Saturday, May 31, 2008

Summer Unit Study

Mr. Math Teacher finishes teaching in 5 days. One of the things that our family is going to do this summer is follow online the around the world, solo sailing journey of Zac Sunderland. Here's his website. Zac is hoping to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world. He will be leaving June 11 from California, headed toward Australia. What a really cool journey! I can't wait to see how he does!

Curriculum Reviews - May 27

One of my favorite things to read on people's homeschooling blogs is reviews of curricula and other homeschooling materials. Since we've been at this homeschooling thing for eight years now (Yikes - that's a long time!), I figure I should have some experience that might be useful for others.

I'm going to start with reviewing the only two "core" curricula that we've used. Our very first year, we used Five in a Row. Since then, we've been Sonlight devotees. Both curricula are literature-based, so you can see our bias right from the beginnning. Now, on the the specifics.

Five in a Row - Volume 1

One important caveat to this review: We used Five in a Row when Ga'hoole Girl was in kindergarten, 8 years ago. I don't know how the curriculum has changed over the years, so make sure to do your own research before doing any purchasing.

Five in a Row is a literature-based curriculum for young children. The basic idea is that you read the same book to the child each day of the week - i.e. five in a row. Then, each day, you do activities that relate the book to a particular "school" subject. One day, you would do some math activities, another day might be geography, etc.

The wonderful thing about this curriculum is the books. We still read these books out loud as a family. They are just amazing. Some of the titles include Grandfather's Journey, The Story About Ping, and The Rag Coat. I just looked at the website, and it looks like they have added some new titles. Some families really like digging into a different subject each day instead of doing a little bit each day, so the different subject each day can be appealing.

Now the negatives. First of all, Ga'hoole Girl did not enjoy reading the same book each day for five days. By the third day, she was bored of it. Mr. Math Teacher, who was the homeschool "teacher" at the time, found that the activities required more preparation than he was interested in doing. (Remember that Wild Man was two years old at the time.) The program is also not great if you are interested in any kind of systematic approach to academics. Knowing what I know now about kids and learning, I wouldn't be as concerned about this as I was eight years ago. But, if you are looking for something to cover the usual "school" subjects in an orderly fashion, this program is probably not it.

If you use FIAR, you also will need a way to teach reading and math. FIAR involves lots of language activities, but does not "teach" phonics. In the same way, you do math activities every week, but there is no systematic approach to introducing math concepts. They do sell a Bible supplement to go with FIAR, but it is, again, not a very orderly approach to studying the Bible. We tended to rely on family Bible reading and AWANA for most of Ga'hoole Girl's Bible education that year.

The bottom line: I recommend this program for families who are happy to take a relaxed approach to homeschooling and have a parent willing to do the needed preparation for the daily activities. If you want a more laid-out, systematic curriculum, this is probably not for you.


We have used Sonlight for 7 years now, covering Cores 1-6 (Cores 5-6 have taken almost two years to do). I will give an overview of my thoughts on Sonlight, but not spend much time on specifics. For one thing, the early Cores have been changed to Cores A-C and I haven't used them. There have also been recent changes in their language arts program that I'm not familiar with. And, we're only on Core 6. There are another 5 Cores plus their electives that I know very little about.

Sonlight is a literature-based Christian curriculum for homeschoolers. Each Core covers a particular subject in social sciences. So, Cores 1,2,6, and 7 all cover World History; 3,4,100 cover American History; 5 covers Eastern Hemisphere; 200 covers History of God's Kingdom; 300 covers 20th Century History; and 400 covers American Government. Each Core includes an Instructor's Guide and all the necessary books for Bible, history, geography, readers, and read-alouds. The upper level Cores include literature within the Core. The lower level Cores include the readers and read-alouds but have a separate Language Arts component. Sonlight also sells science curricula but they aren't part of the Core.

The Instructor's Guide ties everything together in a Sonlight Core. It maps out all the readings and assignments that are supposed to be done each day. The Language Arts and Science Instructor's Guides are laid out the same way so it's easy to see what to do that day. Sonlight is literature-based, so there is lots of reading all the way around. Through Core 7, there are read-alouds that are intended for the parent to read to the child. In our family, we read these at night as family read-alouds. Many of these are Newberry Award winning books and are just wonderful. The student is assigned readers, as well. In the early levels, the content of the readers is not tied to the content of the rest of the core, so you just order based on your child's reading level. Starting in Core 3, the readers usually match the subject of the Core. Most of the readers are historical fiction, although some are biographies. There are also some books that don't really "fit", but they are great books (i.e. The Hobbit, and The Phantom Tollbooth).

