what have we been up to?


Liam built a handheld catapult for a recent homeschooling challenge…


…and proceeded to shoot raisins all over the house with it!


Harry eats Cheerios with a certain flair, don’t you think?


The boys enjoy a jam session in the yard.


Harry’s train obsession continues.


Liam and another homeschool challenge, this time to build a waterwheel.  This one works, but becomes quickly becomes a soggy mess.


This one, however, can’t be stopped!


A day out in Mons.  My the traffic cones sure are big here!


A visit to the local natural history museum.


Harry’s first excursion into the (non-eating) world of playdough.


Liam’s latest engineering feat, a hovercraft.

And that’s what we’ve been up to lately!

Outdoor Hour Challenge #5


As you know, we’ve decided to focus on “the sky” for our next 6-8 weeks of nature study. Although this was initially an overwhelming prospect for me, I’ve gained a little perspective over the last few days and think I’ve come up with a list of areas to work from that will satisfy quite nicely. I’m well aware that this is nature study, as opposed to a science class, so I’m not trying to make it too bookish or analytical or anything. Yet, knowing Liam, that’s exactly what he’ll want. So I’m arming myself with information regarding the following points, collecting library books, and waiting for him (as I know he will) to ask the questions. Some have already been asked, but I didn’t at the time have a complete answer. And I may do a bit of leading, but no pushing.

    1. Day and Night — Liam already understands the basics of this, but we can certainly flesh it out a little more.
    2. Seasons, Solstices, and Equinoxes — understanding how our trip around the sun effects the amount of daylight we get and determines the seasons.
    3. Compass Directions — specifically, how to determine your direction by the sun.
    4. Colors of the Sky — why the sky is blue during the day, but orange/red in the morning and evening.
    5. Moon and Moonlight — that it doesn’t give off its own light, but reflects the sun’s. Also perhaps an understanding of the different phases. This will require a few late nights, but since we homeschool, it’s not like he’s got to be up at 7AM, right?!
    6. Constellations/Other Planets — I’m sure eventually the clouds will move on and we’ll get some clear night skies. We’ll let Liam have some fun spotting what he can in the night sky and seeing if he can identify Venus and a few of the constellations.

Today we read What Makes Day and Night, a children’s science book that we’ve read in the past. Liam experimented at being the earth, standing with his arms stretched out to the sides. When his left hand was facing the sun (me), it was sunrise. As he continued to turn toward the sun, morning grew into midday, when he was facing directly toward me. When his right hand was pointed toward the sun, evening. And with his back to me, midnight. A simple, but effective “experiment”. He wondered why we use words like “sunrise” and “sunset” when the sun isn’t moving around us, but us around the earth. So we spoke just a little bit about how people haven’t always known that the earth revolved around the sun, and that they thought the earth was the center of rotation. Liam was just boggled that anyone could not know such a basic fact! Funny how what once was heresy is now such a commonly known fact that a five year old knows it.

Outdoor Hour Challenge #4



Challenge 4 encouraged us to choose a focus for our nature study. Trees, or flowers, or mammals, or birds, or insects…. you get the idea. The idea is to find one area to focus on for 6-8 weeks and foster real familiarity with that topic. I had a few suggestions to offer Liam, but he had his own idea. He wants to study the sky. I asked a few questions to flesh that out a little. What about the sky? Clouds, rain, weather? Of course not, that would be far too easy for Mom to accommodate. He wants to study the sun and moon and starts, real sky stuff.

I’m kind of at a loss here. We have binoculars, a big backyard, and quite a good telescope to boot. However, we live at 50°28’0″N. The sun won’t officially set until 9:23 tonight. We may narrow it down to focusing on the sun and its effects (light, heat, rainbows, etc) and when clear weather does finally come to Belgium, have a couple special “star party” type events. Barb, any suggestions?

Outdoor Hour Challenge #3



Yesterday we were all geared up for another nature walk. This challenge’s assignment was to find something that piqued Liam’s interest, observe it, and hopefully follow that up with a drawing in his nature notebook. The walk started out well, and he showed some interest in a number of different birds we saw on the walk. Then a different Mother Nature made herself alarmingly known, and his need to find a nearby bathroom superseded any and all interest in magpies and other flying creatures.

This morning, however, when we were waving goodbye to Jesse, we noted all the snails in the hedge in front of the house. There were dozens! Liam really enjoyed finding all the different creatures, following their trails across the top of the hedge, watching them stretch and shrink and hide in their shells. We tried getting a few pictures, but Liam’s camera wasn’t up to the close-in work and mine was with Jesse. No matter. He was full of questions and curiosity.

