Skip to content

Art project: Perspective

September 13, 2011

I like this art project for a no-fuss introduction to single point perspective. (And believe me, we need no-fuss art projects here.)

Here’s how The Bean’s project played out:

Inking the final lines of the drawing. There were light lines drawn from the corners of each 2-inch square to a vanishing point in the center of the picture, but those have been erased.

Coloring the cubes using different pressures to get lighter and darker shades of the same color.


The finished project. She chose to leave the background white. I chose not to quibble. ๐Ÿ™‚



How to grow an apple tree from a seed … we hope

September 10, 2011

We took a lovely field trip to Steele Orchard in Cullman yesterday with Buddy’s school, where the kids got a tour, and I got four big bags of delicious apples.

We learned that apples typically have five seeds, and that because most apples are hybrid varieties that are promulgated by grafting, the five seeds can produce up to five different kinds of apple trees, some of which may not even bear fruit. So, if you’re planning to start an apple orchard, starting from seed isn’t exactly your best strategy, but if you want to try it anyway, here is what we were told to do:

1. Get the seeds from ripe fruit, clean them, and soak them in water overnight.

2. For each seed, add some soil to a small plastic cup with a tight-sealing lid.

3. Poke a hole in the soil, put the apple seed in, and cover it with soil.

4. Water it lightly. Don’t make mud. Just get the soil a bit moist.

5. Put the lid on the cup and seal it.

6. Put the cup on a shelf in a refrigerator. Not in the door. Not in a corner. On a shelf. I’m just telling you what we were told. ๐Ÿ˜‰ The temperature should be between 35 and 40 degrees. If it freezes, it’s over.

7. Take it out three months later.

8. Put it in a sunny windowsill, still sealed, until it sprouts.

9. Now, remove the lid. Water lightly about once a week. Don’t make mud!

10. When you have a nice little sprout with leaves, prepare a larger container, like a cut-off cardboard milk carton, by filling it with potting soil and making a hole in the soil a little deeper than the plastic cup. Take the sprout and soil out of the cup and put it into the carton, covering the top with soil.

11. Continue to grow your apple tree in the milk carton until it’s 3 inches tall and ready to plant outside. Choose an out-of-the-way sunny place where it won’t get mowed, trampled, or otherwise disturbed.

12. Keep it watered and wait a few years to see if your seed produced a fruit-bearing tree. If so, you’ll need to do some more research to learn how to care for a fruit-bearing tree. (Hint: Too much fruit will stress a tree and it can even die; you have to thin the fruit to about one every 8 inches; also, you have to prune it regularly to stimulate apple production.)

Japan Study: Part Two

September 6, 2011

I think the kids really enjoyed our Japan study. Personally, my favorite topic was lunch. ๐Ÿ™‚ We made bento lunches almost every day, and one day we had a neighbor give us a sushi-making lesson. The kids found the one place in the front yard with shade–it happened to be on the sidewalk–and picnicked there most days.

Bento bar: edamame, cantaloupe, seaweed snacks, sesame peanuts, and other treats.

Bento box picnic on the sidewalk.

Rolling sushi.

Cutting a sushi roll.

Yummy bento! Homemade sushi, cherry tomatoes, heart-shaped eggs, edamame, star-shaped honeydew.

But enough about lunch. The kids watched Japan: Memoirs of a Secret Empire for a quick immersion in medieval Japanese history, and constructed a paper model of the Nagoya Castle as well as another castle.

The Nagoya castle. This was quite a project! The kids all worked hard cutting, scoring, folding, and gluing this amazing bit of papercraft.

Hard at work papercrafting.

Himeji-jo palace. This was a 3-D Puzzle I bought from Amazon. Honestly, I think the one we printed from the Canon site was a better project.

We read books and maps to learn all kinds of facts about Japan, and one of the girls made this paper model of Mt. Fuji.

More paper modeling: Mt. Fuji. This is a cool science model showing the inside of this huge volcano.

The kids also got into some Japanese art forms.

The Bean at origami.

Paper cranes! The Bean read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, and her edition had instructions for making origami cranes in it. Much paper was folded.

The Bean

The Bean working on a manga drawing.

The kids had a blast with the culture case from the Birmingham Museum of Art. It was full of costumes, books, activities, and objects.

Some of the objects in the culture case: items for tea ceremony, fans, books, posters, a sand zen garden, and a puppet with 4 interchangeable heads.

The culture case: a big suitcase full of fun.

Buddy in a samurai costume with The Bean and her friend dressed up in kimono from the culture case.

Unpacking the culture case. The Bean is holding up the enormous obi while our friend checks out a bag of fans.

The girls worked hard to tie this enormous obi from the museum's culture case around The Bean.

The culture case included this Hapi. (We got the hats from Amazon when we were studying China last year.)

The ย kids did a lot more, all culminating in their Japan Fair, which will have to be a separate post. ๐Ÿ™‚

Sunflower Seeds

September 1, 2011

Tree Walk

August 31, 2011

We have the excellent fortune to live near the Red Mountain Community School, where Buddy attends kindergarten. Today, the school had a tree walk led by one of our favorite people, Henry Hughes, the education director at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. The school invited neighborhood residents to tag along, and The Bean and I jumped on the chance. Henry often leads Fresh Air Family’s Hikes For Tikes on Saturday mornings at the gardens. When he leads the walk, it always turns into an amazing science class for us.

Henry Hughes showing the students some leaf samples before the walk. Those are dogwood leaves. Note that the leaves grow immediately opposite each other as opposed to growing in a staggered pattern.

Gingko trees are either male or female. This one has fruit, so it's female.