Sonlight uses very few textbooks. Most of the history is taught with Usborne books or trade books. Historical fiction and biographies are also staples. Daily Bible readings are assigned along with the Bible curriculum.

Advantages to Sonlight:
1. The Instructor's Guide. You could go out and buy or borrow all these great books and read them to your kids, but Sonlight has laid out everything in the Instructor's Guide so you don't have to do all that research on your own. They also include guides to each of the books, giving questions that you can use for narration as well as things to make sure not to miss.
2. The Christian approach to everything. Sonlight does not use a majority of Christian books, but everything is laid out to help kids think about all their subjects from a Christian perspective.
3. The books. Sonlight has a wonderful bunch of books put together to help us educate our kids. They don't shy away from potentially controversial books, either. The Instructor's Guide includes warnings about books that we might want to "edit" as we read or suggestions of topics that we may need to handle carefully. Many other curricula have students read 3 or 4 books in the entire year. Sonlight has students reading 20 or more books each year.
4. The forums. The Sonlight forums are an amazing resource for parents who use the curriculum. There are boards for each curriculum level where we can discuss how we are using the curriculum and get suggestions for how we may want to tailor it to fit our own family. We can also find general hints on homeschooling and places to discuss "non-homeschooling" issues.
5. Flexibility. The Sonlight Instructor's Guides are great for giving a day-to-day outline of how to use the curriculum with no modification. But, it's not hard to modify things to fit your family. For example, we are currently doing Core 6 with a 7th grader and a 4th grader. Ga'hoole Girl does the readers with the Core, but I have Wild Man using other readers. A Core can be completed in 36 weeks, but can be stretched to two years or more if you slow down the reading or go off on "rabbit trails". We also don't follow the assigned readings by day - I try to follow them by the week.

1. Lots of reading. This works great for our family, but can be difficult if you have a child who doesn't read well or if a parent can't do much reading aloud (for example, a parent who has TMJ might have trouble doing all the reading in Sonlight).
2. Language Arts. I wasn't real thrilled about the Language Arts in the early Cores. That being said, Sonlight has completely revamped their early Core Language Arts so I can't comment about how it works now.
3. Bible. Some years, I have loved the Bible curriculum with the Core, and some years I haven't been happy with it. For example, I didn't at all like the Core 5 Bible book, but I really like Core 6. They do include daily Bible reading that will get you through the entire Bible in two years. This is separate from their Bible curriculum.
4. Cost. Sonlight sells their Cores as a package so you pay less than if you bought everything individually. But, it's still pricey. I think it's worth it since I'm thrilled to have all these wonderful books. Some people buy the Instructor's Guide and a few of the main books and get the rest from the library. It's not ideal, but may work for some people.

Bottom line: Sonlight is an excellent curriculum that could be used by most families. I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of what they offer. Check out their website for more details.

More curriculum reviews later!

Media Tickets

Wild Man came up with this idea to help him keep up with his media time:

"The basic idea is that I ask my mom for media and if she says yes, she takes a ticket, writes how many minutes I get, and that helps me remember that I can't play all day."

Bonfire of the Vanities

Bonfire of the Vanities geezer, originally uploaded by beenbrun.

One of the most fun things in homeschooling is to see my kids use what they've learned. A couple of months ago, our family read Exile by Katherine Lasky, the latest book in the Ga'hoole series. In this book, an owl called the Striga has become part of the Great Tree and has influenced the owls to live a very strict and ascetic lifestyle. The owls are discouraged from reading frivolous books. They even burn their "vanities" or non-useful items.

Fast-forward to yesterday. We are moving from studying the Middle Ages into the Renaissance. Yesterday, we watched the second episode of a series on the Medici family. In this show, we learned about Fra Savonarola, a Florentine monk who was determined to purify the Church and lead people into a more moral lifestyle. To this end, he had book burnings and the "Bonfire of the Vanities" where people brought their jewels and other non-essential items to be burned. During the show, the kids started talking about how the Striga was just like Savonarola. It's pretty obvious that Ms. Lasky based the Striga character on Savonarola and others like him.

This realization by the kids led to a discussion of "vanities" and God's view of posessions. We also talked about God's view of beauty and how having fun and owning some nice things are not inherently sinful. We also talked about using the Bible as our guide, not other people. Mostly it got the kids to think. I'm not worried that they remember the name and date of Savonarola, but that they develop an understanding of history and learn to evaluate historical events. It was another wonderful homeschooling moment.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Favorite Homeschool Moment(s)

My favorite homeschool moment?! There are so many! Here are a couple:

1. I love read-aloud time at night. Mr. Math Teacher reads to the rest of us. I knit, Wild Man plays legos, and Ga'hoole Girl does something crafty like origami. On weekends, Mr. Math Teacher will often read in the middle of the day, too. It's a special time.

