Thursday, May 31, 2012

What's for supper? (fewer of us home tonight)

Frozen pizza, heated in the toaster oven
Leftover honey garlic chicken, leftover rice, heated in a skillet
Peas, heated in a pot

Homemade chocolate pudding, not heated at all

Homeschooled kids and cooking--not always what you'd think

The expectation that homeschooled girls should be jacks-of-all-housekeeping trades reminds me of a joke I read a long time ago in Reader's Digest:
A young couple decided they needed an au pair, and arranged for a girl to come over from Northern Finland. When she arrived, the wife asked, "Can you cook?"
"No," said the girl, "My mother always did that."
"Can you do housework?" asked the wife.
"No, my oldest sister always did that."
"Well," said the wife, "You'd better just look after the children."
"I don't know how," said the girl. "My youngest sister always did that."

"What can you do, then?" asked the wife, in desperation.
"Well," said the Finnish girl brightly, "I can milk reindeer."
I've always liked to cook, and read cookbooks. My first cookbook was a Dell Home Activity Series workbook called Cooking is Fun, Book One, published in 1970.  Someone gave it to me when I was about seven, and I wrote the names of my favourite foods inside the cover: my grandma's "eldirberry pie" was one of them.

I also had a project, when I was about nine, of cutting out recipes from old copies of Lady's Circle and Woman's Day, and pasting them into a scrapbook.  Some I did end up trying.  Some were a bit too ambitious.
(Yes, that is Annette Funicello on the cover.)

So between kids' cookbooks, ladies' magazines, Brownie badges, and occasional helping in the kitchen, I got at least an idea of how meals got put together. By the time I was in middle school,  I was still better at cookies and cakes than at cooking dinner; but I eventually figured that one out too.

How has it been different for my homeschooled girls?

I don't know that any of them paid a lot of attention to meal-making until they were actually old enough to see some benefit in being able to fix something for themselves.  When they were younger, I think they spent more time helping their dad with outside and fixit chores than they did hanging out in the kitchen.  They did help get groceries, and helped stir things together when I asked them to;  they helped make jam and Christmas cookies and Easter kiffle.  We use food and kitchen tools a lot for school (though not necessarily in "cooking class"): we do math with measuring cups (and, when they were younger, cereal and raisins), we do science experiments with celery or corn syrup or popcorn, or make edible models of the atmosphere. Sometimes we've tried new foods when studying other countries.  Last year we did some spice studies.

Because the recipes I make (or make up) aren't terribly complicated, I've often made a point of saying, "You liked that chicken we had for dinner? You could make that, you know. All you do is..."  Often I just get rolled eyeballs, but I figure some of it has to soak in.  I've also collected up a few extra copies of my favourite cookbooks, so that the girls will have their own, if and when they want them.  (Of course I could just tell them to check the blog...)

Another strategy, for kids who would rather read than cook (or read cookbooks), is to introduce them to "food fiction," especially with a frugal or make-it-work twist. Ginnie and the Cooking Contest. Little Nino's Pizzeria. Bread and Jam for Frances. Stone Soup. Understood Betsy, who learns that there's no right or wrong about making applesauce. The whole Beany Malone series (although we have only a couple of the novels, plus the cookbook). Little House on the Prairie, especially Farmer Boy. Maybe Grace Livingston Hill's novels, when they're old enough not to think romances are icky. I would probably not include the Warton and Morton Toad books, unless you like beetle brittle.

The Apprentice surprised me during her high school years with the dinners she knew how to make, or with interesting snacks she would occasionally produce when younger-sister-sitting.  If asked, she would say something like, "well, of course I know how to do it; I'm just not that interested."  Crayons still says she would rather do something else (she also says she's never moving out).

Ponytails at one point watched a lot of cooking shows and online videos, and liked to try out things like crepes.  This semester she is taking food and nutrition at public high school, and she's had to answer a lot of assigned questions about holiday meals, what's in the refrigerator, and so on.  One day the teacher had a lot of leftovers from another course, so she had the class make up their own casseroles; Ponytails came up with something involving turkey sausage and broccoli soup that sounded amazing. 

The Apprentice has been equipping her own kitchen recently; she has a room in an off-campus house, and she stays there a couple of nights a week because of her summer classes.  (In the fall she'll be there all week.)  Right now she has the kitchen on her floor all to herself.  So she's been putting all her prior learning to practical use.  Last week she even made herself slow-cooker pork chops and mashed potatoes--with real potatoes.

I think they'll do fine.

Elderberry pie photo found here

Linked from Four Moms: Cooking with Children.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Updated: Carnivals this week, now with frugality

This week's Carnival of Homeschooling is up at The Informed Parent.

Money Crashers hosts the Festival of Frugality.  This week you get to vote for your favourite post. My vote goes to Prairie Eco-Thrifter's Why Buying Green is Not Always Eco-Friendly.

And The Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival: Summer Holidays Edition is up at The Holistic Homeschooler.

Thrift store: upstairs, downstairs

I went to the thrift store by myself today; Crayons stayed here with her dad. I had a lesson on inputting invoices (thrift stores have bills to pay too) and then worked on the routine computer stuff as well. That took all afternoon, so I didn't have to time to work in the book corner.
But I did find a couple of things at the end of the day: an esthetics textbook for the Apprentice, a brand-new crafts book for Crayons, and a book about books for me.

And six quilted placemats in the same blues and browns as our kitchen, for a quarter apiece.  We really needed new placemats (we were down to a few educational-type plastic ones), so I'm very happy about that.

What's for supper? Honey-garlic chicken

Tonight's dinner menu:

Honey Garlic Chicken, but in a skillet, not in the slow cooker; I've tried it both ways, and I much prefer the last-minute version. I cut the soy sauce in half (and used low-sodium soy sauce), used chicken breasts instead of thighs (because that's what I had), and also added cornstarch to thicken the sauce. The sauce ingredients may sound kind of non-traditional, but they work.  UPDATE: we also really like this sauce with pork--it's a good way to use up leftovers.

Hot pasta (fusilli)
Mixture of frozen green beans and frozen Asian vegetables (end of the bag)
Crackers, applesauce, sliced cucumber

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

How did I miss Howard the Squirrel?

Javamom posted this almost a month ago, but I missed seeing it until today.  She had a real-life squirrel comedian performing in her back yard.

Pantry blogging, here and there

Annie Kate (who went floatin' down the river) posted recently about an eating-from-the-freezer-and-the-pantry challengeThe original challenge is posted at

Annie Kate writes,  "I can’t plan savings, because I’m not the only grocery shopper in the family; the other one is a free spirit who despises such schemes."  I hear you there.  Some moms have full responsibility for the shopping and cooking; for others of us, it's more of a team effort.

