Wednesday, September 28, 2005

If it's not too much Monet...

If you liked the action figures (see post below), check these dolls out--they're even better. But I'm still partial to the shushing librarian too.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

I. Have. To. Have. One.

Literary action figures. More fun than you can shake a quill at.

If you could add a figure to the catalogue, what would it be?

P.S. Someone's already taken Sir John A. Macdonald, the first Prime Minister of Canada. Really. I saw one of them in a store window last week.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Good night, sweet pumpkin

Mr. Fixit and Mama Squirrel have been watching the movie Hamlet over the last few nights.

We stopped off at the vegetable stand again to pick up a few things: some corn, some apple butter, and a small pumpkin. Mama Squirrel gave the pumpkin to Mr. Fixit to hold. He held it up in one hand and intoned, "Alas, poor Yorick--I knew him, Horatio."

You knew that was going to happen, right?

Still funny.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The week with Ponytails

For anyone out there who wonders what our third-grader's homeschool really looks like (well, as we plan it anyway), here's what's coming up in the next week for Ponytails. (Her general outline is here.)

We also have a couple of extra things we're working on: writing birthday thank-you notes, and getting ready for next Saturday's Explorer Night. (More on that later.)


Bible reading: second story about Gideon, draw in the booklet she's making about the 12 judges of Israel; practice memory verses

Music appreciation: listen to some Beethoven music during lunch

History: keep reading about Magellan from Roger Duvoisin's book They Put Out to Sea

Literature: start reading On the Banks of Plum Creek with Mom

Math: work on parts of Miquon Math pages J 24 and J 25 with Mom (partly about fractions, partly about division)

Poems: read from Myra Cohn Livingston's Circle of Seasons

Spelling: look for words in Livingston's verses about fall that have "atch" in them

Singing: start a new folksong, probably Nonesuch (words here, music here (scroll down to Nonesuch). We'll also try picking out the tune on our Music Maker harp (something we've had since the Apprentice was Crayons' age).

French: work on the "Good Morning" page in our picture dictionary

Copywork: start copying one of the verses from A Circle of Seasons

Picture study: look at one of Raphael's paintings and describe it (later in the day, with her sisters)


Bible reading: John 4 (the woman at the well); practice memory verses

Geography: finish the Rivers unit from Play Story Geography

Literature: read more of "Pericles" from Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare; read chapter 4 of The Wilds of Whip-poor-will Farm by Janet Foster

Poems: read from Myra Cohn Livingston's Circle of Seasons

Spelling: practice "atch" words

Singing: work on a new hymn, probably The Love of God

French: work on the "Good Morning" page

Copywork: work on the verses from A Circle of Seasons

Art/crafts: drawing lesson


Bible reading: third story about Gideon, draw in the booklet; memory verses

Music appreciation: listen to some Beethoven music during lunch or teatime

History: keep reading about Magellan

Literature: "Johnny Appleseed" (from the book Yankee Doodle's Cousins by Anne Malcolmson); start a new story from The Jungle Book

Math: work on pages J 24 and J 25 again (and maybe some of 26)

Poems: read from Circle of Seasons

Dictionary: look up new words from the poems (in our children's dictionary), and write them in her "personal dictionary"

Singing: favourite folk songs

Copywork: copying verses from A Circle of Seasons

Crafts: pick one of the birthday-present craft kits (she got a couple of different things to make from friends) to start working on

Thursday and Friday are pretty much the same; we're also going to start Holling C. Holling's book Minn of the Mississippi at the end of the week if we have time and as we finish some other things. On Friday we'll do a couple of pages from Pilgrim's Progress. Math on Friday will be Ponytails' favourite Pizza Parlor game (see the post below).

Next Saturday night is a windup night for the study of explorers we've been doing--it's not a group thing, just a Treehouse event. Ponytails and the Apprentice are going to report on explorers they've learned about, and we're gong to have some kind of appropriate food--probably ending with a bowl of oranges to ward off scurvy. More on that as we decide!

