The Tree Lady

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Balboa Park- August 2015

We actually kicked off our row of The Tree Lady with a trip to Balboa Park!  We already had a trip planned to the beaches of Carlsbad, CA when I heard that FIAR was releasing this new unit, so I knew we had to squeeze in a visit to Balboa Park, especially since this was the “Centennial Year”.  I read the story to the boys before we went out of town, so they’d have a clue why we were visiting this park, but that was really the only prep-work I did ahead of time, other than read through the whole “manual” on the unit myself.

Let’s just say that their attitudes were pretty terrible when we got there.  They had been playing in the ocean and visiting Legoland for the 5 days leading up to our little jaunt over to Balboa Park, so to them this “park” that had no playgrounds and required a whole bunch of walking in the heat was a total bummer.  Had we been locals who interrupted one of our usual ho-hum days to go to the park and have lunch and walk around, they probably would have been excited.

Anywho, we spotted the statue of the Tree Lady way out near the area that we parked, so we stopped by her first to take pictures and read the little plaque.


(forced enthusiasm)




After reading this plaque to the boys, we made the long trek across the bridge into the main area.


This park is absolutely huge!  There are tons of beautiful buildings and museums and open areas (both grassy and paved).  The San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Air and Space Museum are also part of this park.  Since we didn’t arrive until about 2 in the afternoon, we figured we didn’t have time for either of those big-ticket museums.


There were huge, amazing, beautiful 100-year-old trees all over the property!

I suggested to Raphael that we find some food and eat…food is the quickest way to change their moods!


Especially when it’s junk food, like hot dogs, nachos, and chips!


Look mom, they do have a playground here…


Err, sort of!


After filling all of the bellies, we decided to take a stroll and see what we could find.


Ooh, cool, one of those statue-dancing guys.


He was really great, and the boys each gave him a dollar.  We asked him if he was going to continue dancing, but he complained that it was too hot to dance and he needed about 20 minutes to cool down (they were having a bit of a heat wave that week).  We just laughed and said that we are from Arizona!

So we moved on…


More pretty landscapes and impressive buildings.

What got their attention, though, was the balloon girl.





And then we left.  We were there for a total of about 3 hours, most of it spent walking.  The park really was amazing and it’s worth visiting if you have the chance, but there really isn’t much to do there with little kids, unless you are going to the zoo.

Fast Forward to May of 2016!

We read a few go-along books…trees, gardening, California history…


I forgot to include in the picture another really great book we read called Redwoods by Jason Chin.  We own several of his books and they are all fabulous!


Since the Tree Lady moved to San Diego from Northern California, this book was great at showing just how amazing the trees and botany are in the area she grew up in.

Art: Dust Jacket and Book Cover


We compared the dust jacket to the book cover and saw that they were different.

Social Studies: Story Disk


We put our story disk over San Diego.


We talked about the different definitions of what a park is, and the boys each designed their own park…





And we visited a local park, for research purposes.  😉





We received a Koala Crate that had a simple little cute activity about gardening, so Raphael did that with the boys over the weekend.





Lately we’ve been doing our rows with much more discussion and much less activity, so there just aren’t as many pictures to post on the blog…which is ok.  🙂


South America Unit Study

We did another group unit study in April with our Friday Park Day friends, except this time we focused on South America.  We had intended to have the kids each do a presentation on an animal from South America, but that idea fizzled out.


At home, aside from the group, we read several stories relating to the South American Rain-forest and the animals of South America…and chocolate!

We found South America on our map…


and on our globe…


and in our “passport books”…


(Logan wasn’t feeling great this day.)

Raphael and the boys worked on a Koala Crate which showed up this month, that was themed all about the Rain-forest!


They made a monarch butterfly out of felt, a musical rain stick, and a tree canopy game.




We went with two of our Nanas and my sister and her boys to see The Jungle Book movie at the theater…



With the group, we spent a day doing field trips!  Since cocoa trees grow in the rainforest, I had the idea of doing some stuff that focused on chocolate.  There is a candy factory about 45 minutes away that gives tours, so I scheduled a tour for all of us.  To make the drive even more worth our time, one of the other moms in the group coordinated with her sister, Kim, to meet us at a park near to the candy factory and bring some of her exotic animals for us to look at and learn about!


She brought a tarantula…



an iguana…


a boa constrictor!…




and a wolf/dog (that was 80% wolf)…


Even though the wolf/dog had absolutely nothing to do with the rain-forest, she was the animal that we were all the most amazed with, I think!


She doesn’t eat dog-food, and eats mostly raw meat.  Miss Kim fed her a huge raw piece of chicken, and the wolf/dog ate the entire thing in less than a minute, crunching the bones up like potato chips!