Then posted a link to a "Strictly Pantry Menu" at The Prudent Homemaker.  Just off the shelf, not even out of the freezer (although you should know that the Prudent Homemaker has some unusual stuff on her shelf, like home-canned bananas).  Very interesting, and also easy to navigate, which is nice. There's lots of other good stuff on that site as well, so be prepared to spend some time browsing.

And Brenda at Coffee, Tea, Books and Me has continued to post her Saturday Pantry Suggestions.

All I can say is--thank you all!

Monday, May 28, 2012

What's for supper? Meatballs and cornbread

Tonight's dinner menu:

Meatballs in homemade barbecue sauce, like this
One leftover sausage and some leftover perogies from Sunday dinner
Fresh spinach for salad plus cucumber, chick peas, and carrot sticks--mix and match

Canned pineapple and orange pieces, chilled in the freezer
Store cookies.

What's up at the Treehouse?

We Canadians had our long weekend LAST week.  So today is just another school day.

We are going to build a lasagna-style garden for zucchini at the side of the house where we used to grow green beans.  Used to, because the last couple of years the rabbits and other critters haven't left them alone, along with spinach and several other things we like to grow.  Sprinkling various nasty meals, hot pepper, etc. does not seem to work on these iron-stomached varmints. But they don't have much of an appetite for zucchini, so we're going to put some in and hope their tastes don't change.

Mr. Fixit found a special clock last week, and it's now hanging on the Treehouse living room wall. I'm going to ask him nicely to post something about it here.  The clock looks something like this:

The Apprentice thinks she has finally found a job.   (It's pretty much for sure.)  It's not here in town, though; it's closer to her university, so we may not be seeing her much for the rest of the summer.

Ponytails is working on a variety of school projects involving leeks, supermarket shopping, and A Midsummer Night's Dream (not all for the same class).

Crayons/Dollygirl is taking every chance she can get to be outside. Homeschooling at the end of May...sometimes that's harder to get motivated about than in the dead of winter!  Last week we helped out at a church work day (our church is moving itself into a building this year), and she got to fill up a whole planter with pink and white petunias.

(Not that kind of Petunia!)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A grammar quiz for smart homeschoolers

Grandpa Squirrel is a generous donor of large Sunday newspapers and other interesting reading material for the Treehouse.  This week he sent over a magazine for Mr. Fixit with an article about vintage radios.

Mama Squirrel read the article and was grammatically appalled.  There were enough sentence fragments, run-ons, and strange turns of phrase in there to illustrate a whole lesson on sentence structure (which we did).  Out of curiosity, Mama Squirrel perused the rest of the magazine, and uncovered a few other zingers that the editorial staff had missed.  (We hope we are not getting ourselves into trouble by copying these lines, but really, we think that certain magazine editors should take a closer look at what gets printed.)

So here's the challenge:  what's wrong with these sentences, and how would you fix them? (If you can.)

Note:  I don't pretend that my understanding of grammar is perfect either.  If you think some of these examples are correct, feel free to say so.

1.  She, and other craftspeople, has a very nice display space for their wares.

2.  By the mid 1930's over 50% of North American homes had at least one radio.  Over 1 1/2 million in automobiles.

3.  A table model which resembles a church Cathedral usually with four dials on the front.  A small window screen which contains the channels panel and at the top red fabric of the speaker.

4.  The new AC model radios began to sell in large numbers as owners threw out their battery operated radio.

5.  By the 1930's the design of the radio and its case began to change.  It went from a square body box design and outside speakers which sat on top of the radio or close by.

6.  The designs became more compact and speakers in the body of the radio and their appearance became more desirable.

7.  Repaired items should be priced considerably lower than a, similar, perfect head vase.

8.  Ordering from private distributors is possible but not cost affective.

9.  Orson Welles played The Shadow on radio.  Then moved onto Hollywood after his famous Halloween production of War of the Worlds.

10.  Ideas for the designs came from many sources such as: popular fashion magazines or Hollywood movie magazines.

Linked from the Carnival of Homeschooling.

Thrift Shop Wednesdays: Work, work, work

Between extra racks of clothing set up for a special evening sale tonight, and what seemed like mounds of boxes of books (which I couldn't do much about unpacking, because the storage shelves were full, and I couldn't do much about that, since the store shelves were mostly full too), the thrift store was a very hot and busy place today.  I did manage to squeeze a few books into the empty spaces, and then went upstairs to do data entry.

I brought home one cushion for Crayons' bed, and three books:

A Glass of Blessings, by Barbara Pym  (Barbara Pym was recommended in Howard's End is On the Landing, but I read the descriptions of this book and now I'm not so sure about it) [Update: I did read it, quickly.  No, I didn't like it much.]

In Search of England, by H.V. Morton.  I'm looking forward to reading this one.

The Town Cats and Other Tales, by Lloyd Alexander.

Choose weep, and you weep alone: standardized tests and bright kids

Something to read and ponder today:  Herding Turtles vents her frustration about the annual standardized language tests her children are required to undergo.  (I saw this first on Melissa Wiley's sidebar.)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Making it from scratch: Stephanie's spice mixes

We've been following A Year of Slow Cooking since its first year.  It's still among my top ten (maybe top five) favourite food sites.  I've also bought the two Make It Fast, Cook It Slow cookbooks.  Not all the recipes have been winners here, but several have become regulars.

The site has a couple of hidden bonuses.  One is pretty obvious: all the recipes give gluten-free options.  This isn't something that currently applies to our family, but it's good to know anyway, especially if you might be cooking dinner for a gf friend sometime.

The other bonus is that, because of the gluten-free recipes, there are alternatives given for things like taco seasoning mix.  This is a good thing for us in several ways.  First, homemade spice mixes are lower in sodium, which is still something we're trying to watch around here.  Some Squirrels also get sick from eating MSG. 

Second, although seasoning packets aren't terribly expensive, mixing your own is probably a better deal.  I also find them a frugal option since they help to make a tasty meal out of other simple ingredients.  Ground beef plus spices makes taco filling; then you add whatever other bean, cheese and vegetable toppings you have, and wrap in tortillas or serve over rice or corn chips (for taco salad).

Plus you don't have to remember to buy taco seasoning, or sloppy joe spice, if you already have the makings for it on the spice shelf.  And, if you're really organized, you can even mix up extra and store it in sandwich bags to make it all as easy as ripping open a packet.

And the last good reason, for us, is that Steph's spice mixtures pretty much suit our cupboard staples and our tastes (with the exception of rosemary, which two Squirrels can't eat).  When you find something that works for you, you stick with it.

So I'm passing on the links to a couple of Year of Slow Cooking mixes that have worked for us, plus the spaghetti sauce mixture that I worked out from a Hillbilly Housewife recipe.  Thank you, Steph!

