Friday, June 29, 2007


Hi! I like blogging! Here are some pictures I took. Some are blurry but still fine!


All those years ago

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Next week's Homeschool Carnival: Freedom Theme

The theme for the next Carnival of Homeschooling--since it will be posted on July 3rd--is Freedom and Independence. You can read more details at The Homeschool Cafe.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Still rock and roll to me

[Updated to fix the Wikipedia link. Sorry about that.]

The Deputy Headmistress continues to mine the comments from Ian Brown's Globe and Mail article "Big Words." One phrase I didn't recognize was "the tall poppy game," also called "tall poppy syndrome." Wikipedia came to the rescue. (Ugh, even the Greeks.)

Why does Billy Joel keep going through my head when I read this? There was good reason this was the most popular song at the end of eighth grade (and I don't think people thought it was satirical)--
What's the matter with the crowd I'm seeing?
Don't you know that they're out of touch?
Should I try to be a straight `A' student?
If you are then you think too much.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

"I have a woeful feeling, as if the double O of doom were sticking in my throat."

From the ongoing discussion about Big Words (of course some people would call it just blog chatter, since we're all supposed to be non-professionals not entitled to consider these things):

The Deputy Headmistress weighs in again on all of this, and mentions a high-ranking clergyman who says (in big words) that he would like to simplify church language for the rest of us.

"Why is he allowed words the rest of us aren't? Is it because they taste yucky, so we won't like them anyway?"

Ah! I love it, it makes so much sense. Not that any of us believe in a conspiracy to limit our language or turn us all into Alphas, Betas...Epsilons...

The DHM's reference to "yucky" refers to a motherly deception she once tried to keep one of her offspring from asking for the pop she was drinking. (She is very, very sorry now and will never do it again.) It reminds me of some friends of ours who used to give their toddler plain yogurt while they were eating ice cream. It worked--until he got old enough to notice that there was a difference! (And it NEVER worked when the younger ones came along.)

And goodness knows I do like yogurt myself--I have some yogging on the heating pad as we speak. But speaking strictly in terms of "something somebody else has that's better than what you've been given"--is it possible that we've been gradually slipped more and more yogurt in place of the Vanilla Chocolate Chip that might give us ideas about Mocha Almond Fudge or even White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle?

Like our toddler friend (who's now an almost Goliath-sized teenager), demand your semantic rights as loudly as you can, and be a voice for the vocabulary-impaired.
"Black showed his teeth and made a restless gesture. 'Taking a single letter from the alphabet,' he said, 'should make life simpler.'

"'I don't see why. Take the F from life and you have lie. It's adding a letter to simple that makes it simpler. Taking a letter from hoarder makes it harder.'"--James Thurber, The Wonderful O

Beat the heat

The Deputy Headmistress likes to ask, "What do you have in your hand?" What we had in our hands (paws?) was a box of store-brand lemon herb tea that none of us liked--comments on the flavour ranged from "lemon dishwater" to "furniture polish."

One thing we do like is the Hillbilly Housewife's iced tea recipe. The Apprentice in particular likes a nice tall glass of it with ice. So it's not surprising that this was her idea: why not use up some of that lemon tea by combining it with regular (orange pekoe) tea bags in iced tea?

And she was right--it's a nice addition. Miss Maggie recommends 6 to 8 regular teabags to 8 cups of water, so I used 4 regular along with 3 lemon.

(Of course, if you didn't have lemon teabags sitting around, you could just squeeze some lemon juice into the iced tea.)

A first for the Carnival of Homeschooling

I don't think they've ever had a "Surgery Edition" before. But it's a good one just the same! Thanks to Homeschool Hacks for hosting, and best wishes for a speedy recovery.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Curd cheese in a flash

[Updated to include Treehouse customer reactions]

Well, just a couple of flashes. And compared to making yogurt, this is a snap.

Miss Maggie (The Hillbilly Housewife) has two sets of directions on her site for Curds and Whey--the detailed version and the thumbnail version, which makes half as much. I had only the quick version printed out, so I went with that. Although at least one person has had a kitchen disaster making this, mine turned out quite all right--edible anyway, and all I want it for is to combine with cheese and spinach for stuffed pasta shells (tonight's dinner). [Update: In other words, it was a substitute for our usual ricotta cheese. Everybody liked the shells and nobody got ptomaine poisoning or even asked "what is this stuff inside here?" So although the vinegar/powdered milk combination sounds very weird and the lump of cheese looks like papier-mache pulp, I would definitely make it again for lasagna or stuffed pasta--it was much cheaper than a container of ricotta cheese! And if it tasted nasty I would tell you so.]

These are Miss Maggie's quick directions (pasting them here because you have to scroll way down there to find them):

"Curds & Whey: In a large pot combine 6-cups of fresh water and 3-cups of dry milk powder. Stir to dissolve. Heat the milk over a medium flame until it is very warm, about 120°. This is hot to the touch, but not scalding. Stir in 1/2-cup of plain white vinegar. Allow to stand for 10 minutes. There should be a large mass of curds in an amber pool of whey. If the liquid is still milky, add another 1/4-cup of vinegar. Stir and stand again for 10 minutes. Line a strainer with a clean cloth and drain off the whey. It can be used as the liquid in bread or muffins or biscuits. Rinse the curds under cool water and store in the fridge. This recipe makes about 1-1/2 to 2-cups of curds."

If you need extra help, check out the detailed version.

And spiders beware.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

"I was square. I'm still that way."

Chef Jules at Gourmet a Go-Go hosts this week's Carnival of the Recipes: Hip to Be Square Edition. Brownies, apple pie squares, Key Lime squares, and even Einstein. Great job!

(quote from Nancy Sinatra)


We bought Crayons a pink t-shirt with Betty Boop on it. She wore it around for the afternoon and then asked:

"Why is the t-shirt pink and not black and white?"

Good question.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Collected good things

Good sounds, good friends, good news--things to be thankful for.

1. A Van Django performance on the CBC, through a 1967 Heathkit tuner that Mr. Fixit bought on E-Bay (needed some minor repairs). Great jazz and great equipment!

2. Listening to The Apprentice sing Panis Angelicus at her voice recital this week. (Obviously that video is not The Apprentice singing--it's just to give the idea.)

3. Hearing that my cousin was not among the fatalities this week in Afghanistan.

4. Laughter and reminiscing at last night's reunion barbecue. Also more laughter as the girls bid on prizes with the "money" they won by answering remember-when trivia questions.

5. Hearing Ponytails' and Crayons' exam answers (most of them were dictated to me). Here's a sample from Ponytails:

Question: "Tell me your favourite story about either Mary McLeod Bethune or Brother Andrew." (Book used was Hero Tales Volume Three.)

Answer: "Mary McLeod Bethune wanted to be a teacher and teach other children. With her husband and her child, and $1.50 in her purse, she set off. She rented this house for $11 a month. At first she only started with four little girls, and some of them couldn't even pay the fee to get in. But she didn't care. (Just so you know, she was Black and so were all of her students.) They had a garden, and they planted sweet potatoes and some other things. And she taught the girls to wash clothes and make sweet potato pies. To help pay for the rent, the girls walked down to the railway and sold them to engineers who were in lack of home cooking.