Friday, September 23, 2005

The kitchen sink has changed

The year I finished high school, I spent part of the summer working at a camp, and my mother sent me a boxful of Kitchen Sink Cookies from the Recipes for a Small Planet cookbook. They helped fight off both hunger and homesickness, and I've thought of them fondly many times since then. But I hardly ever made them; I no longer had the cookbook though I knew there was a similar recipe in More Food that Really Schmecks.

Anyway, we suddenly had all the right things around (including soy flour) to make a batch of them, but I thought I'd do a Google search first to see if I could find the Small Planet recipe anywhere online and see if it was the same as the Schmecks recipe. A search for "Kitchen Sink Cookies" turned up cookie recipes containing--marshmallows? chopped candy canes? "candy coated pieces" (whatever those are, I assume M&M's)? And not a bit of soy flour in sight (even in Martha Stewart's recipe). The kitchen sink has changed a lot in twenty years.

So we (Ponytails, Crayons and I) made the Schmecks recipe, which is pretty close to the way I remember Kitchen Sink Cookies: a barely-sweet, slightly spicy granola-type cookie with chocolate chips as an indulgence that even the bean-sprout cooks couldn't leave out. Notice there's no baking powder or baking soda in them; they're dense, kind of like cookie-size granola bars.

Here's the recipe, which author Edna Staebler credits to her niece Nancy.

Kitchen Sink Cookies

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup soy flour
1 1/3 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup milk powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. each ground nutmeg and cloves (we go a little easier on the cloves)
2/3 cup raisins, or to taste
2/3 cup chocolate chips
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup oil or melted butter
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup molasses (I suddenly realized we were out, and substituted corn syrup)

Options to be added: (just about anything): 1/4 cup sesame seeds, or 3/4 cup coconut, or 1/3 cup sunflower seeds, or 1/4 cup peanuts, etc.

Mix all the dry ingredients, including the options. Beat the eggs, add oil, honey and molasses, and beat together. Pour liquid into dry ingredients and stir till moistened. If mixture is too dry (ours was), add milk or water. Drop by spoonfuls onto unoiled cookie sheet (we made ours teaspoonful-size). Bake 10 to 12 minutes, but watch them--especially if they're small, they can get done quite fast. They don't spread.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Great Big Squash

Last weekend we went out to one of our favourite fruit-and-vegetable places that sells local produce (mostly grown right there). They still had great corn (we pressure-cooked it) and the most amazing butternut squash, some about as big as baseball bats, for $2 each. We bought one of the smaller "bats" and Mama Squirrel cooked up about half of it yesterday. Some of it got chopped into our dinner (a big casserole dish combining 1/2 cup pearl barley, 1 cup water, some chopped (raw) squash, four farmers' sausages, a sprinkle of salt and sage--baked until everything was done). Some of it got cut into chunks and cooked in another big casserole dish at the same time, then mashed. The mashed stuff then got made into a batch of pumpkin butter (which does work just about as well with butternut squash). Here's the recipe (it's originally from the Vegetarian Times cookbook). You can halve it if you want just a small batch.

Pumpkin Butter

4 cups pureed pumpkin (or squash)
1/2 to 1 cup honey (or we have also used part brown sugar--it's to your own taste)
1 tbsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ginger
2 to 3 tbsp. lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan and cook over low heat for 45-60 minutes, stirring often (and I find it takes longer than that, depending on how much you have and how hot you're cooking it). You'll know it's done when it's very thick, smooth, probably darker than you started with (pumpkin goes darker than squash), and it seems to pull away from the sides of the pot when you stir it. You can seal it in hot, sterilized canning jars, but we don't bother--we just keep it in the fridge. It's good on toast or muffins.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Preschool Theology

Last Friday we returned from a shopping trip and realized, on the way home, that part of the city had been hit by a power blackout (a hydro pole caught fire). When we got home, we were relieved to find that our power was still on, although we were very close to the area that was affected.

