Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 6, Day 3 ~ A Delicious Project Party

We had a fantastic day!

We started with our workboxes: journalling, math practice, free reading, social studies (drawing new pictures of "their" trees and listing more events it "saw"), wooden sword play, Draw Write Now lesson, and sculpting their local animals out of clay. The morning was calm and productive.

This afternoon we had a The Search For Delicious project party with our friends who are using OM4. After having the kids play and burn off some energy we gathered in a circle and did a poll to find out what each person considered delicious. We included the dogs as well ~ Girl Dog thinks everything is delicious and Big Dog loves cheese. Cookies were the big winner with 3 votes; I have no idea why no one else chose cupcakes, a food that is delicious for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Oh well. T-Guy is right ~ my homemade chocolate chip cookies are also delicious.

The kids them made posters with a drawing of their food, writing their names and labeling the food. Then it was time for our delicious potluck. We had cupcakes (of course!), cookies, popcorn, root beer, carob candy, and pizza bagels.

After the food it was free play time. We had sword play, basketball, Lego play, coloring of Day of the Dead style skull pictures, and more. Then the kids moved to playing with Keva Planks and that held them for more than an hour. I love Keva Planks and have never met someone who didn't love playing with them, whether they were 4 or 40.

We had a blast! Working together was so rewarding and I loved that the kids had the connection of having read the same book. I love hanging out with my mama friends; we talked about reluctant readers, the OM journals, the art lessons, and more.

We had so much fun that I didn't get dinner made. Note to self: put something in the crock pot next time. We went to Red Robin instead, which the boys declared even more delicious than In 'N Out. (Totally off-topic ~ have you seen the calorie counts of their food? Last time we went we were appalled, so this time Papa and I split a bacon cheeseburger and fries which still amounted to 750 calories each.)

Do you see that happy face?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 6, Day 2 ~ Our Search For Delicious

J-Baby and T-guy both read well and rather prolifically, so I always plan to finish the assigned reader a week before the project is to be completed. We actually finished The Search For Delicious last Wednesday or Thursday (how sad that I can't remember).

Today we did our language arts main lesson, which was to review question marks and exclamation points and to begin our project. We have big plans for tomorrow, but I thought it would be fun to do something today, so after all of our lessons were finished we headed out on our own search for delicious, aka we went to In 'N Out for lunch. By total happenstance we arrived at the restaurant and saw that Papa was there with his friend; they had given blood and were grabbing a burger before they headed back to work. That was a nice little surprise!

Workboxes today were journalling, math practice, free reading, writing sentences, our LA main lesson, and Draw Write Now. I am happy to report that the boys are now writing 3 - 4 sentences without complaining that the assignment is too long or that their hands hurt.

One other part of the LA lesson this week was to reflect on how the lessons are going so far this year. We did this orally rather than making it a written assignment. T-Guy surprised me by saying that he is really enjoying math, but I wasn't surprised that spelling was the subject he didn't enjoy. J-Baby doesn't like any of his main lessons; he likes music, art, and journalling but said he'd rather go back to unschooling. At least that is what he says when asked ~ his actions and behavior suggest otherwise. I know that he is nourished by having a strong rhythm ~ he is a happier child by far. The truth is that J-Baby should never be asked to reflect; he is consistently contrary for no good reason.

Oh, if you're going to argue that In 'N Out Burger isn't delicious, save your breath. In 'N Out is the only fast food burger I will eat. Period. If you don't have In 'N Out you don't know what you are missing and should just cry now. Seriously.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 6, Day 1 ~ Division With Remainders

Oh wow, does this ever take me back!

I don't think the boys have ever explored division in terms of having a "remainder". They understand the basic concept of fractions and to them the answer to 7 ÷ 2 is 3 1/2, not 3 remainder 1. I will give them credit though ~ they caught on fast! We will work the concept all week, along with the concepts from last week.

We spent the bulk of our main lesson time working with Miquon lab sheets on equalities/inequalities (greater/less than in OM terms). Working with the boys eliminated their frustration with the lab sheets; or at least when the frustration started I could remind them that I was right there to help. These sheets were great as they are reinforcing the idea that math is language, and the language of math is what the boys need right now as they have picked up most of their math knowledge through life learning.

We did a Draw Write Now lesson as art and copywork. J-Baby tried to give me guff about it (I don't want to learn to draw a hen, I want to learn to draw something else!) but he settled in and did the work. We still need to purchase black felt tip markers as we had to share the only one I had which was too fine. They are doing the copywork without lines, Waldorf-style, rather than using lined paper. I'm not sure if we will continue this way or not.

The boys drew two other pictures today; one of their research animal eating and the other of something "delicious". Drawing is a great way to ease into Monday as it reconnects the boys with the subjects of the previous week without being immediately difficult. They also did math practice on even/odd, wrote in their journals, and played outside with their wooden swords.

We're trying to get together with friends for a party/project based on The Search For Delicious. Not all of our friends have finished the book so we're stuck on scheduling for now.

Oh Fall, Where Art Thou?

It was 100 degrees today, cooling slightly after having reached 105 yesterday and over 100 degrees everyday since Fall arrived last Tuesday. Our Septembers are usually warm; however, these temperatures are 10 - 15 degrees above average. We find ourselves seeking the cool comfort of the movie theater and wishing that the pool wasn't closed for the season.

(I do feel a little old as I look at past weather and see that the highest 9/26 ever recorded in our area was in 1978, because immediately I think to myself Yes, I remember the Indian Summer of 1978.)

Some years I am chomping at the bit to bring out the fall decorations. I try to keep it simple and don't put up much, but we do have some things leftover from when we had a year round nature table. Now I decorate the mantle with what we have plus candles, and we add pumpkins and such as we march toward Thanksgiving.

This year the box is still in the closet; I'm not sure I believe that fall is on its way.

The evenings are cool after 10 p.m. but are nowhere near crisp. The afternoons still glimmer with summer's golden light. Crepe myrtle trees hang vibrant with riotous pink blossoms and the roses show no signs of stopping. Whatever the calendar says, Southern California doesn't seem to buying it this year.

Still, this week I will get out the box and start making the changes in our living room and on the porch. A warm throw will be draped over the rocking chair, ready for a cold morning. The cornucopia will be placed on the mantle along with dancing felt gnomes and a leaf garland, awaiting the first fire of the season. The porch will be dusted and swept, the candle jars cleaned, and a string of lights put up so that we may spend the cool fall evenings outside talking while sipping hot tea and warm milk. Certainly a pumpkin or two will be found at the farmer's market this week and be brought home; by Halloween there are usually dozens. (If we grow nothing else next summer we must grow pumpkins!)

When Fall arrives we will be ready.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Little Bit of Loveliness

Thrifting is one of my favorite out-of-the-house activities. It isn't so much about the thrill of getting a good deal (though that feels good too) as much as it is finding something vintage and bringing it into my home to be loved and appreciated.

T-Guy and I found these spools of goodness on Labor Day; Papa and J-Baby were terribly ill all weekend and by Monday I really wanted to get out of the house if just for an hour. T-guy is a great thrifting buddy because he appreciates all the great old stuff we see. Sometimes he will spot an old sewing machine before I do!

On major holidays our biggest thrift store sells everything for 50% off. The bag of vintage crochet and tatting threads was $1.97 after the discount. The large vintage enamelware casserole dish? We found that too! It was $1.49 after the discount; it has some interior chips so I won't use it for food, but enamelware is one of my loves and I think it looks fantastic filled with thread.

The pile of creamy sweetness in the upper right of the top photo is two 4 ft. lengths of hand-tatted lace. I'm not sure what I will use it on but I am so glad that I bought it; I hate to think of someone tossing out what represents hours and hours of someone's life.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 5, Day 5 ~ Another Week Completed

5 weeks completed, 31 weeks to go.

We finished out this week in a smooth, positive manner ~ it's hard to believe that Tuesday was such a terrible day. As we find our place homeschooling this year I am reminded of tuning a guitar. If you accidentally tune a string sharp you need to take the string flat and then move back into tune. If I overshoot with work that is too difficult or too structured (sharp) we need to have an easy day (slightly flat) before attempting to move back where we should be (in tune).