Sloppy Joe Seasoning  I used this a few nights ago to make a Hamburger Assistant-type meal in a skillet:  a pound of ground beef, a can of tomato paste plus water and seasonings, leftover cooked pasta, and a bit of cheese.

Taco Seasoning.  This one is in More Make it Fast, Cook it Slow under "Taco Dip," but the spice mix doesn't appear on the Year of Slow Cooking website. It's the same recipe as the one in this blog post, minus the teaspoonful of salt.

Enchilada Sauce

Mama Squirrel's Diner-Style Spaghetti Sauce

Carnival of Homeschooling #334: Floatin' Down the River Edition

This week's carnival takes its theme from a post at Tea Time with Annie Kate. Annie Kate recently took her homeschooled crew Floatin’ Down the River Again (AKA Homeschool Phys Ed). No boats, no rubber rafts--just a few lifejacketed kids (and mom) getting close--really close--to the elements.

I thought there might be a few homeschooling--or life--metaphors in there somewhere.

What do you think about while you're floating along?

Homespun Life presents On Living The Dream. "I started to think about what it is I really want for my kids, for their lives. Oh, I could list a lot of things. But I think in the end it comes down to the dream. The joy of living right where you know you should be – doing exactly what you were meant to do on this here earth and with this here life of yours."

No fighting, No biting! presents Preparation for Life.  "I want my children to have a world full of opportunity and strong academics is the path to that bright future."

Homeschool Atheist Momma Blog  presents Note to my Former Self

DenSchool presents Why Haven’t We Learned from Finland?  "If I lived in Finland, with a school system like this, I have to wonder if I would, in fact, be a homeschooler?"

Discoveries along the way

The Tiger Chronicle presents Stories from Down Under.

Golden Grasses presents Summer Season.

Why Homeschool  shares a solution for helping to round out the science lab experience.

My Domestic Church presents Works for Me Wednesday- Merrill Readers for Remediation and Intervention."We have been using Dianne Craft's Daily Lesson Plans and suggested resources and have seen great progress just since January."

Dewey's Treehouse presents a review of The Big What Now Book of Learning Styles.

Watch out for hidden rocks

Jen's Journey shares thoughts on Homeschooling Through Illness and Injuries.

Barbara Frank Online presents When Kids Refuse to Learn.

Parent at the Helm presents Attachment Parenting WILL Follow Homeschooling: Winning! "When I first saw the headline and photo Time magazine chose to place on its attachment parenting issue, I thought, 'Good.' Finally, parenting with instinct isn’t being ignored. It’s up to the ridicule stage."

Back on land

Sonset Academy  has also been Enjoying the Outdoors in May.  "Along with the nice weather we have been having, we have been enjoying the outdoors - learning, exploring, and experiencing the handiworks of God."

Art's Chili Pepper presents Home School Potpourri.  "However, when the day came that we could follow our natural love for learning and exploring and put away all the ideas that every problem had to be done, things had to be done in a certain time table or the thought there was only one way to fulfill our requirements... wow!  school sure changed for us."  Lots of detail and great photos!

Perfecting the Art of Homeschooling presents "Here's What's Coming in First Grade."

Homeschool Online Blog presents Where Do You Homeschool? presents Homeschool for Free.  Tips for finding no- and low-cost homeschool curricula and educational materials.

That's all for this week's carnival. The next trip down the river will land us at The Informed Parent.  See you there!

All photos courtesy of Teatime with Annie Kate.  Used by permission.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Reminder: Carnival of Homeschooling coming up here

The Treehouse will be hosting the 334th Carnival of Homeschooling next week.  That means we need your homeschool-related submissions by 6:00 P.M. (Pacific Standard Time) Monday evening.  You can email them to .

(I don't have many submissions yet--more are definitely welcome!)

Friday, May 18, 2012

For your entertainment: Eugene, Katrina, and premarital counselling

These actors have dramatized quite a few Adventures in Odyssey scenes--what do you think?

YahOOO, we get spam

I thought this was kind of funny...

The spam box in the Treehouse email account had one message in it today, supposedly from the "Yahoo E-Mail Team."  If you look that one up online, it's reported as a big bad e-mail scam that you do not want to open.

But the giveaway, if you looked closely enough, was that it was from the Yahooo E-Mail Team.

I'm not that stooopid.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Crayons illustrates Princess Padmini

Crayons/Dollygirl used Paint to illustrate a scene from Richard Halliburton's Complete Book of Marvels.  Halliburton tells the legend of Princess Padmini, and then tells how he took a little girl out on a boat in Udaipur and got her soaked in a sudden rainstorm, making a wreck of her cheaply-dyed holiday clothes.
"Weeping and wretched, shivering with cold, she just stood there leaving red puddles and yellow puddles and purple puddles of raindrops on the pavement....

"I wanted to say: 'My dear child, I'm so sorry--I promise never to let this happen again.  Will you ever, ever, forgive me?'

"But I couldn't say it.  All I could say [in her language] was how much, how far, what time, [good-by], and count to ten.  Again this didn't seem to be the right thing.

"And then I had a sudden flash of inspiration.  I knew just what to say:

"'Good-by, PADMINI....'

"The sunshine came back into her eyes.  She pressed my outstretched hand, then turned and darted through the rain into a grove of palms.  There she turned and waved.  I saw one last flash of yellow and purple and red and green, through the trees--and my Princess Padmini had gone...."--"Udaipur, Indian Fairyland" in The Complete Book of Marvels

From the Archives: Big Blow, by Ponytails

First posted May 16, 2007.  Ponytails (age 9) tells about the storm that took part of our maple tree down.

We were watching Babe on the T.V. and Mr.Fixit said, "Holy smokes! Look out the window!" There was rain and wind all over the place! Our tree that is 41 years old may have to be cut down! Because two branches fell on the ground and both look the size of a 10 year tree!

When we were watching Babe and it started to rain and blow really hard, we turned off some of the lights and the TV and the computer and the breaker. And then the power went out and I could hardly see anything. So Mama Squirrel and Crayons and me read Swallows and Amazons where there was a little light. And before reading Swallows and Amazons we had to sit in the middle of the kitchen near the table, because our windows could have broken, and branches would go in our eyes.

I'm glad that happened last night and not today, because tonight is our dancing night. And if it would have happened tonight, we wouldn't be home.

And all the power in the houses and the traffic lights and everything went down.

And now that I'm done with the storm, I'll tell you about the bird that's on our drainpipe! At first we just noticed there was a nest, but then we noticed there was a robin in it. Mama Squirrel spent about a week trying to figure out what it was.

We don't know if it has eggs or not, but you can see baby robins on Liberty and Lily. And the nest is still there!


