Friday, August 28, 2009

Using The Electric Company for Schoolwork

Lots of people use Schoolhouse Rock videos for grammar and math. We like clips from the original Electric Company, many of which are on You-tube. Watch these enough times and you will NOT grow up to be one of those adults who can't tell its from it's.

Here are some of the useful skits and songs (this list does not include the merely strange, silly and amusing like Lick a Lolly and Morgan Freeman's great big sneeze):

Tom Lehrer's "Ly" song

The "N Apostrophe T" song

Silent E Song

Thanks to Th Song

The Punctuation Brothers

The Corner Song (oh my gosh, I haven't seen this since I was about eight)

Good Old Apostrophe S

Easy Reader learns about Tion

(And of course there's always Letterman.)

Christmas in August

It's never too early! Check out this origami wreath.

Tasha Tudor Day and CPSIA

Storybook Woods hosts their annual Tasha Tudor Day today. Brenda already has her post up about it (thanks for the heads-up!).
"She is completely capable of presenting the world as she wishes it to be, but she retains an understanding and accceptance of how it often is. It is her ability to live the fantasy and keep a careful eye on the reality that makes her art believable and makes the life she envisions seem obtainable."--Harry Davis, The Art of Tasha Tudor

Rather than focusing only on Tasha's independent spirit, or her knack for capturing children's faces, or her gifts with teacups and all that...and others have done that beautifully...I think it's important to point out that, due to the current situation of American law, selling old copies of her books to children is now against the law. Yes, that would mean--if I lived in the U.S.A.--that I would NOT be able to hand my children our thrift-shopped and library-saled copies of Becky's Birthday, Becky's Christmas, A Tale for Easter, First Poems of Childhood, Book of Fairy Tales, or our copy of The Secret Garden with Tudor illustrations. All of them are somewhat battered--none would pass as collector's editions. They were bought for our own enjoyment. If I took these books to a law-abiding thrift shop, they'd probably have to throw them in the dumpster.

And what would Tasha say to that?

"The curators were jubilant; word quickly spread that Tasha was pleased, and throughout the building, there was a sense of relief. The guards smiled as Tasha thanked them for protecting her belongings."--description of the Take Joy exhibit, Rockefeller Folk Art Center, 1996. (Harry Davis, The Art of Tasha Tudor)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Quartermile Math (TOS Review)

Update: Check the bottom, there's a blog readers' discount.

Barnum Software's Quarter Mile Math practice program has been around a long time, by software standards. I remember reading about it in one of Mary Pride's curriculum guides, and I know that at least one of her children won prizes in online tournaments (I'm not sure who ran those particular tournaments, but you can organize your own, using multiple computers and the Deluxe version, or just taking turns on one computer with the Standard version). I never knew anyone here who actually used it, though, and it's not carried in our usual catalogues, so I just found other ways of working on math facts.

Having tried it it now for even a very short time, I can see why it's established itself as a classic in drill software. The concept is pretty simple--you choose horses or cars, choose which math topic (out of many) you want to practice, and you keep plugging in the answers as the horses or cars run across the field or down the track. After you've run a few times, you're racing against your own best times, and the program tracks your progress. (Barnum Software would like you to know that their horses don't have jockeys, and they run across a field, not down a track--in case you're worried about encouraging a junior gambler. I also noticed (from their newsletter) that there are no car crashes or other negative-but-entertaining events that might actually encourage players to make mistakes.)

Topics range from very, very simple (including alphabet games for pre-readers) up through integers and equations. My high schooler found the K-12 label on the box a bit misleading, although if you look closely at it you'll see that it actually says it covers K-9 math topics and can be used for remedial work (or just for fun) in higher grades. (She wonders if future versions could include actual high school topics?)

There are two versions of the software: Standard CD or Deluxe. The website has a comparison chart for the two. The Standard version is a one-time purchase; the Deluxe version involves a subscription. (Current American pricing is as follows: --- $2.95 per family per month, or $19.95 per family for one year (save $15.45 over one year), or $34.95 per family for two years (save $35.85 over two years).

I like that this program doesn't cost too much money, even for the Deluxe version; I like it that we didn't have any trouble installing and running it on our Windows XP computer system. The thing I was most impressed with? I like the online support that turns this from just another racing game into a meaningful part of a math program. Quarter Mile Math is very homeschool-friendly, both as a product and as a company. They have very recently added a For Homeschoolers section to their website, with articles about Getting Started, Tips & Info, and a users' forum. We only received the software a couple of weeks ago, and already I've received an email newsletter with hints about choosing what math topic to start with, determining the appropriate amount of practice time, and information about "how The Quarter Mile Math uses positive reinforcement." (These newsletters will be posted on the website as well.)

I'm planning on making this a regular part of our homeschooling this year, probably alternating it with non-computer methods.

For more Homeschool Review Crew posts on this topic, click here.

Dewey's Disclaimer: This product was received free for purposes of review. No other payment was made.

