrams for our geophyte mini book here.

We chanced on a wonderful blog that has an interesting root word search that the boys insisted on doing. There were terms in this word search that were unfamiliar to us. This led us to google search for what these terms mean. In the process we learned about adventitious roots and the various types of adventitious roots. (Good information on adventitious roots can be found here.) We decided to make a notebook page on adventitious roots.

This site clearly explains how a fig tree starts off having aerial roots and how it gradually takes over its host with its strangling roots.

As we read up more on adventitious roots, we noticed that mangrove trees have specialized roots to adapt to their unique environment. This site has some good information on this.

At this point, I was getting excited because in a few days' time, the boys will be attending a Naturalist Camp in Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (a mangrove area). All these readings about mangrove trees will serve to gear them up for the camp. What perfect timing!

Visit Rumphius Science Webpage to learn more about how we approach Science in our homeschool.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

History / Mathematics : Parthenon and the Golden Rectangle

We first read about the Parthenon in our Histroy core book Story of the World vol. 1 by Susan Wise Bauer. Subsequently, we learnt more about this ancient ruins from the travels of Richard Halliburton in his Complete Book of Marvels. Two paragraphs were used for copywork and dictation. (See my post on Parthenon for copywork)

We started making a model of the Parthenon when we first read about it. It took us several session of cutting and pasting to complete the model. It actually took us almost 10 hours to complete it! With 14 internal and 46 external columns to roll and glue, I don't think the boys (and I) will ever forget the Parthenon!

Here is D cutting away... look at the tray of columns ready for gluing.

Here is B with the half completed temple beside him...

We had to weigh the columns down with books while we let the glue set.

Here is the completed model. Impressive? (I'll have to arm-twist you to say YES in any case!! :-o)

This project is about the most labour intensive one we have ever embarked on. Of course we didn't know it will be like this when we started. I kept spirits high throughout by setting small achievable goals at each session. So some sessions were not more than an hour long. We enjoyed ourselves in the process. I am just not sure we will try something similar again though ;-)

In a related reading from Penrose the Mathematical Cat by Theoni Pappas, we learned about the golden rectangle and its fascinating characteristics. The golden ratio was mentioned but what was more obvious to my two boys was the ability to draw in infinite number of squares within the golden rectangle.

We were intrigued that the golden rectangle can be seen in many natural things around us like the butterfly or dragonfly. And if you draw aches within the squares, you get equiangular spirals that were supposed to be similar to that found in some snails.

Many a man-made objects also have the golden rectangle eg. credit cards and the Parthenon! Apparently, artist and architects incorporate the Golden Rectangle in their art works. You can read more about the obsession with the Golden Ratio at this site.

My original plan was to just read through the chapter on the Golden Rectangle, but just when we finished my boys enthusiastically asked if we could construct a Golden Rectangle (Penrose showed us how to do it - This site has a similar approach). Before I even had time to answer, they were off the sofa running to fetch paper and pencil.

We did try to construct Golden Rectangles. Then it daunted on us that we need to know a way to check if a rectangle was "golden". We managed to figure that out after some thinking. So we tried to check if my credit cards were Golden Rectangles. To our disappointment, it was not! Oh well... it just goes to show we mustn't always believe what we read. Ha ha... It was enlightening nonetheless.

Visit Rumphius Mathematics Webpage or History Webpage to find out more about how we approach Mathematics or History in our homeschool.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Preparation for Young Naturalist Camp

I registered my boys up for a Young Naturalist Camp at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve where they will get to earn badges after accomplishing specific tasks. In preparation for this camp, here are a few things I plan to do:

1. Read One Small Square: Swamp by Donald M. Silver (Pictures are very well-drawn. I am inspired to do the suggested activities!)

2. Read the mangrove chapter in our Chek Jawa Guidebook by Ria Tang and Alan Yeo. (Has detailed photographs with annotations.)

3. Read The Sea, the Storm and the Mangrove Tangle by Lynne Cherry. (Living picture book about the mangrove. We always read this book before we go Sungei Buloh. I am thankful it is always available at the library.)

4. Review the names of shore birds and other common birds that would possibly be seen at Sungei Buloh by matching our bird cards. Here is a file of the birds sighted at Sungei Buloh. We don't have all of these on our bird cards. I am in the process of making more to cover at least the common species found.

5. Browse through A Guide to the Mangrove of Singapore (published by the Singapore Science Centre).

Visit Rumphius Wild Days Webpage to learn more about how we approach Nature Study in our homeschool.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Draw Squad Lesson 3 / Geometry Session 4

How did he get from this ...