Friday's boxes: journalling; correcting math errors from Wednesday and Thursday; writing a sentence about their local animal using 3 types of adverbs as well as color coding nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs; drawing a picture of where their animal lives (habitat) using full Waldorf-style as well as surface law and perspective; wooden sword practice; guitar practice. Once they finished the boxes they did a Mavis Beacon typing lesson and then were free to use approved computer programs such as Garage Band, Lego Digital Designer, Google Mars, and Timez Attack.

I need to pick up a few black felt tip markers for use with Draw Write Now ~ I can see the Waldorf purists shuddering now! No offense intended ~ I used to be one!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Use What You Have Homeschooling


Most of my local homeschooling friends have joined charter schools, which, if you haven't heard of them, provide funds to purchase curricula and other materials for your children. I still have a wild independent streak and this year we are once again using the private school option. At first I was thinking how great it would be to give myself the same budget that I would get if we joined a charter. Luckily (for my savings account) my frugal side kicked in so for the most part this is going to be a year of using what we have. Making use of what we have will free up funds for what we really need.

I will admit that I have bought a lot of homeschooling resources over the years. Curricula that looked good, programs that other people said were fantastic, books recommended by various people, etc. A lot of it never got used ~ all the books in the world won't do the planning for you.

I've sold much of it over the past two years; I've made so much money doing so that I am afraid to even consider how much I actually spent. So far this year I am actually ahead, having spent less for this school year than I made selling items in August.

But I did hang on to several things that I thought we might use, and I am glad that I did. I have the Miquon Math Lab materials to supplement Oak Meadow Grade 4 Math. My boys learn really well with manipulatives and I love how Miquon introduces concepts far earlier than other programs.

Another program I have is the set of 8 Draw Write Now books, which I bought used from a friend. The boys still need copywork to practice their writing and these books will provide that as well as simple drawing lessons. The OM art lessons are enjoyable but the boys are having a hard time translating what they learn into their drawings. Part of that is fine motor control; I am not a good artist but everything we do is easier for me because of the control I have. J-Baby has decent control but T-Guy doesn't and his drawings haven't progressed for several years now. That tells me that we need a different approach.

I have BrainQuest workbooks that we can use to practice and reinforce what we've learned with OM. Putting some of the worksheets into the boxes on the awful no-good very bad day made me see that my boys really don't know what to do with worksheets (they haven't used them that often in the past), but we'll work on that as we'll probably take the workbooks with us on vacation.

We also have a small cupboard full of science kits and experiments. You know, the kind of kits that family members buy your children as gifts because they are homeschooled. I hate these kits ~ they sit there waiting to be completed and I have no desire to do them. Hey, we all have our failings; I love science, I hate science experiments. Hopefully Papa will do more of these kits with the boys this year. I'm not kidding when I say we have a lot of them. Light kits, electricity kits, physics, simple circuits, volcanoes (why did we need two?), and a prehistoric plant that can be brought back to life(!).

I have all the craft stash any budding young artist could need. Watercolors, tempera paints, acrylics, oil pastels, watercolor pencils, beeswax, clay, weaving kits, fabric crayons and paints, and more. The Native American suede vests we made Wednesday came from the craft cupboard. I bought the kits, oh, two years ago; I got lucky as I had purchased a size 10/12 and a size 12/14 (they were on clearance, so maybe those were just the sizes I was able to get). The boys had a blast decorating the suede pieces and I sewed them together last night. I think I can put together a fun art/craft project every week using things we already have.

Grade 4, Lesson 5, Day 4 ~ Oops!

Mama forgot to fill the boxes last night!

I'm not sure why I spaced out ~ I did all sorts of things after dinner that didn't involve the boxes. When DH came home from his meeting we watched an episode of John Adams and then *poof* it was 11:30 and time to read in bed.

We managed just fine this morning. The boys did their journals, I showed them what to do in their math books, and then they finished reading The Search For Delicious. I had them play Timez Attack and we recited multiplication tables. We also talked about The Search For Delicious.

The OM4 syllabus has a research project for social studies, of get this, 12 local animals. Um, no. I had each boy choose a different animal and they drew a picture of that animal today and titled the page.

(The funny thing is that reading the OM4 syllabus I was reminded of my 4th grade research project. I was assigned Mesa Verde in Colorado, and what I remember most was learning that it meant "green table". You'd think that the fact that it is a major site of cliff dwellings might have been important, but no. What can I say ~ I had just transfered to the school and I'm guessing I was worried more about whether or not I had cool puffy stickers.)

Tonight I filled the boxes right after dinner ~ I don't want to make that mistake again!

Super Nose Saves the Day

Or at least the money.

Do you know how pregnant women develop a keen sense of smell? It's supposed to help them avoid toxins that could harm the growing embryo. I came down with it 11 years ago with my first pregnancy ... and it never left.

This means that I can smell things that mere mortals cannot, such as the precise moment when a banana goes from ripe to overripe. It also means that the milk starts to smell funny to me long before anyone else notices. Indeed, they pretty much think I am insane when I hold a jug of milk near their noses and they can't smell anything. It isn't that the milk smells downright bad so much as a little less than fresh. Slightly off. Odd. Choose your description.

Wednesday I decided that the milk didn't smell right. We purchased this milk in a two-pack on 9/14 and the date on the jug was 9/27. We opened the second gallon Sunday 9/21, so I was surprised that it started to turn my nose 3 days later. And well, even though I know the milk wasn't bad yet I found myself not wanting to drink it or pour it on J-Baby's cereal.

I didn't, however, mind boiling the heck out of the milk to make tapioca pudding. The jug had about 6 cups of milk left, which was a double batch of pudding plus a half cup of milk for J-Baby to drink (he swears it tasted delicious and that I am just weird). So the upside to having super nose is being able to use not-so-fresh milk before it passes the point of no return. I could just as easily have made yogurt or cottage cheese, except well, I like tapioca pudding better. Tapioca pudding makes a fine breakfast and is relatively low sugar for the amount of protein it provides.

And yes, once upon a time my super nose did save the day, or at least the car and possibly our lives. I was 6 months pregnant and we were coming down the mountain after an afternoon of apple picking, using the brakes often as we basically coasted downhill. We'd had our new station wagon for a month, purchased in anticipation of our baby-to-be. We had friends in the back seat. Anyway, I asked if anyone smelled smoke. No, of course not. I asked again a minute or two later. No, it must be something outside the car. Finally I insisted that we stop because I could both smell and see smoke, so we did, and there was a fire in our wheel well. We were able to put it out with dirt from the side of the road, but it could have been far worse if we hadn't stopped. The culprit? The dealership had failed to remove the thick plastic that wrapped the disc brakes during transport. The friction of repeated braking created enough heat to generate the fire.

So it was worth it that time, and I am looking forward to eating tapioca pudding, but I do wish that the trash can didn't stink so badly.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 5, Day 3 ~ Getting Better

I am the person who learned the most today. I made a point of being present to my boys and we had a much better morning. This is something that I know I need to do, but I'm human and I fall off the horse as often as the next person. That's what happened yesterday and today I had to get back on the horse.

I reread the introduction to the Miquon materials and was reminded that the lab sheets are not meant to be used in a vacuum. I started rethinking our math studies and decided that I need to make a plan. I love the Miquon program and want to use it, but I need to figure out how to combine it with Oak Meadow math.

Journalling, math practice, and reading all went smoothly, albeit slowly. I'm not saying anything to rush the boys, however if they are slow there isn't time to use the computer. They didn't complain today, so they must not miss it too much.

I planned to work on three boxes with the boys this morning; I was available for help with all the boxes, but three of the boxes were meant to be guided by me. We worked more with adverbs, and I made a color poster for the boys:



We went around the house looking at all of our prints (of paintings) looking for perspective and surface law. Then we worked on science and the connections between form and function. I enjoyed it and that brought enjoyment to the boys.

It wasn't perfect; J-Baby is always going to question why he has do learn about something he isn't interested in. I don't want to get too esoteric with him and yet I need him to engage in the lessons. I'm glad that I read the OM4 teacher's guide last weekend; it recommends talking less and making the lesson fun so that the point of the lesson isn't rote learning, but rather experience and joy. I'm going to have to work on that.