Update and Blog Readers' Discount, good till the end of September: If readers use the Referral Code 7J7M7 on their orders, they'll get $5 off any product--Standard or Deluxe. There is a place to input this code on the order forms. This Referral Code will be good until September 30.

Daily Links at Holy Experience

What a great idea--a post full of daily-updated links to keep everyone's curiosity fed. Thanks, Ann.

Dollar-store stuff to make workbox charts

Something we did this morning: used some of the stuff I bought to make workbox "laminated" number cards and completed-work charts. I can't really take a picture (or maybe I could and blur part of it?) because the girls' first names are prominent. But here's what we did:

I went to the Workboxes Yahoo group where there are a lot of files uploaded with fancy number sets. Most of them are too fancy for us because we have only a black-and-white printer; so we settled for number-plus-happy-face, one set printed out on yellow (surplus store) cardstock for Crayons, and one set on blue for Ponytails. I cut those out and covered them in (dollar-store) clear sticky plastic (wow, you don't get much on a roll these days!--the tags took most of the roll).

I cut a 14-inch square of blue (dollar-store) posterboard and one of yellow, and arranged the numbers on each one. Then the girls used (dollar-store) scrapbooking alphabet stickers to put their names at the top, and used some of their own favourite stickers to jazz them up around the edges. Finally I put (dollar-store) Velcro (or hook-and-loop fastener if you prefer) dots on the back of the plastic-covered numbers, and on the places on the charts where the numbers go, and attached them together. If we had decided to plastic-cover the charts themselves, I would have done that first, but we decided that the poster-board charts were about as durable as we needed them to be. (Besides, most of the plastic was gone.)

I ran a strip of weird, gooey, double-sided foam scrapbooking tape (dollar store) along the back of each chart, and attached them inside the doors of the cupboard where their (dollar-store) magazine holder-workboxes will be. If you're ever doing something like this, just check to see that any raised areas (like pieces held on with Velcro) go BETWEEN the shelves, not against them. I got one chart hung too high and the door wouldn't close right, so I had to start again. (And that tape was kind of messy to get off the cupboard door.)

I had two 16-dot packs of Velcro dots, which gave us enough for the charts (12 apiece) plus eight of the prickly-side dots to put on the magazine holders. I need to buy another package of dots to get enough for the other ten holders. If the math on that doesn't add up, it's because there's room on each shelf for only nine magazine holders, so that's how many workboxes each girl will have. However, we went with numbers 1-12 on the charts, just in case and to accommodate things like an extra-reading basket.

If the purpose of all this isn't clear by now (and I'm not even sure if the girls totally get it yet), Mama Squirrel loads the boxes/magazine holders with work each night. (Some of our boxes won't change from day to day, some will.) The Velcro numbers go on the boxes in the morning. As the work in the boxes gets completed, the numbers get put back on the completed-work chart. When the chart's full, school's done. (I know learning happens all the time, but you know what I mean--the assigned, scheduled work is completed.)

That isn't exactly the way Sue Patrick's system works. But that's how we're going to try it for now.

I agree--this is very clever (Placemat Diaper Clutch)

Dollar Store Crafts (what a great blog concept) posted here about Jen's Placemat Diaper Clutch. Really easy, really cheap, really pretty.

The final solution: safety pins (CPSIA)

"I can't seem to think clearly to-day," said Raggedy Ann. "It feels as if my head were ripped."

At this the French doll ran to Raggedy Ann and took off her bonnet. "Yes, there is a rip in your head, Raggedy!" she said and she pulled a pin from her skirt and pinned up Raggedy's head. "It's not a very neat job, for I got some puckers in it!" she said.

"Oh that is ever so much better!" cried Raggedy Ann. "Now I can think quite clearly."

"Now Raggedy can think clearly!" cried all the dolls.

"My thoughts must have leaked out the rip before!" said Raggedy Ann.--Raggedy Ann Stories, by Johnny Gruelle (1918)

Overlawyered has a whole roundup of CPSIA-related posts this week, including a link to one of the DHM's posts.

Hot Air has a post about another small business being put out of business.

But there's also some stuff here about a vote to exclude fabric and yarn from the testing requirements--not that that would exempt the final product, just the components.

Agh. Give me a safety pin.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Squad 51 and all that

Our family favourite TV show right now (on DVD) is...Emergency!

A little blood. A few fires. Kids with fingers caught in gumball machines. Nurses in miniskirts and interns with Afros. Lots of climbing up really tall things and down really steep things.

I knew the Squirrelings enjoyed the show, but didn't realize how much they'd absorbed until I heard two of them playing hospital with their toy animals, and discussing "dilated pupils" and "starting an I.V. with Ringer's Lactate."

(No, I'm not laughing at you. I think you'd both make great paramedics.)

(Want more? Rabbit Run Cottage posted photos and memories of the show awhile back.)