Working from memory and some pictures from the internet, Liam drew a snail in his nature notebook, and narrated a few observations/questions he had. His narration:

  • This morning we found snails in the front yard hedge.
  • Snails can eat leaves. What other stuff?
  • A snail leaves a trail of slime, but I don’t know why.
  • The shell is its house (maison). He goes in his shell when there is danger or when he wants a rest.
  • Tomorrow morning we’re going to “borrow” a couple snails from the hedge and make them a temporary home so we can watch them more closely. The Handbook of Nature Study has some tips for this, as well as some interesting tidbits about snails that I’ll dole out while the interest continues. Speaking of the book, thus far I’ve been working from a free downloaded copy. But I find myself referring to this so often that I’ve given in and bought a copy!

    The nature study is working out really well for us thus far. It’s given our homeschool a bit more focus — as much as I love to learn from books, Liam’s definitely more of a “get out and do it and experience it” kind of person. He’s never been at all interested in reading books about animals or birds (the exceptions being spiders and dinosaurs!), but now he’s seeking out the bugs and critters in the garden, and taking a real interest in the natural world around him. Being a boy’s boy, he’s far more interested in the animal life than in trees and flowers, but I see him observing more of the world around him, and interests peeking out that were never there before.

    Just today I bought a couple extra composition books, so I can start my own nature journal as well. I know squat about types of trees and flowers and bugs, and my drawing ability is akin to that of an eight year old — maybe — but I’m enjoying learning something new and having this experience with my son.

    Outdoor Hour Challenge #2

    Today the kids and I took a walk along the canal to complete #2 of the Outdoor Hour challenges. This time the focus was using words to describe what we see, hear, and feel. It was supposed to be a quiet walk, in which we could really concentrate on our observations. Unfortunately, I had not taken into account the highway we’d have to walk under right in the middle of the canal-side walk, nor the mile or so of non-stop traffic on the Route de Mons we’d have on our return trip. Still, I think Liam did quite well considering my rather poor choice of route.

    The assignment:

    1. One word to describe something you heard: tweeting.
    2. Two words to describe something you saw: fluffy dandelions.
    3. Three words to describe something you felt: cool summery breeze.

    Also, I prompted him to note the position of the sun relative to his body during the walk. When we started out it was shining warmly on his right cheek. We turned onto the canal and he quite excitedly said now the sun was right in his face. As we made the turn to walk up past the Grand Large, he observed that the sun was on his left cheek. Finally, walking home, the sun was behind him. This is a bit of a build up to understanding directions, of course.

    When we got home, we started a nature notebook for Liam. He’s quite enticed by the idea of keeping his own notebook of what he sees on our walks. He’s already wondering what he’ll see tomorrow that will be worth of dictating to me!

    (what, a nature study without pictures? yeah, I took the camera, then forgot about it and never pulled it out. next time)

    Outdoor Hour Challenge #1


    I was thrilled this past weekend to stumble across the Handbook of Nature Study blog’s Outdoor Hour Challenge. Nature Study is something I’ve really wanted to incorporate into our homeschool, but I’ve been a little lost as far as how to get started. I grew up out in the country, but I was not the most outdoors-y kind of kid. I can recognize a maple tree and that’s about it. So this will be an educational excursion not only for Liam, but for me as well.

    Monday we ventured to a nearby park, Le Parc du Joncquoy. Formerly on this site was a large chateau and its gardens.
    The chateau was demolished in 1992, but care was taken to save as much of the arboretum as possible. Over ninety different types of trees can be found on this roughly ten acre site.

    Liam found a number of trees with broad, flat leaves and beautiful “cones of flowers” (his words) that he wanted to identify. The tree looked familiar to me, but, like I said, I’m not exactly a child of Mother Nature. Yet. So we picked a leaf, committed the flower look and shape to memory, and went home to do some research online. Easy, right?

    Ummm, no. Turns out we didn’t get a leaf, but a leaflet. This particular tree has compound leaves. Using the OPLIN site because it had the virtue of being first in my google search for “what kind of tree is this?”, I found that I hadn’t quite done all my homework. Note to self: return next day and check out the bark and the compound leaf structure.

    Tuesday we returned, armed with a tad more knowledge and a camera for photographic evidence. We investigated the bark, found that the young leaves had five leaflets, but the most mature had up to seven. Found on the ground next to a couple mature trees what looked suspiciously like chestnuts. Ahhhh, now the light begins to dawn. When we lived in Harmegnies there was a huge Horse Chestnut tree in the village “grand place.” I don’t recall it flowering, but I’m sure I just wasn’t being observant at the time. The clincher, though, was finding a sign on one of the trees further up the path with both the French and Latin names for the tree: Marronnier, or Aesculus.

