Friday, August 31, 2007

Math Can Be Funny

"A Very Short History of Mathematics," around since 1948 but still funny. Thanks to Denise at Let's Play Math for posting the link.

Carnival of Children's Literature

I don't think I've ever linked before to the Carnival of Children's Literature--but then, I've never submitted anything before either. This is a monthly-or-so, rather than weekly, carnival, so if you're interested in participating in the next one, you still have lots of time. The August edition is hosted at Po Moyemu--In My Opinion, and the next host will be Charlotte of Charlotte's Library. The submission deadline is Friday Sept. 21st.

Pasted from the carnival, for all the writers out there:

Alyssa F. tells us about a New Contest- You Gotta Check This Out! posted at The Shady Glade , saying, "A great new writing contest for all those readers who've ever thought "I could do that!" Submit your own short story or poem retelling your favorite fairytale/legend/myth and be in the running for some wonderful prizes." [Note: the deadline has been extended till Sept. 21st.]

Math with Lore

I can't decide whether to send this to the Miquon Math support list or post it here...I think it makes as much sense to put it here and then send a link to the list. So if you're not interested in Miquon or in math or in homeschooling, you can always click Next Blog.

As I posted previously, Crayons is going to be more-or-less following the Miquon First Grade Diary for the first few weeks/months of her grade One math. This past week has been a prep week for the Full Big School Day (and next week will be prep-and-a-half, if you like). One of the subjects we did cover every day was Crayons' math, and this is what we did. She's started calling it "math with Lore" (after Lore Rasmussen, the co-author of the First Grade Diary), since I often pull out the book and say, "This is what Lore did with her class."

So if you have the FGD and want to follow, go ahead.

First day: Lore's class did some free play with the rods. We skipped that. Then she did a demonstration of how her big demonstration Cuisenaire rods corresponded to the students' smaller sets. Obviously we skipped that, especially because (as Crayons demonstrated soon afterwards), she already knows her rods quite well. Lore had the children build "stairs" with the rods (like the picture here), and Crayons did that without any problem. [Oh, I forgot--at this point Crayons decided she also needed to spell her name and her sister's name with rods--which she did, quite well! I gave her a few minutes to do her own "free play" and then suggested we move on.]

Then we did the "half of" exercise that comes next in the book. I asked Crayons what would be wrong if I broke a cookie in "half" and gave her the "little half" and me the "bigger half." We went around with that for a couple of minutes and ended up with her explaining to me that both the halves should be the same size. Aha. So I asked her the book questions: find the rod that is "half of" the purple rod, "half of" the red rod, "half of" the orange rod.

And we examined one of the white rods, which are 1 cm cubes. Kids always like this: you press one face of it into your arm and it makes a square; you press an edge into your arm and it makes a line; you press a corner into your arm and it makes a dot. (Gently!) We figured out that cubes have six faces...that took a few minutes.

Second day: we reviewed what we knew about cubes. The FGD says, "A pile of geometric solids was placed on a table. The children sorted the solids into cubes and non-cubes. They observed that cube has square faces only, while other prisms have combinations of square and non-square faces." Right there we had a bucket of small building blocks, so we dumped them on the floor and Crayons sorted them out into cubes and non-cubes. We looked at the non-cubes and named the shapes of their non-square faces: circles, triangles, rectangles.

Lore then held up numeral cards and the children held up a corresponding number of fingers. That would be an insult for Crayons, so we did something close but harder. She had been given a set of Trend Numbers Match-Me Cards, which have groups of up to 25 objects on them, and either written number words or numerals on the backs. You could easily draw your own on index cards, but we had these handy so I used them. I just pulled them out, showed her some of the groups of objects, and had her count them as fast as she could (encouraging her to count by groups if she could). Then she turned them over to see the numerals or words and check if she was right.

Third Day: Lore played a dice game with her class, which seemed (in her version) like it wouldn't work quite as well with just the two of us. So we played two similar games that worked better for us. First I took two cups, two sets of twenty plastic cm cubes (any small objects like Cheerios would work), and a die. We took turns rolling the die and seeing who could fill up her cup first. Then, just for fun, we played a version of NIM with 21 of the cubes. You had to take turns removing either 1 or 2 cubes from the pile, and the object was to force the other person to take the last cube.

Lore's class also did some tower-building and measuring, but we didn't get around to that.

Fourth Day (Sept. 19 in the FGD): Lore's class played a game of Lotto, using page A-3 from the Orange workbook. Since I still had those Trend cards handy, we played with those instead, and one of the Squirreling siblings showed up and played along with us. There are 2 sets of 26 cards in the box, numbered from 0 to 25; one set has objects on the front and numerals on the back, the other has objects on the front and words on the back, as I explained on Day Two. I sorted them into their two sets and dealt nine cards (3x3), objects up, to each player to make a Bingo card (we say Bingo instead). The extras were put aside. I saved the set with the words on the back and read them out one by one; if you had the right number of objects, you put a counter on that card; three in a row won. We played several rounds, changing the "bingo cards" between rounds just for variety.

We also did Lore's "diagnostic chalkboard session" which she did with a few of her students who seemed to know more about arithmetic than the rest. I just wrote down her addition, subtraction and missing-number questions for Crayons and had her answer them--and she got them all right except that she's still sometimes not sure about what minus signs are.

So that was our math week!

The Lilting House does art too

Lots of details from Melissa on how to make watercolours workable.

Strawberry pics are up

Just so you know.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Hangin' with Mr. Shakespeare: book review

After perusing The Ultimate Book Guide, I brought home a couple of newer books from the library: a book by Anne Fine, and Susan Cooper's King of Shadows. I read King of Shadows, and my teenage Apprentice read the Anne Fine novel (in one evening).

These are recommended for the 8 to 12 age group? (the focus of The Ultimate Book Guide)

I'll back up a bit. I read Susan Cooper's whole Dark is Rising sequence years ago. Several times. I loved them so much that I even read them to Mr. Fixit. I think I read them to the Apprentice. I may or may not read them to the younger Squirrelings...for the same reasons that I may or may not read them the Wrinkle in Time books. Some Christians I know (conservative AND well-read) don't like the views they put forth on good, evil, God and the universe. But I still love them for their story, their originality (even though they draw on many other legends), and the magical quality of the writing...
The room was at once a cosy cave of yellow light, and he lay back in shame, feeling stupid. Frightened of the dark, he thought: how awful. Just like a baby. Stephen would never have been frightened of the dark, up here. Look, there's the bookcase and the table, the two chairs and the window seat; look, there are the six little square-riggers of the mobile hanging from the ceiling, and their shadows sailing over there on the wall. Everything's ordinary. Go to sleep.

He switched off the light again, and instantly everything was even worse than before. The fear jumped at him for the third time like a great animal that had been waiting to spring. Will lay terrified, shaking, feeling himself shake, and yet unable to move. He felt he must be going mad. Outside, the wind moaned, paused, rose into a sudden howl, and there was a noise, a muffled scraping thump, against the skylight in the ceiling of his room. And then in a dreadful furious moment, horror seized him like a nightmare made real; there came a wrenching crash, with the howling of the wind suddenly much louder and closer, and a great blast of cold; and the Feeling came hurtling against him with such force of dread that it flung him cowering away.

Will shrieked. He only knew it afterwards; he was far too deep in fear to hear the sound of his own voice. For an appalling pitch-black moment he lay scarcely conscious, lost somewhere out of the world, out in black space. And then there were quick footsteps up the stairs outside his door, and a voice calling in concern, and blessed light warming the room and bringing him back into life again.
Jump to twenty-plus years later, and we have:
We had one other thing in common, too. Most of us were pretty weird. When you think about it, a normal kid wants to watch TV or movies, videos or computer games: there's something odd about him if instead he's more interested in the stage. And we were all crazy about it; crazy, and confident that we had talent. Arby had made sure of that when he first interviewed each of us, last winter.
I'm not sure if I'm reading E.L. Konigsburg or what...but it doesn't sound like Susan Cooper. Or at least it doesn't sound like The Dark is Rising.