"Some people rejected her teaching girls to do normal housework. She started getting more than a hundred students, and her school was a success. Mary went out and she knocked on someone's door and asked them to support the school. The lady at the door thought that she needed food, so this is what she said: 'Sorry, honey, but if you go in, Melly will give you some leftovers.' Mary said no thanks, and went to the next house, asking for support of the school. And the lady said, 'Would you like to come in for some lunch?' Mary said, 'Yes, I would.' Then the lady who said she could have leftovers came over, and she was so embarrassed, because Mary was eating at the other person's house instead of hers.

"Mary's school was a success and she is still remembered today. The End."

Sample from Crayons:

Question: Tell me about the robins who lived on our drainpipe.

Answer: "The baby birds poked their heads up. We sat outside on the porch and looked. The mama came and fed them, and the little heads popped up, and once we saw a bird out of the nest. And once we saw a bird flappings its wings in the nest. All of the birds flew away. My dad is going to knock down the nest."

Charlotte Mason might have liked Mighton

It's already the weekend and I'm still working on some of the things that stood out from last weekend's papers. In the midst of thinking about Big Words, I put off writing about another Big Idea, this one from the Globe and Mail's Books section last Saturday. Here's the review (by Keith Oatley) of John Mighton's book The End of Ignorance: Multiplying Our Human Potential.
Check out these quotes:

"As Mighton observes, there are differences in people's abilities. But do we want a school system that first accentuates such differences, and then takes them to define who people are?"
"When [Mighton] was younger, he worked as math tutor for primary-school children. He was struck by how even children labelled hopeless could learn math by means of simple procedures. It turns out that, approached in this way, math was enjoyable for children, among the easier things to learn rather than among the more difficult."
"He is brilliant at breaking down math problems into parts that children can do easily, which can then form more complex they complete each step and repeat it with small variations, unforeseen abilities emerge, sources of pride and confidence for the children."--all quotes by Keith Oatley, Globe and Mail review
I don't know anything about the JUMP program, but that sounds very CM-friendly to me.

Maybe the HeadGirl will have an opinion

Mr. Fixit had a fixit job in the same neighbourhood as the public library, so he dropped Mama Squirrel off there for an hour or so this afternoon. The library always has a bin of discarded books for sale, but today there was such an overflow that you had to go downstairs to see the extras. Mama Squirrel brought home treasures for everyone, from Simply Fun: Things to Make and Do for Crayons (an old Parent's Magazine Press book we enjoyed as Squirrelings ourselves), to a book of Christmas poems for Ponytails, and both Somerset Maugham's The Art of Fiction and Paul Horgan's A Certain Climate (sorry about the popups) for herself.

But the puzzle of the whole trip was why the library was getting rid of not only a hardcover copy of Matilda--a girl who REALLY changes her life by reading--but also The Problem with Pulcifer--a lovely satire about a boy whose parents can't understand why he wants to read so much. (Why can't he just watch TV like he's supposed to?) Do we detect a pattern here?

Anyway, Mama Squirrel took pity on both Matilda and Pulcifer and brought them home as well. Obviously if they can't find sympathy even in the library...

[Update and comment on Matilda: I am not a big fan of Roald Dahl's writing. Like Dennis Lee's poems, his books are full of nasty parents and teachers, nose-picking kids, and things that will scare little ones. I also have to disagree with Matilda's comments that C.S. Lewis's books don't have any "funny bits" in them. But at least she is supposed to have read them... So take your chances but don't say I didn't warn you.]

Friday, June 22, 2007

If you were around in the '70's

And you have nothing else to do today but Google things: try this one: "Grape potato chips." You don't even have to click on the entries, the extracts on the search page will give you pretty much the whole idea.

And my kids thought I was kidding.

(The year the fruit-flavoured chips came out, the campground where we spent a lot of our summers got a load of them in the store. We each tried about one chip and that was it. At the end of the summer, the store had them in a cardboard box labelled "Free Chips." And nobody would take them...)

Craft group reunion

About eleven years ago at a homeschool parents' meeting, we all went around the circle and introduced ourselves. I noticed that someone else said she had just one little girl, about The Apprentice's age, so afterwards I asked her if she wanted to get our girls together to play sometime. We did, and we all became friends. Later, we added a couple of other "homeschooling onlies" and another family with two girls (we were almost up to three Squirrelings ourselves by that time, but they let us stay anyway!), and "the play group" became "the craft group." Over several years we did crafts together, rented a church gym over one winter for games, drank lots of tea, put on a play, sewed Barbie clothes, looked at pond water under a microscope, and had birthday and Christmas parties together.

Then the inevitable changes came: one family moved back to Oregon, another wasn't homeschooling any more. And the girls were all getting older and busier. We've all kept in touch when we could, but it's not the same, you know?

This week we have the first chance for everybody (dads too) to get back together in--I'm not even sure, almost since Crayons was born. One of the group (known for her great parties) is having us over for make-your-own-kebabs and a do-you-remember trivia contest.

Time to thaw the cookie brownies! We're looking forward to a great evening--because friends like that will always be friends.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Three Canadian soldiers die in roadside bomb

CanWest News Service
Published: Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Canada has suffered a deadly day in Afghanistan, losing three soldiers and bringing the total number of troops killed in the country to 60.

Even one is too many when you're worried about someone you know.

[Time jiggled to keep this one at the top today.]

What am I bid for one gen-u-wine reading child

"The genuine reading child is not an average person and he wants, even at six or seven or eight, gourmet fare."--Phyllis McGinley (hat tip to the Deputy Headmistress)

I'm not sure whether the Squirrelings are gourmets or just gourmands, but I won't argue with Phyllis.

Big Word Response

The Deputy Headmistress reprints an argument over the word "behooves," posted to the comments on the Globe and Mail's Big Words article. It behooves me to point you over there for this interesting exchange, and also some ideas on children's writing from Phyllis McGinley.

Endings and beginnings

"How warm it is," cried Randy, suddenly leaping and pirouetting across the dewy grass. "Oh, summer, summer, summer!"--Elizabeth Enright, The Four-Story Mistake
This is The Apprentice's last day of classes at high school--Cosmetology, French, and Art. (She is still finishing up her homeschool work--Canadian geography and English.)

Ponytails and Crayons are taking today off and will be finishing up the school year with "exams" tomorrow and Friday.

Today's outdoor entertainment will be watching the tree man cut down the forty-year-old maple in the middle of our yard. (Story here and here.) One of those things that's interesting but very sad at the same time.

And summer begins.

(For those with sharp eyes: Mr. Fixit's charcoal barbecue is up there on the back porch.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Squirrel stuff from Ann

Faith lessons from a squirrel, at Holy Experience.

"It Pays Makes-Some-People-Very-Nervous-That-You-Want To Increase Your Word Power"

Okay, have you had time yet to read the Big Words article? (First mentioned here.)