This afternoon we did a craft project; the boys decorated Native American vests with fabric markers. After I instructed the boys to create some Native American designs I was once again faced with J-Baby's reluctance to do anything other than what he wants to do. So I thought about how the Native Americans decorated clothing and objects to be pleasing to them and I agreed that the boys could decorate their vests however they wished. They had a great time and hopefully I will have time to sew the vests together this evening so that they can wear them tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 5, Day 2 ~ If I Could Start Today Over ...

... I would, because today sucked. I didn't even have to be the one to tell Papa ~ T-Guy spilled it before I got a chance. "We had a hard time with school this morning." Understatement.

I will take full responsibility for this, as I am the adult and I am the one who sets the tone and holds the space. I should have been more patient with the boys today, instead of being frustrated. My attitude was wrong. Any morning that ends with me wishing that my boys were in public school suggests that I need an attitude adjustment.

It doesn't even matter what we did. When I realized that it was a helpless day I should have put down the broom, sat with the boys, and helped them, even if it was work that I thought they could do on their own ~ I was wrong, and I can't fault them for not giving me the easy morning I had planned.

You see, we had a fall celebration to attend this afternoon, which meant lessons needed to to completed, water bottles filled, park bags packed, and lunch eaten a little early. In addition, Tuesdays are when I do a good job on the floors and touch up the bathrooms. I wanted to do that this morning since I knew we'd be gone all afternoon.

We headed to the park with Mama in a foul mood. The morning had been frustrating and stressful and I didn't even want to go any longer. I couldn't recall how to get to this specific park. I thought the boys had taken my chair out of the car. But we arrived, my chair had been put back in the car, and I finally settled down and had a nice out-breath.

Tomorrow the boys get my full attention when they need it. It just isn't worth getting frustrated with them ~ they can sense it even when I try to hide it. I can forgive myself for today and make preparation to do better tomorrow; that is something I very much like to model. I'm guessing that by the time Papa comes home from lunch we will have had a great morning.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 5, Day 1 ~ More Math Review

As I wrote before, I hate don't love review. But it is teaching me patience. Today is our main math lesson and this week we are reviewing multiplication tables, simple division, addition with carrying, subtraction with borrowing, place value, telling time, and even/odd. The boys actually have those last three down and they are getting impatient with place value review (grade 2 was all about place value). Telling time on an analog clock is actually still fun.

We introduced the radical division sign. How can I be 40 and not have ever used this term for it? It's the sign that looks like an L turned 90 degrees clockwise. I think we just called it the long division sign. Anyway, we spent some time on it and the boys understood rather well. I refrained from using words such as quotient, dividend, and divisor as the OM math book didn't say to teach them yet, although I peeked ahead and next week we'll be introducing problems with simple remainders.

Everything else went smoothly this morning. There was no stalling and no stubbornness, although there was some measure of helplessness when it came to their math practice work. I finally had to remind them that they need to use help cards if they have questions and they started figuring things out on their own.

This afternoon the boys watched episode 1 of The American Experience: We Shall Remain. Papa told me that their current readings in A History of US are dovetailing nicely with what we watched before, so I had the boys watch it again.

I was thinking we might start our Native American vest craft today, but it is already late afternoon so we'll wait until Wednesday. We bought the craft some time ago ~ I hope the vests still fit!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 4, Day 5 ~ Fruits of Our Labor

I can honestly say that a full 4 weeks into this homeschool year we are reaping the benefits of a return to rhythm and structured lessons. The boys rarely complain of boredom anymore; it isn't a case of their time being filled so much as their brains being challenged enough to be satisfied. We all feel the satisfaction that comes with accomplishment.

I don't think it would be going nearly as well without the workboxes. When I first read about the idea I pretty much dismissed it as being too fussy and too structured for us ~ I was wrong! Seeing it in action at a friend's house piqued my interest. I love that J-Baby understands them and isn't overwhelmed or frustrated by his work any longer. He is the kind of child who will shut down if he doesn't see the end of something. Now he knows exactly what to do and can gauge his progress.

We're having nearly as good a time as when the boys were in grade 1 and we used Christopherus and Enki. That was a magical year and I don't know that it could ever be repeated, but this year is smooth and interesting and fun. It's also a lot less work for me than Enki was, so I am more relaxed. I am enjoying homeschooling my children again, and they are enjoying being homeschooled. We're all happier.

It is also fun to talk to friends who are using OM4; we may not be working together but we are doing some of the same things.

4 down, 32 to go (with a few weeks off) and it no longer seems insurmountable. The rhythm feels good ~ nourishing and satisfying. That is what I want from our homeschooling.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 4, Day 4 ~ Taking It Easy

I had a migraine last night and am in the postdrome phase although I feel like another could be easily triggered at any time. I filled the workboxes last night while I was battling the headache so I knew we'd need an easy day today. Unfortunately, I had to cancel a planned field trip to see local animals at the museum.

Math practice today was more division using Miquon lab sheets. T-Guy is still struggling with the language of division; it's a concept he understands in daily life but is having a hard time taking from the concrete to the abstract, so we are utilizing manipulatives and the manipulative bridge (an Enki concept).

The boys are really enjoying making long sentences with the word cards. Today I told them to make a scary sentence and to remember to use adverbs. When I give an assignment like this I either change their penmanship exercise to writing numerals or I leave it our completely. If I had given penmanship they would have balked at writing the long sentence and the fun and learning of the exercise would have been lost.

Reading is on their own today ~ I don't think I could manage it.

For social studies we're reading a book I found at the library titled The City Kid's Field Guide. We don't live in a big city but this is Southern California and our cities, suburbs, and small-towns-turned-suburbs have more in common with urban areas than rural areas. The book appears to be out of print but it may be available at your public library.

J-Baby is already giving me grief about the book. He hates having reading assigned to him even though this is exactly the kind of book he would choose to read on his own. Some days I don't know what I am going to do with him!

The boys started writing their own novels last night ~ I think they were inspired by listening to an interview with Christopher Paolini, who wrote Eragon. Today I gave them a couple of worksheets; one on adding "ing" to words and one on silent letters. I need to get a spelling program ordered but in the meantime I am finding plenty of material in the BrainQuest workbooks we bought last year.

I'm passing on guitar today ~ I want to be far, far way from the family room when they start strumming!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 4, Day 3 ~ Smooth Sailing

What a difference a day makes! J-Baby is still not feeling well, but he was well enough to participate in his lessons this morning without feeling tired and overwhelmed. The boys breezed through journals and math practice. They created a very long silly sentence and wrote it in their ML books using colored pencils to identify nouns, verbs, and adjectives (they forgot to use any adverbs, but that's okay).

T-Guy read his pages in The Search For Delicious; J-Baby was reading his slowly so we took turns reading the last 10 pages out loud. It is so nice to snuggle with a child and read! J-Baby reads out loud very well and adds a lot of inflection, so it is pleasant to listen to him read.

I went over the art and science assignments with them, sketching out examples and asking a few questions. While reading the science lesson to them I remembered that I bought a poster set about the scientific method ~ I need to find it and put a few poster up. And while the jeweler's loupes are good for some observation I think the boys could use large magnifying glasses as well.

We hit our first difficult chord in guitar, the D7. Our program uses simplified chords so this is the first chord the boys have played that requires more than one finger on the fretboard. This chord will definitely benefit from a sleep cycle so we won't practice it tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 4, Day 2 ~ Muddling Through

J-Baby vomited up his breakfast before we ever got started this morning; I delayed lessons with the idea that we might not get to them at all. But then he wanted to do lessons ~ beats napping, I guess. If you're 9. Mama would have opted for the nap.

Still, it wasn't the best of mornings. T-Guy was in tears over division until I brought down the Cuisinaire rods and showed him once again how to use them to solve his problems. I swear this child confuses himself so completely that he forgets how to do anything. He will toss guesses left and right and just hope that one of them is correct. He needs help slowing down so that he can see that he has the tools to get the answers ~ and to me, knowing how to get answers is more important than having them.

J-Baby decided to play stubborn on me and when I decided that I wouldn't have it we got into a power struggle. I hate power struggles ~ I can win easily but I hate when it comes to that. J-Baby is incredibly bright. Last night he told us that he figured that adults just set aside books that they don't like and so he thought he shouldn't have to read The Search For Delicious. I giggled inwardly but of course even adults occasionally have to read things they might not want to read. Textbooks. Books written by your mother's friend. 401K statements.