    Forgive the less than perfect pictures. Our camera is on the way, and should hopefully arrive sometime this week. To the left, of course, is our now-identified mystery tree, the Horse Chestnut. To the right, our still unknown mystery flower. It’s all over in the undergrowth beneath the large trees. Any ideas? I’ve never seen this before and I’m stumped.

    Liam and I made leaf rubbings using sidewalk chalk. The first entry in his Nature Notebook. He was quite pleased with the experience and has asked that the nature walk be the first thing we do for “school” every day!


    Liam’s feeling much better. I figured on Wednesday that he was feeling more his old self, when he decided to start fighting with me about everything! Up til then he hadn’t had the energy to argue. Poor little guy.

    Speaking of behavior, we’re working on that. Liam now has a “good behavior jar” that he’s working to fill with cubes. If he does what I ask the first time I ask, and with a good attitude, he gets a cube. If he whines, hits, gives ugly looks, etc., he loses cubes. Now watching a movie in the evening is no longer a fait accompli. It’s a privilege to be earned in exchange for 5 cubes. Leftover cubes get saved for big things, like a trip to Imagipark or Parc Paradisio (10 cubes). Right now he’s saving for his dream trip to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower — 50 cubes. It’s amazing the change that’s taken place in just a little less than a week. Part of me dreads sending him back to school in a week — a lot of what we’re working to correct, most if not all of it, are things he’s picked up from other kids at school.

    Speaking of which, although we will be sending him back to school for now, his year will end in April at the spring vacation mark. When we come back from visiting family in the states, Liam will stay home and we will commence schooling ourselves. There are a plethora of reasons behind this decision, but rather than go into all that here, I’ll just say we’ve put a lot of thought into it and are certain this is the best thing for our children.

    Some photos to entertain you. Normally you’d never see a picture of me in here — especially one without makeup therefore highlighting my perpetual dark circles. But Liam took the photo, and he’s ever-so-proud to have his work published.

    Harry’s room is slowly becoming the school room. Our plan is to move him into Liam’s room and they will share. He seems to have another idea. Every day he empties that cupboard and climbs in. This morning everything was out, lying on the floor, and he was lying inside!

    Not sure if you can make it out, but Harry is sitting on Liam’s feet in the last picture. They both enjoyed it quite a bit.

    One last quote to leave you with. Liam, who his microscope-obsessed at the moment, after his morning errrrr….. ritual: Next time I poo I want to poo on a plate, so I can look at it under the microscope!

    a day in the life

    0640 — Harry wakes me up by smacking me in the face. At some point in the night (2:30? 4:30?) he woke up and I brought him into our bed and nursed him back to sleep. I try the same again to gain myself a few precious more moments of rest, but he’s having none of it. Instead, I content myself with smiling sleepily at him while he yanks on my hair, chews on my pillow, and babbles away to me.

    0700 — Jesse’s alarm goes off and the day is on. I get dressed and washed up while J is treated to Harry’s antics. Then it’s his turn. A change from the norm, I get Harry dressed right away. He dug his face in his sleep and he’s got blood on his sheets and his sleeper, so I’ll do wash right away, hoping to have his bedding dry by nighttime. (*I’ll later regret this, when I change his clothing four times throughout the day.)

    0720 — 2 cups of coffee, a brief check of the e-mail and news, and then Liam is up. We all have breakfast together.

    0800 — Jesse leaves for work. I nurse Harry while Liam plays.

    0830 — School time. Liam does one page from his math book. He asks for more, but he’s quickly distracted by an impromptu game of dinosaur tag. Harry is entranced with his first pair of shoes. He seems to love the way they taste. Chew away, pal. That leather is the closest you’re going to come to eating real meat.

    0900 — We sit down at the computer for another exciting adventure with the Super Why gang. This time the story is Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Liam keeps stopping the story and asking me to say the words on the screen without the vowel. He finds this hilarious, and is getting so he can identify the “open” vowel sounds in pretty much any word. Harry sits unassisted on the floor playing with a bead maze. Shoes are soggy but still on his feet.

    0927 — In preparation for today, I found several online versions of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Liam’s favorite thus far was this saccharine-sweet movie from 1958. I read him this version, and we still have plenty to choose from in the coming days.

    1010 — We made “porridge” — aka Cream of Wheat, since Harry ate the last of his this morning. This was the first time I actually let Liam work at the stove with me. He did all the measuring and pouring, as per usual, but was especially excited to get to stir something on the stove. When it was finished cooking, we added in some of the homemade applesauce Jesse put up last fall. Then Liam settled down for a snack of dried fruit. During this time, Harry was practicing knocking over block towers, chewing on and cooing through a plastic funnel (???), and trying to figure out how to propel himself forward to reach some toys just out of reach.