Is it undemocratic and elitist to celebrate words? Should those who do have large vocabularies back off and shut up because it might make the less erudite feel bad? (erudite: characterized by great knowledge; learned or scholarly: an erudite professor; an erudite commentary.) Did you catch that first line of the article: "With the Lord of Loquacity on trial in Chicago and schools playing down language to level the playing field...." [italics mine]

How long ago was it we were talking about that example from The Incredibles?
Helen: Right now, honey, the world just wants us to fit in, and to fit in, we gotta be like everyone else.
Dash: But Dad always said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of, our powers made us special.
Helen: Everyone's special, Dash.
Dash: [muttering] Which is another way of saying no one is.
But that whole angle of level playing field, undemocratic, elitist is just missing the point. It's not about a few people having talent for words and time enough to enjoy them (I still love Burgess Meredith). Our collective gift of language is one of the most democratic things we have (please take "democratic" as a positive idea there). It is being able to read and understand the greatest ideas that have been written, and express our own as well, that keeps us from slavery--including slavery to propaganda. What kind of a Brave New World would we be living in if we were limited--by political correctness or any other such foolishness--to using "story" for "narrative," "very big" for "prodigious," and "teach" for "instruct?" (See the "Forbidden Words" sidebar in the article, about OISE professor Clive Beck, who believes that "teachers should avoid unnecessarily big words so that they can 'talk on the same level' as their students.") With such spavined vocabularies, we would be locked out of some of the most influential books ever written--like Common Sense (thank you, DHM). (spavined: adjective 1. suffering from or affected with spavin. 2. being of or marked by a decrepit or broken-down condition: a spavined old school bus abandoned in a field.) What's democratic about that?

How do you teach or learn new vocabulary--by endless drills, by writing out definitions? I can think of several more effective ways:

1. By listening to those who use language powerfully--and that would, we hope, include the teachers Clive Beck wants to limit. (Can you imagine getting "bleeped" for using a phrase like "nefarious villain?")

2. By reading what those same people have written--and though that road may end with books written for adults, it begins much earlier. If we wanted to limit our children's literary menu to books using the easiest and most commonly used words, we wouldn't have read them A.A. Milne, Beatrix Potter ("I am affronted," said Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit), William Steig, the Bible, Jacobs' English Folk and Fairy Tales, Lewis Carroll, Graham Oakley...or Melissa Wiley.

Our Crayons (just turned six) is reading Anne of Green Gables to herself--she doesn't want it read to her. The motivation was that she found a small porcelain Anne doll at one yard sale, and then a copy of Anne at the next one. We already owned two copies, but she wanted this one for her own self, to go with her doll--and it was her quarter. She sits in my grandfather's little rocking chair with her doll beside her, and reads it while Mr. Fixit reads the newspaper. It's way beyond her vocabulary and experience, and I didn't expect her to get past the first couple of pages--but she has read eight chapters already (and did allow me to read her the ninth). I'm sure she skips what she doesn't understand, but she can still tell you a lot about the story, particularly about Anne's imaginary friends. Would she be better off with an adapted version? Define "better off."

3. By reading books that lead us gently through unfamiliar territory--like Melissa's Martha books, set in Scotland in the 1700's. (Want to read an excerpt? And then there's the whole sad business of their current state of abridgement, which is itself a perfect example of where all this is taking us.) (2012 update: sorry, both of these links are now defunct.) Again it was Crayons who first asked to be read these books. She's now acquainted with box bed, waulking wool, governess, kirk, peat, spindle, flax, loch, dustgown, Hogmanay, and pianoforte. When I asked her if those were hard words, she said (I quote): "Kids know DUST and kids know GOWN so you just put them together and make DUSTGOWN." What's a governess? "A lady who takes care of you." No problem.

4. By actively seeking out the specialized vocabulary that we need to learn to do the things we want to do! Sometimes for pleasure, sometimes out of necessity. Pod in The Borrowers Aloft has a very short time to learn the vocabulary (and thus the technology) of building a hot-air balloon [actually it was gas-filled]; his understanding of words like "ballast" and "envelope" is what allows his family to escape from their kidnappers.

From Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH to Roald Dahl's Matilda, the key to freedom has always been reading, reading, reading--and those are just the fictional examples.
Books fall open, you fall in,
delighted where you've never been;
hear voices not once heard before,
reach world on world through door on door;
find unexpected keys to things locked up beyond imaginings.
What might you be, perhaps become,
because one book is somewhere?....
--David McCord
Consider what happens if we lose the ability to look beyond our own place in time and space. We become small-minded, small-souled, wrapped up only in our immediate interests...and vulnerable because we are unable to think clearly.

"But they couldn't do it,
for their poor brains were such
That they couldn't think often,
and hadn't thought much."
--Virginia Kahl, The Duchess Bakes a Cake

Freedom lies in our ability to discern truth and choose right actions. Leadership, courage, hope, conscience, character, faith, critical thinking, magnanimity--all those things are available to those who take and read--but only if we develop the vocabulary to understand.

P.S. Clive Beck responds here, but I can't get a link to the full text--sorry. This link takes you to a few other letters in response--also just the beginnings, though--I hate these subscriber-only newspaper sites! I liked Eileen Reardon's comment: "My first reaction on reading the list of 'unnecessarily big words' Clive Beck would like to remove from teachers' mouths was: Nuts! (Simple enough?) Then I started the cryptic crossword and had a horrible thought: If Prof. Beck has his way, he won't merely be gutting the language of nuance, he'll be taking the fun out of crosswords. Egad!"

P.P.S. One more comment here, linking to the Common Room post "Interesting comments".

A long and winding road trip

Judy Aron at Consent of the Governed hosts this week's Carnival of Homeschooling: Homeschool Road Trip Edition. I love the road sign photos!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sauce and sausages

One more go here at Cooking Without Recipes. Which is sometimes Cooking Without Groceries--or at least without everything you think you are entitled to have in your fridge and your cupboard, which is not the same thing. This is what we had for dinner the night after the stir fry and barbecued sausage--since we had about three fat sausages left sizzling in the pan.

Sauce and Sausages

Sliced leftover cooked sausage, pretty much any kind (we had honey-garlic)
Chopped green peppers
Canned spaghetti sauce (see note) plus any tomatoes you have
Canned chickpeas
Hot cooked pasta, preferably something chunky (we had rotini)

Chop up whatever vegetables you have; onions would have been good here, but Mr. Fixit is sometimes sensitive to them so I left them out. I also could have used tomato-onion pasta sauce which is a very good shortcut if you don't want to chop onions, but I didn't have any, so we used Original Recipe sauce plus a couple of fresh (ok, malingering) plum tomatoes.

Now this is the trick when you're using canned pasta sauce and approximately four people are going to be eating: you don't usually need the whole 680 ml can. You are enhancing the other ingredients, not drowning them. So if the can contains between two and three cupfuls of sauce, you only need about a cupful of it--maybe a third of the can. When I'm making ground beef spaghetti sauce with canned pasta sauce, I use about half the can to one pound of meat, plus some tomato paste if it's still too thin. For this dish, think stew, think ratatouille, rather than sloppy diner-style spaghetti sauce.

So saute the vegetables, add the sliced cooked sausage and stir it all around for a few minutes; then add the pasta sauce and chickpeas. (And yes, this is very similar to making chili, except no spices and much less liquid.) Let it all simmer while you cook the pasta. Serve hot. That's all.

Extraordinary stories

Did you hear the one about the principal who talked a husband into homeschooling? Read Birdy's story about how they got started.

The Queen of Carrots talks about how she got started blogging. "DOB was working late and I was getting hungry, I think."

And who knew Donna-Jean had such a close connection with The Sopranos?

Just a link--I'll rant later

Grandpa Squirrel brought over some Toronto papers as usual last night (he was here for a Treehouse Father's Day barbecue). The most interesting was a long article in the Globe and Mail's Globe Focus from Saturday: Big Words. It's by Ian Brown and includes an interview about using big words with the "Lord of Loquacity" (Conrad Black).