To this?...

Can you spot the difference?

This was one of D's Draw Squad drawing this week. In the book, each lesson explains the concept to be grasped and the concept is demonstrated as one copies the drawings in the lesson.

Copying is a skill that requires a great deal of one's power of observation. And power of observation has to be honed. Notice the first attempt at drawing the house has lines tilting in the wrong directions. Of course the lines were right in the book but were copied incorrectly.

I noticed that my boys do not employ reasoning and logical thinking when they draw. I decided to help them by introducing 2 concepts: parallel and perpendicular lines, and vanishing point in perspective drawing.

The time was ripe for me to introduce parallel and perpendicular lines in the context of our Mathematics / Geometry sessions (See my post on our Geometry Sessions 1, 2 and 3). After a short review of how to construct an equilateral triangle, I taught my boys how to construct perpendicular lines using the compass and ruler.

We then constructed parallel lines with a ruler and square.

I gave my boys time to construct as many perpendicular and parallel lines as they wanted.

I proceeded to teach them alternate and corresponding angles as described in this site.

This site has a helpful mnemonic system.

The letter X can help us find opposite angles.
The letter F can help us find corresponding angles.
The letter Z can help us find alternate angles.

This is when I brought out the book The Librarian Who Measured the Earth by Kathryn Lasky again. We have read it some time ago (See my post on Erathosthenes). I started this series of Geometry session just so I can explain what we have read in this book. Now I could finally wrap everything up. My boys FINALLY understood how Erathosthenes measured the circumference of the Earth. (See my post on Geometry Session 1) Their reaction was a jaw-dropping, "Wow! Erathostenes was SO clever!"

Now back to D's Draw Squad drawing... Perpendicular and parallel lines are just all around us. We cannot escape these when we draw. We talked about these lines in real life (corners of walls, windows, boxes, tables etc.). We talked about what things really are and what we perceieve them to be. That is to say lines that are in fact parallel may not appear to be so because of perspective.

This is where I showed them the "magic" of the vanishing point in 3 dimensional drawing with a simple rough sketch of a street scene on our white board. B was excited when he saw this. He was inspired and drew his own street scene. Here it is...

With all this information, I then asked D to correct his first sketch of a house.

What a BIG detour we took?! Nonetheless a necessary one.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Homer's The Iliad

We have read about Homer and his two famous works The Iliad and The Odyssey. I had planned to read a retelling of these two stories. We own the book Children's Homer by Padraic Colum so it just seemed natural to start with that. However, I was disappointed that my boys couldn't quite understand it as it was pitched at a higher reading level. I decided to put the book aside for now and try another. I checked my classical book lists and selected another retelling called Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliff.

I was glad to see several copied of this book in the library. This is helpful because we usually read a chapter or two a week and will normally take longer than 3 weeks (that's the library loan period) to complete the book. In this case, we can borrow the other copies when our first loan period expires.

Black Ships Before Troy is our current "on-the-go" book. That means I bring it wherever we go and read to my boys whenever we have time. This normally happens during our commute in trains or when we are early for classes and have some time to kill (I hate to say that especially when I always feel I am so short on time!).

We are enjoying it thoroughly. My boys are always begging for more. In fact, I like it so much I might consider reading The Wanderings of Odysseus by the same author at a later date. This is a re-telling of The Odyssey by Homer.

I am not sure if this is an overkill since my boys have just started reading a series about The Odyssey by their favourite author Mary Pope Osborne (author of the Magic Tree House Series). We'll see...

Visit Rumphius English Webpage and History Webpage to find out more about how we approach English and History in our homeschool.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Kings of the Divided Kingdom

We are reading through The Child's Story Bible by Catherine Vos. Our read aloud chapter today was Chapters 88. We are getting a bit overwhelmed and confused with the many kings that we are reading about. (P is the son of ??? and Q is the king of ??? and R is the king of ??? who killed S the king of ??? and is S a bad or good king? and is Q the one who reigned for only one year? ... ARHHH!) I should have charted them somehow when we started reading about them.

Well, better late than never. This week, I decided to do something about it. I set an assignment for the boys. They were to read a chapter at a time from chapter 78 (that is at the point of Solomon's death). Their task was to make an index card for each king, indicating whether they were king of Judah or Israel and whether they were good or bad kings. They were also to include any interesting facts about that king that can help jog our memories.