Later on I think Cooper gets past some of the initial awkwardness, especially when she does the scenes between Nat, the main character, and his new friend William Shakespeare. (I think I see a bit of TDIR's Will and Merriman in this.) The slanginess and monotone of the first scenes are replaced by more enthusiasm and something real that made me at least interested enough to see it through to the end.
As for Will Shakespeare, he was King of Fairyland of the whole world, as far as I was concerned. He wasn't a great actor; he didn't have that indescribable special gift that Richard Burbage had, that could in an instant fill a theater with roars of laughter, or with prickling cold silence. But as Oberon he had an eerie authority that made me, as Puck, totally his devoted servant. When he sent me offstage to look for the magic herb that he would squeeze on Titiania's eyes, it was my own delight--me, Nat Field--that put spring into my cartwheeling exit.
Parts of King of Shadows remind me of other books: Penelope Farmer's Charlotte Sometimes (another somewhat disturbing timeshift book that was a bit ahead of its time), and Geoffrey Trease's Cue for Treason, which isn't a timetravel book at all but has a lot of the same plot elements: a young boy who's part of a theatre company with William Shakespeare and Richard Burbage, the detail of boys playing all the female parts, performing something for Queen Elizabeth, and a backdrop of political intrigue, spies, treason and so on.

When I thought some more about Cue for Treason (which some people would consider dull and old-fashioned--I doubt it's even in most public libraries now), I recognized one big difference between these two books about hanging out with Shakespeare, and why I would read my 10-year-old Trease's book but not King of Shadows. Cue for Treason is an adventure story. Stuff happens, and more stuff happens, and people even get shot at, but overall it's just kind of a ripping yarn. King of Shadows is way more psychological than any 10-year-old I know would be able to handle. It's about grief,'s about a beautiful friendship and the fascination of's got all kinds of details in it about the Elizabethan theater and A Midsummer Night's Dream...but it's also about bearbaiting, suicide, maimed beggars, and birds pecking at severed skulls. It also has a few instances (in the present-day scenes) of what I'd consider unacceptable language in a book for this age group.

My 10-year-old is just coming off of a several-month trip with me through the Borrowers' series. She's just come beyond the Magic Treehouse books (not my own idea of awesome, but something she enjoyed reading to herself), and is starting to look for something a little more. I was thinking of starting a couple of Ellen Raskin's mysteries with her, which also have the occasional dark side but have enough humor to balance things out. And that's the other thing I think I'm not liking much about this odyssey into 10-to-12-ish fiction of the last several years: these books seem to take themselves oh so seriously, and the world oh so sadly. There's not enough delight in them. In The Dark is Rising there's evil and scariness, but it's defeated, full tilt. (And Will's life isn't all that bad to start with--he's summoned to help fight The Dark, but otherwise he's just sort of a normal boy.) In Cue for Treason the bad guys are caught and the worst of them are sent to the Tower (to await their turn with the birds, no doubt, but Peter (the boy) isn't there to see it). In King of Shadows there is some closure for Nat's emotional wounds, and it even turns out that there was a purpose for his timeshifting adventure, but it doesn't seem like enough to set things straight. In a way one wishes that Susan Cooper, and Anne Fine, and their ilk, weren't such good writers, because when they choose to do raw emotions, they do it too well for this age group. It's a throwback to what somebody called "the gray books" of the 1970's young-adult genre: a too-adult, too-depressing world that Ponytails, for one, isn't ready for.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Strawberry Mice

Crayons and I made these last night for a surprise dessert. The idea was from Family Fun, and the impetus was a late-summer pint of strawberries from the farm stand (and the fact that we've had about as much shortcake as even we can eat for awhile). Check out these adorable micies, and use your imagination and whatever's on the shelf to improvise their faces and tails. We used chocolate chips for both the noses and eyes; bits of dried fruit (from a bag of trail mix) for ears; and pieces of chow mein noodle for tails. For fun, we arranged them on a plate around a wedge of cheese (with a "bite" taken out of the side).

We made about a dozen, and served a bowl of the extra berries and sliced-off bits on the side.

(Thanks, Ponytails, for the photos.)

Teach your kids to draw well

Years ago I printed out the article "Art Lessons" by Mary Beth Voelker. (Sorry about the popups--Tripod sites have always been bad for that.) I kept putting it into my planning binder, moving it around from folder to folder but never actually tried her plan of drawing blocks.

So this year--it's finally on the menu. We have other drawing resources too--quite a few books, actually. But there's something about her simple approach that I like.

I'll let you know how it goes!

Better than an 8-pack of crayons

What does an artist buy to get her kids set up for school?

Check out Barb's list at Heart of Harmony. And you can also see the clock entries in last week's drawing challenge. (Two of our Squirrelings participated.) Next week's challenge: drawing school supplies. (Details on Barb's blog--deadline is Monday of every week.)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

100 More Things

A followup to this post...copy and comment if you want! (Some of these are making me laugh.) Remember that all of these (in the original post at Simply Frugal) have links to online directions, in case you doubt that any of them are possible. Bold means I've tried it at least once; I haven't italicized or Xed out any of the rest, though. Just because I can't imagine needing a crawfish trap or building a sunroom doesn't mean, I suppose, that I might never

Have you ever made...

Coconut milk
Hawaiian lei
Cheese cake
Beaded curtains
A crawfish trap
A balancing scooter
Computer (I won't take the credit for this, but Mr. Fixit puts his own computer combinations together)Camping gear
Barometer (yes, out of a beer bottle--it was very successful)
Coffee syrup
Moleskin-like notebook
Shrinky dinks
Picnic table
Backyard smoker
Cosmetics (not really my thing, but the Apprentice has experimented a bit)Vitamin water
Cat tree
Snow globe
Backyard swingset
Hats (we once made a very nice wrapping-paper Easter bonnet)
Baby food (okay, now you're finally more into my territory)
Teddy bear

Laser flashlight
Fried green tomatoes
Halloween makeup
Wind generator tower
Weather station (well, mostly just the barometer)
Holiday ornaments

An heirloom tablecloth (I've made doilies and placemats, but that's as big as I get with thread. You didn't mention afghans, though--I've made a few of those.)
Metal detector
Rain barrel
Baby shoes
Log cabin
Stencils for painting
A rocking chair
Cradles and cribs
Air conditioner
An electric car
Picket fence
Pie crust
Creme brulee
Chocolate truffles
Furniture polish
Cat food
Cereal barsVinegar
Apple cider
Henna Paste
Trail mix
Beef jerky
Pool table
Gift wrap
Rock candy
(what homeschooler hasn't tried this? Many have attempted...few have succeeded.)
Barbie clothes
French fries
Graham crackersA surfboard
A tiara (do princess crowns for a birthday party count?)Egg cream
Latte art
A corsage (Years ago. Girl Guide Flower Arranger Badge.)
Mulled wine
Gingerbread houseStick horse
Mozzarella sticks
Flower arrangements
A wreath
A bench
Herbal teas
Salt and pepper shakers
FudgeA vase
An apron (Uh--what's an apron?)

Teaching French in the Treehouse

French is one of those subjects where I have needed as many teachers' helpers as I could get. We haven't bought a whole lot of commercial curriculum, though; most of what's out there, I can't afford.

I took French through high school and into university, and even won a dictionary once in a competition. My grammar isn't bad, although it could use a good review; my accent isn't bad (I think I pronounce French better than a few politicians I've heard); but I'll be the first to admit I am nowhere near bilingual. I can browse through Lettres de mon moulin without looking up too many words (hey, I even figured out what a chèvre was just by thinking about cheese), but French commercials throw me completely.

Still, somehow The Apprentice managed--either under her own power or because of her marvellous French tutor, moi--not only to succeed in first-year high school French but to elicit a question from her teacher as to whether she'd been enrolled in French Immersion. (Choke, sputter.) So I guess whatever we did wasn't that bad.

Um--what did we do?

Well, starting from the end...she had been doing an older version of Powerglide, mostly on her own...we had gone through one beginning grammar textbook, although I was doubtful about whether she'd retained much...she had read some Snoopy cartoons and some of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle in French...she memorized one of the Fables de la Fontaine...we had sung quite a few folk songs and church choruses, read quite a few French easy-reader books (I sometimes made up my own Ruth Beechick-style lessons to go with those)...we had gone through some of the old grade one Aux Yeux curriculum I have (which I'm still going to post about later, since Crayons will be using it this year)...used several little tape sets from the public some of an online story about Christians in Romania...made a poster showing Arthur the aardvark and his different feelings (Arthur says J'ai mal (I feel sick), J'ai faim (I'm hungry) and so on)...used a couple of Usborne-type illustrated French/English word books...used an old workbook about learning French with a kangaroo...did some copywork...used some online fun French sites that aren't around anymore. Occasionally even watched T.V. Oh, and one year when she was six she did "J'étudie avec Mimi" with a group, although I don't think she learned a whole lot from that.

