Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Homeschool Curriculum Shake-Up

This coming school year, our curriculum is going to undergo a very significant shake-up.
We've been battling for the last few months to define just what it is we hope to accomplish. There are certain things that are non-negotiable, that kids must learn. We call these the 4 R's: reading, writing, 'rithmetic, and religion.
The rest is important, but not on the absolutely-must level.
Thing #1 reading for an
The other main thing that is important to teach to kids, and which is all too often overlooked, is the ability to learn. Kids must learn HOW to learn in order to be successful. As technology, specialties, and sub-fields explode in the "Information Age," people have to know how to learn in order to not only excel, but to simply keep up.
We've found that standard curricula teach "to the test." That is, there is a pre-defined body of knowledge to which the student must adhere. Then, the student is tested on what he retains from said body of knowledge, and moves on to the next body of knowledge. Each subject is taught independently, leading to many tests and quizzes.
Oft referred to as the "Scholastic Approach," Wife and I have been calling this "school (at home)." It leads to an approach in which each subject can be imagined in its own silo. Sure, it's the same farm, but with separation of silos, it is hard to see how all of the ingredients come together.
We don't want school (at home).
We want homeschool.

Outsmarting Motivated Chickens

I mean...not that we really needed to.
You see, we've discovered in our few weeks of chicken stewardship that they are really, really stupid animals - unless they really want something. I thought the sheep were kinda thick, but chickens?
Let's just say that in a match of wits between a chicken and a brick, I'd pick the chicken...but only because it would poop on the brick.
Anywho, despite (or because of) their intelligensia, they've been escaping through the electric netting.
Yes, the 3" x 7", 9,000-Volt-packing gap in the net has been little to no hindrance, as they bolt for the other side and voluntary get zapped over and over again in the process. They must really, really want those bugs on the other side of the fence, I guess. The grass IS always greener, if you're a chicken.
The clucking and the feather ruffling accompanying each zap is humorous, to be sure, but it ultimately leads to scenes like this:
Thing #3 chasing loose chickens in the kids play area. Not cool.
They were also inching closer to the garden each day, and getting bold enough to wander into the front yard near the street.
Instead of waiting for a definitive answer for why the chicken actually did cross the road, Wife and I needed to do something.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Oddly Specific

Last week, Wife and I went out for Chinese food. I got an oddly specific fortune cookie:
Yes, this was the actual fortune I received.
So 'next Monday' has come and gone, and what opportunity has presented itself?

Teaching Moments

Yesterday, one of our guinea chicks died.
Death is a part of life, and the only
certainty we have. Teaching it young
makes it easier.
We really don't know how it happened. Earlier that day, Wife noticed that he/she (let's just say "Stanley," and credit Thing #2 with the name) was acting very sluggish and not keeping up with the rest of the flock.
They had been knocking over their food bowls for a week, so we left them to peck at the spilled food for a while.
 While the other 5 were zipping around after moths and pecking at the food and at crawling bugs like crazy, Stanley waddled around looking very confused. Despite being the same age, the natural guinea instincts had not yet materialized. Maybe they never were going to.
With the one looking sluggish, we went ahead and added the feed to a plate.
Later that evening, Stanley was resting in guinea peace.
We took the kids out to see him in the chick-u-bator. I removed him, with the kiddos present, and we discussed death for a bit. They took it very well, understanding the cycle of birth, life, and natural death, as created and ordained by God, as best they could at 7 and 9 years.
We answered some questions for them, and had a very small burial ceremony. It was sad, but nobody cried. It's nature.
We used it as a good teaching moment, and a moment that we will continue to have as time goes on. Shying away from reality is never in anyone's interests.
On the positive side, Stanley was the first animal we've officially lost. One cat has gone AWOL, but we're just not certain on where he is.
All in all, it's a pretty good track record so far.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