We decided on a colour code for the cards so that some information can be obtained at a glance:
Green left margin for King of Judah
Blue margin for Kings of Israel
Red right margin for bad kings
Blue right margin for good kings.

B's entry for King Asa went like this:

Green left margin = King of Judah
King Asa

- He destroyed all the idols he could find.
- He prayed to God when enemies came.

Blue right margin = Good King

This is what B came up with so far... more to come. (Sorry for the blur picture. Just to give you a rough idea of what I am talking about.)

I hope that this will help them remember the stories better. The cards can also be used for reviews and to arrange in chronological order if we ever get that proficient(!).

MY "homework" would then be to make timeline cards for each of these kings (or at least the more well-known ones ;-)) for our wall timeline.

Do you have any suggestions as to how to better tackle the historical aspect of this part of the Bible? I will be glad to hear them :-)

Visit Rumphius Bible Webpage and History Webpage to learn more about how we approach Bible and History in our homeschool.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Bird Riddles

We noticed last week that there was a big flock of birds that have nested on a row of trees in front of our block of apartments. We could hear their noisy chirping. From out of our windows, they look black with a tinge of shimmering blue. We couldn't make out what birds they were. So on Thursday, we decided to check them out.

Here in Singapore, the common birds we see around our estate are sparrows, mynas, crows and black-naped orioles. Higher up at 15 floors above ground, we see swallows fly by and occasionally, olive-backed sunbirds will visit the flowers in our balcony.

True enough, the birds perched on those trees turned out not to be the usual birds we normally see. They were the Asian Fairy Bluebirds. They are dark blue (well at least in the shade they look dark blue) with red eyes. There were so many of them!

We came back home, inspired to relearn the names of the birds in Singapore. I have previously made a set of Montessori 3-part cards of common birds here. These are so handy to just pull out for reviews!

As we were matching our bird cards, D suddenly got excited and blurted out a riddle that he had just composed. Subsequently, more riddles rolled out. He decided to make up 10 such bird riddles so that he could post them on his blog.

I helped by pointing out birds with interesting names. HE did the thinking. Some he came up with were dead giveaways. So I just said so plainly. He would then think of another.

I think he did a pretty good job! I have asked him for permission to post them here. Enjoy.

Bird Riddles

1. Which bird is the richest bird?

The Dollarbird.

(Me: Will you be rich with a dollar?!

D: Well, at least it has a dollar. The other birds don't even have a dollar.)

2. Which bird hates to chew its food (the most)?

The Swallow.

3. Which bird can turn very well?

The Tern.

4. Which is a miner's favourite pet bird?

The Myna.

5. Which bird has 102 eyes?

The Peacock.

(You will have to read up on some Greek Myths to know how THAT came about ;-) )

6. Which bird loves to eat Oreo biscuits?

The Oriole.

7. Which bird makes a good postman?

The Pigeon.

8. Which bird loves to play badminton?

The Racket-tailed Drongo.

9. Which bird do you go to if you want a tuxedo?

The Tailorbird.

10. Which bird can turn its head all the way to the back?

The Owl.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Mathematics : Addition ++

Are your kids practicing their simple addition and subtraction sums and getting a wee bit tired of it? Here are two not so conventional looking sums that might make them sit up like they did to my two:

Try to solve for H, E and A if


What is C if

These are guaranteed encores! ... I am off hunting for more!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Art : Draw Squad - Lesson 2 Portfolio

Just as one needs to practice his arithmetics or piano or writing or reading regularly to improve. I believe one also has to practice DRAWING regularly!

We only have one piano. So, while one boy practices his piano, the other boy practices his drawing. So far this arrangement has worked out quite nicely.

Here are a few of my boys' completed drawings using Draw Squad by Mark Kistler. These are from lesson 2 of his book.

Visit Rumphius Webpage Art to learn more about how we approach Art in our homeschool.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Copywork & Dictation : Pythagoras of Samos

As a follow-up to our study of Pythagoras, we read a chapter from the book Mathematicians Are People Too. Vol. 1 by Reiner and Reiner. This account focuses on Pythagoras as an adult and a teacher. We learned a little about the school he established. The practices of his "secret brotherhood" was a little disturbing. Nevertheless, I took the chance to discuss how the beliefs of different people can cause them to do strange things. It was eye-opening for my boys.

This is the paragraph I selected for copywork and dictation:

"All right. We'll start tomorrow. But remember, I need daily wages."

