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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Penyabong Beach

Dear husband, together with a group of Christian bikers formed a group called The Lightriders. They have been visiting and organizing various activities for the orphans at Berkat Children's Home in Johore Bahru. On the third day of the Chinese New Year week, they brought the children to Penyabong beach for an outing. This beach was "discovered" by a fellow biker, who was drawn to the sandy beaches and the wide expanse of exposed sandbars during low tide.

After some tricky arrangement with transportation, my boys and I managed to join them in this outing. Penyabong is situated some 20 min drive north of Mersing. It was a bus ride of about 2 hours from JB.

D and B had a fun time playing with the children. Here is a shot of the children being organized to play some group games.

The children had more fun frolicking in the water...

building sand castles, burying their friends in the sand...

and playing soccer on the beach.

While my boys were absorbed in their soccer game, I took the chance to explore the beach to have my nature walk.

When we first arrived at the beach, we saw many balls of sand on the sand slopes just outside of a tiny holes. I squatted quietly to watch these holes and was rewarded with a good peek at the inhabitants of these burrows and the makers of those cute little sand balls.

(You can hear the children's happy romps in the background)

These crabs are Sand Bubbler crabs. They feed on the detritus on the surface of the sand granules. The processed sand are then deposited outside their holes.

The children found it fun and challenging to catch these sand bubblers. They did managed to catch some and we even smuggled one home! D chose to draw it and find out more about it the next day.

Interspersed between the sand bubblers burrows were precarious little tubes protruding out of the sand. These are the tubes of tubeworms.

Many pieces of driftwood on the beach had some interesting creatures stuck on them. I really didn't know what they were then. They clustered in an interesting pattern that make them look like shells strung together.

I saw that these creatures had a muscular foot that was used to attach it onto a substratum. Occasionally, the whole shell of the animal were swung gently from side to side. Little claw-like structures would also extend out of a slit on this "shell" to sweep in a unidirectional motion.

I later found out that these are called Gooseneck barnacles (or goose barnacles). They are free swimming when young. But as adults, they perch themselves on a solid surface and would not move off for the rest of their lives. The claw-like structures that I saw were their specialized limbs that help to gather food for the creature.

B decided to make a journal entry on the gooseneck barnacle in his nature journal using a photograph we have taken. This was done the next day, in the comfort of home. It would have been better if they could draw at the beach. But with all the children playing, who could have concentrated. I figured this will be the next best solution.

I decided to do the same.

Back at the beach, I then haven't yet noticed the Gooseneck barnacle's muscular foot, had thought perhaps these were hermit crabs. I searched the beach for something long and thin in which I could poke into the slit on the shell to agitate the prisoner within; in the hope of luring it out. I found a short stick which suited my use but was more surprised to find it studded with puny snails!

As the sun continued to beat on the beach, the receding tide unveiled more hidden beauties. Look at the tiny sand dunes formed by waves.

And I couldn't resist taking a shot of this angular weathered rock.

Such rocks created numerous pockets of water that form micro habitats for more animals. I spied many water snails that were very well camouflaged. Can you spot the snail gliding ever so slowly in this video?

By now, I had walked quite far away from where our party was settled. The sandbars turned rocky as we ambled further off shore. The little island that we saw during high tide, was now reachable on foot.

By then, unfortunately (or fortunately) my camera battery went flat. I found a crab lying exposed on a rock. The only way I could document it was to draw it. And that was what I did. Good thing I had my nature journal with me then.

I didn't do justice to the crab. The scorching sun was burning my back throughout the whole time I was drawing and that was awfully distracting. The glare from the sun also blinded me somewhat. I couldn't differentiate the colours on my watercolour pans. I mistook the red for a dark brown and blotted too much red on my drawing. The carapace was more of a reddish brown colour.

I was trying to draw really fast too, fearing that the crab would scramble off before I could complete my drawing. It however, kept so still for so long that I half suspected that it might be dead. Moreover, I noticed that it had two legs on one side and four on the other. One limb must have broken off.

Based on the markings on the carapace and the general outline of the crab, I am guessing that the crab I drew was a Porcelain crab. The Porcelain crab is known to shed its limbs in times of danger. A new limb will grow back in place of the one that is lost but is often smaller than the original. If I have correctly identified this crab, then the crab I drew could possibly be alive.

At the end of the day, the children were overcome with exhaustion. I was overcome with excitement over all the wonderful things I saw. I made a mental note to find out more about some of those mysterious creatures. I am also resolute to search out for more places with such treasures and be more diligent in documenting as much of God's marvelous creation as I can.

It is funny how God gave me a "Wild Day" after I have kind of given up hope on having one. It would be so nice to have more of such days.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rethinking Nature Study

I was inspired to start Wild Days (nature study days) after reading the book Wild Days by Karen Skidmore Rackliffe some years back. However, with the demands of school; trying to keep our core subjects on track... we have been neglecting nature study.

For a long time, our occasional outings with our friends were passed off as our Wild Day. Deep inside me, I know I am deceiving myself! Worst still "cheating" my boys of the benefits of nature study.