The thing is, I think J-Baby knows when he has entered into a power struggle and he is desperate to win even if he ends up realizing that he is wrong. When he realizes that it is futile (ie. Mama's not going to back down) he will turn on the tears and sighs. He will outright ask why he couldn't just have had his way. This is a child who will tell you he'd rather have you let him win a game than have to lose it fairly. He hates losing that much.

And just what were we struggling over today? Saying the equation when one is reciting multiplication tables or playing the multiplication game with playing cards. I know, I know ... it isn't something we do once we know our multiplication facts. But in many ways it is the same as "showing your work" ~ it helps the teacher know that you understand the question. If I throw down a 7 and an 8 and J-Baby's answer is 63 I don't know if he doesn't know the answer or if he simply saw a card wrong. Also, saying the equation slows the boys down so that they think about the answer rather than just guessing. When they know their multiplication facts forward and backward we'll dispense with having to say the equation out loud.

I tried to stop the power struggle; I recognized that J-Baby was tired and not feeling well and I suggested that we put it all away and that he go lay down for awhile. His answer? No. He said that he didn't want to not do the lesson; he just wanted to do it his way.

Anyway, we got past that. The boys did their copy work and then I read The Search For Delicious to them. They are capable of reading it themselves and a few questions asked this morning let me know that they are comprehending the story, but I wanted to offer something to change the tone of the day and I knew that J-Baby really wasn't feeling well.

The boys did their art assignment and then we moved on to language arts. Somehow, this is where the morning turned around. We made color-coded noun, verb, adjective, and adverb cards, plus helpers. The nouns were local animals as well as places they might be. The verbs were things the animals might do (at least some of them). Adjectives and adverbs modified those nouns and verbs. They made sentences together, giggled, laughed, and had lots of fun, especially when they made silly sentences. They are clearly understanding the parts of speech as well as how they work in sentences.

Now (after lunch and quiet time) they are doing their guitar lesson. They didn't want a pass on it, even though J-Baby isn't well.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 4, Day 1 ~ A Fantastic Morning

Today we had one of the best kinds of lessons we can have. Our Monday main lesson is math and this week we are to review, among other things, simple division. After having the boys recite a few multiplication tables for me I told them we were going to talk about division again.

T-Guy whispered "Division is so hard."

I'm not sure how he came to think that; we've only done division orally and using manipulatives and both boys understood it well. In Enki Grade 1 our math story had King Dominick Divide and the boys loved it; I used King Dominick Divide for a couple of years whenever we were working on division or when I wanted them to share nicely.

When asked why he thought division was hard T-Guy said, in typical 10YO fashion, "I don't know."

Maybe it is just a scary word. Maybe someone else told him division is hard. No matter what, my job today was to help him see that division isn't hard.

I pulled out some Miquon Math Lab sheets and our Cuisinaire Rods and we started working together, and within 10 minutes they both understood how division is related to multiplication. T-Guy declared that division wasn't hard after all. Mama succeeded in knocking down the mental roadblock.

We also had a nice art lesson (T-Guy was pleased with his work!) and a great guitar lesson. Having learned two simplified chords we were able to play several songs, including a few favorites such as "Skip to My Lou" and "London Bridge". I can't help but channel Mary Thienes-Schunemann when we sing nursery rhymes ~ they were such a large part of our early years schooling and we loved Mary.

I went ahead and assigned The Search For Delicious as silent reading and had no complaints or whining. I need to read the assignment myself tonight and tomorrow we can discuss the book, giving me a chance to check for comprehension. Our funny for the morning? I asked J-Baby what he thought of The Search For Delicious and he told me "We aren't reading The Search For Delicious. The book is called "Natalie Babbitt". If you take a look here you'll understand his confusion ~ in children's books the author's name typically isn't larger than the title of the book.

Workbox Whisperings

By the third time T-Guy whispered to me this morning I finally understood what he was saying:

"Mom, J-Baby wants to start the boxes."

I rubbed my eyes, pushed the button on my phone (precisely 7 a.m.), and murmured my consent before rolling over to grab another 45 minutes of sleep. I was awakened by the sound of clattering wooden swords outside my bedroom window. Box 5 ~ Play with your swords outside. I slipped that one in for J-Baby, who had been disappointed last night that it got dark before he could "practice sword fighting".

The boys made it through all 5 self-guided boxes without asking for help at all because they didn't want to wake me up. They didn't need the cards I made at all.

I am loving the workboxes. Oh, last night I wasn't looking forward to filling them when I had an episode of John Adams waiting for me, along with a mango margarita. But it really didn't take long to fill the boxes and everyday I see that it is worth it. T-Guy knows what to expect, J-Baby isn't overwhelmed, and I can get morning chores down while the boys work through the self-guided boxes.

J-Baby asked, "Can we please have sword fighting in the boxes again tomorrow?" Hmm ... 8 boxes may not be enough.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Preparing For the Coming Week

I had some time last night so I looked over the boys work from yesterday morning and cleared the workboxes of what won't be needed Monday. I read over the Oak Meadow week 4 lesson in both the syllabus and parent guide.

I think it is going to be important to think about the next week before Sunday night. I also find it completely natural to wait until Sunday night to even crack the books open ~ so I need to make reading the upcoming lessons on Friday part of my new rhythm.

The book we'll be reading for the next 3 weeks is The Search For Delicious. I am disappointed with the font and print quality of the copy I purchased ~ I can see it causing problems for J-Baby. The book is also much longer than Stuart Little was. I considered purchasing it in audio form, however, it only comes on cassette (we no longer have a working cassette tape player), and used at that (which I love but it doesn't guarantee a quick arrival). I'm going to see if the library copy is any better quality that the paperback we purchased, but if not I think we'll read this book together with all three of us taking turns.

Can you see how beneficial it is for me to know this a few days before we are scheduled to start the book? I know now that I need to change things around a little this week. If I had waited until Sunday I might be scrambling around trying to figure out what to do. Worse yet I could have just assigned the book for Monday and then I would have had to deal with the issues right in the middle of lessons.

The OM social studies work this week involves local animals, so I think we will use this portion the OM syllabus this week and next. I'm really glad I looked at this ahead of time as I think a field trip to the natural history museum will tie in nicely ~ the Hall of Mammals is a treasure trove of local animals! I'm hoping to arrange it with some of the other families I know who are using OM4.

The art class we wanted to do isn't going to happen; the instructor isn't lowering her price to reflect it being a group class rather than private lessons. I am, however, considering hiring her to teach a private lesson to my boys once a month. One other option is to sign the boys up for an art class or two at the local art association. I can teach the boys art using the OM syllabus, but I am certainly not talented in art and I think J-Baby would benefit from working with a professional.

Workboxes ~ The Help Card

When I first read the workbox system book I was appalled at the idea of doling out three "help me" cards to each child and telling them to use them wisely. After all, this is homeschooling, not public school ~ I'm supposed to be here to help my children, not to be bothered by their requests for assistance. But now? Now I get it. The cards are meant to make the child stop and think for themselves before asking for help.

"Mom, I don't understand ..." "Mom, I don't get it ..." "Mom, I don't know what I am supposed to do ..." "Mom, how do you spell ...?" "Mom, he won't share the dictionary." "Mom, did I do this right?" "Mom! Mom! Mom!"

9 times out of 10 the boys can figure out whatever they are asking for help on. My answers usually fall along the lines, of "Did you read the instruction card?" (No.) "What do you think?" (to which the answer will be exactly correct). "Did you use the spelling dictionary?" (No.) "Can you work it out?" (Yes.)

I am reminded of a young toddler, perhaps the more timid type, who is ready to walk unassisted but is unwilling to let go of a parent's hand and take those first steps. We have to encourage them to let go and walk on their own. Over and over again we offer love and support and also recognize when they are ready to do things on their own. We don't push independence too early; it is something that grows with time.

I'm going to give the "Help" cards a try beginning Monday; I want to encourage them to think before they give up and ask for help. If it doesn't work we can always stop using them.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 3, Day 4 ~ Finally Friday

It's amazing how long a short week can feel. I am so ready for the weekend.

