Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Solar System at Scale

Two things about our solar system.

  1. It's big.
  2. It's mostly empty.
 It's hard to get a handle on how big and how empty - most models have both the relative sizes of and distances between the planets completely out of whack. But thanks to the power of the internet, there's a true model you can see. You need either a half-mile-wide monitor, or a strong finger to hold down the scroll button...for a really, long time.

Did I mention space is really big and empty?
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Monday, July 18, 2011

Dance Mat Typing

Apple I at the Smithsonian MuseumImage via WikipediaRC really dislikes a lot of writing. Her pencil grip is a bit wonky, and it hurts her hand. I can't force her to write anyway without being hypocritical; I don't write for the same reason. In fact, my whole impetus for getting into computers so early in life was that the old Apple ][ at my school had a word processor, which meant I never had to write out a paper again.

So I figure, if this kid is ever going to get some of these amazing stories she makes up down onto paper, it's going to be electronically. Enter Dance Mat Typing, an online typing tutor for kids from BBC's educational website. And it doesn't hurt that the main 'tutor' is an animated goat that sounds like Ringo Starr.

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Sunday, July 17, 2011


Chinatown in Washington, DC at evening twilightImage via WikipediaSo, after our jaunt (read: forced march) through the NGA, RC wanted to know if we could visit DC's Chinatown. And foolishly, I said yes. Because the best thing you can do after dragging a grumpy Mouse through a museum is dragging her five blocks through DC to visit what is surely one of the least extensive Chinatowns in a major city.

But you know, I have to remember that they don't know that. For all they know, this is the most impressive representation of China outside the Forbidden City. Also, it gave us a chance to talk about the history of Chinese people in this country, and how hard they had it, and how they always tried to create a little of the beauty of home wherever they went. It was fun to see all the signs in Chinese and the little hidden carvings of dragons and pretend that we were walking in Beijing.

And, let's face it, we do have a pretty nice Friendship Gate.

World History/Cultures
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Still Life: Enjoy a Feast

Gerret Willemsz Heda   
Still Life with Ham, 1650
(from the NGA Summer Story Series: Discover Dutch Art)

Oy, vey. Remind me again why I thought museum trips with the kids would just be so much fun? I used to imagine us walking in amazement around the marble halls, hand in hand in hand as we allowed the culture to wash over us.

The reality: not so much.

Mostly it's me yelling at one of them to please stop lagging behind and at the other one to please not run off ahead. And it's never the same one. I'm seriously tempted to just link the two of them together so they're at least going the same speed. I'll still lose them, but I'll know they're together.

But for all the hair-pulling frustration of these outings, at some point in the day I see in their faces a few seconds of what I always hoped for: the wonder, the opening of a door in the mind, the unfolding of a new vision.

And then they run off in separate directions and jump in two different ornamental fountains.

Art/Art History
Art/Art Projects

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Tools of the Ancient Greeks

In my continuing efforts to get us out of the Mycenean Age and finally past 1200 BCE, I read RC the first chapter of Tools of the Ancient Greeks by Kris Bordessa. It's a really neatly put together book with lots of information and hands-on activities. The first chapter covered the Minoans, the Myceneans, the Dark Age, and the beginnings of the Archaic Period, including the first steps toward democracy. So now we're finally dabbling into the 800's!! This has been the longest 400 years EVAR. Did I mention we were supposed to be at the year 0 by the beginning of summer? Did I also mention that Mesopotamia has more history than should reasonably stuffed into any land mass? I mean, they just have history oozing around over there! And did I learn about them in school? No, I learned that Egyptians had a civilization and it ended. And then the Greeks had a civilization and it ended. And then the Romans had another civilization and it ended. And that's all I remember about ancient history, folks. We never even got to study Gilgamesh!


ANYway, it took us a few extra months to get through all those piles of history, and so here we are, just beginning the foray into Greece.

And you know what? Those Mesopotamians are still sitting there, just waiting.
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The Odyssey

Speaking of odysseys, that's exactly what I'm dealing with here. Puffin Classics has a great adaptation of Homer's work for kids, and we've been plowing through it like a red-prowed ship through a wine-dark sea. With an emphasis on "plowing." RC does not like any stories with scariness of any sort in them. This includes such terror tales as "Finding Nemo" and "Tangled." So the Odyssey, and the book we read previously, Black Ships Before Troy, (a wonderful adaptation of the Iliad by Rosemary Sutcliffe) have been a bit of a stretch.

Whenever I pull this book out, I get strangled cries of, "No! No! It's too scary!" But I bull on through anyway, since I know that at the end of each chapter I'll hear, "But wait! What happens next??" And then these same story lines start showing up in the next dress-up session or artwork.

Which goes to show you that Homer is better at this than Disney.

Language Arts/Listening
History/Ancient Greece
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Stack the Countries

RC has stolen my iPod yet again to play Stack the Countries. This is another one of those moments where I have to make my scowly face and say, "Okay, but just for a little while," so she doesn't realize how much I want her to be playing this game. Did I mention I made her pay for the upgrade to the full version? Oh, yes I did! If she want to learn more about world geography, she's just going to have to pony up the 99¢ herself.

Geography/World Geography

Art Class

Vase with twelve flowers (Arles, January 1889)...Image via Wikipedia

Oil pastel drawings based on Van Gogh's "Sunflowers"

Arts/Fine art
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Monopoly II

RC and I continue our heated game of Monopoly. I have never seen anyone so lucky at rolling dice! I'm trying to consolidate my block over in the 'Free Parking' corner, but she claims she will never, ever, sell me St. James place. We shall see...

...Update! Even though you can see in the picture that she had FOUR houses each on Park Place and Boardwalk at one point, (I cannot describe to you the terror of rounding the "Go To Jail" corner and seeing those eight suburban stand-ins staring at me. Let's just say I was happy if I ended up going to jail.) I was able to prevail! My secret? Monopoly on the red properties. Even with a modest two—and later three —houses on each, she kept landing on those things and eventually had to mortgage everything to keep paying me. I can now finally say that I've won a game of Monopoly. From an 8 year old.

She never did sell me St. James place, though.

thinking skills/resource management
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Friday, July 15, 2011


Snoopy, Come HomeImage via Wikipedia
After watching Snoopy and Lucy play Monopoly on "Snoopy, Come Home", RC decides she wants to play 'real' Monopoly - she claims that Disney Princess Monopoly is "too babyish." I try to hide my simultaneous relief and glee. We pull out the 1935 reproduction game (mmm...wood pieces) I picked up at the thrift store and I tell her she needs to read the rules while I finish up my programming work. She sets up the board and the money (she's the Dealer) and after a while (my bad) we finally get started. The rules are either a *lot* more complicated in the 1935 version than in the version I played in the 70's, or else we had some wussy house rules in my day. Auctions? Mortgages? You have to calculate all the prices? Ah well, so much the better for learning math skills.

thinking skills/resource management
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