NFP+RP & The "Maybe-Rejection" Philosophy

"Eek! A bad apple! Therefore, apples are evil!"
"One bad apple spoils the bunch."
We've all heard this old proverb. And there is some truth to it, at least in the sense of apples. As an apple rots, the gasses and fungus contained therein spread more quickly to other apples in close proximity, thereby ruining a bunch.
This also applies to perception. We, as fallen humans, tend to focus one or two individuals who "ruin it for everyone." The one kid who can't be trusted to stay of the cookie jar, prompting a total snack lock-down from mommy. The one person who drives too fast and prompts a global speed limit reduction.
So rather than deal with, and isolate, the problem, we succumb to the far-reaching, and unnecessary, effects of lumping everything into bunches. It's a grouping (or group-think) philosophy erred on the side of oversimplification in the name of eradication.
The problem with this philosophy it that it makes a few big assumptions.
And we all know what happens when you assume....

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Moving the Electric Netting

Animal friends in the electric net system.
Every 7 to 14 days or so, I need to move the animals to a new spot. I have 4 pieces of electric netting, 164 feet long each, and a solar charger for the fence. I only use 3 nets right now, because the sheep and chickens are still so little, they're not eating enough to justify the increased area.
It's a pretty cool setup. Most of the time it takes me about 2 hours to move it. Between that and daily water checks, I really have very little other animal maintenance. This movable pasture system provides so many cool benefits:

  • The periodic moves keep the animals on fresh grass all the time.
  • The system prevents overgrazing.
  • Parasites are unable to establish themselves given the time that passes between the animals grazing over a particular spot. I like to give at least 30 days rest between moving them back, allowing any existing parasites to die off.
  • The electric fence, and the moving of said fence, keeps predators at bay.

So I decided to document what I do.

Bird's Eye View of the Garden

A view of the garden, with the orchard behind it, from the roof.
Well, roof's eye view anyway.

I had to finish adding the silicone caulk to the roof, and touching up the paint this weekend. I also did some gutter work. Whilst up there, I thought I'd snap a pic of the garden. It's a neat perspective on the land, being 30 feet up.
From the same perspective, I took a shot of this week's grazing area.
Sheep, chickens, and donkey in the new temporary grazing pasture.
I do enjoy the view from the roof, if not the work. Makes we wish sometime for a nice, tall balcony.
Oh well.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Is it a Garden Yet?

Wife and I checked out the garden progress today.
CobyCat keeping an eye on the garden in our absence.
The beans and peas are absolutely taking off. Our tomatoes are doing very well too, including one nice surprise that we direct planted. The transplants struggled for a bit, but they're shoring up now. We have some very nice cucumbers and okra, too. The salad veggies keep coming, and are delicious!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Nature, God, and Suburban Disconnectedness

Living in the country for the past two years has afforded us some opportunities to interact with nature in ways that we never would have the opportunity for had we chosen to continue living in suburbia.
One such encounter was Thing #3 finding a rat snake yesterday:
This very non-venomous rat snake was warming himself about 10 feet from our car.
I was trying to get him (the boy, not the snake) to come to the garden with me while added stakes to support our pea plants. He just stood there squealing and pointing, to which I came over and almost stepped on the lil' critter (the snake, not the boy). As soon as I arrived, it stayed stone-still. After about a minute, he (the snake, not the boy) started slithering slowly away, recognizing our fascination and perceived that we were by no means a danger.
He was riveted (the boy, not the snake).
I snapped as many pics as I could, and even got the older two out to see.

Guineas in the Chick-u-Bator

Yesterday we moved the guineas into the chick-u-bator.
The guineas were a little unsettled at all the space.
They were pretty freaked out, for the most part. They all huddled together in one corner for most of the afternoon.
By evening, though, they had spread out nicely.
They look so tiny in there compared to the chickens, who have grown quite large.
Maybe they'll be like lizards, and grow to accommodate their new quarters? That would be funny.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Garden Salad

Wife just picked the first garden salad of the year!
This is gonna be a peppery salad with all of the those radishes and arugula leaves.
Lettuce, arugula, and radishes for lunch today.
The beans are taking off, and a cucumber plant just shot up overnight. All in all, things are looking very good, despite our late start.
The lettuce and radishes came from the front garden, our yummy lil' salad bed.