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Thrift store Wednesdays: Old Favourites

Today's book sorting was busy but a lot of fun. Somebody sent in a large collection of old books on doll collecting, doll making, and doll clothes, so we made room for those. A couple of weeks ago it was a whole box of books on teddy bears (maybe the same person?), and those haven't all sold yet, but maybe the dolls will get a faster turnaround.

Things I did not buy today: (I try to behave myself, as Peg Bracken used to say): a big book about the Impressionists; an oversized copy of The Divine Comedy with the Gustave Doré illustrations; a book of funny songs to help you learn German ( I just liked the title: Eine Kleine Deutschmusik).

The books I did bring home were almost all replacements for things I had given away or worn out, or, in one sad case, gotten water-warped.

The Heart Has its Own Reasons:  if you like The Tightwad Gazette, you'll really like this.  It's like listening in on some very smart moms (in the 1980's), sharing their tips (and sometimes their frustrations) about living on one (usually low) income.  This was a big inspiration to me during our first years of marriage.

The Basic Shelf Cookbook:  I replaced our 1987 edition with the "updated" 1994 edition.

How to Read Slowly:  I replaced our (water-warped) 1979 edition with the "updated" 1988 edition.

The Wacky World of Alvin Fernald, by Clifford B. Hicks

This was the neatest thing:  A 1967 Patterson-Blick Instant Picture Book, Fashion Through the Ages, with all its transfers unused and intact.  If you have no idea what I'm talking about or what transfers are, you are just too young.  They're like children's tattoos, only you rub them onto paper (or pre-printed scenes), instead of onto your skin.  When I was really little--probably around the time this book came out--we used to get little books of transfers as cereal prizes, and I notice at that link that there were British cereals doing similar promotions at that time.  I hadn't thought about those in years, until I saw that book today.

So that was my little dip into nostalgia for this week.  How's your week going?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Have some cake with your icing?

Crayons/Dollygirl's birthday cake this year was a Small Chocolate Cake frosted with "Lorna's Super Chocolate Chip Icing" from Edna Staebler's More Food That Really Schmecks.  The amount given here will frost a layer cake reasonably, or a one-pan cake extravagantly.  We went with extravagantly.  But you could probably cut the recipe in half.

I put some of the icing into a decorating tube and made ruffles along the edges, along with a few powdered-sugar butterflies.  How do you make powdered-sugar butterflies?  Sink a small butterfly-shaped cookie cutter into the icing (that is, the top of the cake that's already been iced), carefully spoon a bit of powdered sugar inside the "walls" of the cutter, smooth it down, then gently lift up the cutter.  Repeat several times in other places on the cake--we had five butterflies.  I used the icing in the tube to give them chocolate bodies and antennae (which also helped show what they were supposed to be!), and a few dots on their wings.

And one warning about that, if you're blowing out candles--don't blow too enthusiastically or you'll have powdered sugar everywhere.

Lorna's Super Chocolate Chip Icing

6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate pieces (chips)
1/2 cup light cream (I used 2% milk)
1 cup margarine or butter (I used butter)
2 1/2 cups icing sugar (powdered sugar)
a bowl full of ice cubes plus some water (this doesn't go into the icing, it's for a quick cooling off)

In a saucepan combine the chocolate, cream/milk and butter; stir till smooth, remove from the heat, and whisk in the sugar--it will be thin.  Beat it over ice until it holds its shape (put ice cubes and water in a bowl, and rest the saucepan on top.  I put the bowl in the sink.).  Unless you have a very strong whisk, I'd recommend using a wooden spoon for this part--the icing will get thick.

A shortcut:  in the book, Edna says that she didn't have time to stand around beating the icing, so she just put it in the fridge to set.  I have done it that way, but this time I beat it over the ice, and it turned out really well.

Carnivals this week: updated

No Fighting No Biting hosts the 333rd Carnival of Homeschooling.  Next Tuesday's CoH will be hosted here, so start sending submissions!  (Early would be nice, because Monday is Victoria Day and I would rather be watching fireworks than playing on the computer.  Just saying.)

Delightful Education hosts the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival today, with the theme "Education is a Life."

MoneyWise Pastor hosts the Festival of Frugality #337: Personal Finance from 30,000 Feet Edition.

From the archives: "Pizza with the works curriculum"

First posted November 2006. The Apprentice had just started high school, Ponytails was doing an Ambleside Online Year 3.5, and Crayons/Dollygirl was in kindergarten.

In Ruth Beechick's booklet A Home Start in Reading (part of her 3-R's series, but we won't hold that against her), she describes the following experiment carried out by a school district:
"Some kindergartners in the district received extensive instruction in reading. Others spent the same amount learning science. They melted ice. They observed thermometers in hot and cold places. They played with magnets, grew plants, learned about animal life, and so on. Books and pictures were available for these children if they wanted them, but no formal lessons in reading were held.

"And what did the school district learn? By third grade the ‘science’ children were far ahead of the ‘reading’ children in their reading scores. The reason? Their vocabularies and thinking skills were more advanced. They could read on more topics and understand higher level materials. The ‘reading’ children, by starting earlier, used up a lot of learning time on the skills of reading, while the ‘science’ children spent the time learning real stuff. And when they did begin reading, they were older and knew more and learned in a fraction of the time that the others took.”
(Ruth Beechick unfortunately doesn't provide any footnotes or verification for this study, so we'll just have to take her word for it.)

Now this may sound like an argument for the don't-teach-them-to-read-early camp, and in fact that is the context in which Dr. Beechick was writing: not to pressure children to read until they're ready. However, all the Squirrelings have happened to be early readers. By kindergarten age, they have all been reading fairly fluently, which, ironically, gives us the same curriculum problem we would have if we didn't want to teach them reading early: what else to do during school time if much reading instruction isn't needed or wanted?

Well, we read books. Out loud, silently, together and alone. Narration of one kind or another often follows.

We do copywork and work on handwriting skills; Crayons practices making her numbers right way round.

And, like the kindergarten experimenters, we "do." Especially this year, with a fourth grader (with a late-in-the-year birthday) and a kindergarten-age child at home during most of the day, I'm trying hard to keep a balance between reading and "doing." Some days feel like we're eating a curriculum pizza with the works (and the kids are helping make it).

We have a big map of the world on the kitchen wall (which Crayons loves to look at and find places she knows, like Poland), and an edible-ingredients model of the atmosphere on the kitchen counter. (We may have to borrow back some of the Thermosphere if we run short.) Already this fall we have had leaf lessons on the back porch (with samples all around us); have acted out (more than once) a favourite story about King David; have made file-folder pictures of the characters from "As You Like It"; and listened to Leonard Bernstein's orchestra demonstrating how Haydn added humor to music.