With all the recent blog talk about eggcorns and word spotting, not to mention talk about dumbed-down vs. politically incorrect children's books, this subject has already been high on Mama Squirrel's mind. So there's the link; you have just enough time to read it and then narrate back to me (oops, sorry--two days left of school on my mind too) before I post a few fur-bearing comments.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Got there a day late

Biblical Womanhood's regular Frugal Fridays feature seemed extra useful this week. It includes a recipe for Lazy Granola (I take it you're supposed to leave it overnight?) and more to explore from her readers.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Unexpected Chow Mein

How did this beef and green bean stir fry become a vegetarian chow mein platter (without any green beans)?


Mr. Fixit was barbecuing some honey-garlic sausage last night, and I wanted something easy to go with it that would use up what was in the fridge (getting close to grocery day). We had a bit of broccoli, a small cauliflower, a foam tray full of sliced mushrooms, and a red pepper; I thought I could just leave out the meat and do our usual sauce with the vegetables I had. So far so good--except when I took the jar of hoisin sauce out of the fridge--pee-yoo, foul. We did have a bottle of teriyaki sauce...

So this is what I did. (Look at the beef recipe first to make sense out of this.)

I grated the ginger, chopped the garlic, and started them sauteeing with a bit of salt. I cut up half the cauliflower, the broccoli and the pepper, and added them with the mushrooms and a bit of water; put the lid on and steamed them until tender-crisp.

The sauce was made out of half a cup of beef bouillon, a good sloosh of teriyaki sauce, and a tablespoonful of cornstarch, stirred together and added as soon as the vegetables were done--cooked just until thick and clear. Oh, and I also threw in some cashews, because we had a can on the counter and I thought it needed some dressing up.

We also had what was left of a bag of chow mein noodles (you know, the kind you can't stop eating while you're waiting for your Chinese food). As Harold on Red Green says--la la la? (26-second video clip of Harold) I spread the noodles on a platter and topped them with the vegetable mixture. It was very good with the sausage and a bit of reheated brown rice on the side.

And that's how to make beefless, green beanless, hoisinless beef-green bean-hoisin sauce stir fry.

Chemically analyze this

Cindy wants to know what foods you secretly/ashamedly/sneakily eat or crave. (Hat tip to Cap'n DHM Crunch.) You know, the stuff that's no good for you. Maybe what you add in at the convenience store while you're in there alone paying for the gas.

These days, especially on message boards where I otherwise fit in just fine, I often feel like a bit of a pariah for eating "regular grocery store food." Never mind the Jos. Louis or pork rinds or Cocoa Puffs or other things that I can't be bothered buying; it's the plain fact of drinking instant coffee (sorry DHM), eating high-sodium sausage (barbecued over charcoal), buying non-organic frozen veggies, and baking with white sugar that raises eyebrows these days. I don't recommend it, but I still do it.

That's not an invitation for anyone to comment at length and tell me why those things are bad for our bodies. I have a copy of Nourishing Traditions sitting on my desk, and I've read a lot of other nutrition books (most of which seem to contradict Nourishing Traditions). I used to subscribe to Vegetarian Times. We used to buy a lot more things from the health food store and from a co-op. We grow a few of our own runty little vegetables out back (the soil here isn't great but we don't want to add a lot of artificial fertilizer) and we buy what we can from the farmstand during the months that it's open. When we can manage "healthier," we do it. (Brown rice.) When we can't, we just eat what we have. (Frozen pizza.)

We do avoid an awful lot of what passes for food in the supermarket, you know, aside from the frozen pizza. A lot of those things that people admit they crave are things that we honestly never buy. Honey-Nut Cheerios are about as junky a cereal as we get; we don't slug pop all day (we usually share a couple of cans); we don't buy a lot of things in individual little packs, because most of us are home for lunch. An occasional bag of fudge cookies, maybe, although usually (when it's not too hot to bake), we prefer our cookies homemade.

Homemade with chocolate chips...oatmeal...sunflower seeds. And probably white sugar.

You have a problem with that?

('ve read this far, so I will admit to an occasional pack of M&M's while I'm waiting at the bus station.)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Too dumb to pay attention to

Dana at Principled Discovery discusses a Canadian article that says several dumb things about homeschooling. On behalf of my country, I apologize. I don't know what I can say about it that I haven't already said over the last two years, but maybe I'll come up with a different way to explain how homeschooling parents do, indeed, manage to "match the resources" available in public school classrooms.

Ten summers ago

In August 1997, Mr. Fixit and I dropped our one Squirreling (soon to be two Squirrelings) off at the grandparents' for the day, and headed to a Lifetime Canada homeschool conference at a church near Toronto. We had the privilege of listening to Diana Waring as the keynote speaker, and sat in on a workshop with Kathleen Julicher. I bought some things I thought we'd need for The Apprentice's Grade One year: Canada My Country (yes, we did Bucky the Beaver), Valerie Bendt's Frances Study Guide, and a couple of math workbooks...I think that's when we bought our Geography Songs tape too...and the Revised Edition of Laura Berquist's Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum (now in its third incarnation).

I sweated over that purchase...literally, since I was very pregnant and it was about ninety degrees out. Fifteen dollars was a good chunk of change for us at that time. But I really, really wanted that shrink-wrapped book, and before we headed back home I gave in and bought it.

Our oldest-and-only was just five, but we weren't brand-new to homeschooling; I'd been going to support group meetings and reading every homeschool book I could find since before she was three; and we had already finished a whole year of kindergarten (we used Five in a Row). I had read about Charlotte Mason's philosophy (her books were in our group library), but hadn't seen any practical materials that would help us get going with it. (We weren't online yet either.) So Laura Berquist was about the closest I could find to what I wanted to do: something book-based but uncluttered, something that did not involve a passel of kids crawling into a giant model ear. We had one child and would be teaching only one until the pending arrival reached school age; and we lived in a two-bedroom bungalow with little room for model anythings.

Although I didn't identify with Mrs. Berquist's Catholic perspective, and never bought into the Trivium idea, I learned enough from that book to keep me going until the next door (the Internet and CM discussion groups) opened up. I learned what "proximately" meant. (Not "approximately," but "proximately" as in short-term goals.)

"This is the heart of designing your own curriculum, classical or otherwise. You need to be explicit about the ends you want to achieve."--Designing Your Own, p. 3

I learned how to combine a reasonable number of resources into a year's curriculum--and that it was all right to do, say, Bible stories for just part of the year and then catechism or church history for the other part. I learned how you could intersperse chapters from a core textbook with library books and other resources. Mrs. Berquist was a few years ahead of her time in that respect, as I don't remember hearing much about "history spines" at that point.
"I wanted my children to think that a new book or a new subject or a new project would be likely to be interesting...and I still think that the best way to achieve this is to have that attitude yourself. Talk to your children about their academic work. Conversation with you is the most formative part of their intellectual life."--Designing Your Own, p. 4
I learned that for some subjects you might go all-out, and for others you do just the minimum; then next year you might reverse that.

I learned how one teaching parent followed a well thought out plan with her family, while allowing for the different strengths and interests of her children.

"There is a mean between no workbooks and all workbooks, between fun and drudgery, and between flexibility and firmness."--Designing Your Own, p. 17
We took a lot home from that conference. From Diana Waring we heard about keeping humour in your homeschooling. We listened to Kathleen Julicher speak about the importance of curiosity and asking questions, and also picked up an early version of Gifted Children at Home, a book she had just written with Maggie Hogan and Janice Baker. And from Laura Berquist, I received calm assurance and encouragement.
"Evaluate your progress and success year by year, not moment by moment. Both you and your children will have ups and downs. Don't throw out good materials or despair of your ability because of a few bad days."--Designing Your Own, p. 17
The gas, the entrance fee, and the $15 book have been much more than repaid.