You know you're a homeschooler when...

your back-to-school supplies consist of four plastic magazine holders, eight pieces of posterboard, a roll of clear sticky plastic, a set of foam dominoes, Beaver Ed's Brain Busters Nature Card Game, Beaver Ed's Kids' Quiz: Human Body, three sketch books, ten pencils, two hundred file cards, two packs of Velcro dots, one pack of reinforcements, two sets of Scrapbook Kit Alphabet and Word Stickers, and four vinyl erasers.

All from Dollarama.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces (TOS Review)

In short, ALEKS.

ALEKS is an online mathematics learning environment. You pay for a subscription for a month, six months or a year, and you can use it as much or as little as you like in that time (I think each student can only be working on one course at a time, though).

The courses offered range from Grade 3-12 and beyond, including geometry, accounting, business math, calculus, statistics, and upper-level science courses. This isn't a game-based system, although there are some games and a multiplication table drill activity; and it isn't video learning; the work and explanations are on the screen (in English or Spanish), and you work out the problems and type in the answers. ALEKS assesses you, teaches you the parts you don't know, retests you, and sends the results on to whoever has your "teacher account" (for homeschoolers, that would be the teaching parent).
ALEKS is a Web-based, artificially intelligent assessment and learning system. ALEKS uses adaptive questioning to quickly and accurately determine exactly what a student knows and doesn't know in a course. ALEKS then instructs the student on the topics she is most ready to learn. ALEKS can provide you with the instruction and support that you need to homeschool your children in mathematics for grades 3-12. ALEKS offers highly-targeted, individualized instruction from virtually any computer with Internet access, making it a comprehensive and mobile education solution for your children.--ALEKS website
I needed Mr. Fixit's help downloading an ALEKS plug-in for our computer (and we also had to update our Java). I received a registration form for each Squirreling and myself (we were all allowed to try it out for a month). Registering each child was simple, although I somehow ended up with four different teacher's accounts and passwords.

I signed myself up for Accounting, started the assessment, then remembered how much I don't like Accounting and switched to Middle School Geometry. I went through the initial assessment (which required some paper-and-pencil figuring as well as online work), worked through some of the lessons, and re-learned a few things I'd forgotten--adding a bit more colour to my pie.

Once I had a bit of practice with the online tools such as the compass and ruler, I did all right--it takes a few tries, though, if you've never used online manipulatives before. I think younger students might need some help getting used to the tools.

The only other person here who really tried out the program was our Apprentice, who will be doing grade 12 Ontario math this fall and wanted to see what the Algebra II program was like. Here are her comments:

Overall I really liked it. I thought the pie thing was pretty neat and I liked how it just didn't give you all the lessons straight up front; it actually blocked some lessons until you're ready to do them. There were pieces of the pie I couldn't click on, because the topic would build on another topic. I thought the assessment was way too long; I know why it was that long, but it was very unreasonable. I was on ALEKS for several hours, and it never asked me if I wanted to review, and it never asked me to do a test. There were a lot of buttons along the top (for things like test and review), but I never really found out what they did. So I found it overall very intuitive, but maybe it was a little too intuitive. As far as the teaching and theory goes, I would love to use that for math if I was being homeschooled. It might be nice to supplement with if you're studying for an exam or in the summer; it was nice for me to review a bit over the summer, but I wouldn't have time to use it along with my regular math.

Back to Mama Squirrel: Learning with ALEKS isn't a noisy, bells-and-beeps sort of thing--ALEKS doesn't talk out loud to you or play background music, at least not at the levels we tried if your computer's in the schoolroom, one student could use it without disturbing others. You don't have to be on for any particular length of time or for a whole lesson; if you have to quit, even in the middle of the initial assessment, ALEKS remembers where you were when you log back in.

I like the variety of courses--even with the differences in Canadian math teaching, I think you could find courses that would suit most learners. I like the fact that you can switch courses easily--it's not like ordering the wrong-level textbook and having to mail it all back. I think it would be a great option for some kids who learn very quickly (it would save their parents having to buy more math books too soon).

Is it an effective way to learn math? I don't have any way of assessing that, based only on our family's limited experience with the program. I know ALEKS has gotten many positive reviews from other users, so you might want to read some of those, especially from people who have made it their main math program over a longer period of time. It looks to me like a good way to find and fill in gaps in learning, especially for students who are "all over the place" or who seem to be between grades. I don't know if I'd want ALL a child's math work to be on the computer, but I think that, used in combination with hands-on activities and some written work, it could be a good way to learn.

Things I'd like to see: more of a welcoming interface for new users, particularly kids. There are tours and videos on the ALEKS website, but that's not exactly what I'm saying...I'm thinking of my kids who are used to logging on to their Webkinz pages, getting their mail and so on before they go off to take on jobs and pet care. It can be a bit daunting when the first thing you're hit with on a new program is a screen demanding that you answer, right away, a whole bunch of questions on things that you may not be very good at yet. It would be sort of nice to, somehow, get to play a little bit and get to know ALEKS better before you take the test, especially if it's your first experience with the program.