We've played domino concentration and Pico Fermi Bagels [link updated 2012], looked forward to the next chapter of Peter Pan, and memorized Emily Dickinson's poems. (Crayons liked Michael Bedard's picture book Emily, and also the poem that starts "I started early, took my dog and visited the sea; The mermaids in the basement came out to look at me.") We make up new verses to songs, and try to answer Ponytails' Big Questions about everything. The girls mess around with a keyboard and a lap harp. They make up ongoing doll stories, radio shows, and hospital dramas. When the Apprentice comes home from school, she teaches them games she's learned in drama class. Mr. Fixit also lets Ponytails help (as the Apprentice did) when there's a tape recorder or some other piece of electronic stuff to be refurbished.

Now this may not be very different from the daily experience of homeschoolers who say "stick to reading, writing and math for the first few years." Maybe when people say that, they're not including all the things they do with their children and which their children do spontaneously. (I'm typing this while listening to a Squirreling who chooses not to be identified vocalizing at the top of her lungs while playing under a card table tent. They've been opera divas singing "The Voices of Spring" all day after watching The Three Stooges' "Microphonies.")

When they [that is, proponents of back-to-basics] put together a very short list for first-grade curriculum, maybe they're not including the books already on the shelf and the games and puzzles they pull out of the closet, and all the other resources they have in their kitchens and workshops.

At the same time, it worries me that "cutting out all those extras" could also mean subjecting primary-age children to an (unnecessary) hour daily of math and the same amount of time spent on phonics AND spelling AND language. No wonder some people can't even imagine adding more to a young child's schedule.

Was it a waste of time for the kindergarten classes to melt ice and play with magnets? According to Dr. Beechick, no; the "real stuff" stirred their imaginations and gave their minds something to work on. (Charlotte Mason would say that they were learning from Things and Ideas.)

Is it a waste of time to do botany and geography and poetry with kids who still play with Polly Pockets? Will they remember everything? No. Will they learn something about their world, that it's a much bigger and more interesting place than the tiny corner of space and time that we inhabit, and yet that even our tiny corner has enough to keep us going for a long time? I hope so.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Big WHAT NOW Book of Learning Styles (book review)

I don't read many how-to-homeschool books anymore.  In the first place, I've been homeschooling for quite awhile, and in the second place, my youngest Squirreling just turned eleven.  Of course good advice is always welcome, and there's always something new to learn (especially about Charlotte Mason's philosophy), but I'm not usually looking for a whole bookful of teaching advice at once. Even a few years ago I was posting about giving away some of my how-to books.

However, I recently came across a fairly new book that I recommend enthusiastically:  The Big WHAT NOW Book of Learning Styles, by Carol Barnier.  I read her earlier book How to Get Your Child Off the Refrigerator and Onto Learning when it came out over a decade ago, and thought it was okay--fun title at least--but not as well developed as I had hoped; it seemed to me at that time to be mostly games and gimmicks.  (It did get lots of good reviews--just wasn't what I was looking for.) But this new book is a keeper.  It's not just about learning styles; it's about lots of good ways to teach what you want to get across, especially if you have children who resist some of the more "traditional" (pen and paper, sit still and listen) teaching approaches. Actually, we have used a lot of the same strategies over the years--ideas as simple as having a parent fill in answers as a child dictates them (even in math), if trouble with writing is distracting the child from focusing on the lesson content. 
"Once you let go of the idea that your instruction has to look like everyone else's, you begin to develop the thrill of the hunt. I actually become excited when I find a child who doesn't learn traditionally. I love the challenge. I love the process of going through the possibilities to discover which unorthodox method or key will be the one that springs open the door to this child's mind."--Carol Barnier
Although the author limits her learning-style categories mostly to visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners, the various activities can be used with kids with all different needs and idiosyncracies:  those who have to see the whole before they can get the parts, those who have trouble with anything sequential, those who just find one or two subjects particularly difficult or boring.  Most of the activities are most appropriate for children in the elementary school years, which is why a lot of them--good as this book is--won't be that useful for our own family. However, there are some ideas that are good for all ages, particularly in the writing section, so parents of older children may also find some ideas for livening up lessons.  (And sometimes that is the point when you really need them!)

And it's not just for parents of the kids sitting on the refrigerator:  there's good stuff here for any new or newish homeschooler, and even a few ideas that the veterans might find worthwhile.
"The promoters of the [rich diet of reading] philosophy argue that consistent reading of great books will automatically provide your child with a rich vocabulary, a natural absorption of correct spelling, and an ear for proper usage....If you have a child who needs a break from the mechanics of writing but loves to spend hours reading, you may already have your solution in place. It's worth considering."--Carol Barnier
Since we're reading a book about Alexander the Great this term, I was especially interested in her sample activities to liven up the Landmark book on Alexander.  Note that, please, CM homeschoolers:  her sample study is not just a series of public-school-style fun Alexander activities, it's a way to work through a complete biography.  Carol Barnier, in fact, shows in several places that she has a pretty good handle on CM ideas--for instance, in her description of narration; in her low-key but obvious enthusiasm for good books; in her reminder that children need success with small tasks that are manageable for them; and even in that somewhat radical thought that, actually, it's okay to end a reading or a lesson and just let the child be quiet and think about it before loading him down with teacher-chatter.
"Since that time I've come to the conclusion that all children want to learn, regardless of any statements they make to the contrary.  If we meet children who seem to be uninterested in learning, I'm convinced that we're missing something....Our job, our incredible privilege, is to show our children that indeed they can learn."--Carol Barnier
Not everything she recommends is for everyone, and I think that's partly the point.  I have never been that interested in constructing models of body parts for kids to crawl through, and my own children wouldn't have gotten enough out of such a time-and-material-consuming project to make it worth our while.  But one family's joke is another family's unit study, right?  If the point of education is to teach the child, not the book, then I think Carol Barnier is on the right track with this one.

The one weakness in the book is the lack of an index, and that's only because I would like to go through it again quickly and round up the Charlotte Mason references and other stuff that interested me.  But since it's less than two hundred pages long (with lots of drawings) and it's well organized by subject, it shouldn't be too hard to find what you're looking for.

Overall:  a friendly and useful book with a tried-and-true (but not stale) flavour.   Most useful for new homeschoolers, but interesting to any parent/teachers looking for a learning booster.  (And the CM parts are a bonus.)

What's for supper? Odds, ends, counting and measuring

One thing I think you need to know how to do, to make the most out of what's on hand for cooking, is figure out how to cook or bake things in different proportions, according to what you have and the number of people eating.  Today's example:  I had leftover mashed potatoes and thought of making a Perogy Casserole.  There were about seven lasagna noodles, plus some broken pieces, in the cupboard. But my recipe makes a 9 x 13 inch panful and calls for fifteen noodles.  Since that usually leaves us with leftovers, I figured it would work just as well to cook up what we had and use a smaller pan.  I didn't even bother reducing the rest of the ingredients; I wanted to use up the potatoes and I figured nobody would complain about a bit of extra filling.