More rhubarb recipes

If you're looking for rhubarb recipes, Canadian Living has links here to some recipes from last month's issue. (That's mostly to jog my own memory!)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Have your cake

Any way you want it.

I've posted before about some of our Treehouse birthday cakes. Some of them have been copied from magazine pictures or online ideas; some have been complete originals (like Mr. Fixit's CB radio cake). None of them have ever looked much like the pastel creations my mom made for us (she even made her own icing roses and they worked). I am challenged just to get the icing smooth enough to put someone's name on top--and after many tries with my mom's wax-paper tubes, I admitted defeat. (I do have a plastic icing shooter my kids gave me.)

But who says a birthday cake has to look like a rose garden or come in a character pan? Sometimes it's more about taste (as in Yum) than theme or pink frosting: one of The Apprentice's more recent more-grown-up birthdays featured a homemade Turtle cake--not as in the animal, as in chocolate and caramel and pecans. Sometimes it's about the celebration, plain and simple: Meredith did a beautiful job this month jazzing up a store-bought cake with flowers.

This week is another birthday for The Apprentice. When pressed for a cake request, she said she wanted "chocolate in the middle" and "lots of icing." So that's what we did. Before it got too hot in the morning, Mama Squirrel baked two layers of Yellow Cake from the Betty Crocker Cookbook and sandwiched them with one layer of chocolate-chip filling (recipe follows). Before The Apprentice came home from school in the afternoon, Ponytails added one generous slather of white frosting on top. (We didn't bother to frost the sides; besides, it would have been kind of hard to cover up some of the chocolate that had oozed out between the layers a bit.) And we had a very beautiful big initial on top made of coloured sprinkles and inspired entirely by Meredith's big E. Mama Squirrel cut the stencil out of a paper plate, and Crayons filled up the holes with sprinkles. Ponytails added some bright pink candles. Then we hid the whole thing in the cold room and Ponytails posted a gentle warning: "Stay Out or DEATH and BLOOD and MISERY." (She also added a Black Spot.)

And it was very tasty. Not a photo-op for Family Fun, but just what The Apprentice asked for.

How to Make Chocolate Filling That's Not Frosting

In the microwave or on the stove, warm up 1/4 cup of milk. Stir in 1 cup of chocolate chips and about a tablespoonful of butter or margarine. If the milk isn't warm enough to melt the chips, put it all back into the microwave for another minute or so. Stir until everything is melted together. Refrigerate until thick enough to spread on a cooled cake. 1 cup of chocolate chips made enough to fill one 9-inch round layer cake, but you can double it if you want more filling.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Oh, just say it in English

I like this post at It's a Small World very much. "These excerpts....from a Connecticut school seem fairly universal but put plainer than many. I was not surprised to see that Duncan has, in simple terms, passed kindergarten..."


Passing this along from the Carnival of the Recipes:

"Karen at Thrifty Mommy has not been stingy with the great grilling recipes this week, and the Carnival of the Recipes: Gotta-Get-Grillin' Edition is now ready for your viewing pleasure at (Please be sure and take the time to say thank you for all of Karen's hard work. Now she's a tired AND a thrifty mommy.) "

"If you just can't get enough of grilling recipes, Adam at Men in Aprons, a Carnival of the Recipes regular, started his own Carnival of the Grill last summer. All of the issues can be found here: The more recipes the merrier our mouths, right? ;)"

Let the fun begin

Kris' Eclectic Homeschool hosts this week's Carnival of Homeschooling: Putting the Fun Into Your Homeschool.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Getting offensive

This has a double meaning that I didn't intend...I seem to be getting a lot of that lately. I started writing a post on something that I personally found very exciting--Gordon MacDonald's idea of "Offensive Study"--and ended up reading a lot of online things about organizations and people that I would really rather not have gotten into. According to one website to which my Google search for MacDonald information took me, not only is almost every church and parachurch group I've ever belonged to or donated money to heretical, but so are most of the books and writers in my life, including (surprisingly) John Bunyan; and MacDonald is definitely in that out-group as well, for more than one reason. Some of what I read made sense...there have always been certain things about certain evangelists, certain groups (especially those I am looking back on after many years) that made me itch. But some of it...I'm shaking my head and wondering, again, who or what will be left when everyone who DOES meet such "Biblical criteria" has been eradicated. [Update/correction: oops, that wasn't exactly what I meant to say...I think that should have been "doesn't meet."]
Anne Shirley: I don't think Mrs. Barry is a well-bred woman. I don't believe God himself would entirely meet with her approval.

Marilla Cuthbert: Anne, you mustn't say things like that... especially in front of the minister's wife. But, if you left God out of it, you'd have it just about right.--Anne of Green Gables (1985 movie script)
OK, so can I just tell you about offensive study without offending anybody?

Offensive study, according to Gordon MacDonald's book Ordering Your Private World (a book I have only in an older edition than the one currently available), is taking a time period, a season, a summer to deliberately extend your mind; to zero in on a topic or author or idea, but not because you're trying to pass an exam or look for specific information; it is a little like what many homeschoolers call Mother Culture. It's taking scheduled time, maybe during your "off season," to learn, grow and explore. It's gathering raw material. If you are a pastor or a teacher or a writer, much of what you learn during that time may get incorporated into your teaching, writing or work later on. Or just into your life.

Something like that happened for me last summer. I was charging through Charlotte Mason's books--not for the first time, but trying to get a bigger overall picture of some of her ideas--and got sidetracked for awhile by Norman Brosterman's book Inventing Kindergarten, about the Froebelian Kindergarten movement in the late 1800s, and the life of Froebel himself. I ended up taking more books on Froebel and education out of the library, and learned a bit about Pestalozzi (a big influence on Froebel). A real rabbit trail, but it was fascinating. I re-read Ruth Beechick's book about Biblical educational philosophy, Heart and Mind, as well.

I didn't read any of these books so much because I wanted to know how to teach reading CM-style or stop a child from lying, or because I was planning on taking education courses; I read them because I was finding all kinds of interesting ideas there that seemed to connect with each other and that made my own feeble brain feel like it was doing some stretching. Please note that I do not think any of those people--particularly Froebel--had every detail right on everything; but they all had things that I could take away from spending some extra time with them, and, in the case of Froebel, it was important to see how far his influence affected not only Western culture but, seemingly, the Far East as well (his kindergartens became very popular in Japan). And at the end of the summer, I felt ready to go back to the business/busyness of teaching again.

I haven't decided yet what, if anything, will become a topic of offensive study for me this summer. Maybe it should be the Bible itself--to try and make some sense out of that everybody's-heretical business.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Making fun of homeschooling

But in a nice way.

The theme for next week's Carnival of Homeschooling, hosted by Kris' Eclectic Homeschool, is "Putting the Fun into Your Homeschool." More details here--send your posts in soon.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

And what do you do with it?

(Referring back to two previous math posts)

When I did the spring workshop about frugal curriculum, I found it very hard to fit everything in to the hour available (it went so fast!. Some people think I'm quiet, but not when I get started on this!). But anyway, I think some people still felt shortchanged on the "how." This is for them, and I'm sorry to still be going on about math, but it is one of the easiest examples to use when you're talking about "teaching the child, not the book."