Mainly, I think, we just kept working at it...never too heavy on the grammar, she picked more of that up this year at school.

This past year with Ponytails, I mostly used one of two storybooks we have that were written in English and translated into French--100 contes familiers des bonnes soirées, and 100 contes familiers des jours heureux. Bedtime stories and happy-day stories. OK, they don't sound too challenging, but that's the whole idea: they're just one-or-two-page stories about this and that: birds who try to paint their feathers different colours, children who go to the zoo and get their lollipops eaten by a hungry elephant, a stuffed dog that gets lost, and so on. Not great literature, but great for vocabulary and hearing how sentences get put together. We're going to continue with the other book this year. What do we do with them? Sometimes I pre-teach a bit of vocabulary, especially if it's really important to the story. Then I read; sometimes I use toys or pictures to help show what's going on. I try not to translate into English if I can help it; I want her to understand the word in French, not just translate it.

I usually have Ponytails narrate, but not always in French. Usually I ask her to tell what happened in English but encourage her to use any French words she can remember.

Sometimes I'll make up a phonics lesson to go with the story; for example, if there are several words in the story that have the vowel sound used in "le" and "de," I'll list them and we'll practice reading them; then when I read the story again I'll point out those words or have her read them too. Sometimes, if we extend the story over a few days, I'll make up a worksheet--usually it's a page divided into about six empty boxes, each box with a word or phrase at the top, and she illustrates each box. I might also just give her the empty boxes and have her copy the words in herself before she draws the picture.

Sometimes I copy out some of the story, cut up the sentences, and we make new sentences.

Or I might ask her questions, have her point to things in the room or in an illustration. Where me...touch something that is....

And we sing too. This year I'm figuring on one folk song and one Christian song per month. If we can find tapes or CDs to go with the songs, I like to use those because sometimes (even for me) the phrasing on a song is a little tricky, and we might as well learn to sing them "right." Even though, just as in English, there are many different versions of some songs--so the CD might not always match up with our book. But we've usually worked it out.

Oh--and the other thing I have to look into is the free-with-library-card version of Rosetta Stone. We have an old demo CD of Rosetta Stone, so I know how it works, but I would like to see how well the free version works. In my mind that would be a great program to alternate with the Mom-lessons.

I have the stories and songs figured out through March--not exactly what we're going to do with each one, but the general idea. After March I'm not sure, because early in April we have a local conference here and I might look at investing in a commercial program that I can use with both Crayons and Ponytails, starting in the spring. I like the sound of the one that Coffeemamma has been using. But until then we're going to do our "chez nous" version.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Where did all those frugal bloggers go?

You might have noticed that we had a lo-o-o-ng list of Frugal Bloggers on the sidebar--that was the Frugal Blogroll (home page is Frugal Hacks) set up by Kim of Life in a Shoe. The blogroll has been growing dramatically and the list was starting to take over peoples' sidebars, so Kim came up with a Frugal Hacks button that we could use instead. If you click on it, it will take you to the Hacks homepage, and all the blog links are right there.

More books

Have you ever been to Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books? It's like an instant carnival: you add your own reviews any time during the day with one of those Mr. Linky widgets.

Here's today's edition.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Ultimate Book Guide (Book review)

The Ultimate Book Guide: Over 600 Great Books for 8-12s , by by Daniel Hahn (Editor), Leonie Flynn (Editor), Susan Reuben (Editor), Anne Fine (Introduction).

This book-of-books doesn't have the Christian base of Books Children Love, or Honey for a Child's Heart. But it also doesn't have as much commercial "attitude" as I expected...or, to be more accurate, it fits a particular kind of "attitude" that, although I'm not totally in tune with it, I do "get." This is a British book, and it expects that if you enjoy Jerry Spinelli and J.K. Rowling, you might also have the intelligence to try out Mistress Masham's Repose, Rosemary Sutcliff's historical novels, and Black Beauty. There are witches here; there is weirdness and fantasy and time travel and a lot of Roald Dahl, and a few other things that might not be my particular cup of tea. But there's also an obvious love of books and stories that would make this guide worthwhile browsing for both the 8-12's (with a bit of guidance) and their parents.

The best part--and it's very creatively and thoughtfully done--is the "Next?" box beside each main entry. If you liked this book, you might like this (same author) or this (similar theme). The Just-So Stories lead to Jacobs' English Folk Tales, Alan Garner's A Bag of Moonshine, Carl Sandburg's Rootabaga Stories, The Jungle Books, and Ted Hughes's Tales of the Early World. King Solomon's Mines suggests the sequel Allan Quartermain, and then Treasure Island, The Coral Island, Gary Paulsen's Hatchet, or William Nicholson's The Wind Singer. You'll find out why Helen Cresswell related to What Katy Did, and what Margaret Mahy thinks about Winnie-the-Pooh.  It's like walking around with a very experienced librarian who, although she may not share all your tastes, can nevertheless point out all kinds of books and authors, new and old, that you might have missed.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Stuffed shells, yum

Remember my experiment making Miss Maggie's ricotta cheese for stuffed pasta shells? Well, this week I had to do a double Miss Maggie in the same recipe: ricotta cheese (curds and whey) for the stuffing, and Quick Cheap and Easy Seasoned Tomato Sauce to go on top, because I was also out of pasta sauce but had two cans of tomato paste and everything else in the sauce recipe.

And it all turned out just fine--I think stuffed shells are even tastier sometimes than lasagna. If I'd had some parsley (still out of that), it would have tasted even better mixed with the ricotta cheese; what I did add (to one batch of cheese) was some salt, Parmesan cheese, and a beaten egg; also a bit of store cottage cheese because I had gotten the ricotta a bit dry and I thought it needed a bit of moistening. I cooked the shells (20 shells served us along with a salad) until they were flexible but not mushy, stuffed them, and put them on top of a layer of sauce, in a greased casserole. I covered them with some shredded cheese (sharp, uncoloured Cheddar, but Mozzarella would have been fine if we'd had some) and most of the rest of the sauce recipe--it made a bit more sauce than I wanted for the pasta so I just kept the rest.

And I baked the whole thing with the lid on for about half an hour. I sprinkled a bit of Parmesan on when it came out of the oven.

Thank you, Miss Maggie--couldn't have done it without you!

More nature books

Not all the good nature books out there are really old. On our last library trip I picked up three books in the Young Naturalist series by Gilles Brillon. These were originally written in French (published in Quebec) and are translated by Christina Richards.

I can't comment much on the third one, Discovering the Heavens--but I am very impressed with the other two: Discovering Spiders, Snails, and Other Creepy Crawlies; and Discovering Insects: Ants, Flies, Crickets... There's enough in each of these to keep elementary-age naturalists busy for quite a long time--if they can find samples of the required critters to do the experiments with. (Sample activity: snail race.) There's also quite a bit of vocabulary worked in fairly painlessly. I like the fact (although kids might not care) that the critters in question are divided up by groups: under Annelids, we get to study earthworms; under Molluscs, we look at slugs and snails; under Arthropods, we get Arachnids (spiders), Myriapods (centipedes and millipedes), and Crustaceans (sowbugs).

These look like a great resource, and they're also a good reminder that subjects for nature study can be as close as your own backyard.

Natural history treasure

(Update, September 2012:  Yes, Natural Science Through the Seasons has been reprinted!)

(Update, December 2010: Thanks to Ann at A Holy Experience for continuing to post the nature calendars on her blog--and welcome to visitors coming from HE!]

For all the would-be Miss Stacys out there...

I bought a book this spring from someone in our local homeschool group, and it turned out to be such a treasure for anyone doing nature study that I have to tell you about it. The only problem might be getting a copy: there are only seven right now on Abebooks, so it seems a bit scarce. But once you know it's out there, you might find some other copies floating around, especially if you're in Canada.

The book is Natural Science Through the Seasons: 100 Teaching Units, by J.A. (James Arthur) Partridge. It was published by MacMillan in 1946 and 1955 as a year-long teacher's resource. Each month has a variety of activities that might be suited to what's growing or hatching during that time (at least in Ontario). Each month has a sample day-by-day calendar with natural things to look for that you can build up "on your blackboard" (or on a regular calendar, for homeschoolers). Each unit has suggested activities, divided into those that are especially suitable for younger and older grades. There are experiments, questions, little verses to learn (or maybe to use for copywork), charts for identifying evergreens, and more things to draw on the blackboard.