While we were putting the things away, I said to Crayons, just trying to express some thankfulness, "God must have been helping us! Our lights are still on and we can cook supper. Some peoples' lights are out and they can't work their stoves."

Crayons thought a minute and asked, "Isn't God helping the other people?"

Umm....didn't one of Edith Schaeffer's grandchildren ask almost the same question after a storm (in one of her books)? "God made the stars. God made the trees." "Did God make the trees blow down too?"

They start asking the big questions so early without even realizing they're doing it. Do we have answers for them? When 1 Peter 3:15 says "always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you (NKJV)," did he think he'd be including four-year-olds?

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Happy Birthday Ponytails

Here is a fractions question for you: if Ponytails was 3 2/3 years old when Crayons was born, and then added on 4 1/3 years, how old is she today?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

More Random Thoughts on "Poverty"

Mama Squirrel read the DHM's post Large Family: Small House right after reading the second weekly installment of "poor people among us" stories in the local paper. (And this is going to go on for fifteen weeks? Sigh.) The comments about getting used to sharing closets reminded her that peoples' views of "poverty" are often relative only to whatever they've experienced themselves.

I think of a reminiscence I read once about birthday parties and moving into an affluent area, going from a place where (years ago) you split up a pack of gum for loot bags, to a place where you offered each person the whole pack of gum, and then to another place where the party favours were more expensive than the presents used to be.

I think of the Apprentice's 6th birthday, where we took her and a few friends to McDonald's playland. The Apprentice thought that was a great treat, since she'd never been there, but a couple of her friends sneered: going there for them was a regular thing.

I think of the fact that the squirrelings are used to sharing a can of pop: I don't mean taking turns out of the same can, but if we treat ourselves to some pop with our barbecued hamburgers, we usually bring out only a couple of cans and just pour a glassful per person, rather than everybody expecting to ingest a whole can. (It's better for you anyway.)

Which brings us to the issue of thrift and lifestyle vs. poverty. The newspaper articles today says that some working-poor people "deny that they're poor." What's that supposed to mean? That they called up some low-income people expecting to get a sad story and were disappointed because the people sounded contented rather than whiny? Is it poverty, thrift, health, or what that's conditioned the Squirrel family to share a can of pop, or the Common Room folks to share closets? Necessity? Realism? Doing with less so that you can have something left to share with others? Learning that you can get along fine without the whole can? What's wrong with that?

One other comment from the newspaper: that the issue for many offspring of below-the-poverty-line-excuse-me-the-low-income-cutoff-point is really not so much that they care about their cheapo sneakers and backpacks themselves, as that the other kids at school tease them because they're not sporting name-brand stuff. So much for famous public school socialization and tolerance.

It's all relative.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

What Poverty Is. What Poverty Is Not.

Our local paper on Saturday featured (in numerals 2 1/2 inches high) the amazing fact that 47,450 residents of this region of Ontario are living in poverty.

Today's paper contains a letter to the editor saying that "the low-income cut-off survey is a measure of the relative inequality of incomes" and "It does not measure absolute poverty--defined as the inability to purchase basic needs."

Under the letter is a response from the editor:
"Although Statistics Canada does not define poverty, [this paper] has chosen to do so for its series, using the low income cut-off survey as its measure, and fully aware of statistician objections. We contend, for example, that a family of three living on less than $27,000 [Canadian] a year in this region is, in fact, poor, and our series will illustration the real struggles such families face."

(For a family of four, the cut-off is $32,546. Family of three, $26,805. Single parent, one child, $17,515.)

OK, low-income earners: you have it from the editors of the newspaper. They obviously know better than Statistics Canada, and they say if you hit the low-income mark, you're poor. Isn't that nice to know?