Here's a typical week of math work for a first or second grader, based on the common items in the math cupboard. This is the quick version:

Monday: Practice skip counting, play a dice game, do a workbook page.

Tuesday: Addition flash cards, card game.

Wednesday: Workbook page, practice telling time

: Addition on the hundred chart; play store

Friday: Story problems with real objects; then make up a story problem for Mom to solve.

This is the detailed version:

"Practice skip counting": There are all kinds of ways to do this, starting with no materials at all: you start counting and the child follows you. Two, four, six, eight (who do we appreciate?). Or you can count Cheerios, raisins, pebbles, coins. Or you can take paper plates and mark them up as follows: the "2" plate has a big "2" in the centre, and the following numerals written around the outside (all vertical so you can read them like a clock): 2, 4, 6, 8, 0, and then those five repeated again. What you do is start at the top and go around the plate clockwise; you can keep on going around till infinity if you want, and the last digit will always be whatever numeral you're pointing to. 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20 and so on.

You can make other plates the same way. The "3" plate has these numbers spaced around the rim: 3, 6, 9, 2, 5, 8, 1, 4, 7, 0. The "4" plate has 4, 8, 2, 6, 0 on it twice; the "5" plate has just 5's and 0's. (I saw counting circles like this in the Miquon First Grade Diary, and the paper plates are just to make them sturdier.)

And you can practice skip counting lots of other ways too: songs (commercial or free online); playing Buzz (scroll down there or do a search on the page for Buzz); making jumps on a number line; counting pairs of eyes and ears, or wheels on cars; colouring multiples on hundred-chart printouts and then using them for practice; and so on. You don't have to do the same thing all the time!

And look at that, we're only on Monday...

"Dice game": Here are some typical games from Marilyn Burns. If you really can't think of any others, how about Bug? (That was around long before Hasbro turned it into Cootie.)

"Workbook page": depends on the child and on what you have available; if you don't have any workbooks, you can search online for pre-made or custom-made worksheets--here's one worksheet generator you can use.

"Addition flashcards": Commercial or homemade, regular or triangle, straight up or used in a board game (you have to answer a question before you make a move). Just don't overdo it on these: math isn't all about memorizing facts.

"Card game": again, there are all kinds of games, including the schoolish kind and the just-for-fun kind. Maybe Math War, or The Greatest Number (from Ruth Beechick's Arithmetic booklet).

"Telling time": we use the cardboard clock and set the hands to a certain time, and Crayons uses it as a guide for copying onto a clock worksheet. Or we use the toy clock as a flashcard--I show her the clock, she tells the time; or I say the time and she moves the hands.

Or I just ask her occasionally what time the wall clock says!

"Hundred chart": Ruth Beechick has many suggestions for making good use of this. With Ponytails, I did a bit of hundred chart work almost every day during grade 1. I would just ask her several addition and/or subtraction questions, sometimes random and sometimes following a pattern. Then she would ask me some.

"Play store": Bring out coins, label real or pictured objects with prices, decide what to buy, figure out what coins you need to pay for it. Later buy two or three things at a time and figure out your total, or order from a "menu." Later still, make change.

"Story problems with real objects": that can mean symbolic objects, too! For instance, several coloured cubes become swimmers in bright-coloured bathing suits. Some of them go into the water (a sheet of blue paper) and some stay on the beach (brown paper). You can make up questions: if there are three in the water and four on the sand, how many are at the beach?

Our children, for some reason, have always understood cookies-on-the-plate questions and handful-of-candy problems very well! ("If you bake 10 cookies, and your selfish sister comes and eats up 6 of them...")

And there are all kinds of other activities to do in other weeks: play with pattern blocks; do rod activities if you have rods; use bundled popsicle sticks and single sticks to show 2-digit numbers (once a child is clear on those, you can try adding groups of them together or even--much later--unbundling some of them to subtract); jump on the number line; jump up stairs while counting, reading numbers on file cards (placed on the stairs) or doing flash cards (placed on the stairs); practice sums on paper or chalkboard; write down a large number you dictate, or read a large number you write. And if all else can make cookies.

Large milestones

Not here--just around the Friends and Relations links.

Jen in NB has a brand new baby, but she hasn't found time to blog about it yet. [That wasn't meant to be a hint! You can see Jen's update here.]

Birdy settles into her new nest.

A first birthday (and the cake did look beautiful, Meredith)

The Carrot Kids and Melissa's Wonderboy make great leaps in communication

A graduation (and more on that).

Javamom also made one of her beautiful books for Fa-so-la-la's homeschool graduation.

A wedding in the Dominion Family (too many posts to link to, so you can scroll down), and another one to come there.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Pieces of Eight

Shawna at The Homeschool Experiment tagged me for yet another meme. Eight facts, or eight habits, or eight somethings. Then tag eight other people.

I'll spare the eight other people , but here are the eight. After thinking about how much I sometimes didn't like high school, I also thought of a bunch of things I did like.

1. Inter-school Christian Fellowship planning weekends each fall. A big sleepover with a bunch of really fun people.
2. Grade 13 German class, especially making gingerbread men to sell in the cafeteria during Oktoberfest.
3. Grade 13 English class. Joseph Conrad and Northrop Frye (no, those weren't boys in my class, they were the authors we were reading).
4. The time my homeroom teacher wore her '60's cats-eye glasses for a joke, just to see how polite we'd be about her "new look."
5. The district-wide choral concert our choir sang in when I was in grade 9, with a really famous conductor. Awesome.
6. The spare periods when I volunteered with a special-needs class.
7. Not having to take phys.ed. after grade 9.
8. Unexpected friendships, even those that were cut short afterwards by geography or just by life.

The 24 Karat Facial (You have to read this)

                                      24 Karat Gold Facial Treatment                                Read it here

Back to the books

I had started to post about some of the mid-elementary "girl books" our Squirrelings liked, when I got sidetracked by the discrimination/censorship question. But I haven't, Sarah Noble aside, here are a few others that worked well during the grade two-to-four period between picture books and bigger fatter chapter books.

Rumer Godden's children's books: also mentioned in the Sarah Noble post. These range from Mouse House, a simple story about a young mouse who makes a mess of a doll's house (reminiscent of Beatrix Potter), to the exquisitely painful The Mousewife; the "coincidence? maybe" Christmas book The Story of Holly and Ivy (about a girl who longs for a doll and a doll who longs for a girl), and the livelier adventures of Impunity Jane. (Boys would listen to that one too.) Even when Rumer Godden is at her simplest, she can't resist poking fun at certain kinds of people; indolent fathers are sometimes painted with more acid than certain conservative catalogues would accept.
Father Mouse scolded the children. "Naughty! Bad mice!" he said.

"They can't help it," said Mother Mouse. "There are too many of them."

Then he scolded her. "You shouldn't have had so many," he said.--The Mouse House
As I mentioned in the other post, some people would also not feel quite comfortable with the fantasy aspect of Godden's doll's lives; her dolls can't speak to their owners, but they communicate by wishing, occasionally so hard that they crack. But the dolls aren't the only focus of these books: any child who has been bossed around or left behind by older siblings will relate to Elizabeth in The Fairy Doll; and Impunity Jane raises all kinds of questions about what it means to be a little boy and to be honourable and brave. The boy in the story, Gideon, swipes an unloved doll from a neglected dollhouse, but eventually realizes that it was still theft.
But, from far off, she seemed to hear the bugle telling her to be brave, and she knew she must wish, "Gideon, put me back."