And then each one also has a reading list, including suitable pages from Anna Comstock's Handbook of Nature Study; books such as Parker's Golden Treasury of Natural History and Dorothy Shuttlesworth's Exploring Nature with Your Child; and books by other authors whose books are still available: the D'Aulaires, Milicent Selsam, and Roger Tory Peterson. How cool is that?

Keep your eyes open! (The book has a green spine with red printing, it's 9 x 6 inches, and it's over 500 pages long.)

How do homeschoolers do that?

It's definitely that time of year. All around the blogworld, people are posting schedules, plans, pictures of their planners. Some of them make me wish I was one of their kids.

A few posts I've noticed:

Ann at Holy Experience shares her Planning Days--and a day planned out with Ann does (seriously) sound like a Holy Experience. Also some talk about the book Authentic Parenting.

Tim's Mom, a very veteran Amblesider (I didn't say venerable), posts book lists for senior year of high school, ninth grade, and more.

I think Coffeemamma is going to need a large double-double to get through her to-do list, but I hope she gets everything crossed off soon so we can go waste time shopping have some Mother Culture.

Cindy is asking for some feedback in Teaching the Taught.

The Headgirl returns to college. And Fa goes off for the first time...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Of maple leaves and hockey

Tis the season at Our Blue Castle.

Score one for the homeschoolers

The Crimson Wife at Bending the Twigs points out that most of those homeschoolers-can't-compete arguments don't hold much water these days. Homeschoolers can't provide for special-needs children?--neither can many public schools. Homeschoolers can't provide a full range of curriculum?--neither can school districts who have had to chop programs like music and outdoor education. I might also point out that there are schools in certain areas that Don't Even Have Libraries. Or such paltry ones that most homeschoolers' bookshelves would, and should, put them to shame.

(Hat tip both to the DHM and to the Carnival of Homeschooling.)

Want some drawing challenges?

Check out the Heart of Harmony blog for a weekly kids' drawing challenge. Last week it was salt and pepper shakers (samples are posted), and this week it's clocks around your house. Tell your budding artists.

Bring your itching powder already has the Carnival of Homeschooling up, and it's a Magic edition--amaze your friends, fool your enemies, joy buzzers and more. Lots of fun this week.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Small potatoes. And Wieners without Beaners.

That's what we got at the farmstand on the weekend--small red potatoes. And broccoli, and red and green peppers, and lettuce, and a few other things.

This is what we did with them. It's a recipe I clipped from Vegetarian Times a long time ago and adapted tonight to use what we had. (This is the adapted version.)

Vegetable Medley

About 10 small red potatoes, scrubbed and cubed
2 cups chopped broccoli
1 red pepper, chopped
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste (and some cayenne pepper if you like; I don't)
1 tsp. each dried oregano and basil
(The original recipe called for frozen peas and a chopped green pepper in addition to the other vegetables, as well as fresh garlic. Since I had finished all the garlic, I used a bit of garlic powder with the other seasonings.)

Cook the potatoes in a large pot of boiling water, for about 8 minutes, depending on how small you cut them. Add in the chopped broccoli and cook for a couple minutes more, until the potatoes are done. Drain them well in a colander.

A few minutes before you're ready to eat, heat the oil in a large, deep frying pan. Add the chopped pepper (and garlic, if using) and cook for a couple of minutes before adding all the other ingredients. (Pick out any stray bits of potato skin.) Cook for several minutes, stirring gently (you are not trying to mash the potatoes).

If you need to wait a few minutes for supper, turn the heat down to low and cover the pan until you're ready to eat.

I needed something to go along with this and didn't have any small protein-type things handy; but I did have a bag of pre-cooked wieners in the freezer (that is, the last wiener left in the pan, multiplied several times--we just store the leftover ones in a freezer bag for snacks or hot dog famines). I pulled them out, drizzled them with barbecue sauce, and baked them in a covered casserole for about half an hour. So much for our healthy dinner, I guess; but the flavour seemed to go well with the potato mixture.

Dessert was Fruit Crisp (yes! it was cool enough to use the big oven today!). We had bought--very rare occasion--some mixed frozen fruit when it was on sale at Price Chopper. I poured about half the bag of mixed berries into a small pan and added several stalks of chopped rhubarb. Actually I should have chopped the rhubarb smaller because it came out with a bit of crunch left, but we like it that way anyway. (One Squirreling did ask why I put celery in the dessert...)

Anyway--one other experiment here. In the Tightwad Gazette there's a mention of using baking soda in fruit crisps and other desserts so that you can cut back on the sugar. Well, a lot of times I don't add sugar anyway except in the crumble part, but I figured I should add some today because of the rhubarb. So I tried 1/3 cup of sugar and 1/2 tsp. baking soda along with the fruit, and then added our regular crumble topping. I baked the dessert along with the wieners, and there were no complaints.

Photos added!

We added a few more photos to the Bins and Binders post. Thanks, Ponytails.

What's a 9x13 breakfast?

The DHM linked to The Perfect Purple Planner on a blog called 20 Years of Homeschooling a Houseful. While I was there I happened to notice that Chelle/Diligent Hands (the blog owner) had also posted something intriguing about "9x13 breakfasts". You know: something you can bake for breakfast, like a strata, or baked oatmeal, or muffin cake. In a 9x13 pan, of course (unless you're Homeschooling a Houseful, and then you need a bigger pan).

Check it out--lots of ideas!

All those toy issues again

There's an excellent blog post at Angry Chicken that was pointed out by Melissa who saw it on somebody else's blog...anyway, go read it if you're interested in alternative/frugal/healthy toys.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Ponytails photographs the back yard

With the new trees!

Where our old maple used to be

"Crimson King" maple


Your sales pitch seems a bit specious

Dear Real Estate Agent:

If you're hosting an open house at a potential new Treehouse that has Really Strange-Looking Curtains, you don't exactly increase my enthusiasm by pointing out that all the draperies are included in the already high price. Even if they are custom made.

Also, having "Specious Family Home" in big letters on the fact sheet isn't real reassuring either.

Just thought you'd like to know.


Nitpicky Homelooker.

(Specious: 1. Having the ring of truth or plausibility but actually fallacious: a specious argument. 2. Deceptively attractive.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

When the rubber hits the road

Meredith, one of our favourite frugal superheroes, has had some unexpected expenses and needs to cook/eat from the pantry for the next little while. Watch FrugalWoman blaze into action, as I think she plans to blog about it, starting with this post.

A good morning for books. And strudel. And discount-store groceries.

We had a fun Saturday morning shopping around.

First stop was an estate sale with a lot of vintage books; the late owner of the house had been a French teacher and her collection went way back, maybe to her own school days. I picked up a few books just for interest, mostly vintage school editions:

Corneille: Le Cid (Hachette's French Classics)

Beaumarchais: Le Barbier de Seville

Daudet: Lettres de mon Moulin (Siepmann's French Texts)

Les 100 Plus Belles Chansons (a school songbook from the 1940's)

Notre Histoire, by Brown, Harman, and Jeanneret, translated by Charles Bilodeau. This is a real treasure: a French translation of George Brown's Story of Canada, which is an out-of-print textbook that some Canadian CM homeschoolers like to use. (Ponytails will be using our copy this year.) I didn't know a French version existed (I can find no mention of it online), and I'm not sure yet what I'm going to do with it. I know a couple of bilingual CM mammas who might like to have it.

There were some books in English, too:

The Heart of Midlothian, by Sir Walter Scott

An Everyman's Library book of Modern Plays

The Little Minister
, by J.M. Barrie

A Year in Provence, by Peter Mayle

Mr. Fixit took away a few records, too.

Second stop was a rent-a-table sale at the community centre. I found a small dolly for Crayons and a few somewhat tattered Scholastic paperbacks for a quarter apiece to add to our collection: Just Plain Maggie, Ghost Town Treasure, Snowbound in Hidden Valley, and Vicki and the Black Horse.

And a couple of the Squirrelings found earrings.

The community centre sale had a snacks table, but we weren't up for pop and hot dogs at 10:30 in the morning. So we all got back in the 2000 Rav4 (yeah, that's what we're driving right now) and drove to a cafe we had been wanting to try out that opens and closes at weird hours and keeps being closed every time we go there. This morning it was open. Grandpa Squirrel (that's Mr. Fixit's Dad Squirrel, not my map-collecting Dad Squirrel) was in the neighbourhood so he joined us for some coffee, juice and homemade strudel.