Note how the acorns on this oak tree are fully covered. I believe this is an overcup oak, but someone tell me if I'm wrong. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Something's been munching on this American Elm leaf.

Like dogwood and ash leaves, maple leaves grow immediately opposite each other.

Oaks are either "red" or "white," depending on whether their lobes are pointed or rounded. This one's pointy lobes indicate that it's a type of red oak.

There are lots of live oaks used as landscaping plants in our city. This hurricane-resistant species is native to the coast.

It's just fun to see kids this engaged. ๐Ÿ™‚

The black oak gets its name from its black bark.

Leaves of a cherry tree.

I need to get the particulars on this; I believe it's known as a peppercorn tree, although the fruits aren't actually peppercorns.

Buddy's teacher found this awesome hornworm near the peppercorn tree. It looks like it's rolled up in a leaf, but it's not, how's that for camouflage? It'll turn into a moth.

The Bean holding the hornworm.

Henry explaining about bilateral symmetry in flowers.

These sweetpeas exemplify bilateral symmetry. You could fold them in half, and each half would be like a mirror image of the other half, like people.

This morning glory exemplifies radial symmetry.

Henry explaining how seeds and fruits grow after pollination.

An old post oak tree in Caldwell Park. Nurseries aren't selling post oaks any more, so as they die off in public parks they are often being replaced by exotic trees from Asia. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens has a program to raise native trees for parks.

Tissues, cells and DNA. And a big ol’ microscope.

August 30, 2011

Today was another science day with friends. Yay! Today they brought an awesome microscope on loan from a family of medical professionals. We grownups played with the ย microscope while the kids did their bookish work, but we let them look at cool stuff too, like onion cells and HUMAN BLOOD. A few pictures:


I just love this cool case that goes with the vintage microscope we are borrowing.

Check it out! Awesome vintage microscope that has trained generations of scientists. We get to use it for our class!

Nope, it's not lunch. It's a tray of specimens. We could see the cell membranes and nuclei in the purple onion.

First things first. Let's review cell anatomy from last week and read about tissues for our new material. Next week it'll be bones.

Then, we just couldn't stand it. We needed blood. After a quick drugstore run for lancets, we had some. We are pretty sure we could see one white blood cell among a bunch of red cells. It was cool, and the kids are unanimous in that.

After playing with the strawberry DNA they extracted last week and discussing that experiment, we moved on to this DNA model. First, the kids built a model of a section of DNA, then they unzipped it and built two identical sections to mimic replication.

Japan Study: Part One

August 30, 2011

This is a picture of kids paying attention during a visit to the archives room at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens library. Archivist Jason Kirby is showing them samples of the materials used to build the teahouse in the BBG's Japanese Garden.

About a month ago, I borrowed some cool neighborhood kids that are a couple of years older than The Bean to come over and hang out with us for a couple of weeks. We decided to call our time “Camp Unschool” and to focus on studying the history and culture of Japan.

Birmingham just happens to be a great place to be if you want to study Japan and can’t actually go to Japan. One of our sister cities is Hitachi, Japan; the Birmingham Botanical Gardens has one of the handful of authentic teahouses in North America in its excellent Japanese Garden; and the Birmingham Museum of Art has an excellent Japanese Collection as well as a free-for-members-to-check-out “culture case” full of items and activities for learning about Japan.

The kids decided that they would create activities and displays for a “Japan Fair” for the neighborhood. After reading about Japan, watching some documentaries, making bento lunches, building some models, making a bunch of origami, rolling some sushi, studying some maps, and taking the most epic field trip ever to the botanical gardens, they put on an amazing event. I took a bunch of pictures, so this will be a two-part post. Today, I’ll focus on our awesome field trip.

A little background: There is a public library at our botanical gardens. In the library, there is an archives room. In the archives room are all kinds of amazing treasures, many of which relate to Japan. I wouldn’t have known about the archives room at all if I hadn’t “liked” the botanical gardens’ Facebook page … but I’m a hopeless Facebook junkie, and one day in my feed there popped up a new photo album titled Archives Room at the Library. I got a little geeked. ๐Ÿ˜‰ There may have been happy dancing.

Anyway, when we were doing our Japan study, I made an appointment to take The Bean and her friends to the archives room, letting the archivist know we were interested in items relating to Japan. (Click here for more info about the archives room and contact info for the archivist.) This turned out to be one of the best things we’ve done as homeschoolers. The archivist, Jason Kirby, gave us the royal treatment, pulling out all kinds of Japan-related items from shelves, drawers, and who-knows-what-hiding-places, putting them on display for us, and telling the kids about all the items. It was a custom class just for us!

Checking out a model of the teahouse located in the Japanese Garden.

A stunning fully embroidered Japanese wedding dress. Did I say stunning? Yes. Stunning.

Stunning embroidery on the stunning wedding dress. See how the feathers on the birds' backs look ... feathery?

This is one of the hammers that were originally intended for ringing the bell in the gardens. For practical reasons, it is currently rung with a wooden beam.

Here Jason is demonstrating "laying down the dragon," a ritual to appease the earth-dwelling spirits before the ground was broken for the teahouse.

Kimono and obi.

This is a samurai doll that would have been given to a child in a coming-of-age ceremony.

Next we headed to the Japanese Garden, which we saw in a totally new way after our class in the archives room.

The teahouse in the garden. I want one in the back yard.

Camp Unschool class picture at the Torii gate.

Deep in the bamboo forest ...

The hidden Buddha. Hint: NOT in the bamboo forest on the far end of the Japanese Garden.

A moment of zen with the hidden Buddha.

The bell, with the beam ringer instead of the original hammers.

On the zigzag bridge.

At the very end of the garden.