She wanted to say, "Gideon, hold me tightly," but she said, "Gideon, put me back."

(Of course there is a happy ending.)

Marguerite De Angeli's books: A couple of her books, A Door in the Wall and Thee, Hannah! are familiar to many homeschoolers; but we have collected several less well known ones as well. I don't know how well all these books, particularly her "Pennsylvania Dutch" stories go over with the people concerned; the dialect in them sometimes seems a bit Lancaster-County-tourish, even though they are dedicated, for instance, to "the Children of the Little Red Schoolhouse in the Conestoga Valley of Pennsylvania."

"Supper ready, Mom?" called Ammon. "Ich bin hongry!"

"Ya, ready and waiting," Mother answered....--Henner's Lydia

However, we still like Henner's Lydia as well as Thee, Hannah! and Elin's Amerika for their portraits of very real little girls, who get in trouble and make messes, and usually come to realize in the end that their families' survival depends on their learning responsibility.
What would she do? Knute looked at her but didn't stop paddling. "Now," she said, "the Tomte [a little household helper like a brownie] will be angry. I left the stuga untidy and the hearth unswept, and now I've forgotten the milk, and it will sour! What shall I do? Can we go back, Knute?"

"Of course not! We like it sour anyway," said Knute. "Do you think I have nothing to do but paddle several miles just because you can't remember anything?"--Elin's Amerika
More to come...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Dewey come home?

Most creative/offbeat/just plain strange Google search that ended at the Treehouse this week: "milk carton missing squirrel ideas."

Now lost kids on milk cartons I understand, but lost squirrels? "Identifying marks: chewed tail, fondness for acorns and taco chips..."

Yogurt-making trick

I made yogurt yesterday and wanted to pass on something that's working for me.

I've been an on-again, off-again yogurt maker for years, trying directions from some of my favourite frugal people: The Tightwad Gazette, The Common Room, The Hillbilly Housewife. I've had mixed results using different incubation methods including a quickly-turned-off electric oven--we didn't own a heating pad until this year (we found a brand-new one at a yard sale).

But recently I found a way that clicked for me and does produce very eatable yogurt. The Sea-bird Chronicles posted the idea of heating the milk right in the jar, in a big pot of water. No messy pot to clean up, no burnt milk, not as much hovering--when the water starts bubbling, it's time to check the temperature of the milk as well. I used two pint jars instead of one large one because that's what I had--just divided up the extra milk powder and starter (frozen yogurt cubes) between the two jars after the milk cooled a bit. Then I left the jars for six hours on the heating pad, and voilĂ .

The other different thing I'm doing--for the time being--is using regular 2% milk rather than trying to make yogurt entirely from powdered milk. Maybe I'll try that again once I've had a few more successful from-fresh batches and I know I'm not doing anything else wrong--but the last just-powdered batch I made was runny and sticky. :-& And what we have now is really pretty good. So if it's not broke...

Buzz on over hosts this week's Carnival of Homeschooling.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Sallie's K-12 Memories Meme

Sallie at A Gracious Home is a great meme-writer, and this is her latest creation: the A-Z of K-12.

Apple Jacks or Captain Crunch with Crunch Berries: you mean, which did we eat? Neither, that I can remember--if we bothered my mom for a TV cereal it was probably Frankenberry or Count Chocula. Could I substitute "Alphagetti or Cheese Ravioli?" We wouldn't have survived without Chef Boy-ar-dee.

Band or Choir: Choir up till grade bands from grades 7 through 10...stage band (jazz band) in grade 11.

Class Ring: No.

Ducks or Battleships: As in, tub toys? Um...maybe when I was really little.

Earning Money: Sallie wrote, "I did a lot of babysitting. A LOT of babysitting." Yeah, me too. I also worked in the kitchen at a nursing home during my last year of school. Most of my summer jobs were in the kitchen at different camps.

Favorite Teacher: I don't want to name names on this blog...but I had some very good English, French and German teachers.

Go Back and Do Over: Oh, I don't even want to go there.

Home Economics: We had to take it in grade 7 and I hated every single minute of it. At least in grade 8 you could opt for shop instead.

Indoor Recess: Sallie (a woman after my own heart here) said, "I LOVED indoor recess in elementary school! I have never been a big outdoor type person so the opportunity to stay inside and read, color, play games, etc. was my cup of tea! " Sallie, I would happily have stayed inside and played games with you.

Jacks or Jump Rope: Playing jacks was never very big where I came from, so definitely jump rope, or ball games.

Kickball or Dodgeball: Neither.

Lunchbox: We only used them on the days we had choir, so I don't even remember what kind of box I had.

Musical: Grade School: I was a flying monkey in The Wizard of Oz (no lines), and a Spanish Girl in The Man With the Crooked Nose (about two lines, one of which was "Ichiwawacaramba"). (I look about as Spanish as I do Chinese.) High School: I had about two lines ("Hi, I'm Michelle") and played the piano in a show called On Our Own.

Number of School Districts: I'm not sure what that means; around here we had the County Board of Education for a long time and then that became the Region District School Board. But our schools were all under the same board.

Orange or Apple: What, in the lunchbox that I can't remember? Probably an apple, less messy.

Playground Equipment: At school? All we had were monkey bars...and then one year the parents' association raised money to build a Creative Playground. (wood, tires and all that) But there were so many kids that we hardly got a chance to use it.

Quiz Team or Debate: I don't remember there ever being either one.

Recess: Outdoors this time? In the winter we slid down the big hill out back (the school was built into a hill). In the summer we jumped rope and played with those red-white-and-blue rubber balls.

Spring Break: Well, there was the year my sister and I went to Montreal by ourselves...I'm saving that one for a story contest sometime.

Team Sports: Obviously you never saw how well I did in gym class.

Unfulfilled Dream: To do with school? To go back and ace math class now that I actually understand what I was supposed to be doing.

Valuable: Oh, another serious one...okay, I learned how to survive even when trying to juggle too much homework with the rest of your life.

Walk or Bus: Walked, sixteen miles through the snow and uphill both ways. (Unless we could pester my mom for a ride...)

X Country or Basketball: You're joking.

Year: Grade 13. (That's not a joke--we did have Grade 13.)

Zzzzzz’s: American history that seemed to be only about unions and Tammany Hall. (I'm sorry, I'm sorry!)

The Primary Math Cupboard

Mr. Fixit took this picture awhile back to show what a very inexpensive math curriculum might look like. Almost everything in the picture was bought at yard sales or was just found around the house, including the calendars, the chalkboard and the cardboard clock which all came out of a "play school" kit. (The file cards--for homemade flash cards, game cards and rod tubes) are sitting on the brown envelope only so you can see them.) Using Ruth Beechick's Arithmetic booklet (the yellow one) and the basic supplies there, you could cover most first grade math topics, with a little imagination. Cathy Duffy wrote a sidebar about that too in one of her Curriculum Manuals.

But after ten-plus years of homeschooling, you tend to end up with a lot more "stuff" than that. I made a list this weekend of what we have that Crayons could use for next year's Real Grade One Math. (We also have access to a whole world of mathematics books, games, blogs, lesson plans and more through the public library and the Internet--but you can't count that, can you?) I've sorted it more or less by category:

Official Math Stuff: Miquon Math teacher's manuals and workbooks. Developing Number Concepts Using Unifix Cubes (yard sale treasure ten years ago, but it took me years to find some Unifix cubes to go with it; we used Duplo instead). A Calculadder set for drilling facts (although we don't drill much at this level). Miscellaneous yard-sale workbooks, although most of them aren't at a grade 1 level.