Last stop of the morning was Giant Tiger, which sounds like a funny place to pick up groceries, but we only needed bread, milk and a few boxes and cans, and we were planning a trip to the farm stand later to pick up the fresh stuff.

So...phew. That was our Saturday morning. How about yours?

Can you homeschool all wrong?

If you missed this post during Back-to-School Week, you can catch up now. How to start all wrong...and end up just fine.

One dress, four seasons

Well, not in my closet at the minute...I don't even have a dress I really like right now, except for one I've had since I was going out with Mr. Fixit...I've been spoiled by summer's old shorts and t-shirts. Time to go shopping, I guess.

But The Space Between My Peers has it all sewn up here. Of interest to the Squirrelings: check out the upside-down cardigan.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Real Maps, Cheap or Free

While my grandsires didn't supply me with a Rattery to scrounge from (like the DHM's), I have fallen heir to quite a few things that my dad, in particular, clipped or saved over the years and passed on. In those pre-Internet days you did save newspaper pictures of Benjamin Franklin, and clippings of the funniest things ever printed in church bulletins, or recipes for tofu brownies, because who knew when you'd find another one.

Well, even my dad's boxes have gotten a little full from time to time, and he's often passed some of his treasures on to us. That would include a whole stack of National Geographic maps, the kind that come folded up inside the magazines. Only these are mostly from the 1950's.

Um--pretty useless, right? Unless you're actually studying the geography of the 1950's?

No! We've used that stack a lot and have plans to continue using them this school year. For instance, there's a map of the "United States, Washington to Boston" from the August 1962 issue. For our purposes, we don't care if new interstate highways have been built or some names of towns have changed: at least the states were still in the same places, last time I looked, and the rivers and the oceans were the same. We're not aiming to drive there, just wanting to get a look at where some of the places we're reading about are in relation to us.

Even better is "Historical United States" from June 1953. This one has little notes and symbols all over, showing where the battles took place, where "Benedict Arnold crossed from Kennebec to Chaudiere waters enroute to Quebec", and where "Henry Hudson ascended river to site of Albany." There's also "A Map of New England, with Descriptive Notes" (June 1955).

For Plutarch and mythology we have "Greece and the Aegean," December 1958. For Paddle-to-the-Sea we have a map of Ontario from December 1978. (The Great Lakes haven't moved either.) We also have "British Isles" from July 1958 and "Shakespeare's Britain" (May 1964).

The best thing about these maps? No, not that they were free; that they're big! You can unfold them all over the floor or stick them up on the wall. Occasionally (since we've had several maps of the U.S. given to us) we've even traced a route or marked places on them. (We used one to move a little paper Minn of the Missisippi all the way down the river.) This beats little Internet printouts hands down.

Now I don't know if you're going to be able to track down any of these maps, unless you have an absolute National Geographic fanatic around. (Hope for a forgotten closet with shelves threatening to collapse from the weight of gold-coloured covers.) The trouble is, even if you get your old NGs cheap at thrift shops, the maps are usually not with the magazines anymore. But SOMEBODY took them out, right? So maybe SOMEBODY hung on to them--just in case--and maybe SOMEBODY would let you at some of their stash, if you ask nicely.

Oh--and a postscript about old NG magazines. They're not just for cutting out pictures of Masai warriors anymore. If somebody offers you some, check carefully for offbeat and literary-type articles; and then store them somewhere where you'll remember to use them. Our copy of Timothy Severin's The Brendan Voyage shares the shelf with the NG from December 1977, which had an article promoting the book (including a two-page diagram of Severin's boat). (We also have another of his articles, "In the Wake of Sindbad," July 1982). We have "A Walk Across America," April 1977--stored with the book of the same name (and the photos in the magazine are way clearer than those in our paperback book). We have treasured articles about Dickens' England, life in Jerusalem, Willa Cather's country, and Viking ships--stored with books on those topics. Of course we can find those subjects online too--but why pass the real thing by?

Keep your eyes open--you might literally strike gold.

Summer pictures

Crayons' sand art

Mama Squirrel and Crayons contemplating Lake Huron

[Photo of our backyard deleted at Ponytails' request--she says she will personally take another one that doesn't have any Squirrelings in it.]

Check out the nice birdbath there--remember our big maple? The stakes in the ground show where--just after we took these pictures--we put in a small Crimson King Maple (by the birdbath) and a magnolia (by the apple trees).

By the way, we put in those apple trees maybe eight, nine years ago; and this is the first year we've ever had any real apples from them. They, at least, don't seem to lament the missing maple. The finches have also suddenly decided they like our yard--at least the birdbath.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Strawberry fudge sundaes

You were expecting a recipe?

No, just a comic strip.

Barbie gets axed too

Well, not Barbie per se--just the playsets with "scoopers" are being recalled because of another magnet hazard. If you have no idea what that looks like (I didn't), here's a photo (scroll down).

As Meredith said, it does make one think twice about some of those yard-saled toys. Our Squirrelings (those who will still admit it) are partial to plastic trolls and Polly Pockets (no magnetic ones that I know of), but they have also spent their yard-sale money on Barbie odds-and-ends. It's not like they're at the stage to be chewing on toys ("Oh come on, none of us would chew on a Barbie," says Ponytails), but I think it's the idea of having all that stuff--and who knows what else--around in the first place that bothers us. Again, we're not at a stage where it would make sense to go back to unpainted building blocks (Ponytails snickers), and one of these days all the Pollies around here will hang up their little cell phones for good ("and we'll play with our makeup," Ponytails suggests--obviously been taking lessons from the Apprentice). But it's the general problem of what's out there, all the plastic and painted stuff, the dyes, the recalled food products...where it's all coming from...who lives right on top of those factories...what will be the next thing to go, and it might be the last thing we bought. Or yard-saled.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Apprentice's patent medicine show

It's good for ripped-off noses (ugh, sorry), little sisters who toddle into the corner of the T.V., and can also make you more beautiful--what is it? The Apprentice has a post telling all about this miracle stuff.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Keep 'em coming

I already have 30 posts to organize for the carnival. Doesn't sound like much?--heh, you try it. Keep 'em coming, though, I don't mind.

But don't expect anything else here today. Go read somebody else's blog. How about Jane Doe Jenn? She's just started and could use some visitors.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Wouldn't it be funny if her teacher was Ms. Frizzle

That was supposed to be funny. No? OK.

The Apprentice has a post on her If Blue Eyeshadow's Illegal blog that she would like you to read, because it's very interesting and because it's all about how you can actually take something interesting like hairstyling and aesthetics in a public high school, which makes up for some of the other nonsense you have to put up with in the other boring classes. (I said that, she didn't.)

Love and prayers flying into the Beehive

Queen Shenaynay updates. Please read her message. And please keep praying for all the Beehive clan.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Carnival Reminder

We are hosting this week's Carnival of Homeschooling, and your posts have to be in no later than 9 p.m. (Eastern time) Monday night. The official theme is School Supplies, but posts on any aspect of homeschooling are welcome.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Back to Homeschool Week: Curriculum

You want me to talk about curriculum?

Oh, you really don't know what you are getting yourselves in for with that one.

This will be our ninth year using Ambleside Online, which is a free online Charlotte Mason curriculum project. Add in our usual large splash of thrift shop/dollar store/contrived/recycled, and we could go on talking for a long time.

But this post is going to be about where we're going with this year's homeschooling. First is something I've paraphrased from another AO user and blogger who goes by ShilohMom and is well known (by her more usual name) to AO list members for her many helpful suggestions and musings.

"We learn best
by exploring relationships to one another,
to the world around us,
and to our Creator God.

Things impress themselves upon us
and we form a relationship to them.

We explore the world through our senses
and through books.

The world becomes our textbook."

With a fifth grader (doing Year Four) and a first grader (doing Year One), our curriculum at first glance looks like it's going to be a mishmash of the American War of Independence, early British history, Robinson Crusoe, Paddle-to-the-Sea, and assorted natural history, geography, Bible studies and all the rest. No sense at all (and wouldn't it make more sense to try to keep two girls homeschooling together on the same page? and why would a first grader need to learn any British history?). We've also had to/wanted to make personal adjustments and accommodations to the "as written" years, so at first glance it looks even more muddled.