I wonder also whether a voice option would be helpful for students who have difficulty reading the written instructions and explanations. (If this already exists and I just missed it, please correct me.)

The biggest reason that I can't consider ALEKS right now for our family is the cost. A popular middle-school math package would cost me about a hundred dollars Canadian, the same as six months' worth of ALEKS. (And I can't really afford that this year either.) I'm not saying that it should necessarily be cheaper, or that it's not worth the money; it's just that, for many homeschoolers, paying around $150 for ten months' worth of computer math time is probably stretching the budget too hard. But if you have high school students, gifted students, or other learners with special needs, it might be worth it.

A subscription to ALEKS for an individual student is:
$19.95 per month
only $99.95 for 6 months! (Six months for the cost of five)
only $179.95 for 12 months! (Best Deal: You save $59.45)
More than one child in your family? We have a
family discount
--ALEKS website

You can get a three-hour free trial on the website, which is probably enough to give you the idea. But as a reader of of this blog, you can try it out for free for a month, which is a great deal, and if you're motivated, you could probably get through a whole course in that time.

Visit ALEKS for 1-Month Trial

For more ALEKS reviews from this year's Homeschool Review Crew, click here.

Dewey's Disclaimer: This product was received for purposes of review only. No other payment was made.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Death of Common Sense

The talk-show host on our local radio station just read this version of The Death of Common Sense. (Sorry about the pop-ups.) The original is by Lori Borgman and appears on her website.

The line in the adapted version about patio furniture struck close to home for me, as one of the potential Treehouses we've been looking at has turned out to have one of the strangest, most restrictive builders' covenants on it that we've ever seen (condos aside). How'd you like to buy a house--not a condo, a house--and forty years later you're still having to ask the builders for permission to plant a bush or put up a fence or sell some E-bay books out of your basement? Oh, correction--you can't do business in the house at all, even if it's within the city zoning by-laws. The builders seem to have the final say here.

Sigh...guess we keep on looking.

When it all comes together...and food notes

Brenda just posted "The Beauty of Forced Frugality" at Coffee, Tea, Books, and Me. This is one to bookmark--however you do these things--and come back to.

Yes, that's often the way things are when you've learned a lot of small things along the way, and then one day you realize that your habits have worked themselves into a pattern that makes sense. The last few days have been a bit like that, food-wise; we bought some produce on the weekend but otherwise didn't get to the grocery store for several days, and we were Running Out of quite a few things (just at that end of the cycle). But really, most of us have so many options. We did, anyway.

We had a whole container of plain yogurt. I mixed it with a little honey, spread it in a pie plate, and drizzled two colours of homemade jam (our jam tends to be runny) in a Yellow-Brick-Road-type pattern around the top, then made "spokes" in it in several places for a fancier effect. Then I put in the freezer until it was solid. I called it Tie-Dye Pie. (It would have been more pie-like if I had used a crust, but it was all right anyway.)

Yesterday The Apprentice used what was left of the Tie-Dye Pie to make fruit-yogurt-carrot smoothies in the blender.

Dinner was a package of sausage baked in the toaster oven with brown rice (1 cup rice, 2 cups water, 6 garlic sausages, bake at 350 degrees for about an hour and a half depending on how frozen the sausages are); bean salad (two cans of no-salt green and yellow beans with some mixed kidney beans, chick peas and navy beans I'd cooked together and frozen (you don't even need to thaw them first for bean salad)), homemade dressing); carrot sticks; bread and crackers; cottage cheese; poppyseed muffins; choice of canned peaches or fresh nectarines.

Earlier in the week we had a stove-top lasagna made with ground chicken, ricotta cheese, Parmesan, no-bake noodles, and sliced zucchini. There was one measly bit of grated Cheddar left in the fridge, so that went on top right at the end. Who needs tons of cheese in lasagna anyway?

We had salmon patties, sweet potatoes, and frozen peas. One can of salmon turned out not to make a lot of patties, so we also microwaved four leftover hot dogs for the younger Squirrelings.

We had a soup made with the same bean mix, part of a box of reduced-sodium beef broth, and a can of beef-barley soup. (It made enough for two lunches.)

I made some granola bars--as plain as I could make them because I was expecting some young friends to come over whose mom doesn't like fancy snacks. The dry part was oatmeal, crumbled Shredded Wheat, flour, and a good handful of Cheerios (both cereals were the end of the box). I left the Cheerios intact just because I liked the shape. No coconut, seeds, chocolate chips or raisins (I might have put raisins in but didn't have any left). They're not the most exciting things in the world, but they'll keep you going.

We had upside-down biscuits baked with homemade peach jam on the bottom.

We had a whole box of Spooon-Size Shredded Wheat, for some reason. I used some of it to make a baked cinnamon-honey snack mix, along with a small package of pecans (one of two that somehow materialized in the pantry--I had intended them for something that didn't get baked, a short time back).