It seems to me that they're missing a basic fact about poverty, and that is that it can have very little to do with actual income. Many of us have either been there or known people who have grown up in real poverty (at least in North American terms), and who are still struggling with some of the problems that seem to get bundled together when you're truly caught in poverty: having trouble just putting the next meal on the table or finding a safe and clean place to live; higher-than-average medical problems and dental problems because of poor nutrition and lack of care, educational problems for all kinds of reasons, higher rates of illiteracy, abuse, and single parenthood; more risk of trouble with the law, more problems with things like alcohol, mental health issues such as depression: maybe all of these at one time. It means living paycheque to paycheque (or government cheque to government cheque), usually with limited other resources behind you in case of emergency, and often in debt as well. Sometimes this continues on for generations in one family, making it harder and harder to break free. That's what I think of as poverty in 2005 (never mind the kind of worse poverty that much of the rest of the world lives in, or even the kind of doing-without that our grandparents faced during depressions and wars. How many of us could handle coming to a new country and living in a sod house on the prairie?).

On the other hand, and this is why I'm posting about this, many of us homeschoolers live close to that "low-income" cut-off point, and we don't consider ourselves particularly poor. But many of us also have good educations behind us (even if we were public-schooled (grin)), emotional support from extended families, even financial resources (such as equity in a house, or money that we saved when our family had two incomes) that aren't reflected in how much we were supposed to have earned last year. We tend to be creative and resourceful when it comes to finding ways to stretch small incomes; we have computers; our children aren't (for the most part, that I can see) examples of poverty-related health issues such as very poor dental health or high incidence of obesity. Does that fact that many of us drive older cars or that we pass clothes around mean we're suffering? Emphatically not.

And the point is, that our income can be exactly the same as that of someone who feels they're really struggling, maybe because of bad circumstances they got into or maybe because they were raised in poverty themselves and still can't get over some of the related problems (such as being in chronic poor health and therefore unable to work). Sometimes the problem is a lack of education, too: not knowing how to cook much more than boxed macaroni and cheese, not knowing that you shouldn't put your babies to bed with bottles of juice (it rots their teeth, and I've seen the results), not understanding how harmful cigarette smoke can be to little ones (or how dangerous lighters are when left around), not being able to plan ahead enough to put together any kind of emergency backup supplies. I think of a young woman I met at the corner store once who was toting a little one; I asked her if she knew about the mom-and-tot play programs and drop-ins that our community centre offered (we were specially funded to be able to offer help to needy families). She just looked at me without much interest and said, "He'd rather play in the toilet." Maybe she was joking? I've never been sure. But I know I've never felt that far away from help when I've needed it. For others, that's not the case.

How should the newspaper define poverty then? Do you feel you're poor if you're making around what they say is the "low income cut-off?" Are you poor if (like the "struggling" mother in one of the newspaper stories, you HAVE TO buy the $1.84 pencil sharpener instead of the $4.82 one)?
Does poverty depend more on how you spend the money than how much you're bringing in? (We know people with large incomes who blow much of it on non-essentials, we also know people with incomes smaller than ours who spend way more than we do on things like nights out with friends.)

Poverty to me is no pencil sharpener at all, and often no parent able or willing to even take you back-to-school shopping. That's how it was for some kids I knew growing up, and I'm sure that's how it still is for children who are truly experiencing poverty.

How do you define it?

Pizza Math for Ponytails

We bought a small math-and-dice kit awhile back from Scholastic (Math on a Roll: 10 Wacky Number Games, from CB Products Inc.; I checked their website but it doesn't seem to be in their catalogue anymore). Since Ponytails is doing fractions right now, I found a fraction game in there, called Pizza Parlor, that we played today. You could play it even without the special fraction die that comes in the kit.

This is how you play: each person draws a circle on a piece of paper, and divides it into twelve sections. If you have a die marked with fractions, you roll it and draw/colour toppings on the sections of your pizza that match what you rolled. If you roll 1/2, you draw toppings on half the pizza. The fraction die we have includes 1/10 and 1/100, both of which don't work, so the instructions say if you roll that, you lose your turn. You don't have to match the amounts exactly to win: the first one to colour in all (or more) than their whole pizza wins the game. We played this about three times this morning and that was our math lesson (including discussion of what 2/3 and 1/4 of a pizza looks like).