After some evaluation, I decided to restart nature study by taking smaller steps. Scaling down our former Wild Day to a Wild Hour seems like a more realistic goal.

For sometime, I have been perusing this site by a homeschooling mother, Barb-Harmony Art Mom. She started this blog to challenge homeschoolers to start nature study, as described by Charlotte Mason, using the book Nature Study Handbook by Anna Botsford Comstork. (eText available here.)

I had this books for years. It is a thick book of about 2 and a half inches. It was written in the 1930s by the founder of the Department of Nature Studies at Cornell University. It aims to provide possible observational points for those who are attempting nature studies. One can tell by thumbing through that this can be a very useful book. But the big question, at least for me, is "HOW do I use it?". This is where Barb-Harmony Art Mom comes into the picture. She has kindly provided a framework to use this book. It is the kind of "guide you by the hand" help I need now.

Enough said. I will begin by following her weekly Outdoor Challenges starting from Outdoor Challenge #1 which was posted in February last year. (Her latest is #45!) I will try to follow through the challenges as closely as is possible. At least until I am comfortable enough to stray off and use HNS confidently on my own.

I like it that she even provided a way for people like us to blog about what we did for the respective Challenges and link it back on her site. This not only serves to make me accountable, but also gives me a chance to take a peek at what others are doing. She is simply ingenious! (We really need more of such helpful homeschooling mothers!)

I am so excited! Can't wait to start!!

Visit Rumphius Wild Days Webpage to get an idea of what my original plan for Wild Days was.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Starting a Fresh Water Aquarium

We were blessed with a free fish tank and all the add-ons needed to start a fresh water aquarium. I have put off setting it up for almost 3 months! This is due to hesitation on my part. I just wasn't sure I could cope with one more commitment. And all this time my boys have been begging me to buy fishes.

We finally did buy. 22 to be exact. That looked like quite many at first, but when we emptied them into our large tank, they hardly filled the tank!

Excitement was in the air. During the first few days, we spent many hours watching our fishes. I was glad we bought a variety of fishes as they each had their own characteristics and thus interesting to observe. They were rather therapeutic to watch.

We bought guppies, Neon Tetras, Mollies, and some others unknown fishes. The aquatic plants I chose without thought turned out to be rather hardy water plants. They are the Java Fern and Malayan Aqua Fern.

Within 2 weeks of setting up the tank, we discovered that our female guppy delivered 6 guppy fry. B described our experience in his blog. I read up more about pregnant female guppies here and gathered some other information for D to read and answer a few pertinent questions. He documented his "findings" in his blog too.

We learned about the gravid spot in females. This is a dark spot on the rear end of the abdomen of female guppies. The gravid spots are actually the eyes of the baby fry! Nearing delivery time, this spot becomes very dark. In the photograph above, you can see the distinct gravid spot of the female guppy below as compared to none observable in the female guppies above (although they were all obviously pregnant).

Our guppy fish fry were at first about 0.6mm long. They were almost transparent except for their large black eyes. They knew well enough to hide safely under rocks and amongst the leaves of the water plants in the tank.

Now after almost 3 weeks, they have grown to about 1.2 cm and have turned opaque and more brown. They have become bolder and were spied swimming fearlessly with the larger fishes.

It was not all well and good. We had many casualties to the point that my boys were making guesses as to which fish will die next! We found guppies rather vulnerable in general. However, thankfully, of the 6 guppy fry we discovered, 5 are still alive today. I hope we can be able to at least see ONE of them through to adulthood.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Chinese Lanterns

Chinese New Year is approaching. We had our share of some festive fun this Friday with a lantern-making session at Jurong Lake Park. Look how focused the children were ...

And what happy faces after all that hard work!

Ops... not all here. Some still at it...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

My Plan for Chinese

These are the two main branches of my plan for Chinese this year. After these are set on track, I may add other minor elements to the mix.

1. Local Curriculum

I plan to follow the local Chinese textbook for Chinese. Make sure my boys know the words they are to know how to recognize and write. Unlike English, sadly in the case of Chinese, copying the words (or terms or sentences) alone didn't guarantee retention. I have found that flash cards used in a variety of ways, allowed me to increase their encounters with these "must-know" words, thus increasing retention.

Here is D arranging and matching word cards to make meaningful terms. These are the ones listed in the hao peng you magazine. The example sentences in there are also useful. I intend to refer to the hao peng you magazine more closely this year in this respect. There are 38 copies of this in a year, so if I complete one copy a week, I should be on schedule.

When they have mastered the "must-know" words, they would complete the topical exercise from an assessment book I bought from the local bookshop.

2.Charlotte Mason Approach

I have found that the Charlotte Mason method works for Chinese too. We read from picture books. I require my boys to give a narration of what we have read. They are still not good at expressing themselves well in Chinese. So I have to provide them with a lot of help here. Sometimes these narration turn out to be more an oral comprehension, whereby I ask them questions and they answer. Progress is slow but observable. I believe if I stick on with this, their fluency will improve with time.