We had cocoa-oatmeal macaroons.

And we had food-processor fruit-nut balls made with raisins, a few chocolate chips, a few apricots, and the other package of pecans.

That was our empty-the-pantry week.

Best grammar...everyday?

Another "everyday" sighting...we drove past the discount supermarket a couple of days ago, and I suddenly paid attention to the great big sign: "Best Prices Everyday!!!"

OK, now is that correct or incorrect? It looks wrong to me, but surely the slogan creators for a large supermarket chain would have checked that out first. Right?


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fall homeschool plans: Two Squirrelings, one schedule

Last year I had only one Squirreling here most days for school, so I have to get back into the groove of scheduling two. Ponytails and Crayons are far enough apart in age to need some of their own work--but close enough that we can do some things together. Squirrelings tend to be sociable creatures, and they'd usually rather listen to a book together than be sent off to read it by themselves. But like everything, you have to balance it out.

It took some work (and, as one of my friends says, a good chunk of a tree), but I did come up with a schedule that we'll at least try for the fall.

Together time: Bible stories/Bible reading, hymns, review memory work, copywork, Space Walk exercises.

Working alone: Math drills, math assignments (and language arts for Crayons). Ponytails will do a history or geography reading alone while Crayons reads hers with me. Ponytails will be doing some of her math later in the day with Mr. Fixit.

Together time: French (unless it gets too complicated to do this together). Singing, including French songs. Vocabulary work. One each day of nature challenges, picture study, science biography, composer, and miscellaneous together things.

Lunch break.

Together time: Readaloud literature. One of nutrition or art (although I may reschedule art to allow more time for projects).

Ponytails' time with Mom: Grade 7 special subjects such as Shakespeare, Citizenship, Logic, Economics, Literature. Composition, reading practice, grammar, dictation. (Crayons will do independent reading and workbox activities during this time--or have some free time.)

Later in the afternoon or evening: Extra reading list, miscellaneous workbox activities (such as hands-on challenges and crafts). Time with Dad.

It's not fancy and it's not all timed out--but we have to start somewhere.

Plugged in, plugged in, plugged in...unplugged...

Two messages in my inbox, a study in contrasts.

The first was a You-tube link to a video called Social Media Revolution. It's mostly a lot of statistics about how fast the "social media" (that means things like Facebook) is changing our world; how traditional newspapers are seeing a huge drop in readership; how marketing is all very much a part of this.

Right next in line was a link from Holy Experience (I get HE in my inbox) directing me to On Unplugging, a post at Out in the Stalks.

She's right: it's pretty funny to be sitting inside playing farming games on Facebook when you have the real thing right outside.

Or blogging about our kids instead of doing stuff with them.

Or always watching other people sing on You-tube instead of making music ourselves...


Where do we find ourselves in the middle of all this?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Apologies for the appearing, disappearing posts

Twice today I've hit the wrong thing and accidentally "published" something that wasn't really done. Now you see it, now you don't. (Is it me, is it Blogger, or is the whole Internet a bit wonky today?)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Thought for a Sunday: the growth of an idea

I clipped this quote from Victoria Magazine, about the British textile artist Margaret Murton. Sorry I do not have the author's name.

"Not a week passes without a long walk to investigate nature's latest unveiling: a newborn fawn in the deer park of the close-by abbey, the first appearance of the hellebores, those shy greenish pink harbingers of early spring, or a trillium poking through the forest floor.

"On their rambles, Margaret captures details with her sketch pad or camera: honeysuckle tendrils twining through a briar rose, daisies running rampant across a field. These images are often the first step in the long, sometimes discouraging, often inspiring, and always disciplined journey of converting a design to tapestry. In her studio, inspired by the image, or by poetry, or by a motif from a tapestry fragment, Margaret begins to arrange the elements into a design, mingling them, thinning or rearranging them, playing with the repeats until something new and fresh emerges."

Photo credit: Mr. Fixit

Grammar Griper: Every Day

My great-aunt used to wear an apron every day.
On special occasions she would take off her everyday apron and put on a fancy one.

Mistakes made with "every day" crop up way too often, and adults do it as often as younger people. The last place I saw it used incorrectly was in something published by a homeschooling parent--who really should have known better.

When "everyday" is used as an adjective--Grandma's everyday hat--it's one word.

When "every day" is used as an adverb--Grandma drank Red Rose tea every day--it's two words.

Pop quiz: which of the following are correct?

Gayle makes muffins and scones for breakfast almost every day.

These are not your ordinary, everyday muffins: they have chocolate chips in them. (Thanks, Gayle.)

Have your students practice their spelling everyday.

Every day when you're walking down the street...

If you spend too much time worrying about grammar everyday, you'll drive yourself crazy.