But put together, it does make sense, especially taking the general theme of exploring as our year's focus. Please pardon the number of times the word "explore" is going to have to be used in this post.

"We explore through our senses": the first several weeks of science will literally be a study of the senses. In the rest of the curriculum, we also incorporate the senses of sight (picture study, careful nature observation, drawing lessons); sound (music--singing, listening, and playing around with instruments, listening to stories, listening to our backyard birds, practicing attentiveness in other ways); touch (handicrafts); and taste and smell (cooking--something Ponytails enjoys--and tasting, especially when we try foods from other countries during our geography explorations). Like detectives, we learn to observe and pick out clues from what we see and hear; and detective stories may even make an appearance in some of the extra reading we do (Emil and the Detectives, Tintin, Encyclopedia Brown).

Like Benjamin Franklin, we explore the world of ideas and inventions. Like Robinson Crusoe, we explore what's around us (natural history) and learn to use what we have. Like mapmaker David Thompson (geography lessons in the spring term) and Viking explorers (Leif the Lucky) we start to make sense of our terrain and explore and map what's out there, including our close-to-home Great Lakes (Paddle-to-the-Sea, Year One).

Going further afield, we'll Explore the Holy Land. And starting in late fall, we'll be Exploring Creation with Astronomy. (Coincidence? I didn't make up those titles.)

"We explore the world....through books": We explore other lives, other times, through biographies, history, literature. We explore the world of imagination through plays, mythology (Padraic Colum's The Golden Fleece this year), poetry, Fifty Famous Stories Retold (Year One), stories of dragons (because, unlike Cousin Eustace, we would like them to recognize a dragon if they ever see one); brave and foolish animals, fables, and American fairy tales (Year Four).

We explore George Washington's World (Year Four) and that of Alfred the Great (Year One). We look at shadowy worlds of the past where truth and fairy tales sometimes get mixed (the early chapters of Our Island Story). We look at history that includes our own family story (some of our family lived in Pennsylvania during the 1700's, although as pacifists they had a slightly different perspective on the war). We learn about life in other times: the candle making, spinning and printing presses of colonial days.

And as for the rest? Oh yes--the "3 R's." We explore the world of numbers and mathematics...Miquon Math is very much an exploring curriculum, and our Year Four is also going to be exploring some new areas in math, after some work to figure out her mathematical Global Position.

We explore our own language through reading, discussion, narration, copywork, and a bit of grammar work (not something we spend a lot of time on at this stage). We begin to be aware of other languages as well (in our house, that includes French, and one of these days we might take a crack at Latin).

We explore God's Word, the thing that ties it all together for us--"the end of our exploring." Do you know where that quote comes from? It's from T.S. Eliot's "Little Gidding," and the rest of the stanza looks like this:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

I found "Little Gidding" discussed here (I'm sorry, I can't figure out the author's name). I thought his/her comment was appropriate to what I've been saying:
"Every time I read this I imagine a man exploring some place like Iceland. It is barren and beautiful and unexplored. He then travels and ends up where he started. But when he comes back, that place of beginning is of so much more meaning. Spiritually speaking, our place of beginning is also our place of end; though it is not the same place. Or, as Eliot might put it, it is the same place but we are not the same people. "

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Back to Homeschool Week: Things We've Learned

(Reposted from October 2006)

Things I’ve learned from homeschooling

1. How to get laundry in and start lunch between math and geography.

2. That there's no such thing as too many bookshelves.

3. That the thermosphere is hot but it's not.

4. That hymns are a good way to start the day.

5. A lot about my kids, my husband, and myself.

Things I’ve learned about homeschooling

1. Trust your instincts and your memories. If your gut reaction to something is “ugh” or “why?” or “I would never inflict this on my kids,” you’re probably right. I’ve felt an instinctive “no” about many things. One was a kindergarten math outline that consisted of making a booklet for One, a booklet for Two, a booklet for Three…a booklet for Seventeen…uh huh. Another was the long vowel-short vowel reading approach—that gave me some BAD flashbacks to a first grade class where we circled pictures of pigs and pails and pins and and pens (always fountain pens, for some unexplained reason). The Squirrelings seemed to approach learning better by getting a good running start and then jumping over as much as they could at a time.

2. But stay open minded, too. A book that a bad teacher ruined for you; something you think is too hard for kids; a subject you never thought you were good at—those things can become real and fascinating when you read or study them with children who come without those prejudices. Sometimes opening the door to a new passion is all it takes; sometimes you need a little more perseverance; but the rewards are great. You may witness the beginnings of the world’s next great artist or scientist or missionary.

3. It's okay if every school day isn't perfectly balanced. Most homeschoolers expect and deal with interruptions; and some days you just get more done than others. But you can also plan things to be a bit unbalanced so that you get other things done. The Hillbilly Housewife touched on this in something about menu planning:

"Monday is a big work day in homeschool, so something relatively easy is in order. Dirty Rice with ground turkey or beef will be nice, but I'll have to use celery instead of green pepper because it's out of season and outside of my budget. Wednesday is a slow day at school and I'll be baking anyway so beans will be good. While I'm at it, I might as well make enough for chili the next day. I have time for making chili on Thursday morning while the kids are doing their independent reading."
4. You are always adjusting and retooling, because your children and learning and changing; because you have more or fewer of them to teach as they grow and graduate; because new books and materials come your way; and because you are learning and changing too.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

It doesn't get much better than this

The tastes of summer:

Barbecued sausage
Boiled new potatoes
Corn on the cob
Garden tomatoes
Romaine lettuce salad with Havarti cheese (we didn't have any Swiss) and cashews, with poppy seed dressing
Fresh whole wheat bread
Blueberry shortcake with whipped cream

Most of the meal came from our favourite farm stand; the tomatoes are from our garden; and the sausage is from the Polish deli. Eet Smakelijk and Smacznego!

"This, too," from Holy Experience

Enjoy this lyrical post about life and education.

Back to Homeschool Week: Getting Out There

Today's question: how do you "get your kids out there?" As in community opportunities, volunteering, extra-curricular activities...

And today's answer is going to be short and sweet: I detest the idea of "out there." "Out there" seems to say that "in here" is surrounded by walls, locks, maybe even bars. The truth is, even if our kids don't play organized sports or go on a lot of field trips (they don't), they're not locked in either.

Please understand: I don't avoid getting the Squirrelings involved in anything that's useful, fun, and possible for us to get them to and home from. If you want my list of what different Squirrelings have been involved in, it would include (at one time or another) Pioneer clubs, other church activities, dance lessons, voice lessons, summer library events, a homeschool social/crafts/gym club, homeschool bowling. ..The Apprentice has also had job-shadowing experience at her dad's office.

I just don't like differentiating between "in here" and "out there." I know exactly what's meant by the question, and it's not meant to be controversial or guilt-inducing. We're just supposed to share ideas we've used for getting our young ones involved in the bigger world. The image is something like Wombles leaving the burrow for the day with their collecting bags, to bring back what they can find or (sometimes) to give something back instead.

However, I still have an issue with what that's all about--not the giving back or exploring, but reasons some people would like to see homeschoolers do as much wombling free (and away from home) as they can. A lot of it has to do with that dratted Socialization thing, which was trounced very nicely in something that went round a few years ago:

"What people refer to, as socialization is NOT an issue! I think it has become a word made up among the official home school naysayers. When someone asks you the question (”What about SOCIALIZATION?”), I begin by asking him or her, “What do you mean by socialization?” They will more than likely proceed with some variation on the following theme: “You know, having your kids spend time with other kids their age. Hanging out with their friends, stuff like that.” At that point I will no longer respond with the usual, “Oh Kelsey can get plenty of socialization while being home schooled! She can be in 4-H and Awanas, and Sunday school and Home School band and she can volunteer at the nursing homes etc.etc. In fact she has so many opportunities for socialization that she never had before that I would probably be “socially” busier than I am now. YaDa YaDa YaDa.” Why not? Because I did research on what socialization was and believe me that is not what socialization really is!"

To those who can manage a lot of clubs and activities--I often envy you, and I salute you and your minivans. To the rest of you--try not to sweat it too much. The right opportunities will come along (especially when the baby doesn't need to nap any more). Our Squirrelings may not have a long list of "socialization opportunities," but they're quite adequately sociable, thank you.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Carnival of Homeschooling is up

The Nerd Family's Carnival of Homeschooling is up now--and we hope they are all feeling better soon.