Other math books: Mathemagic (from the Childcraft series), Family Math, Teaching Children (for a scope and sequence), Ruth Beechick's booklet, and a book called How is My Second Grader Doing in School?, which isn't for first grade but is quite useful anyway. (That's where I found the evaluation exercises I used last week.)

Manipulatives: a plastic shoebox full of Cuisenaire rods (4 74-rod sets plus a sandwich bag full of ancient thrift shop rods), one set of base-10 blocks (teacher's yard sale) , a set of linking cm cubes the same size as the units in the base-10 blocks, a small set of Unifix cubes (same yard sale) and a small set of larger linking cubes (same yard sale). A homemade abacus, although we don't use that really until later. Miscellaneous pegs and beads, Lego and Duplo blocks. Coloured popsicle sticks (those are popsicle sticks in the photo, not Cuisenaire rods. Just watch out for splinters--ask us how we know). The rubber numeral tiles from a Scrabble-type game called Ready or Not.

Number lines: metric measuring tape, ruler

Hundred Charts: several including our homemade Velcro-poster board masterpiece. Also the 1-100 Activity Book from Learning Resources. (Good for games.)

Our Jumping Number Line.

Kitchen measuring equipment: measuring cups, scale. Also a small plastic "grocery clicker" from the days before calculators. Miscellaneous recyclables like egg cartons and toothpicks.

Geometric solids: a folding cardboard set that came from somewhere, sometime; plus building blocks, food cans, balls, etc.

Geoboard: we don't have one, so we use an upside-down Discovery Toys Giant Pegboard and a bag of rubber bands. (There are a few geoboard activities in the Miquon First Grade Diary.)

Miscellaneous pieces of paper with numbers on them: bills, maps, newspapers and catalogues.

Household and office stuff: Paper, file cards, pencils, ruler, scissors, markers, rubber bands (for bundling popsicle sticks and doing geoboards). Small chalkboard and chalk; small whiteboard and markers.

Commercial board games (and all their pieces, dice, play money, rubber tiles): Monopoly Jr., Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, checkers, Chinese checkers, Sorry, Battleship, Can't Stop, and a domino-like game that I think was called Make Tens. The Klutz Book of Classic Board Games--which is a pouchful of small black and white pebbles and a set of boards to play games like Mancala and Nine Men's Morris. Miscellaneous dice, dominoes and cards for made-up games.

Homemade felt board, scraps of felt and construction paper, and yarn. Why yarn? Because with a few paper or felt circles and a piece of yarn wrapped around the middle of the felt board, you instantly create a giant domino, which is very useful for showing more/less, odd/even, or adding the dots on one side to the dots on the other side.

A calendar, and Calendar Math from Creative Teaching Press.

Play money and real money.

Plastic fraction wedges from the dollar store--just the half and quarter sizes for Grade One.

A toy clock (and real clocks.)

And a few geometric things to play with (some of which Crayons won't really get into until she's older): half a set of pattern blocks (bought from a friend), a tangrams set, and a set of logic blocks (Logix) that belongs to Mr. Fixit.

[Followup Post: And What Do You Do With It?]

Sunday, June 03, 2007


The second first year of Miquon Math

I think I said somewhere else that although Crayons has done a lot of the pages in the first Miquon Math workbook this year, I'm not sure that she's at the same level of real math understanding as Ponytails was on finishing the Orange book. For one thing, she's a bit younger; Ponytails didn't do the Orange and Red books (the recommended first grade sequence) until her real Grade One year; Crayons won't officially be in Grade One until the fall. And since her kindergarten this year has been kind of hit-or-miss (we did SOMETHING most days, but it wasn't always planned), I wasn't as careful to reinforce what she was doing with some of the brilliant ideas from the Miquon First Grade Diary. For those of you not familiar with Miquon Math, this is a teacher's support book written by Lore Rasmussen (the creator of the curriculum) and Robert Hightower, but it's often called "optional" by the homeschool vendors, so a lot of people never see it, and have to fight their way through the longer and more confusing Lab Sheet Annotations. (The Annotations could be considered the Where's Waldo of teacher's manuals.)

I did some informal evaluation with Crayons this week and (although I pretty much knew this already) we figured out that she does know how to do single-digit addition pretty well in her head and on paper, and can often figure out subtraction too, although the symbols mix her up sometimes; she filled in missing numbers verbally in several sequences (counting in the 800s threw her, though); and she is still really learning what place value is (that's more of a second grade thing anyway). She still has trouble sometimes writing numerals the right way around.

So what we're going to do for the first two terms of Real Grade One is work through the First Grade Diary, which isn't based on the Orange Book at all but skips around through several of the workbooks, and has a lot more of what they called "chalkboard work" in it as well as very creative Cuisenaire Rod activities. The FGD wasn't written to be prescriptive; right in the forward it points out that every child or group of children will be different and have different needs, so you really can't copy exactly what Lore and Robert did with their class on September 19th, 1960 and every day thereafter. (That's what I love about Miquon Math--it doesn't have a do exactly this today, this tomorrow, and this the next day lesson approach. Some people hate that, but it has always worked better for us than having things laid out too strictly.) But it is possible to take quite a bit of what they did and move through several of the activities each week, using a few of the workbook pages as backup material; I know this works, because I did it with Ponytails four years ago. We'll take the grasshoppers Gus and Happy down their number line racetrack (that's classic Miquon stuff--Gus and Happy are on the covers of all the workbooks), play "Lumberyard" (I have more wood in my pile of rods than you do), and find all the "tricky names for 10." We'll probably get through most of the Red Book along the way too.

And I am looking forward to doing all that for the last time...sniff.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Meanderings with Melissa

And Melissa's friend, and also with Richard Halliburton. I feel like I just travelled the whole globe in one post.

There's also a good reminder in it to shut up sometimes and let people have room to get their thoughts out. Sometimes you learn the most surprising things.

One summer during university I worked at a camp for mentally handicapped people. Some of the maintenance crew were former campers/guests. These guys--and a couple of ladies--used to sit around in the dining hall in the evening, drinking coffee and swapping stories. They were way more fun to hang out with and listen to than the mostly-teenage counsellors. One night they were reminiscing about the summer before, and discussing one of the directors.

"That guy ate so much peanut butter," one of them said, "that we started calling him Skippy." I'm still laughing about that years later. (Obviously before the days of nut-free zones, though...)

There was the usually-untalkative older man who came to life one day when I brought in some vintage band records (like The Darktown Strutters' Ball) and played them during craft time. He started telling us about how his brother was sort of a disc jockey years and years ago, and how he used to go with him to help him play records at dances. I kept trying to imagine this guy--much younger--riding around in a Hupmobile or something like that!

Then there was the awful day that several of the counsellors were fired after some weekend carousing. That night we were supposed to have a "talent show" in the dining hall, which usually meant that the counsellors would put something together for their cabin members to lip-synch or air-guitar to. Being so short-staffed, we expected that the show would get scuttled; but the guests had the final laugh, because several of them went ahead and took turns at the microphone, doing absolutely their own thing for each other and having the most wonderful time. It beat the canned stuff all hollow.

The ironic part was that I think most of the counsellors missed it--they were sitting outside moping for their friends.

But those who listened--learned something.
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