Friday, August 14, 2009

When true simplicity is gained

The Deputy Headmistress at The Common Room recently posted a sample day's schoolwork and-other-things for her two youngest children, both of whom are around the same (middle-school) age as our Ponytails. The books she lists aren't totally pulled from Ambleside Online; she improvises somewhat, just as our family does (and she has a rather massive home library to pull from). But it was the total picture--not just the particular books--that struck me, and also the thought that the DHM may not realize just how cutting-edge she is.

Go have a look and then come back.

Please note the absence of coloured printables, CD-Roms, and dollar-store filler in this lineup. No workboxes (although those can work nicely with CM too, and we're planning on trying some version of those). No lapbooks. No laminators. First-generation Calculadders (oh, isn't it nice to have these copy machines attached to our computers now? Unbelievable only a few years ago, when you had to actually Haul Your Calculadder Masters (and everything else) To the Copy Shop, all marked with Post-Its and paperclips). Same old copy of Manon P. Charbonneau's Hidden Rods, Hidden Numbers. Same old copy of the Greenleaf Greeks.

Now I know that the Common Room family does indeed use the computer for all kinds of things (the DHM was one of the first people I knew to post a list of All the Cool Old CM-Related Books She Could Find on Project Gutenberg. That was more than a decade ago.). They do Facebook, they get SwagBucks, and they've won Homeschool Blog Awards. I'm not computer-bashing here. I'm just pointing out the simplicity of this kind of planning and teaching, that doesn't depend on whether the computer's plugged in:

Two hymns, read first, then sung

The First 3,000 Years, by C. B. Falls (FYG)
The Story of Mankind, Conquests (FYB)

Physics Lab in a Supermarket

and so on, in the same way that I've seen the DHM organize her older children's school days for years. Even our Ambleside Online schedules can--at first glance--sometimes seem more overwhelming than this--too much to fit in, too hard to make them work for children of different ages, too hard to keep everybody doing what they're supposed to do.

But this is how it's supposed to work.

This is CM education that Charlotte Mason would recognize. Not micro-scheduled, computer-tracked, or stunningly creative on a parent's part. It doesn't need to be. The books do the teaching, the readers or listeners do the thinking.

This is CM education that works for boys who like to build and climb and dig holes in the ground. And for their sisters. And for interested others who happen to be around.

This is CM education that would probably keep St. Paul or Thomas Edison awake during class, as Susan Schaeffer Macaulay once pointed out.

Which, for me, is one of the marks of successful homeschooling, whether it's textbook based, living-books based, or anything in between: if it puts you (the teaching parent) to sleep, it will probably put the kids to sleep too. If it gives you enough to chew on that you all can get a decent discussion out of it, then stick with it.

This is not meant to be one of those backhanded compliments like "Oh, good for you for having the courage not to worry about wearing the latest style." Far from it. For anyone feeling overwhelmed, overpackaged, over-scheduled, and/or over-computerized, think about trying it the DHM's way.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thrift shop haul

All books, today. Mama Squirrel had an errand downtown and happened to be near the thrift shop, and they had lots to pick from. She sadly left behind a whole slew of Fabbri's Great Musicians book-and-record sets from the 1960's. (The link is to an enthusiastic 1969 review.) Too much to carry, but maybe they'll still be there next time.

This is what did make it home, for a total of $7.25:

For The Apprentice:

Ender's Game

For Ponytails:

The Green Gables Detectives, by Eric Wilson [Update: Oh, had a second look at this one--this has real bodies and serious nasties in it, not a typical kids' mystery at all. That was disappointing!]
Knight's Castle

For Crayons:

Raggedy Ann and Andy and the Magic Book
Ramona and her Mother
A Mouse Called Wolf
The Rocking Horse Secret, by Rumer Godden

For school and other reasons:

From the Forest, by Amy Carmichael, 1940's edition
Your Passport to Creativity (an older booklet of international craft ideas)
Grade 9 French textbook
Grade 8 math textbook
Math for All Seasons, by Greg Tang
At Home: a Language Discovery Sticker book, French learning book published by Raincoast Books
At The Market: same series
The Kids Can Press French & English Word Book (our second copy, not in great shape but I thought for 75 cents we could even cut it up for flash cards)
The Mennonite Hymnal (our fourth copy, so more people can sing at once)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Repost from 2005: Thrift Shops Have Changed

I'm reposting this as a response to this post, and this one, and this one, all puzzling over the "gentrification" of thrift shops and/or their confusing and inconsistent pricing systems.

My parents liked treasure-hunting at flea markets when I was young. My dad was always on the lookout for "royalty stuff" (cups and tins and things with pictures of the Queen's family on them), and we went along to poke through the tables of books and old toys. But thrift shops were pretty much unknown to us. The only one in town was run by the hospital auxiliary (volunteer ladies), and it was on a side street with other little offbeat stores. It was kind of dark and full of polyester shirts that all had the same weird smell. I used to go in there sometimes when I was in high school, looking for vintage clothes (hidden under the polyester).