We played post office this morning. All week the boys have been making post cards as their project for Stuart Little. The drew pictures on one side of a 4X6 piece of card stock and wrote a short note on the other side. To prepare for this I cut the cards, made a vertical line on one side dividing the card into a 2/3 side and a 1/3 side, and wrote "To: The Little Family, From: Stuart" and also "Post Card" in the smaller area.

This project went over better with T-Guy than with J-Baby; J-Baby hates being given rules and the point of the project was for him to come up with several things that Stuart did or saw. He said the Little family already knew what Stuart had done and the project was pointless. That's J-Baby, but he did the work and today he is being reward with rubber stamps.

When I chose the post card project I knew that we would "stamp" and "mail" them using my old collection of postage rubber stamps; I wanted to do something fun that would make the post cards seem more real. Each boy put a "stamp" on his cards and put them in an "outgoing" box on his brother's shelf. They then added postmarks and cancellation to those cards and delivered them to a different box. They had a blast!

We taped the post cards into the boys' main lesson books in a way that allows them to be flipped up to see the other side. The boys wrote the title Stuart Little Project and are decorating the pages with background color and small drawings. I know they are going to be very proud to show their books to Papa and Abuela.

The boys had completed all of the lesson 3 worksheets in the Oak Meadow math book so I pulled down our Miquon Math Lab workbooks and tore out a whole section on telling time and put those in the workboxes for them. I can see that having the Miquon is going to be good for practice and review and I am glad I didn't sell it. The Lab Sheet Annotations has a handy chart that shows me which pages in each workbook address various skills.

We did our science main lesson today; language arts took a lot of time this week! The boys have been observing again and they drew pictures of natural objects they found. We also used the computer to look at things that we just can't find where we live, such as a geodesic dome. Oh, and my friend gave us some natural honeycomb from a wild hive so we got to look at the hexagonal pattern.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 3, Day 3 ~ When Papa Throws the Rhythm Off

I tried today. I had another one of my nights where I was still up at 1:30 a.m. but still I managed to get out of bed at 7:45 a.m. I got dressed. We ate breakfast and did our chores. We were into box 6, our main lesson (more grammar today) when we heard the front door open at 10:30.

Papa was home. He actually was planning to go to urgent care (he has been sick for nearly 3 weeks) but I had him call ahead and they told him not to come until 1 p.m.

Well, if that didn't throw us off. Suddenly I had attitude from both boys; everything was too hard. Thinking of adverbs was hard. Writing adverbs in orange onto a worksheet I created was hard. Shading the nouns blue and the verbs red was hard. They were whining and moaning and bickering with each other. Hardest of all was spelling the adverbs.

T-Guy really struggles with spelling, which until today I just didn't understand. He is an excellent reader and has a great vocabulary. But ask him to spell a word and it will sound like he is just throwing random letters at you. He is pretty good at figuring out what letters are in a word, but not what order they go in.

No, he isn't dyslexic. He is a whole word reader; this is how he learned to read. It turns out that whole word readers often have a more difficult time with spelling because they see each word as a whole, not as individual letters or sounds, not as consonants, vowels, blends, or syllables.

J-Baby learned to read with phonics. Indeed, the whole word approach just wasn't working for him and that is when I brought in The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading. We didn't do more than the first 100 lessons, but it all clicked for him. He too is an excellent reader with an amazing vocabulary and strong verbal grammar skills. It turns out that he also much more of a natural speller.

I'm not sure where I'll go with the information, other than that I know that the basic spelling program I devised isn't going to work. Right now I am looking into Phonetic Zoo. I want to right this wrong, and it does feel like a wrong. Somehow I thought that because my child was reading that we didn't need to go through the basics of phonics and spelling rules. But we should have and we need to now.

As for our homeschooling, we called it a day after we finished with grammar. We didn't get to the science main lesson or to guitar. Having Papa home was far too much of a distraction for all of us (I kept hearing him fiddling with his guitar). Oh, and it appears that Papa has bronchitis but the doctor wasn't happy with what he heard in Papa's lungs so he prescribed an inhaler. The doctor is hoping that a course of Zithromax will knock out whatever is in Papa's lungs but we have to keep an eye on it because it could be walking pneumonia based on some of his symptoms. Not fun.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 3, Day 2 ~ Mama Needs to Set a Better Example

Papa and I have been watching Bleak House. We are loving it and are so near the end that it is hard to turn off the Blu-ray player and get to bed. Last night we watched 3 episodes and I didn't take my shower. Big mistake!

When I skip the shower/bath in the evening my morning starts off poorly. First off, I don't get dressed when I get out of bed ~ I stay in my pajamas. When I stay in my pajamas I don't feel motivated to do much of anything; it feels like a lazy weekend morning. My chores get thrown off because I need to take my shower; I end up not starting the laundry so that I will have enough water pressure. I sit on my rear and get caught up on the computer. To my credit I did get the breakfast dishes done and made sure T-Guy fed the dogs.

Because of me today's start was even slower than yesterday's. I had to prod the boys to get going on their lessons, which they finally did. When they were nearly ready for me I still hadn't showered. Yikes! My bed wasn't made, the laundry wasn't washed. This is not the example I want to set!

Luckily it is pretty easy to turn a morning around when you are accustomed to being in rhythm. I grabbed a shower while the boys did their 15 minutes of free reading. We did half the grammar lesson and then did the art lesson. I made my bed and started a load of laundry. By the time Papa came home for lunch we had done everything but our guitar lesson and the second half of the grammar lesson. We'll do those after quiet time and then we're going to bake cookies.

J-Baby and I were still grouchy with each other, which makes it surprising that he told Papa he'd had a "great" morning doing his lessons. He showed off his neat printing in his language arts book; I guess he took my praise to heart. The reality is that he's still not feeling well and that carries into his lessons. He just wants to be done. It's time to hit his and Papa's coughs with something; I'll be going out later for some Delsym. They both coughed all night long and I know that they aren't well-rested.

Papa and I were talking last night about how smoothly the boys have transitioned to focused lessons. I really expected to have hit a road block by now, at least with J-Baby. And now that we are settling in I can see that the learning that happens all the time is still there; my fears were unfounded. I suppose that learning is a lifestyle and one that can't be shaken by adding a few hours of structured work to our weekdays.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Wanting is the Hardest Part

(From late 2007.)

Lately, when I take my youngest son into a store he is overwhelmed with wanting. Indeed, he wants everything, not taking into account whether he likes what he sees or would use it. Everything is so wonderful.

I found out a few months ago that the wanting made him feel badly. Because he couldn't have what he wanted, he thought he was bad for wanting it. Oh no, I told him. Even grown-ups go into stores and want things. Sometimes they are things we would use and love, and sometimes they are shiny and new and grab us by virtue of a color, font, package, or function.

The desire, the wanting, it is part of who we are and part of the culture we live in. On a rare trip to a bookstore my oldest, who has recently become a proficient reader, was suddenly awakened to the multitude of books available. Books he recognized! King Arthur! The Three Musketeers! Robin Hood! He saw a sign on a table and mistook Humor for Homer, and well, you should have seen his excitement at the idea of piles of books written by Homer!

I quickly told him that most of the books he was interested in could be found at the library. Now, the library is wonderful. It just isn't designed to grab you the way a bookstore is. There is little merchandising. There is no holiday music in the background, and certainly not the scent of coffee and warm baked goods. For the most part, children can't see the covers of books. That's really sad, because if they could, they might check out something that they had never heard of before.

As we continue with our goal of mindful buying, it is helpful to remember that the wanting is not a bad thing. It simply is a desire, like any other. It is what we do with the wanting that takes on significance. Do we need it? Can we get is used? Can we use something else? Can we do without?

Where was is made? By whom? How was that person paid? How was that person treated? How are the costs externalized? How much energy was used to make and transport the goods?

Why do we want it? Are the advertisers appealing to emotion? Are they trying to make us think that our lives would be better if we just had their product? Is that true?

It becomes a new way of thinking, and then a new way of living. None of us can be perfect. We can, however, go past the wanting and look into what it is we want, and why, and then we consider the ethical impacts of our desires, as well as our own lives and happiness.

Wanted: One Good Broom

I think brooms are underrated. Utilitarian workhorses, we grab them when needed and toss them back into the closet when finished.