Chickens in the Field

Today we finally got the chickens out in the field with the sheep.
The chickens had outgrown the chick-u-bator a while ago, but the coop wasn't done yet. Well, I finished the movable chicken coop this weekend, and we left the chickens locked in the coop for two days to acclimate themselves to their new home.
This morning, we released them.
At first, they were very confused and hesitant.
The coop exit ramp and the grass seemed to almost frighten the chickens.

DIY Movable Chicken Coop: Part 2 (It's Done!)

This weekend, I finally finished up the chicken coop. See Part 1 of my adventure here. It took WAAAAY longer than i thought, but as Wife pointed out, doing things the first time always takes longer.
Seems to be a lot of that going around for me these days.....
Anywho, After just getting the nest boxes and the bottom frame complete last weekend, I had a lot to do.
I started off by finishing the bottom frame. This entailed getting the bike tires filled with air, running the axle (a 3/8" by 6' steel bar) through my pre-drilled holes, drilling out some 3/8" inside diameter washers and nuts, threading the bar through the drilled nuts and the bike tires, spacing the extra support beams so the tires stayed in place, then drilling it all together. Whew.
And the first wheel goes on! Threading the steel bar through
the pre-drilled holes AND the bike wheel required
Wife's loving assistance. :)
But wait...there's more!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Wing Clipping

Yesterday we clipped the chickens' wings as we put them into the newly finished chicken coop. (More on the coop later.)
One of the Rhode Island Reds. Beautiful feathers.
Hard to imagine they were so tiny and fuzzy a few weeks ago.
I caught them and held them while Wife did the cutting. Then I placed them into the new coop. So how did it go?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Remembering the Metal Roof Project

The 21-year-old old asphalt roof was
literally blowing away.
Since this blog is basically my online diary, I want to make sure to track notable events in our lives that will have an impact on our homestead life in the years to come.
One such MAJOR event was installing our new metal roof.
Our old roof needed to be replaced when we moved in two years ago - that was no secret.
But, thinking ahead for the life cycle of roofing, we did NOT want to spend $4,000 on a new asphalt installation, only to deal with contaminated runoff to the garden area, and then have to deal with replacing it in another 20 years.
We wanted to be one-and-done.
Invest in higher quality now, and reap the rewards later on.
Our nearly-complete DIY metal roof installation.
So we planned and saved, and through a local retailer, order the metal roofing panels, flashings, screws, tools, and sealant ourselves.
And then we DIY'ed the whole dang thing.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Homeschool Curriculum Choices

So Wife and I are looking at different homeschool choices right now. Under Tennessee law, we basically have three options:

  1. Let the superintendent know we're homeschooling, turn our grades and attendance in to the county office, and get ready the "common core" standardized testing hullaballooza
  2. Enroll in a "Category 3" distance learning program (which means signing up with an accredited (read; curriculum-controlled) school - we took this option with Seton the last two years)
  3. Register with a "Church-related school" (which, living in the Bible belt, has not been our go-to option as practicing Catholics)

Let's "bake" cookie making
into our curriculum!
Our main driver has been to allow ourselves a bit more flexibility than the curriculum that is handed down provides. You see, to get a school accredited means to control every aspect of the curriculum. That's fine, but we're looking for a bit more freedom in choosing texts for certain subjects.
We found this Home Life Academy homeschool late last week, and it looks promising. It's an "third option" school (Church-related), and allows for total freedom in curriculum design. They require that you get the hybrid curriculum approved, and send in grades and attendance twice a year.
Sounds awesome!
So we could stick with Seton's texts ( which we love), but allow ourselves room to move in and out of the subjects as we need to with our kiddos.
We'll be investigating this a bit more.

DIY Movable Chicken Coop: Part 1

I started building the movable chicken coop this weekend.
I got the bottom frame and the nesting boxes put together. I didn't rush too much because the metal doesn't arrive until mid-week, so even if I had the thing 100% framed, I still couldn't have finished.
Plus the tires need air.
Anyway, I gathered what I had to get started:
Materials assembled, I was ready to get to work building my movable chicken coop.
With everything set, it was time to build a DIY, hand-pulled, 10' by 6' chicken coop on wheels!