It was very fun and Miss Kim taught us lots of interesting things about her animals.

After a while, though, it was time to head to the candy factory for our tour appointment…







This is Mr. Cerreta…he is the owner of the company, which he founded over 40 years ago.  His adult children and some of their spouses now help run the factory.



I let each boy pick out one candy from the store before we left…


A fun, busy day.  A fun unit study!

Curriculum Hits and Misses for 2015-2016

This year has been a year of growth for us.  We spent less time doing our “enrichment” subjects (social studies/science/art) and more time focusing on the 3 R’s.  You wouldn’t know that from this blog, though, since I tend to post our unit studies almost exclusively.  I guess that’s because they are more fun and get more pictures and seem to have a definitive beginning and end.  Our other subjects are mostly continuous.

You can see our curriculum choices that I posted for last year, here.  Conner started the year at 8 years old, and Logan was 6.


Math-U-See   The biggest and most exciting win of all would have to be Math-U-See.  After a year and a half of trying at least 6 different math curriculums, I can definitely say that Math-U-See is a good fit for us.  Conner flew through the Beta level and is already several lessons into Gamma.  Logan is finishing up Alpha this week and will be moving right into Beta.  Getting into a good place with math feels like our best accomplishment for the year.  I’m glad we kept searching until we found a good fit.

Spelling You See   Early in the school year we decided to give the sister program to Math-U-See, Spelling You See, a try.  My original motivation for purchasing Spelling You See was that I decided to put a hold on our Handwriting Without Tears lessons for a year, for both Conner and Logan, and I wanted something that they could use to at least continue practicing their penmanship for the year.  I didn’t think Conner was ready to start learning cursive yet, and Logan was already a year ahead, anyways, in the HWOT program.  I was skeptical about Spelling You See at first, because it seemed so…simple, but was pleasantly surprised when it helped them both with their progress in reading (especially for Conner)!   We started the program from the beginning, using the Listen and Write level at double-speed.  Now they are both working through Jack and Jill.

All About Reading  (sort of)  We’ve been using this program for years now, starting with Level 1 and moving into Level 2, where we are now.  They definitely both had a lot of growth with reading this year, but I can’t decide if it had more to do with beginning Spelling You See (as mentioned above) or with All About Reading itself.  Logan is a natural reader and has been cruising right along, but Conner’s progress has been SO. VERY. SLOW.  I know that a lot of it has to do with the fact that he is just personally not a natural at learning phonics, but I can’t help but wonder if he’s ever going to take off with this program.

Five in a Row  (sort of)  My heart just gets all warm and fuzzy when I think of or hear about Five in a Row.  It was the first curriculum we ever used and we have lots of great memories from all of the different “rows” we’ve done.  We really only average about 12 rows per year, though.  I’m an overachiever by nature, so even though Five in a Row is meant to be done easily by following the manuals and keeping it simple (which is the method which many moms adhere to and find success from), I just can’t seem to do that.  I don’t want to miss anything, so I spend way too much time planning and executing our rows.  The problem with this is that young kids can only learn so much from these experiences, so I leave each row feeling like my effort far exceeded what they actually got out of each study.  Then I feel burnt out and it takes me a few weeks to work up the energy for another row.  I still want to do some rows here and there, but it can’t be our main curriculum anymore, especially as Conner gets older.

Piano Lessons   Conner, Logan, and I all started taking piano lessons from a local lady.  I wouldn’t say the boys love it, but I love it and we’re learning tons and we’re going to stick with it!  There are many different schools of thought on this topic.  After much deliberation on my part, I decided that if we started this, it was going to be something we stuck with come hell or high water.  They may not be excited about it now, but they’ll be glad they know it when they’re older and we’ve found a great teacher.  In a few years, I may let them choose a different instrument if they’d rather, but only after they have a good foundation in piano.


Spanish   We just didn’t even get into that workbook at all.  After a few weeks of half-hearted attempts, I shelved it.  I’m hoping to really get started with spanish next year, though.

Handwriting Without Tears   As mentioned above, I decided to set these books aside for a year.

All About Spelling   For some reason, I can’t seem to wrap my brain (or schedule) around the idea of doing two different programs with tiles and word cards and phonics rules simultaneously, every single day.  I feel like I can either do All About Reading or All About Spelling, but not both at the same time.  Or at least not both on the same day.  Since we are still focusing so much on reading, All About Spelling took the backseat this year.

In conclusion, next year is likely going to look quite a bit different than the past several years have, as we look for a new program to use as our main spine for all of our enrichment subjects.  There will likely also either be a new reading program and/or a reading tutor for Conner.