I have a good broom, an Amish broom made right here in the USA. Actually, as far as I know the broom itself isn't religious. Rather, it was made by an Amish person. The Amish being people who might understand the value of a good broom.

I've had bad brooms in my life. For some reason, I was determined to repeat the O-Cedar broom disasters of my youth, and I believe we went through 4 brooms before I finally ordered myself a proper broom in 2006. O-Cedar brooms have copious amounts of plastic, with plastic-coated cheap aluminum handles and synthetic bristles. The handles break, the bristles go limp and stay dirty.

When I read Living the Good Life by Linda Cockburn I was inspired by her praise of her broom. (Indeed, I enjoyed the whole book). Indeed, sweeping the floor is less time-consuming than vacuuming. It's easy. It's meditative. It's lets you see the actual dirt that you are attempting to eradicate from your floors.

Things I've learned about my broom:

It is a helpful tool in cleaning children's bedrooms, especially then the clean up involves Lego pieces strewn all over the floor. Everything is swept into the middle of the room for central processing.

(Sweeping also means that the tiny, special Lego pieces aren't inadvertently sucked into oblivion.)

The broom can knock down corner cobwebs.

Before I sweep a room I take the broom along the baseboards, dusting them and helping to prevent later build up that must be scrubbed off by hand.

A good, stiff broom (mine is) can take care of of low carpet most of the time. I wish my home was carpet-free, but it isn't.

A good kitchen broom can handle concrete steps and the deck.

The broom can be rinsed and dried if it gets dirty. The O-Cedar never came clean.

A broom in the hands of a small child is sometimes a pony, and sometimes a Firebolt or Nimbus 2000.

A good broom has a life after the broom straws are ragged and beyond saving. There is the sturdy hardwood handle, which can be repurposed. There is a bit of metal, which can also be repurposed, or recycled. The broom straws themselves can be composted.

A final plus; a good broom makes and excellent decoration for a kitchen, as long as it is a kitchen that actually gets used on a regular basis and isn't masquerading as a magazine showpiece. To make this work, the broom has to actually be used; pristine brooms need not apply.

Never again need I toss a broken yellow broom into the garbage.

The Miracle of Mush. . . or, in Praise of Porridge

(Please forgive me if you have read some of the posts in years past. They are all from other blogs, blogs that are no longer active.)

We eat mush for breakfast most everyday. A lot of people give me blank stares when I saymush, so I then say porridge, which most people know of from Goldilocks. But to my boys, it's mush, which for some reason is far funnier than porridge. I don't mind what they call it, as long as they are eating it.

I'd love to say that I was inspired to eat mush by the R4A, but we were eating it long before we took up the challenge. By the time the Riot rolled around we had even jettisoned those individual packages designed to make mush less scary for the masses.

What is mush, or porridge if you prefer? Grains, chopped fine or rolled, cooked with copious amounts of water. There is nary a culture the world over that doesn't feature some sort of porridge as part of its traditional cuisine, and not just for breakfast, either.

My generation didn't grow up with mush, not in a daily, life-sustaining way. No, we had Trix, Cap'n Crunch, Lucky Charms, Count Chocula, Cookie Crisp, and more. My favorite was Frosted Flakes, and Tony the Tiger was my childhood breakfast hero. Every now and then my dad would try to go healthy on us and buy Rice Krispies, Life, Cheerios, Kix, or horror of horrors,Raisin Bran. These cereals sat mostly untouched until they went stale and were pitched into the garbage. Who was he trying to kid? Even my mother added sugar to her Sugar Smacks cereal.

We did have little packets of Cream of Wheat and Quaker Oats, always purchased in a variety pack. We'd start with the maple syrup flavored packets, then the brown sugar cinnamon, and finally the unflavored oats. We never ate the packets with little bits of dehydrated apple in them.

People seem to know that hot grain cereals are healthy. After all, I've yet to hear of the person who serves Fruity Pebbles as a baby's first cereal. Babies are perhaps the group of Americans who eat the most mush. They start with rice cereals (and brown rice is an option), and move to oatmeal and wheat farina. They eat them happily until they realize that Mom is eating Honey Bunches of Oats or Frosted Mini Wheats, or perhaps Nutrigrain Cereal Bars or Pop Tarts. Then the mush eating stops.

Mush is a riot-friendly breakfast. Living where I live, I can't pretend that my mush is comprised of local grains (but I do get tomatoes in January), however, the makings for mush fall under the dry, bulk goods category of the Riotous food plan. Huge bags of grains arrive on my door step or the co-op truck; organic brown rice farina, organic toasted gluten free rolled oats, organic medium grind cornmeal. Other folks I know love the Scottish oats, or whole rice made into rice porridge, or mixed grains. Buckwheat porridge and quinoa flakes line the shelves at my organic grocery.

The easiest way to make mush is using an electric rice cooker and setting it the night before. It will draw a small amount of electricity overnight and then for the 1 -2 hours that it is actually cooking the mush. Perhaps just as easy, but not instantaneously gratifying the moment you jump (crawl?) out of bed, is soaking the grains with half the cooking water in the cooking pot overnight. Upon waking you add the rest of the water, bring to a boil, and depending on the grain you cook the mush until it is ready, or cover it, turn off the heat, and wait.

Did you notice the soaking of the grain? It's important. It releases enzymes and unlocks nutrients. Even better is adding a dash of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar as you soak the grains, if you don't have children who will then refuse the mush because of the slightly acidic taste.

We use both methods to cook our mush, as preferences vary around here and some nights we need to cook both oatmeal and cornmeal mush. One child in particular is well, particular about his mush, and so we use the rice cooker for him. We still come out ahead in terms of the Riot.

We almost always have leftovers. They are easy to handle and wonderful to have on hand. I just reheat them in a pan, adding milk or water as needed, and mashing them with my potato/bean masher until the lumps are gone and they are smooth and hot.

Mush, it's what's for breakfast.

Lessons From My Grandmother

(Another old post from a different blog. It's rather poignant now.)

1) Don't trust the thermometer. In other words, use your senses and you'll know.

2) There are stories your parents didn't tell you, and some of the stories they told you they got wrong. These stories are worth hearing.

3) The right hand ring was around long before DeBeers trademarked the phrase.

4) It's not the end of the world if your hair is not freshly washed.

5) A person needs meaningful work. For some women that doesn't mean staying home and caring for children. For some women ironing is boring. Don't judge the women who choose not to stay home and mother 24/7. Don't judge the women who do.

6) There is time to be patient, whether you die young or die old.

7) Friends are more important than you think. Take time to cultivate friendships and keep up with old friends. Never tell yourself that there isn't time; we need friends as much as we need family.

8) Things don't really change all that much. Way back when girls decided to wear the same thing to school on the same day; couples got divorced; women worked; elders were shocked; people had housecleaners; teens drank alcohol, smoked, drove too fast, and got pregnant. Technology changes; people really don't.

9) Do what you need to do to keep your family healthy, with strong ties. Love your children unconditionally and accept them for who they are. Don't lose sight of the big picture while fighting over bed times, dirty hands, and too-loud music. You are tending the saplings that will grow to protect you in your old age.

10) Frugality will win in the end...unless you are fabulously wealthy from the beginning you'd better learn the skills you need to get you through the lean years, and to take you into retirement. Let people laugh when you cut corners, let them say you're cheap, and take comfort in a paid-for house and adequate retirement savings.

11) Give of yourself. Donate your time and talents. Get involved, because you can make a difference.

12) You will hold your child's hand, and your grandchild's hand, and the time will come when you need them to hold yours. It's precious.

Opening the Time Capsule

(Another post from the past.)

I have a big cedar chest, you know, the kind that was called a hope chest in years gone by. You were supposed to fill it with all of the things you would need when you got married, which youhoped would happen. Too funny. I received mine when I turned 18 and got married when I was 19, and I'm pretty sure the only item that got tossed in there in preparation for my marriagewas a very 1980s peach satin and lace baby doll.

No, mine was a time capsule from the beginning. My prom dress, my cap and gown, my diploma, and other reminders of high school. Also the baby blanket my grandmother crocheted for me, my baby shoes, and an impression of my hand made when I was five years old. There is a stuffed squirrel (made for me by my great-aunt when I was two, which was right before she had her first stroke), the gloves I wore in a wedding when I was four, and the two flower girl dresses I have worn. After the wedding in went my bouquet and garter.