If you don't have a fraction die (or don't have a blank one to customize), you could still play this by making up some small cards with fractions on them (anything that would work with the 12 sections on the pizza, plus a couple of "lose turn" cards). Then just take turns drawing cards.

Crayons' Reading Lesson

Today I invented a new reading game for Crayons. On the computer, I made a page with twelve boxes (using a table) and in each box I typed a reading word, in big letters. About half of them were new words. I printed out two copies, and on one of the copies I cut the words out, in squares that were a little smaller than the boxes.

The first thing we did was some matching. I put the individual words on the floor beside the sheet with the boxes, and asked Crayons to match the words with the ones on the sheet. I asked her which words she knew for sure, and she took those off and read them. Then I went over the new words with her, showing her which ones rhymed with a word she knew, and which one was the same as an old word plus an "s" (mat, mats).

Then I took all the words in my hand, and asked Crayons to "pick a card, any card." Each word she picked, she read and then put in its matching box. At this point Crayons decided to make the game more fun by bringing in an old rag doll who's acted as "assistant reading coach" for all the squirrelings. Becky (the doll) is known both for her constant sneezing and for her fear of bees (both the flying kind and the alphabet kind, and she often can't keep the two straight). So that added a little suspense, since we knew that at any moment the word "bee" was going to come up, and that guaranteed a screech from Becky.

And that was the lesson. We'll use the same pieces again a couple of times (we don't do reading lessons every day). Then I'll probably take the individual words, print out a matching set (or cut up the master sheet) and paste them to half-index cards, to add to our card game (see below).

By the way, if you're curious, the old words were bee, mom, wee, dad, mat, and go. The new words were hat (she sort of knew that one), fat, meet, feet, mats, and tee (we did not define what kind of tee that is, the object here is to learn to sound words out and learn some sight words, rather than worrying about exceptions.)

Monday, September 12, 2005

Yes Virginia

Remember the tag line from "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus"? "Papa says, if you read it in the Sun, it's so." There's so much trust implied there...

Unfortunately, not all journalists these days are too concerned about truth, and even if you read it in Newsweek, it ain't necessarily so. Deputy Headmistress at The Common Room, my trusted source for insight on U.S. news, pointed us to Jeff Goldstein's blog, Protein Wisdom, which dissects a Newsweek article lambasting U.S. president Bush for his supposed lack of action after hurricane Katrina. Whether or not you agree with his interpretation of the article (or whether or not you even like Bush), it's worth reading if only for the reminder that reporting what happened can easily slide into propaganda for one side's viewpoint--and in this case, I agree with Protein Wisdom that the Newsweek article basically makes Bush out to be a complete dork.

Just to explain and warn about that site, though: the article you're looking for (it may have moved down the page by this time) is called "Katrina Coverage, Stage 2: Competing Narratives Emerge." Ignore the other weird stuff just above it and any rude comments that have attached themselves (they've been temporarily disabled as I write this so I can't say if they're decent, but DHM warns that this site and its comments often aren't. Enough warning?)

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Crayons' Card Game

I made a reading-practice card game this week for Crayons, from an idea I found in The Reading Teacher's Book of Lists. I cut about 15 index cards in half, and on each pair of cards I wrote (once on each half) one of the words she has been learning to read. BED, SEE, YES, HOT, and so on. To play the game, you deal out five cards to each person and have a draw pile in the middle. Then play like "Go Fish": Do you have a BED? No, go fish. (Crayons pronounces it "No, goldfish.") If they do have the card or if you draw a match out of the draw pile, you put your pair in front of you and take another turn. The one with the most pairs wins.

Not fancy, but it was fun. Crayons beat me twice.