Perogy Casserole, made with somewhere between seven and eight lasagna noodles

Meat and Vegetable Reheat: that is, a bit of sliced leftover beef from last night; a package of mushrooms, sliced; some leftover green beans; a cupful of beef broth; and a teaspoonful of smoked paprika, heated through in a covered skillet and thickened at the end with a spoonful of cornstarch. (Wow, does that make an awesome mushroom sauce--I think it's the combination of the mushroom liquid, the broth, and the paprika.)

Lettuce, carrot and celery salad

Dessert: this and that.

From the archives: Upside-Down Rhubarb Muffins

First posted in 2007. We had a plateful of these for dessert last night, along with sliced oranges and blueberries.

For a change from Coffeemamma's recipe. These are more like small cakes than muffins, and you don't get quite the same honest tang of rhubarb when it's sweetened up with the brown sugar--but they are still very good.

Upside-down Rhubarb Muffins
(from The Harrowsmith Cookbook Volume 3; sent in by Joan Alrey of Rivers, Manitoba)


1 cup "finely" chopped rhubarb (we just diced ours with a knife)
1/4 cup melted butter or margarine
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
Another 1/3 cup soft butter or margarine
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 cup milk (or a spoonful or two more, just enough to mix)

Topping: Melt the 1/4 cup butter or margarine (we used the microwave) and then mix in the rhubarb and brown sugar. Drop the mixture into the 12 holes of a muffin pan (supposed to be greased first, but I forgot and they still came out fine).

Batter: blend the butter or margarine, sugar and egg, then mix in the dry ingredients alternately with the milk, stirring just to moisten. Spoon the batter gently on top of the rhubarb (it's supposed to be fairly stiff), and bake it at 350 degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes.

Now this is the little trick at the end: get your cooling rack ready (with some waxed paper underneath if you're nervous). When the muffins are done, take them out and dextrously invert the whole thing on the cooling rack--but leave the pan on top of the muffins for a few minutes to let all the rhubarb moisture run out. (It's not really that messy.) Serve them warm if you can (otherwise you might have to refrigerate them). They reheat nicely for breakfast.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Charlotte Mason and the Three Faces of Education

"And Ennui.––This notion, that education is included in environment, or, at the best, in atmosphere, has held the ground for a generation or two, and it seems to me that it has left its mark upon our public and our private lives. We are more ready to be done unto than to do; we do not care for the labour of ordering our own lives in this direction or in that; they must be conducted for us; a press of engagements must compel us into what next, and what next after. We crave for spectacular entertainment, whether in the way of pageants in the streets, or spectacles on the boards. Even Shakespeare has come to be so much the occasion for gorgeous spectacles that what the poet says is of little moment compared with the show a play affords. There is nothing intentionally vicious in all this; it is simply our effort to escape from the ennui that results from a one-sided view of education,––that education is an atmosphere only."--Charlotte Mason, School Education, page 150
Is education only environment, or atmosphere? Charlotte Mason points out, in the passage above, the danger of never applying ourselves to seek out ideas, but only letting them drop in our laps, hoping they'll just sink in (something like the current worries over the bits and bites of news that come shooting at us online). If we never make a serious effort to go out and Think, we might end up worrying only about nothing weightier than how to tie a cravat.
On the other hand, she says, the idea that Education is a Life can also be abused. If we're so obsessed with chasing down every last idea, and so busy Thinking that there is no joy in it (another kind of information overload), we will bore our friends and exhaust ourselves.
Miss Mason also mentions a third approach to learning: "mind as machine," or as she puts it, the belief that "Education is the Cultivation of Faculties, leads to Abnormal Developments." She points out that this idea is not so far removed from "Education is a Discipline," but that the difference is just large enough to cause real mistakes if we don't see it. You don't read Shakespeare with children by giving them long lists of vocabulary to be quizzed on; in fact, you don't read it with them to enrich their vocabularies, or to teach them about the life of Julius Caesar, or what blank verse is; or because you want them to show off (or to show them off?) in front of the grandparents or the public schoolers. You read it with them because you want to give them something that already belongs to them.  You read it because it's worth reading, because it's beautiful or true, because it gives you new understanding of God and people. You read it, as you look at paintings and stars and cathedrals, to gain some lasting "mind furniture."

To wind up: my ninth grader came home from the public library recently and complained that a lot of the "teenage books" there all seemed to focus on the same few topics, most of them inappropriate. She gets that; she's not asking to read them. She just wishes that more writers would realize that lots of young people have broader interests than vampires and whatever. What's the "real world," anyway, and who's to say who is or isn't living in it? Is education just what a teacher tells you to memorize, and information just what comes at you over whatever gadget you carry around? Do we have to rebel so hard, trying to get whatever knowledge is out there, that we frighten ourselves? Or do we allow the hard work of learning to turn us into computers wearing tennis shoes?

We can let education drive us, or we can allow it to humanize us. We need all three of its faces, but, as Charlotte Mason says--"in proportion."

Midnight oil graphic found on

Linked from the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival: Education is a Life.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Thrift store Wednesdays: books as usual

I spent this afternoon at the thrift store just sorting and pricing books (instead of doing computer work). I think I filled about every bookshelf in the store area, including the special sections like nature and cartoons that we don't always get around to.

Crayons/Dollygirl sorted toys.

Most enjoyable customer today: the lady with the European accent who kept laughing at the names of the books I was putting out. Eat, Shrink & Be Merry! "Dot's what I need, to shrink some!" Quilting for Dummies. "For dummies?"  At least we gave someone a smile for the day.

Here's what we brought home:

Little by Little: A Writer's Education, by Jean Little
Arabel and Mortimer, by Joan Aiken
The Mustang & Other Stories, by Barbara Corcoran (TK 3874)
The Space Hut, by Ester Wier (TX 1943)
Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad, by Ann Petry (1955 hardcover with dustjacket)
Six Not-So-Easy Pieces, by Richard P. Feynman
Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook has Gone Before, by Tony Horwitz
The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, Volume 2 (Genesis in Space and Time, No Final Conflict, Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History, Basic Bible Studies, Art and the Bible)

(Why just one volume out of five? Does somebody now have a set that's missing its Volume 2? That's the book mystery of the week.)

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

What's for supper? General Tso and Co.

Tonight's menu, for four of us since the Apprentice is away at her class:

General Tso's Chicken, but made on the stovetop instead of in the slow cooker--includes frozen Asian-style vegetables

Oranges, last night's gingerbread

Monday, May 07, 2012

What's happening around the Treehouse

We are still settling into some new routines.