I open it so very rarely. These days it resides in my walk-in closet (is it a walk-in closet if you can only take one step into it?), hidden by the hanging clothes and the multitude of items that get stacked on top of it. Roller Blades, anyone?

Last night I was on a mission. I had just finished a short knit scarf and was thinking ahead to chilly weather ~ I would need a brooch to fasten the scarf. My brain immediately thought of the small stash of costume jewelry that I received when my grandmother passed away 20 years ago. I had to open the chest to find the jewelry.

Well, the jewelry wasn't perfect, but I'll make something work. It was far more interesting to get a glimpse into the top layer of the chest. I think the first item that came into focus was a Mother-ease Popolino diaper circa 1998. Then there were the little baggies with teeth in them (I'm disorganized, they aren't all labeled, and in the end I will have to tell my boys that I have no ideas which teeth belong to whom.) Pulling up the box of jewelry I saw my oldest son's first pair of shoes, and then my veil, and the sarong I bought in the Bahamas. I didn't have time to linger. I quickly glanced at the tray which holds smaller items, and my eyes lit on an old linen handkerchief.

The kerchief was given to me by a friend in high school. Her grandmother had made it; she had dozens and offered to let me choose one to keep, since I had recently taken up embroidery. The kerchief is as light as a feather, with a delicate design. Her grandmother had hemmed the linen herself, and embroidered a tiny oval of flowers. There is just a tiny amount of pulled threadwork.

(I'll have to post a picture once I carefully launder and press the kerchief.)

As it often goes with me, the handkerchief stirred something in me, something less related to the object and more related to life. I always have something to learn.

You see, the kerchief is faded and yellowed, the linen dehydrated, and the folds deep. It has been tucked away, unused, and unloved. I was raised to put away lovely things, old things, special things. My mom has a hope chest turned time capsule, and so does my paternal grandmother. We hide these things, these most special things, because using them means that they might get lost, or ruined, or worn out. We are afraid to love them and use them.

Some things of course we probably aren't going to use again. Baby shoes. Bridal veils. Lost teeth. But some things we could use and love. A handkerchief, a brooch, a lace collar, a bookmark, a sarong.

Why are we saving things for the future? Why do we spend our lives waiting for what is to come instead of living now? Why do the future lives of our children hold more weight than their lives right now? Why do we wait for tomorrow, when tomorrow may never come?

Broken Shells

(Revisiting a post from Fall 2007.)

We are away this week, enjoying the kind of vacation that I never dreamed of as a child. I am typing here in a resort condo, with soft ocean breezes wafting past and a gorgeous view of the blue Pacific sparkling under the southern California sun.

It has been a restful week. We've spent hours at the pool, swimming and laughing, teasing each other, and generally enjoying something we don't usually do (we don't have a pool at home). We've been to the beach several times, sinking our toes into warm sand and watching the boys dance with the waves. We've had lazy mornings and relaxed evenings. Papa and I had dinner out alone (we are grateful for grandparents), and have had many nice talks sitting snuggled on the couch or side-by-side gazing at the ocean. We went to a baseball game, and rode our bikes from pier to pier, played games, and did a puzzle.

It has been exactly what we needed ~ time to reconnect. Reconnecting as a family, as a couple; reconnecting with ourselves.

Yesterday we were at the beach; a beach with many small shells and well as many shell fragments. J-Baby was jumping up and down with excitement as soon as we hit the sand. My first words regarding the shells were, "No broken shells, and nothing smaller than a half-dollar."

Ooops! Right away I had set loose my inner perfectionist. She isn't very fun, you know. Oh yes, she's handy to have around when polishing silver or folding napkins, but really, she is a dull, dull girl. She doesn't look beneath the surface; she doesn't see gems in the rough. Seeking perfection she is very rarely happy with life the way it is.

Luckily, J-Baby pretty much ignores her. Oh, he set out to find big, unbroken shells, but the lure of the unbroken tiny shells and the broken big shells were too great. He sifted through the sand, looking for big shells, but exulting in everything, delighted in finding them, shouting in glee at each one. He sent perfectionist girl packing, because his enthusiasm was infectious, and soon I was picking up tiny perfect shells (except none of them is perfectly perfect, which I noted upon close inspection). Soon I was picking up bigger fragments, broken shells, just for J-Baby. A little boy's interest wanes quickly at times, so he was dancing with the ocean and I was picking up shells. T-Guy joined me in my pursuit, noting how much they looked like gemstones, these little shells.

Broken shells. I am sure that at some point in my childhood I was admonished not to bring home broken shells. To adults they can seem worthless; cast-off exoskeletons waiting to be ground into sand. But to those who look with the eyes of children they can be treasures. The fact that the ocean has rubbed away the sharp edges makes them soothing to rub between your fingers. You can look at the piece and imagine the whole. You can put pieces together like puzzles, creating new shell shapes that never before existed. Instead of just looking, looking at a perfect shell, you interact with the brokenness and find that the chips, the breaks, the erosion...they change the shell, they make it different, but it is no less than the perfect, unbroken shell.

On the beach, a chance to reconnect with the wisdom, vitality, and yes, compassion that is our birthright.

Grade 4, Lesson 3, Day 1 ~ A Pokey Day

Oh my, was it ever difficult to get back into the swing of things after the long weekend! Well, maybe not exactly difficult, but we were slow at it. We slept in and I don't think the boys got started with their lessons until nearly 10 a.m. ~ we had to continue them in the afternoon and even then we put off art and music until tomorrow.

I put our chore charts together over the weekend and the boys have taken to them easily. They missed cleaning their room today, however, so I will have to remind them about that tomorrow. I naturally remind them about most of their other chores but do tend to forget about the bedroom.

One interesting thing I am finding about returning to a solid homeschooling rhythm is how great I feel about it and how that spills over into the rest of my day. I am accomplishing my chores earlier and with more joy. In the afternoons I am truly enjoying my leisure as I feel no guilt ~ my household chores are completed (for a bit anyway as dinner still needs to be prepared) and my children have done their lessons (with my help).

We did math today, as if it were Monday. We reviewed multiplication tables, place value, and telling time. I worked with the boys using worksheets of clocks but I do think that the best way to practice telling time on an analog clock is to actually do it, so I ordered a simple wall clock for the "school room" area of our family room.

I think I am letting go of the idea of trying to rearrange Oak Meadow into a more traditional Waldorf block format. It really would be a lot more work for me and I don't think it is detrimental to do it this way.

Also, I am probably going to let go of the Oak Meadow social studies portion of the syllabus. Papa is already reading A History of US to the boys each evening and I am going to try working with that instead. I will plan a project for us once a week in relation to American history and what they have learned so far (they are on the second book of the series) and also work in some local geography lessons. However, we actually studied local geography in depth last year as I coordinated a nature co-op and we visited many natural places, learned about the trees and animals, etc. We'll move the OM social studies work related to a couple of the required reading into our language arts time. In any case, social studies and history are the subjects we explore most often, with science coming next. There is no way my boys could be considered behind in those subjects.

Tonight we went for our walk with the express goal of seeing the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle Discovery as their orbit passed through the twilit sky. It was beautiful and really neat!

Friday, September 04, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 2, Day 5 ~ Minimum Day and a Bit of Relief

Ah, finally it is slightly cooler and the air quality isn't quite so unhealthful.

Fridays are a tough day for us. We have housecleaners that arrive at some point in the afternoon and so everything must be tidy so that they can actually clean the house. We try to put everything in its place by Thursday evening, but let's get real here ~ we have two boys living in this house!

I decided that Friday can be a minimum day for me (in terms of hands-on teaching time) and an easy day for the boys. This week we didn't have anything that needed to be caught up on, so we worked 4 boxes ~ journals, math practice, reading, and spelling (+the test). The boys then moved on to playing Timez Attack on the computer, and are now messing around with Garage Band. I need to get them a good typing program and move that into rotation.

I am pleased to have gotten through another week of structured homeschooling. It wasn't quite as easy as last week, but I think we accomplished more. I reflect on each day to get a sense of what is working and what isn't. We had tears over a misspelled word on the spelling test this morning ~ not good. I really think what is happening is that having to spell from memory and having to write the words down is a little hard for now. I think we'll do an oral exam next week, and once we get that down we'll move to spelling orally and then writing it down.