Home squirreling at yard sales

First question: Why do some people think that homeschooling is such an elitist thing, only for people with lots of money? Second question: Why do some homeschoolers spend so much on curriculum? Mama Squirrel has been picking school stuff up at teachers' yard sales, other peoples' yard sales, and church sales over the past month, and for about $30 she has found enough stuff to keep a family with young children going for a whole year. Maybe we're lucky, maybe we're blessed, maybe Mama Squirrel has just been at this long enough to know what's worth getting. Probably all three. But anyone else could do the same thing. They wouldn't find the exact same items, but they could put just as good a bagful together for the cost of a couple of pizzas.

Oh, and one other comment: the stuff that gets used the least in the Treehouse is usually something produced specifically for the classroom (and not because it's written for large groups, but because it's usually pretty lame). Case in point: an unnamed music-and-math resource book we picked up today, which has such classic songs in it as this (sung to the tune of Three Blind Mice): "Let's make a people graph / Let's make a people graph / Of all our friends / In the classroom. / Boys stand over here. / Girls stand over there. / Then line up in two rows / So we can compare, / So we can compare." Ponytails says she'd rather sing Aiken Drum any day.

So all right, even Mama Squirrel picks a dud sometimes.

These are the worthwhile things we've found lately:

What Your Kindergartner Needs to Know (Hirsch) (this contains most of the folk tales included in our AO-HELP curriculum, plus poems, paintings to look at, a bit of geography, and math games)
Grade K Learn at Home (all-in-one book--but it's just a tool, not a toolbox, as one of the Amazon reviews says)
Family Pastimes Brainy Puzzle Pack (we've already tried one of the games in this, co-operative Tic Tac Toe)
Family Pastimes Harvest Time (co-operative game)
A Fuzzy Felt set from the 1970's (actually several different sets jammed into one box, missing its little felt board but that's not a problem)
Science for Fun Experiments (Gibson)–good for early grades
Three Bears (Galdone)–very worn condition, but it was already a favourite
Stuart Little (nice hardcover copy to replace our paperback)
Helga’s Dowry
Bob Books First pack (12 booklets)--Crayons is not sure yet if she likes these silly Mat-sat-on-a-rat books; the plots are a little bit lacking! But they're easy to resell.
Unifix cubes (a whole bagful)
Large snap-together math cubes (ditto)
Base 10 set of blocks and cubes
The Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists (1984 edition, but in nice shape)
Set of laminated times table cards
Small cardboard alphabet cards
Some Scholastic books from the 1970's (riddle books and a book about Marco Polo)
Laminated world map

Saturday, September 03, 2005

What are you reading at YOUR kitchen table?

A homeschooling blogger pointed me to this article by Mark Oppenheimer on homeschoolers and their books, from the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page. I like his point that homeschoolers (of all stripes) seem to have "a preference for long books, often parts of a series, consumed with a leisure that public-school curricula don't allow." Even as a homeschooling family, time often seems too short to read some of the good stuff we'd like to; we only got a couple of books into the Swallows and Amazons series and I've always wanted to go back and read more. The Apprentice and I are currently reading Oliver Twist when our schedule says "Apprentice's time with Mom" and our other work is done. Dickens is another one of those writers whose books take awhile...but that's good, isn't it? You feel like you've lived with his characters for awhile after spending a long, leisurely time working through Great Expectations or Hard Times.

And public-school curriculum doesn't allow for long books and series books? Hmmm...that would seem to deny the popularity of Harry Potter, but I know what he means. It's the advantage we sometimes do take for granted: time. Take it, even if you're public-schooling, even if you have only a few minutes a day to read together. In Edith Schaeffer's book What is a Family?, she tells about the years when her daughter and son-in-law found their only uninterrupted time together with their school-age children was at the end of lunch hour (because their dinnertime and evenings were often shared with other people in their ministry). So that was it...a few minutes to read from a book together at the end of a quick lunch...but that was what they did.

P.S.: We don't read at the kitchen table, though; well, sometimes with cups of tea and a book of poetry. But usually we're on the couch or on the parental squirrels' bed.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A Way to Pray

Join with our friend Donna-Jean's audio prayer for all that's gone on.
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