The next day the strange pair began their first lesson in the alley where they had met, amidst the cries of merchants and the mingled smells of fish, freshly baked honey cakes, and sweating donkeys carrying goods to sell. While the townspeople shopped and gossiped, Pythagoras and his student squatted in the dirt. The eager teacher drew shapes and figures on the ground. To Philocrates, it was all new but intriguing. And just as he promised, at the end of the day Pythagoras paid.

The following are words whose meanings the boys had to check:


Visit Rumphius English Webpage to find out more about how we approach English in our homeschool.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

History / Geometry Session 3 : Pythagoras of Samos

Pythagoras of Samos is the next ancient Greek we are studying. He lived about 560 - 480 BC. He was a philosopher and mathematician. He is most famous for the Pythagoras theorem he discovered.

The picture book What's Your Angle, Pythagoras? by Ellis and Hornung made a good introduction to this great mathematician and his theorem. The boys were mesmerized by the story. As such their written narration (later posted on their own blogs! - See my post on Blogging) just flowed out of them quite spontaneously. I had initially assigned them to narrate just one part of the story, but they insisted on narrating almost the whole story!

Pythagoras was portrayed as a smart lad who helped the adults solve their problems. In reading the book, we gathered that in ancient times, builders use a rope with knots tied at regular intervals to find or check for right angles. The rope is a loop that can be pulled to make a triangle with 3,4 and 5 intervals on each respective side. We tried to make just such a rope. Here it is:

Pythagoras chanced on the theorem [(square of a) + (square of b) = (square of c)] when he was laying tiles around a right angle triangular base. We also tried to do the same here with our cuisenaire rods:

We were hoping to make more types of right triangles with our rods. I wrote the whole list of square numbers 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, 36, 49, 64, 81, 100, 121, 144. We stared at this list hoping to find two smaller square numbers that would add up to a bigger square numbers but couldn't. So we gave up.

The boys were introduced to square numbers in their Miquon Lab sheets. So this was not new to them.

My aim for this session was to introduce Pythagoras. I didn't expect my boys to be well-versed with the theorem. I was satisfied that they could understand that when we know the lengths of the two sides of a right triangle that make the right angle, we can calculate the length of the longest side (the hypotenuse). The specifics of actually calculating is beyond their level.

I am confident they'll recall what we have read about Pythagoras when we actually do have to master the theorem later. He will at least be a familiar "friend", not merely a dead and distant mathematician.

Visit Rumphius Mathematics Webpage or History Webpage to find out more about how we approach Mathematics or History in our homeschool.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Blogging and Typing

I have grown to like blogging after almost three months at it.

My main reason for blogging was to have a digital record of our homeschool days. Previously, I was recording, with the help of a program called Homeschool Tracker, the material I used and the time we spent on each activity. The program was great and I felt good for a while. But on looking back at the records I have collected thus far, they just seem pretty meaningless to me.

In blogging, however, I get to record what we learn, read about, and what our experiences and thoughts were. In other words, at the end of the day, I get a personal journal of the highlights of my homeschool days. These things are what I want to remember my homeschool days by; not a list of numbers. What's more? Blogging also allows me to share my ideas and resources with other like-minded homeschoolers.

Looks like I will be at it for quite a while more :-)

It then occurred to me that perhaps my children would also enjoy blogging as much as I have. They have seen me blogged. And there were times when I will tell them my plans about what I intend to blog about. They must have caught some of my excitement because they subsequently asked me if they could have their own blogs too!

I was more than willing to help them start one. So far, it has all turned out very well.

My beginner writers now write because they WANT to, and not because mummy said they HAVE to. They even have their own ideas about what topics they want to post. I respect their views of course.

I must admit that I have used blogging as a carrot to motivate them to write. My boys have been used to giving oral narrations after our read aloud sessions. I am starting them out with written narrations. Resistance was great at first. Now, I tell them they can post their written narrations on their blogs and that had been received with great cheer.

The other advantage to blogging is that my boys are now motivated to learn to type the proper way. I have previously started them on a series of typing lessons. But at that time, there wasn't a real need for them to type fast. They were happy typing with their pointers. They weren't interested in completing the lessons. Now that they are blogging, they WANT to learn to type. In fact, they picked up typing (using an online program) in just ONE WEEK!

It is amazing what a difference intrinsic motivation makes to the ease of learning.

So, if you have wee ones at home struggling to write or type, start them blogging!

Visit Rumphius English Webpage to find out more about how we approach English in our homeschool.
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