J-Baby doesn't like things to be too instructional; lots of questions frustrate him. He wants to relate to things and come up with connections, but he doesn't want to be forced into it. What I need to do for him is check out more library books relating to whatever we are learning about.

Anyway, TGIF! It's a long weekend too. We're all sniffling and coughing around here so we'll probably take it easy again this weekend, or at least stay close to home and perhaps tackle a few projects. We can't drive to see my grandmother at the nursing home when we are ill; getting sick would cause her setbacks and we also have to think of the rest of the patients. We did make cards this morning (art, I guess) and put those in the mail. It's a small way to stay connected with her so far away.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 2, Day 4 ~ I Hate Review

Oh, we are grumpy today! Me especially, but J-Baby is giving me a run for my money. I think know the environment in the family room has deteriorated and that is something that we can remedy this afternoon. It's my fault ~ I decided to clean out a closet and that mess spilled into the family room. Also, we moved the desk to make more room on one side of it, and now there isn't enough room on the other side, so it has to be moved back. Traffic flow is important.

On to my report for the day. I hate reviewing. There, I said it. I hate it because a) it's boring, and b) it's beyond frustrating when my children seem to have forgotten every single thing I've taught them.

Place value. It's second grade work, and despite the fact that we ended up unschooling the second half of second grade we did cover place value. Indeed, my mantra for second grade was place value and Frog and Toad, because those were the benchmarks we needed to hit. The boys know place value inside and out mentally and intuitively, but it trips them up when it comes to written problems. So out comes the abacus/counting frame and we go through it again. I try to be patient, something I find far easier with new material than with review. I want the boys to be like I was in school, quick as lightening and the type to rarely forget anything. They mostly are, and I suppose if I am honest these days I need a lot of review when it comes to things like how to operate on the model train layout or how to turn on the Blu-ray player.

When people ask me for advice on homeschooling I often talk about relaxing, following the child, and playing lots and lots of games. I may talk about Waldorf and other holistic methods. What I should tell homeschooling parents is that the most important thing you can do is try to connect to how you felt as a child. Remember that your child is learning something new and that learning new things can be hard. New skills take practice and repetition ~ lots of both.

One thing that parents can do it take up learning something new themselves when they are homeschooling. A couple of years ago I taught myself to knit. I remember how hard it was to cast on and how I sat for hours trying and wanted to toss the needles down in frustration. I ripped it out and did it over and over. The next day I sat down to do it again and had seemingly forgotten everything I did the day before.

I knit for hours that summer, all knit stitch, no purling. It was terrific practice and now it is part of my muscle memory and I am unlikely to ever forget the basics of knitting. I am lucky to have crocheted before taking up knitting and so my tension was even and my knitting actually looked pretty decent. As hard as it was to learn it was still easier for me than it would be for a child who hasn't fully developed hand-eye coordination and fine motor control.

Perhaps a more difficult task would be to learn a foreign language, and not one you studied in high school or college. Learn to speak it, to write it, to read it ~ not just simple things but literature and poetry. Even so you will have more to work with than your child does. You already know about nouns and verbs and conjugation. You intuitively understand idioms and while they are different in various languages you at least know that they are not meant to be literal. You recognize root words and can decipher their meanings.

No, it is impossible to go back and learn as a child learns; we have decades of experience behind us. But we can connect with it in some way and bring that understanding to our homeschooling. Any effort will pay off. The attempt to understand will bring you closer to your child.

Because the temperatures are still high and the air quality is still unhealthy we did more science work for our main lesson today. This will actually free up our day tomorrow as we don't have any work to catch-up on. I've decided not to feel badly about not having done the OM4 social studies lessons this week and last as Papa has resumed reading A History of US to the boys so we are still hitting social studies.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 2, Day 3 ~ The World Under a Microscope

Do you want to have some nature fun with your children? Hand them a jeweler's loupe and send them outside. Ask them to spend 5 minutes at it and don't be surprised when they are gone for 20, despite the heat.

Wednesday is our science day and today we were looking for shapes in nature. The boys really enjoyed this lesson; we will finish it on Friday by having them compare shapes in nature to human-made shapes. We looked at rocks, leaves, flowers and flower petals, succulent plants, cacti, spider webs, bark, twigs, spiders, and our own skin (T-Guy thought of that one!).

The lesson called for writing, and I saw the enthusiasm begin to dim in the boys eyes when they asked about that. We didn't do it; I wrote out our answers instead. I see no reason to lose the purpose of the lesson by asking my boys to write so much. I want them to be able to write, yes, but I also know that it is unlikely that they will ever do much longhand.

The heat is still present and the air quality still unhealthful, so we have another day of not playing outside. Luckily Wednesday is our library day and also the day we run nearby errands such as going to the post office or getting a few groceries. That will at least get us out of the house for a couple of hours.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Grade 4, Lesson 2, Day 2 ~ It's Beginning to Look a Little Like Waldorf

Ah ... a cup of tea with milk and sugar. I am so glad that my body is once again tolerating tea in small amounts.

We definitely are moving into our new rhythm with ease and excitement. There is no guff about doing lessons ~ the boys are really into it. Usually J-Baby has abandoned us mentally by now, complaining and crying and generally making lessons intolerable. I don't know what is different this time ~ I suspect it is partly my resolve and attitude, but I also think that the boys are maturing and that academics may be far easier after the 9 year change. J-Baby is 5 months past his 9th birthday now and while I am sure we are still in for many changes this year the tough part seems to be behind us. And just as T-Guy became quite a bookworm during his 9 year change, so has J-Baby also discovered reading for pleasure.

I'm still struggling with the lack of block-format main lessons in OM, but the boys don't share my struggle; in fact, I think they like changing subjects daily. It creates a different weekly rhythm than we have had in the past, but it is a solid rhythm. It reminds me of the the old wash on Mondays, iron on Tuesday, mend on Wednesday, etc. rhythms of days gone by.

Tuesday is our language arts day. We actually do language arts work everyday (spelling, reading, journaling, etc.) but Tuesday is when we focus on it a little more deeply. Right now we are reviewing grammar. (Reviewing is somewhat boring for mom, but this isn't about me, right?) Anyway, we got to color code today! Hurray, something that actually feels like Waldorf! Blue nouns, red verbs. Simple sentences. The point is for the colors to help cue the boys to get a sense for what nouns and verbs sound/look like. Non-Waldorf families may scoff, but I have seen firsthand how much of the Waldorf method really works. After using Enki for grade 1 math my boys will never forget the visual and story clues behind greater/less than and odd/even. Heck, neither will I.

Now, we aren't Waldorf purists. You knew that, right? After all, we are using Oak Meadow, which at best can be described as Waldorf-lite. So we aren't learning recorder this year. We've never successfully learned recorder; that's right, my children will go into the world not knowing how to play Star Wars on a "song flute" (what they called recorder when I was in school). When we tried in grades 1 and 2 I found my boys to be incredibly immature, and their mother to be completely unable to listen to screeching recorder. Now I understand why my mother didn't let me begin my instrumental lessons with the flute (not that the clarinet sounds much better in the hands of a beginner).

No, we are learning guitar. All of us. I am reaching way back and relearning beginner guitar; I never got much past that anyway. We are using the Kids' Guitar Course Complete by Alfred Publishing Staff. I had to buy the DVD separately as it wasn't sold as a complete set when I got it. I also bought an extra set of the Notespeller worksheets as I have two children.

I know DVD learning is frowned upon in Waldorf circles and I don't care. Using a DVD is a lot less expensive than paying for lessons, and for the beginning course I really think we can do it ourselves. Of course, Papa would make an excellent guitar teacher (he's been playing for more than 30 years now), but right now that would add one more thing to his plate in the evenings. Plus, we find it easier to accomplish our lesson in the mornings when we do the rest of our lesson work.

We still can't do a nature walk or work on the field portion of our local topography project. It is going to be over 100 degrees again today, and the smoke from the fires has pushed our air quality somewhere between unhealthful and hazardous. The official recommendation is to stay indoors, keep the doors and windows closed, and run the A/C to clean the indoor air.