Mr. Fixit has been finding things to fix.

This afternoon he's out with the Apprentice, looking for a new mattress set, because the Apprentice and Ponytails switched bedrooms and beds, and Ponytails' old mattress turned out to be on its last bounce.  The Apprentice and Crayons are now sharing the bigger bedroom, and Ponytails can do glam design things in her own room.

The Apprentice is taking a night course at the university, but she's here most of the time otherwise because she doesn't yet have a summer job. (Jobs are generally hard to find right now, and even hairstyling jobs are a bit tricky when you have to quit in September.) 

Ponytails got an excellent half-semester report card.  Her English class is just about finished reading The Hunger Games and will be moving on to A Midsummer Night's Dream.  Some of the grade nines are apparently not looking forward much to Shakespeare.  One student reportedly said, "Who's that?"

Crayons/Dollygirl and I read a scene from The Tempest, a chapter about how inventions are inspired, some of Orphan at My Door, and a chapter from Robin Hood. She also did some multiplication, some copywork, and we tried to see if we could stump Mr. Fixit on Ontario map questions. (What is the large lake southeast of Georgian Bay? If you go south from that lake to Lake Ontario, what Canadian city are you in?)

In the oven:  a pan of  Brownies for a Crowd.  Planned for supper:  fish and tortellini.  Weather: the sky looks like it's about to break open any time.

Coming up later this week:  something involving the number eleven.  Here's a hint.

Photo:  Mr. Fixit.  Copyright 2012 Dewey's Treehouse.

George Lindsey has passed away

(George Lindsey was the basset hound.)

Sunday, May 06, 2012

From the archives: Intelligent Design and Poetry

First posted May 2005. This post was inspired by one on the Wittingshire blog, but the link to their post is no longer available.

The Witts write,
"But beautifully wrought things like seagulls and sonnets don't merely bubble up from the cosmic flux; they arise from the effort of an intellect. Does the subconscious play a role for the skilled human poet? Of course. But as the biographies of the great poets attest, there is also discipline behind great art--both the discipline of regular work, of studying and practicing technique, and the discipline of form."
In other words, why should anyone waste time actually learning how poetry works or studying the elements of drawing? Isn't art just EXPRESSING yourself? Even in grade school Mama Squirrel found the command to take the jars of tempera and just PAINT SOMETHING a little oppressive...too much freedom, no form. Equally so the idea that writing one's name down the side of the paper and then adding suitable adjectives for each letter would create some kind of deathless poetry. (S: spry. Q: quick. U: U get the idea.)
"An artist disregards all governments, abolishes all conventions. The poet delights in disorder only. If it were not so, the most poetrical thing in the world would be the Underground Railway." [says the anarchist Gregory] "So it is," said Mr. Syme...."Chaos is dull; because in chaos the train might indeed go anywhere, to Baker Street, or to Bagdad. But man is a magician, and his whole magic is in this, that he does say Victoria [Station], and lo! it is Victoria....You say contemptuously that when has left Sloane Square one must come to Victoria. I say that one might do a thousand things instead, and that whenever I really come there I have the sense of hair-breadth escape. And when I hear the guard shout out the word 'Victoria', it is not an unmeaning word. It is to me the cry of a herald announcing conquest. It is to me indeed 'Victoria'; it is the victory of Adam." -- G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday

Laugh for the day, or, this page is worth its weight in salt

Seizure salad?


Like a bowl in a china shop?

Fractured phrases, misunderstandings, misspellings, and more.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

The whole rest of the world discovers slow cookers?

At least according to this guy at Chatelaine.

He says slow cookers can help you lose weight, too (and save money, although I don't think he mentions that)--because if dinner's ready when you walk in the door, you're not as tempted to go out for burgers. 

But we already knew that, right?

Caveat:  losing weight with a slow cooker doesn't work so well if you make things like Triple Chocolate Mess in it.  Just saying.

Saturday yard-saling: shillings and spoons

Found at a  fill-a-bag rummage sale this morning:  A New "Shilling" Arithmetic, by Pendlebury and Robinson, as used in Charlotte Mason's schools.  This copy is a 1957 reprint of the 1929 edition that had "a few the text in order to embody changes due to the War."  There are a couple of student names and "Freeport Pres. School" written inside the cover. "Freeport Presbyterian School" is probably the one in Trinidad and Tobago, which explains the use of British money in the math problems. (It couldn't have been a Canadian book.)

From the same sale:  Make-a-Mix Cookery; two Trailblazer books; To sea in carpet slippers, by A.C. "Sandy" Sandison.  The Apprentice found some cassette tapes.  Crayons/Dollygirl found some baby clothes for a baby doll.
Other yard-saling finds:  The Apprentice scored a bagful of IKEA cutlery for two dollars, and also an office chair for the off-campus place she'll be staying in this coming year.

Friday, May 04, 2012

What's for supper? Stir fry night / cleaning out the fridge

Tonight's dinner menu:

Green Bean-Ground Beef Stir Fry, but made with carrots and shredded cabbage instead of green beans
Brown rice
Leftover beer bread

Homemade vanilla ice cream
Banana muffin cake

Thursday, May 03, 2012

What's for supper? (so hot out)

It just kept getting hotter and hotter today, so what might have been an oven meal became a mostly stovetop one instead.

Tonight's menu:

Swojska sausage and sauerkraut
Frozen perogies
A can of baked beans
Leftover coleslaw
Beer Bread (made with non-alcoholic beer), baked in the toaster oven
Vanilla milkshakes

Ten Ways to Use Leftovers

The Four Moms are looking at leftovers this week.

I've posted before about my ingredients notebook and the ways I try not to throw out food, also here.  If you read our What's For Supper? posts (link fixed), you'll notice they frequently include leftover-this, leftover-that.  And that's often the way our meals work out: more cooking one night, then an easier reheated or recycled meal the next day.  I suppose it's frugally significant that one of our holiday traditions is to go out for Chinese food on Christmas Eve and then reheat the leftovers for lunch on Christmas Day.

So it doesn't seem like I could say much more about it, except that I've noticed that most leftover ideas seem to fall into groups, and I think we've tried most of them at least once.  Here are the Ten Treehouse Leftover Categories:

1.  Put the leftover(s) in a sandwich.  If you have an electric sandwich maker, it will do a great job of squishing any leftovers into a bread "turnover."  Lacking that, wrap a tortilla around a filling of leftovers (and store in the freezer if you're not going to eat it right away, see #8).  Lacking that, heat the leftovers (in gravy or sauce if you have some) and serve over bread: the classic hot sandwich, staple of department-store lunch counters.  (Potatoes, rice, or noodles will also do fine underneath.)