How do you homeschool?

Sorry, this is going to be another somewhat list-y post.

The stress you put on certain words in that question can give it a whole different meaning. For instance, "How do you homeschool?" Kind of a general question, usually asked by a non-homeschooler who really wants to know how to do it. Or "how do you homeschool?" More specific and asked by someone who knows there are all different shades of homeschoolers: are you one of those by-the-buzzer types, or do your kids run amok; have you written a detailed schedule for the whole year and searched for every out-of-print book in The Well-Trained Mind, or do you just smile and pass out the workbooks, or the hammers?

Or there's the third option: "How do you homeschool?" Said with the kind of unbelief I usually reserve for those who try to swim across Lake Ontario. These are my answers to the third question.

1. With support from other homeschoolers: real-life and online. Going it absolutely alone would be very hard. Even Samantha Whiteside had people alongside her in the boat.

2. With support from my husband, a.k.a. the school principal, professor of technology, bus driver, treasurer, and head cheerleader (hairy legs and all).

3. With the help of the public library: a great resource for books and CDs that we need only for a short time. Also with the help of our support group's resource library.

4. With the help of some of the great old and new books, old and new magazines and websites written by and for homeschoolers. Whatever you want to ask, read or print out--it's probably out there.

5. By keeping away from too-cluttered books, curriculum & projects. Time is too short and space is too tight for plastic counting frogs.

6. By not comparing ourselves too closely to other families, other children, even some of our nearest and dearest other homeschoolers whose examples fill us with awe. We have our own circumstances, talents and problems; we do the best with what we have and let the rest go.

7. By using the public school grade expectations only as a rough guideline for our academic goals. Samantha Whiteside set a time goal for her swim comparable on what others had done, but it was based on her own capabilities, not just trying to break someone else's record.

8. By not expecting/requiring the kids to learn everything at a consistent rate or in the same way "everybody else" does. By patiently repeating someone's troublesome spots like telling time, while also understanding that the same student is capable of learning how computers work.

9. By keeping God's truth as the cornerstone of our homeschool, while not expecting that every book and resource we use will come from that understanding.

10. With the intention of eventually working myself out of this teaching job. We work toward maturity, independence, and a lifetime of learning. The goal is to eventually cross the lake, right? One of these days!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Dr. Friendly made us homeschool

I've blogged previously about many of our reasons for homeschooling, including some of the things that pushed us towards it when The Apprentice was a preschooler. However, on thinking about it I can honestly say that we started homeschooling because our family doctor didn't deliver babies.

No, I'm not completely crazy and I will explain.

When I was first expecting our Apprentice (now a teenager), we were still newly married and I had never had reason up until then to find myself a family doctor. I think we picked someone out of the phone book, and right from the first visit I was uncomfortable with her. (Doctor: "What can I do for you?" Me: "Well, I think I'm pregnant." Doctor: "Is that a Problem?" It took me a minute to understand what she was asking, and when I did figure it out I was horrified.) Anyway, it turned out that Doctor Friendly could do prenatal checkups but didn't deliver babies, so we would have to go with whoever was on call at the hospital, or hook up with an obstetrician, or something.

We took a hospital tour and were also less than impressed. "This is the triage area." (Thought bubble: Triage? Like on MASH? Come to think of it, the decor kind of reminds me of the army as well.) "Here's where we put you first, then we move you here, then we move you here..." (Thought bubble: Sounds like an assembly line.) "Is there a rocking chair in the labour room?" "Uh...maybe we can find one somewhere..."

Several weeks later, almost too late in the game, we talked with a local midwife and asked if she would come to the hospital with us. It turned out that that wasn't possible due to hospital-midwife red tape at that time (it's changed since then), but that we could have a home birth. We took a collective deep breath and never looked back.

A couple of years later, we realized that what we learned through the homebirth process was much the same as what we needed to know to homeschool.

1. We took responsibility for the decisions that needed to be made. Although the midwife was the birth expert, we said yes or no to tests, we helped make a birth plan, and we were responsible for making the choice to "risk" a home birth.

2. We did it together, the same way Mr. Fixit and I had done a lot of other things. It wasn't just my decision, it was both of us doing our homework and making it happen.

3. When things got tough, we prayed, got help, and survived. There were several tough points before, during and after the Apprentice's birth, which I won't go into in detail here; but we got through it, and we survived all the usual first-time parent jitters plus some. If we could handle that--homeschooling sounded like a snap.

4. We were reassured by the example of others who had homebirths and/or were homeschooling. This was very helpful in countering the naysayers, including a dentist who told me we were taking too big a risk in having a homebirth (while my mouth was full of stuff and I couldn't talk back).

5. We were spurred on by many small, incidental reasons that made sense to us. Around the home birth, we thought of the facts that we liked our own big bathtub (I don't think labouring in the tub was possible at the hospital), that it would be more private and quiet at home (nobody else's babies crying), and that we could take our time, not be on someone else's schedule (and be pushed into having procedures that would speed things up). We also liked the fact that the midwives took a lot of time and talked to us, unlike Dr. Friendly. We felt responsible and capable.

When we considered homeschooling, we thought of small/big things such as Mr. Fixit's frequent shift changes; the fact that the school wasn't very close and that I didn't drive; the idea that our Christian faith could be an integral part of what we were doing; my background and interest in children's books and curriculum (I had already done many things that you do when you homeschool); and the fact that we were already used to being a "threesome," and enjoyed spending time together. We felt responsible and capable.

So I guess I will always be grateful in some way to Dr. Friendly; because if she had delivered babies, we might never have discovered how empowering it was to give birth outside the hospital box; and if we hadn't done that, we might not have jumped into homeschooling with both feet. But she didn't, and we did, and that's that.

Important P.S. This post is not meant, in any way, to criticize those who choose hospital births, any more than it is to criticize those who have honestly considered the alternatives and have chosen public school for their own good reasons. It is simply the process we went through ourselves.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

This is a deprived child

Yesterday we stopped in at Tim Horton's before we got groceries. We haven't been going there much lately because...well...TH's isn't what it used to be, for one reason or another. And, true to recent form, this Tim Horton's was Out Of Timbits. Unbelievable. No Timbits? (If you're not initiated by now, Timbits are the Canadian version of doughnut holes.) I guess the truck hadn't arrived yet with the little frozen blobs...

So we settled for regular-sized doughnuts--since they were a bit low even on the regular ones, we had a couple of sour-cream and a couple of old-fashioned. Crayons took the one she was given, bit into it, and looked surprised. She said, "This kind tastes like a doughnut!"

Lack of comprehension on Mama Squirrel's part for a minute...then the light went on.

Crayons is six years old and she doesn't remember ever tasting any doughnuts other than little Timbits, since that's what we always get on Tim's stops (unless maybe it's muffins). She always thought those big round things with holes in the middle were fancy bagels.

Her appalling lack of junk food awareness has now been rectified.

Advance notice for the Carnival of Homeschooling

We will be hosting not this week's but next week's Carnival of Homeschooling. The theme will be School Supplies, but posts on any homeschooling subject are welcome. You can send submissions through the form on this page (scroll down, it's at the bottom) or find out more on the Why Homeschool blog. Deadline is a week from tomorrow, at 9 p.m. Eastern time. (Anything sent tomorrow will go to this week's host, The Nerd Family.)

One joy scatters a thousand griefs

It's been a somewhat tumultuous week. Some of us are rejoicing greatly, some are dealing with tremendous difficulties and pain. (There are some of you we are lifting up as often as we think of you, and you know who you are.)

Yesterday would have been my grandmother's 98th birthday; she passed away just before her birthday seven years ago, and I still miss her and Grandpa greatly. We made a pan of chocolate macaroons in her honour, from the recipe card she wrote out years ago (sorry, Grandma, I do cut back on the sugar). And yesterday my FarAwaySis gave birth to my first-ever nephew; he arrived a bit ahead of schedule, but I think he picked the perfect day.

So I can sign this:

Aunt Squirrel.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Back to Homeschool Week Blog Event

Randi at I Have to Say is hosting a week-long Back-to-Homeschool blog event, starting Monday. Each day has a different theme, and all the details are in this post. You can download the graphic from her site too. (Thanks to Sprittibee for pointing this out, amidst all the chaos she's been under lately.)

The rest of this post is copied from Randi's blog:

Below is the list of topics for the week. I tried to keep the topics broad so that way we will have lots of different ideas and things to discuss. You may participate for all five days or just for one. Whatever you have time for.