I also select a sentence or two for copywork. I make them recite those sentences so that they would be familiar with the various sentence structure. I found that recitation is very effective in empowering them in their spoken language; which is my main concern now.

There are times I would go one step further by making them learn to write these sentences. (I am monitoring this closely as I feel sometimes I may be pushing them a little too hard here:-b) I would make flash cards for the words in these sentences so as to help them learn to recognize these words before I give them a dictation.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

English Vocabulary

Last week, being the first week of school, was a rather hectic week for us ; new routines, new schedules and even some new approaches. Lots of re-evaluation and re-adjustments and re- scheduling at the end of each day.

My reason for doing this is that I have learned not to over-plan (still not very good at that!) and not to plan too far ahead.

My aim last week was to concentrate on the core subjects; English, Chinese and Mathematics. Get these going, then start adding other subjects into our day gradually.

The new element we added into our English is a vocabulary component.

There are times when we read a book and some words just baffle us. It would be just such a waste if we pass them by and never really learn what they mean. Of course there are times when we could guess the meanings of words from contextual clues but it is always nice to know exactly what those words mean and how they else they can be used.

As such, I have decided to include a vocabulary section to our English "curriculum". If you have been reading my blog, you would have noticed I have already done that previously. Just that I wasn't very organized about it :-b

Last week, one of our read aloud chapters was a chapter on Hermes from D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths. After an oral narration, a paragraph from page 54 was selected for copywork and dictation.

I selected this list for our Vocabulary List 1 :
(The following words were added into the list from our holiday readings!)

I plan to continue to pick words from our read aloud chapters. 10 to 15 per week is nice to start with. I let my boys copy and paste from an online dictionary to a word document. I then print this sheet out for them to study from. I use the online matching game maker that I have found to create a matching game to test my boys after they have studied their words.

Here is our Vocabulary 1 Matching Game. This is a matching game for my boys' review. This is really easy to make since I just copy and paste from the word document that my boys have made.

This week, one of our read aloud chapter came from Skylar by Mary Cuffe-Perz.
Here is our Vocabulary List 2. Shorter this time ;-) :

This is their review game for this list:
Vocabulary 2 Matching Game

Note that this little vocabulary exercise is done on top of our usual read aloud, narration, copywork and dictation.

I have added all the online games I created in my link section on the side panel. In future, I will just add the links to new games there. This will makes it easier for me to just tell my boys to "Go play the vocab game!"

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

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Mystery of Genes

My twins look like a carbon copy of their Daddy...

D: Do I have more of Daddy than you?
Me: No, you have the same number of genes from Daddy as from me?
D: But I look more like Daddy...
Me: That's because Daddy's genes are stronger.
D: How do you make your genes stronger?
B: Do you exercise more?
Me: LOL ... No...
D: Do you put on jeans more often?
Me: LOL (in knots!)

Ops... I really haven't gone much into THIS part of Science yet...

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


I would want to devote my first post of the year to giving God the glory for the many blessings he has showered upon us last year. Here are some homeschool related ones:
  • We were led to the joys of lapbooking in a talk by a fellow homeschooling mother at the Homeschool Curriculum Fair in February. Her passion and enthusiasm was infectious! I am very glad I plucked up enough courage to try it and am gradually feeling our way about this new and exciting approach.
  • I also just discovered the effectiveness of the Charlotte Mason method for the learning of Chinese. I see improvement in my boys' speaking (at least they are less resistant to speaking Mandarin now) and am encouraged.
  • My boys have started blogging and are now thoroughly enjoying it because their friends are blogging too! No need for me to worry about "composition" now.
  • God has miraculously provided the funds for my boys' two "co-curriculum activities", music class at Yamaha and gymnastics class, for the pass 2 years. He opened up an opportunity for me to give private tuition to a student for that exact two years that was needed to complete the music course! Talk about perfect timing!
  • The boys had the chance to participate in an inter-club gymnastics competition and even won some medals (that really came as a surprise for me but a pleasant one no doubt). A very eye-opening experience for them.
  • I have been teaching my boys how to swim. And after much perseverance in this upriver task, they can finally swim! I specially want to thank God for this training in PATIENCE!
  • There are two facilities that I would like to thank God for:- 1. A well stocked library just 10 min walk from home. (No way we can homeschool without a good library nearby) 2. A swimming pool complete with water playground, lazy river, slides, training pool and competition pool. All this just 10 min walk from home also. (I am beginning to sound like a property agent. lol... but I know I must not take these things for granted.)
  • We were introduced to my current Friday homeschool playgroup in March last year and have faithfully attended most meetings. The friends we made here are priceless! And the time we spent together unforgettable.
  • I am so thankful for friends who organized or told us of interesting enrichment activities that I would otherwise not initiate or know about. The activities include the Naturalist camp at Sungei Buloh, Forrest Adventure course, Robotics at Science Centre, Chinese Speech and Drama Camp, Mozart Exhibition at the museum and various other plays and concerts.
Although I have only just briefly listed my thanksgiving items here, each one has had a great impact on us. God is GOOD!!!
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