2. Put it in the soup.  (Self-explanatory.)

3. Put it in the muffins.  Or the pancakes.

4. Put it in the granola, e.g. stale cereal. (I added a container full of ground-up shredded wheat and Chex dregs to a batch of granola last week, and it turned out really well.)

5. Put it in the cookie balls.  Or the cookies. (That one was originally courtesy of Kim at InAShoe, one of the Four Moms.)

6. Put it under the mashed potatoes, or the dumplings, or the biscuit dough.  Examples: Shepherd's Pie, Chicken Pot Pie, Fruit Crisp.

7.  Put it in the blender.

8. Put it in the freezer.  As in, if you're not sure what to do with it now, put it aside and wait until you have something else that just needs a cupful of beans, or a bagful of rice, or a bit of spaghetti sauce.  And don't forget that you can freeze yogurt, tomato paste, stock, baby food puree, and other things in ice cube trays.

9. Put it in the microwave.  (Or the toaster oven, or in a pot set on low on the stove.)  Heat and eat.  Or don't heat: eat whatever it is cold, or in a salad.  (That's a bonus category that snuck in there.)

10.  Put it in the compost.  All good things come to an end.

Linked from Four Moms and Leftovers.  Linked from Festival of Frugality #336.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

What's for supper? Pizza chicken.

Tonight's dinner menu:

Pizza Chicken in the slow cooker.  Ingredients (I made it up as I went along):  one small can tomato paste, one small can pizza sauce, 1 pound boneless chicken thighs, one chopped pepper, half a chopped pepperoni sausage.  I added mozzarella cheese right at the end.
Hot fusilli
Carrot sticks
Yogurt-covered pretzels for dessert.

Thrift store Wednesdays: The Book of Knowledge

Photo found here.

One of the receiving guys brought an extremely heavy box into the sorting corner this afternoon, and asked, "Should I take this one right back out again?"  I knew what he meant--our thrift store has very limited space for encyclopedias, especially old-looking ones.  We checked with the manager--should we silent-auction the books, price them cheap by the volume, or put them out for recycling?  He took a quick look and said, "Recycling."

By that time I had had a better look at what was in the box, and realized that we had a complete 1923 (Canadian edition) Book of Knowledge, also called The Children's Encyclopedia.  I have become somewhat hardened to book recycling over the past year of volunteering, but I didn't want to see those books turned into cereal boxes or whatever they do with them.  I asked the manager what he'd take for them (in place of a recycling fee); he named a very reasonable price, and I brought them home.

You can see the contents of a 1930's Volume One here.  These books, as you'll find out if you browse online, are not your traditional alphabetical or by-subject children's encyclopedia.  They remind me of the old newspapers that the Melendy family found pasted up in their playroom, with articles like "Tribal Customs of the Sudan" (or, as Oliver pronounced it, "Tribble Customs of the Sudden").  A little of this, a little of that.  Animals, life in Japan, how to make cool things, Aesop's Fables, how steel is made, French lessons,  poems, and vintage photographs of Banff National Park.  Every volume has a bit of everything.

I found a few other books today, too:

Pirate Rock, by David Walker.  This one interested me mostly because it is a 1974 Scholastic printing, but instead of a TX code on the side, it says  "INC 316."  I don't know of any pre-ISBN Scholastic books that say "INC" on them, but I'll try to find out more.

Wife to Mr. Milton, by Robert Graves

The Puffin Book of Nursery Rhymes, by Iona and Peter Opie

Soul Proprieter: 101 Lessons from a Lifestyle Entrepreneur, by Jane Pollak.  That one, as you can figure, was for Mr. Fixit.

From the archives: Why I won't unschool

First posted May 2009. Full post is here.

...I take issue with some unschoolers' position (implied or explicit) that unschooling is the Great Step Beyond Regular Homeschooling that the rest of us haven't been savvy enough to catch onto. Much like the idea that Regular Vegetarians aren't vegetarian enough for vegans and all the rest of the very-specific-dieters.

Yeah, I've read John Holt. In fact, I pretty much started with his books. I can understand why he got frustrated with teaching and schools. I survived all the fads and experiments and weaknesses of 1970's public elementary schools. Old books, new books, no books, desks in rows, classrooms without walls, headphone listening centers, smelly tempera paints, the first VCRs, repeating what you already knew, kids getting the belt, activity cards, kids getting their mouths washed out with soap...tell me why schools shouldn't work and I probably lived through it.

I'm a fairly flexible homeschool teacher myself...We spent way longer than I'd planned today working on a math activity that Crayons especially enjoyed. And we'll catch up on all my great plans, another day.

But if I unschooled...or, if you prefer, I let my children self-direct their own education, picking and choosing all or most of what they learned and when...I'd miss the small coincidences like finding a book about our term's artist at Winners. I'd miss the satisfaction that comes when someone's given me their best exam narration ever. [2012 clarification: wow, does that kind of scream "it's all about the parent?" That wasn't what I meant--there is a satisfaction there for all involved, not just me.]

They'd miss out on Hidden Rods,Hidden Numbers, unless I left it where they would sprain an ankle falling over it. It's not the kind of book that screams "pick me up and use me." No cute graphics, just a tiny-print introduction and three series of student-created Cuisenaire rod logic puzzles. Crayons and I are going to be working through a couple of them every day until the end of the school year.

They'd miss out on some of the great but ugly books we have. Our copy of Cue for Treason looks like the old one shown here on Amazon. What kid would pick that up without major coercion? But it's a great adventure story--a bit too violent maybe for Crayons, yet, but sooner or later.

I doubt they'd find their way to Plutarch without some help, or perhaps even find their way out of the kids' fiction section at all. I loved to read when I was young, but when I was Allowed The Adult Card in around the eighth grade, I had absolutely no idea where to start, what to read, how to read it. The first two books I brought home turned out to be an adult-content education in themselves although probably not what my parents would have expected.

How shall we then expect our children to find their way through what's out there without some nudging and even some direct "Here, I want you to read this," or even better, "Here, let's read this together?" I have no doubt that many unschoolers say those same things and still consider themselves unschoolers. Maybe the only difference is that I write it down six months ahead of time. Maybe.

I might not ever get to let my kids know that they should be "Still achieving, still pursuing, / Learn[ing] to labor and to wait." I have no doubt that many unschoolers read those lines too, and interpret them in their own ways. Maybe the only difference is that I have no philosophical problem with helping the labour along a bit.


From the archives: Katie's Shakespeare wisdom

First posted May 2009

We had a similar experience, homeschooling with Shakespeare!

"He flattered me at one point, saying, "So you've taught them everything they know about Shakespeare, wow!"

"I didn't know what to say then. Because all we do is read his plays. I think Shakespeare teaches them more about Shakespeare than I do."-- "All Geeked Up," posted by Katie on CM, Children and Lots of Grace
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