Monday, August 6---What led to your decision to homeschool? Why do you do what you do? What brought you to homeschooling? What factors played a part in your decision?

Tuesday, August 7---How do you homeschool? Scheduling, classical education, unschooling, getting the kids to help with chores, how to be "mom" and "teacher" at the same time, special needs, teaching an advanced child, how to teach the tough subjects, teaching high school, teaching with babies and preschoolers in the house, budgeting for homeschool supplies, notebooking, etc., etc., etc...

Wednesday, August 8---Getting out there... Extra-curricular activities, community involvement, volunteering, sports teams, music lessons, making sure your kids have opportunities to be social, co-ops, etc., etc., etc...

Thursday, August 9---If I had only known... What have you learned on your homeschooling journey? What would you/did you change? This is an opportunity to encourage others who are just starting out or who are struggling with issues that seem unsolvable. It is also a perfect opportunity to tell us about one of those days made you want to throw in the towel. A funny story? Perfect!

Friday, August 10---Curriculum What curriculum do you use? Where do you buy it? Have you found a "gem" that you must share with others? Was something in particular a complete failure for you and your kids?

Friday, August 03, 2007

Summer quiz, by Ponytails

Here is a quiz you can take. And if you take it you get a free virtual box of Timbits. All the kinds that you like, but you have to leave a comment.

1. To beat the heat, do you like to swim in the pool or run in the sprinkler, or go in the Jacuzzi?

2. To beat the heat, do you like to have ice cream or tea?

3. To beat the heat, do you like to take a nap, or do you like to run around all over on your bike?

4. To beat the heat, do you like to go to Mexico or to Antarctica?

5. To beat the heat, do you like to sit in the lawn chair and read a book, or do you like to sit in the lawn chair and eat a snack?

Please leave a comment if you would like to have another quiz by me. Moi.


Homemade pencils, and pre-school weeks

This is something we might try during our two pre-school weeks at the end of the summer: making big homemade pencils out of paint stirrers.

Pre-school weeks?

The last week of August and the first week of September are going to be our prep-for-school weeks. We're going to get started with a few warmup things before the first term actually kicks in: practicing some easy sewing stitches before we start learning how to applique; reading an easy biography of Benjamin Franklin before sending Ponytails off to sink or swim with Poor Richard; getting used to the new copywork pages and Calculadder drills (something they've never done before); baking Alphabet Cookies and playing some spelling games. And we'll end it off by going to Marineland with our homeschool group. (I don't know if the Squirrelings will feel as happy about watching the trained whales jumping around, after watching both Free Willy and Free Willy II recently, but they still want to go.)

Serendipitous supper

Have you ever had the experience (on the last day before grocery shopping) of realizing that your vegetable supply is down to onions, celery and garden tomatoes--but then looked into the freezer and discovered that your best beloved had just brought home some smoked sausage, and remembered that the only vegetables required for Kitchener Special are onions, celery and tomatoes?


OK, well, I realize it's not something that happens to everybody.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Shawna wants to know

Shawna's reading seems to indicate that homeschooling, although it may be considered elitist by some people, is not actually something that the wheely wealthy usually get into; when the upper class take their children out of public school, they apparently tend to go the way of private schools or private tutors instead.

Do you have any stats or stories to the contrary? Send them Shawna's way.

Can't find the words

You are now looking into my closet where the Christmas gifts are hidden. If you have not been given an access code, shut that door right now if you know what's good for you.

If not, proceed





All right...for those of you who are allowed a sneak peak inside...

We didn't do that much of our usual dollar-store shopping run this year. I don't know if it's the discouragement over made-in-you-know-where stuff, or just that there didn't seem that much worth getting, or just that we had other ideas. In any case, the other ideas are turning out to be even better than we'd hoped. Obviously I'm not in on every present that's getting wrapped, but these are a few of them.

From Mama Squirrel, the Apprentice is getting a paperback copy of Up a Road Slowly (thrift shop), a vintage copy of Beautiful Girlhood, and a giant neckroll pillow that Mama Squirrel crocheted from several colours (cream, tan, white, lavender, turquoise) of yard-saled chunky-weight yarn and stuffed with leftover stuffing and quilt batting. (I started it last night and it was done by this afternoon. Squirrel paws work fast, especially when I know that The Apprentice is soon coming home from school and will be home from now through the holidays.)

From Ponytails, Mr. Fixit is getting a Daddy's Morning Drink Kit. Every morning Mr. Fixit sleepily asks Ponytails if she will kindly go over to the kitchen counter and fix him a tea or an instant coffee. Which she does. So Ponytails bought him a nice (thrift-shopped) mug, filled it with tea bags and instant coffee in baggies, and added this label: "Daddy's Morning Drink Kit. Ingredients: Tea. Coffee. Love." She was as pleased as all-get-out with it, and I think Mr. Fixit will be too.

Also from Ponytails, The Apprentice is getting a (thrift-shopped) fancy jar full of homemade sugar scrub, plus a fancy spoon to scoop it with, and a small piece of jewelry from Ten Thousand Villages.

The Apprentice got Ponytails her own makeup case with some toiletry items from the dollar store.

The Sunday School teachers are getting bags of Salad Toppers, decorated with fancy labels we made.

From Crayons, Mr. Fixit is getting a homemade book of her retellings and illustrations of Kipling's Just-So Stories. We used leopard-print paper to make a very cool-looking cover.

From Mama Squirrel, Mr. Fixit is getting two picture frames that are made to display LP covers. His request--one of those "yes I'd like them but don't tell me when you get them" presents. Half off at Michael's. Also a book about Captain Cook.

Ponytails, our budding cartoonist, is getting a set of Prismacolours, the fine-line kind (Michael's 40% coupon); and a few loose peach-coloured soft ones because she keeps using up all her peach-coloured pencil crayons drawing peach-coloured faces.

The Apprentice is getting a driver's-training handbook to study over the next while--and believe it or not, it's a fairly hefty chunk of change for those! No bargoons on driving books.

And the younger girls are also getting a small assortment of other things: a couple of Oz books, a couple of small Sculpey sets, a miniature boxed set of Benjamin Franklin's wisdom (for Ponytails), a toy cell phone so Crayons can talk to her imaginary friends (don't ask), a thrift-shopped Madeline Thinking Games computer CD-Rom, some chocolate, a couple of puzzle books, and anything else we come up with between now and Tuesday. Dollar stores may fail, but Squirrel imagination goes on.

Hot Weather Dinner

Too hot to cook? How about meatloaf or cabbage rolls on the barbecue? Mr. Fixit has done both this summer.

Yesterday I made up a panful of meatloaf mixture--just a regular Betty Crocker Cookbook recipe that we like. (Ground beef, egg, milk, Worcestershire sauce, sage, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and oatmeal for thickening.) Mr. Fixit added some cheese and barbecue sauce to the top, covered the loaf pan with foil, and let it wait in the fridge. Partway through the afternoon, the Apprentice lit the charcoal, and when Mr. Fixit got home soon afterwards he put the meatloaf on a small metal pan (we have several mini cookie sheets that came in now-defunct toaster ovens), and let it cook for an hour and a half over the indirect heat of the coals. He figures that our barbecue gives a steady heat of about 300 degrees, so a meatloaf that usually takes an hour at 350 degrees in the regular oven would take about an hour and a half.

To go with it, we had instant whole-wheat couscous--you put a cupful of grain in a serving bowl, cover with an equal amount of boiling water, and let it sit tightly covered for a few minutes. Fluff with a fork and there you go. (For those in Canada: President's Choice sells whole-wheat couscous.)

I also made a salad that was literally cleaning-out-the-crisper, because our lettuce (like Meredith's) has become uneatable, and we didn't have a whole lot of other fresh things left. So I mixed half a can of lentils (rinsed and drained), half a zucchini cut thin in semi-circles, and several stalks of sliced celery. I stirred the whole thing into our usual bean-salad dressing: 1/4 cup each of oil and vinegar, 2 teaspoons of honey, and some salt and pepper. We like this kind of salad best while the vegetables are still crisp, not limp from the dressing, but suit yourself.

Our dessert was kind of odds and ends: we had lots of clementines, which seemed to go well with the couscous-lentil Middle Eastern thing, and a package of wafer cookies. But anything cold would be good too! Or you could try the microwave cake that I sent to the recipe carnival last week.
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