Later I moved to the larger city where we still live. From the late '80's through the mid '90's, I regularly checked out several thrift shops, most of them right on the main street. There was a Salvation Army store where nothing was priced at all. When you brought your stuff up to the counter, the lady sized you up and decided what she felt like charging you, and that was it. If you looked down-and-out enough, she might give it to you for free.

There were two different Goodwill stores, both with their own personalities. The one we liked best was right near the downtown bus station. The Apprentice liked to pick out junk jewelery and hairdo stuff there when she was little, and they also had a great piled-up bin of toys that was fun to dig through. And good book bargains. There was the $2 copy of Timetables of History I found, and the bag of very old Cuisenaire rods for a quarter (nobody knew what they were), and the rubber boots I found for The Apprentice when she needed them the most, and the troll-fabric shirt, "size preschooler". There were the little handfuls of Duplo that I used to find, loose, in the bottom of the big toy bin, that helped to build up our collection.

But a few years ago, all the thrift stores run by organizations (like the Goodwill) moved out of the downtown, out into less-accessible places like strip malls. There are only a couple of independent stores left in the core, where the people who need them the most can readily get to them.

And when you do drive out to the new stores, you have to be prepared for their change of face. The new shops are cleaner. Things are bagged and labeled, arranged tastefully on shelves. (And always priced.) In reaction to their becoming dumping grounds for dinosaur computers and putrid couches, most of the shops are now very picky about what they will and won't accept. Mainstream shoppers...those who never liked "used stuff"...won't be afraid they'll catch anything nasty there.

There are fewer surprises now (good or bad). Fewer treasures. Less more of those ugly necklaces for a quarter that my preschooler loved. No atrocious crafts made thirty years ago for somebody's Christmas bazaar. No books with ripped or unreadable covers (the kind that I could take a couple of hours looking through if I didn't have somebody small tugging at me). The CDs are more likely to play (or at least more likely to have a CD inside the case), but they cost $2.50 now instead of 50 cents.

And there are fewer "characters" shopping there. Nobody hollering. You don't have to stand next to somebody who obviously hasn't had any exposure to soap and water in awhile. They can't usually get out to those places now unless they have transportation and make a special trip.

I don't blame the thrift shops. It can't be easy just trying to pay the rent, keep things going and not turn into a free dumpster. But I miss the old shops, the old ladies, the old stuff that was always missing a piece here and there...but if you were lucky you'd find another one that was missing a different piece, and tell everybody who'd listen what luck you'd had.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Overlawyered updates on CPSIA

Overlawyered always seems to have the latest on CPSIA developments. But the Deputy Headmistress has a few things to say as well.

So where do those old Whitman Teen Novels fit in that I was planning on listing?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Updates on Spelling City

One of our favourite online finds during the last school year was I liked being able to create our own spelling lists, and Crayons enjoyed the games. I got a newsletter today saying that they've ironed out some of the quirks, and telling about new features on the site--it looks like they're really listening to their users and trying to make it even better and easier to use.

And amazingly, it's still free.

[Update from Crayons: When I asked Crayons yesterday if there's anything she particularly liked about last year's school and wanted to do again, she thought about it for a minute and said, "Spelling City." There ya go.]

Friday, August 07, 2009

Deputy Headmistress cleans up...with a Stick-it note

An amazing yard sale story at Frugal Hacks. (How did the yard sale shoppers pass over all this stuff in the first place?)

Oh, now this is a great idea (cardboard study carrels) with 2014 link update

"Make the Ultimate Homework Station" (personalized study carrels made from display boards) from Family Fun Magazine looks like it would hit all the buttons for a lot of homeschoolers.  [2014 Update: I can no longer find this even on the Disney site. The best I can point you to is this blog post on homework corners: scroll down and you'll see some photos of the cardboard version.)
It's not like teachers have never made cardboard "privacy screens" or "bad kids sit behind these boxes" (depending on your perspective) before. I remember the Worst Kid In Our Class having such a shield propped up on his desk.

But these are actually attractive. And frugal. And could be seriously handy, especially if you don't have a dedicated schoolroom space. Building them together could also be a great first-week-of-school activity.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

This rots (CPSIA)

Made with imagination and care--and now illegal (and out of business). What else is there to say?

The next CM carnival--looking for submissions

A message from Barb:

"I am hosting the next edition of the CM Carnival....All subjects are welcome but I was thinking that if you had any thoughts on how implementing a CM education in your family has impacted your life...I would love to have you write about that and submit it for the carnival. I think as we all start a new school year it would be nice to encourage each other with some positive ways that Charlotte Mason and her ideas and principles have changed your homeschooling life or life in general.

"As always, please submit your entry as early as possible but at the latest Monday, August 17th. Please feel free to submit on any topic....all entries are encouraging in some way, even those from newbies.

"Please submit your post here."

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Shiny is bad (CPSIA)

Overlawyered continues to update on the impact of CPSIA, particularly the issue of rhinestones in childrens' wear. You may feel there's no particular loss if 11-year-olds stop wearing rhinestone-studded "blingwear," but this also affects performance dancewear and other specialized industries that use shiny stuff.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Even more on workboxes

This post at Sunflower Schoolhouse has enough links to keep you busy reading for quite awhile. It also provides links to some sort-of-workboxy things like math tubs and shoebox games.