    1040 — Harry’s in the sling helping me do chores — hang laundry, straighten up, etc. Liam opts to play Sorry with the dog. I don’t know how, don’t ask me.

    1130 — Lunchtime. Liam has his usual peanut butter sandwich and finger vegetables. I get the brilliant idea that it’s high time I let Harry play with some food, in the hopes that some of it makes it to his mouth. Two minutes later, I vow never to do this when Jesse’s home, as he might just have a coronary when he sees such a mess being made. Two minutes later than that I’m ready to have a coronary. Surely Liam was never this messy?! Two minutes later, Harry is fed up with playing and wants FOOD IN HIS MOUTH, YOU HEAR!!!!! STOP EATING THAT *&$$^ SALAD AND PUT SOME FOOD IN MY MOUTH NOW!!!!!

    1155 — Strip Harry out of his now-orange (sweet potato) clothing, pop in a movie for Liam to watch, and head upstairs with the ravenous baby. We lay down in my bed so he can nurse.

    1210 — Extricate myself from the now peaceful, sleeping child. Where’s the rabid animal from twenty minutes ago? Gaze longingly at the warm, cozy indentation next to him, and recall fondly the days when I used to get a nap, too. Downstairs, I get a quick cuddle with Liam. Leave him to watch a few more minutes of television while I clean up the mess that is our dining area and take care of some dishes. Guiltily wonder if I use the television as a babysitter. Shrug and have a much needed coffee, and sit down to watch with him.

    The rest of the day is kind of a blur. We were too busy living and doing to keep a blow-by-blow account. We played, I went through a few boxes in the attic, Liam “helped.” We made rainbow colors with food coloring and water, with Liam guessing what color we would make by mixing different colors.

    Two minutes after this photo was taken, all the water was the color of mud, because he decided to mix them all together. But he had fun, and it was an easy clean up. No complaints.

    Liam updates: Liam and I are really beginning to settle into a pattern with his schooling. I think we’ve found a good balance — enough actual “school” for me to be able to track and show progress and feel like I’m doing what I ought to be, but still plenty of time for playing, exploring, reading, and just being a boy. I’d say our actual school time takes less than an hour, and it would take even less than that if someone wasn’t such a slowpoke.

    For maths, I went ahead and bought Singapore Math. We started with Singapore 1A, which Liam is breezing through. I’m limiting us to just one page a day, so math is never a chore or a battle. At 4 years old, I don’t really think any specific curriculum is necessary, but it makes me feel better to have a good resource in my hands to follow. Math is not a strong point for me, and I want to ensure I cover the basics solidly with our kids and get them off to a good start. We’re also doing lots of “living math” — playing Sorry, Shut-the-Box, Go Fish, Memory; counting the flowers in the yard, the tiles on the floor, his Matchbox cars; measuring ingredients in the kitchen; and so on.

    We also do phonics every day. We’re using PBS’s “Super Why.” Those of you lucky enough to live in the states get this for free. We paid 20 bucks and got it from I-Tunes, money well spent. Liam enjoys the stories, practices air-writing his letters with his own magic wand (an antenna busted off a radio control car control), sounding out the words, etc. For those that may know the show, he is Super Why! He likes to reenact the shows and he always gets to be the superhero. We also use Starfall, a great resource. Between these, refrigerator magnets, and coaxing him to sound out the occasional words in simple books, we’ve got phonics covered for a while.

    We read throughout the day, of course, but Liam now understands the term “literature,” and we incorporate some really good books into our day. Now that we’ve started “Super Why,” I’ve been finding good versions of the fairy tales et al they refer to on the show. This last week was “The Tortoise and the Hare.” So I found multiple versions of the tale online for us to read through, and a couple versions at the library. Comparative literature at 4 years old, eh? Liam’s favorite version is the one found here, probably because the detail given allows us a much more animated telling of the story.

    Art, science, social studies, etc., are just subjects that occur throughout the week. I don’t feel at this age a need to schedule and cover certain topics. Right now Liam is into dinosaurs, so we look them up in his DK dinosaur encyclopedia, find info online, etc. This week we Wiki-ed (is that a term?) “tortoise” and “hare” to find out more about the animals. Liam also made his very own tortoise and hare:

    the Hare…

    the Tortoise and the Hare…

    Given that I have pretty much ZERO artistic ability, and only slightly more creativity, I thought we did pretty well!