One hundred years

This would be my grandmother's hundredth birthday: she of the sams, the schnitz pies and the knotty pine kitchen. That doesn't seem so strange as to realize that she's already been gone most of a decade. I still miss her very much.

Related posts:

Grandpa's 100th Birthday

Some day you'll appreciate me

"They use me as a lesson-book at schools,' said Tennyson, "and they will call me 'that horrible Tennyson.'" I should like to think that the time is coming when schoolgirls and schoolboys will say, "We have Tennyson for a school-book. How nice." --H.E. Marshall, English Literature for Boys and Girls

Monday, August 03, 2009

Start off your week with a smile

How about a handmade Yoda hat made from...?

Or a Target school-stuff shopping spree?

Some of Ann's endless gifts (and great photos)? Tea with Brenda? Goldfish with Barb?

Or The World's Longest Barbecue, courtesy of the Cardamom Addict?

Or the fact that today's a holiday in this part of the world? (Nobody's birthday, no great battles fought--it's just called the Civic Holiday.) Mr. Fixit has the day off, and we're trying to decide whether to go to the train museum, or just hang around the Treehouse and defrost the freezer. Decisions... [Update: we did both.]

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Repost from August 2007: Real Maps, Cheap or Free

While my grandsires didn't supply me with a Rattery to scrounge from, 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 had to save newspaper pictures of Benjamin Franklin, and clippings of the funniest things ever printed in church bulletins, and 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? 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 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.

Me not just dumb monster, me read Plutarch

In response to Wine Dark Sea's "Celebrating The Long Sentence", which was a response to this post on The Slow Language Movement

Our Apprentice has been reading Frankenstein, and she pointed out this passage from Chapter 15:
"One night, during my accustomed visit to the neighbouring wood, where I collected my own food, and brought home firing for my protectors, I found on the ground a leathern portmanteau, containing several articles of dress and some books. I eagerly seized the prize, and returned with it to my hovel. Fortunately the books were written in the language the elements of which I had acquired at the cottage; they consisted of Paradise Lost, a volume of Plutarch's Lives, and the Sorrows of Werter....

"I can hardly describe to you the effect of these books. They produced in me an infinity of new images and feelings that sometimes raised me to ecstasy, but more frequently sunk me into the lowest dejection... .

"The volume of Plutarch's Lives, which I possessed, contained the histories of the first founders of the ancient republics. This book had a far different effect upon me from the Sorrows of Werter. I learned from Werter's imaginations despondency and gloom: but Plutarch taught me high thoughts; he elevated me above the wretched sphere of my own reflections to admire and love the heroes of past ages. Many things I read surpassed my understanding and experience. I had a very confused knowledge of kingdoms, wide extents of country, mighty rivers, and boundless seas. But I was perfectly unacquainted with towns, and large assemblages of men. The cottage of my protectors had been the only school in which I had studied human nature; but this book developed new and mightier scenes of action. I read of men concerned in public affairs, governing or massacring their species. I felt the greatest ardour for virtue rise within me, and abhorrence for vice, as far as I understood the signification of those terms, relative as they were, as I applied them, to pleasure and pain alone. Induced by these feelings, I was of course led to admire peaceable lawgivers, Numa, Solon, and Lycurgus, in preference to Romulus and Theseus. The patriarchal lives of my protectors caused these impressions to take a firm hold on my mind; perhaps, if my first introduction to humanity had been made by a young soldier, burning for glory and slaughter, I should have been imbued with different sensations."
I pointed out that if the monster learned nothing else from Plutarch, he at least picked up the habit of writing in very LONG sentences!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Saturday yard sale finds

Crayons found one addition to her Beanie Boppers: a hockey-playing Hat Trick Hunter. Very cute.

Mama Squirrel bought a boxful of mixed books and ca. 1994 educational software, some still in its shrinkwrap, and some on 3 1/2 inch HD diskettes that caused a Squirreling reaction similar to that seen in the dinosaur room at the ROM. We'll have to talk to Mr. Fixit to see if there's any way of using this stuff (obviously they're not going to fit into a CD-Rom drive). One we found on CD-Rom is "What's the Secret, Volume 1," from 3M Learning Software, and that does look pretty interesting. According to the reviewer, "Volume One contains everything children and adults want and need to know about: • Bee anatomy• Bee behavior• Our heart and blood• Blood Pressure• Our hearing• Stomach aches• Fractions• Sound waves• Roller coasters." Can't go wrong with that.

The books are mostly 1960's Whitman Teen Novels and Donna Parker books (we are thinking E-bay for those), plus a couple of good spy novels, a vintage French reader and a French translation of Lucy Daniels' Sheepdog in the Snow (an Animal Ark book).
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