2. Another favorite time is when the kids and I snuggle on the sofa first thing in the morning. It's not truly "homeschooling" but we can only do it because we homeschool. We tend to get up kind of late, so we are cuddling on the sofa while the rest of the kids in the neighborhood are on their way to school.

3. I also love when I look outside to see my kids playing with each other. They have gotten to the age where they play almost as equals, with both of them contributing to the story, the building, whatever. It's so cool to see my kids enjoying each other's company. I also love it when they do something that is based on what we've been studying - watching birds, making seige engines, playing Medieval Village, etc.

Addendum: I got onto the wrong page at Heart of the Matter Online somehow, so I did the meme from March! EEK! Anyway, this week is supposed to be the most exciting homeschool moment. I'll try to put up another post later today based on that topic.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Thankful Thursday 5/29

I have so much to be thankful for, but I'll try to talk about just one thing each Thursday. Today, I am thankful for homeschooling. I have had a bad week on the headache front, but I am so thankful that I could sit with my son and read about physics then help him with math after lunch. I am thankful that the kids and I watched Food Network during lunch (I'm sure watching a bunch of cake decorators is somehow educational). I am very thankful that my daughter has had the chance to babysit every Thursday morning. I am thankful that the kids and I learn about Jesus together. And, I am thankful at how close our family is because of homeschooling.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Works for Me Wednesday - Our Home Rules

Rocks in My Dryer hosts Works for Me Wednesday, one of my favorite blog carnivals. This week, I want to share our family's "home rules". When the kids were young, we bought The 21 Rules of This House by the Harris family. I loved the idea of having the family's rules set out for everyone to be able to see. The problem was that 21 was way too many. So, Mr. Math Teacher and I came up with just five rules.

1. Love God, love others. Matt 22:37-39

2. Children, obey parents at all times. Parents do not mistreat children. Eph 6:1-4

3. Speak respectfully. Eph 4:29

4. Be thankful for the things God has given us and take good care of them. James 1:17

5. When there is work to do, always do your best. Col 3:23-24

There are several things I like about our set of rules.

1. There are only five so they're easy to remember.

2. They are comprehensive. Pretty much all behavior is covered. For example, speaking respectfully covers "no whining", "no yelling", and "don't be rude".

3. The rules are stated positively.

4. They are all scripture based.

Check out Works for Me Wednesday for lots of other great ideas.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

It's time . . .

A change in focus..., originally uploaded by jhritz.

I'm getting older. As I approach middle age, I just need to accept it. It's time for bifocals.

The Carnival of Homeschooling is up!

The Carnival of Homeschooling is up at Walking Therein and - guess what? - I'm in it this week! So, go on over and check things out. There's links to lots of great posts. (Unfortunately, my name got listed as "Christine" instead of "Catherine", but the link is correct.)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Materialism (or Be Careful What You Pray For)

About three years ago, I began to pray that God would help me deal with my materialistic tendencies. The thing is that I like my stuff. I liked living in a big house with nice cars and nice toys. But, God began to show me that I was thinking more about my stuff than I was about Him or about other people. So, I began to pray. And God answered my prayer. I don't have my great job anymore; I live in a small house; I don't get to buy near as many toys.

This post is not supposed to be a downer, though. God has been incredibly good to us in the last three years. I don't feel bad about having less stuff than I used to have. What is really cool, though, is to see my kids' attitudes. Yes, they still like to get things. (Ga'Hoole Girl is very happy about the laptop that Mr. Math Teacher and I helped her buy.) But, they are getting past a lot of our materialistic tendencies as well. We went to the city yesterday and spent less than $100 (dance recital costume, 2 books, and birthday present for a friend from Goodwill, sneakers for Wild Man from Target, and Crocs for me from Younkers). The kids were saying on the way home how we won't go shopping again for a year because we got soooooo much stuff yesterday. What a change from five years ago - in action and attitude!

P.S. I do love my Crocs. I got teal so they're really bright and fun. And they are so comfortable!

A Hammer in my Fridge

Last night, after everyone else went to bed, I opened the fridge to see a hammer sitting on the top shelf. Why was it there? I have no idea. I asked about it this morning, and no one else knew anything about it. Could it be that a hammer fairy put it there during the night? Was it a sign from God? Mr. Math Teacher seems to think that I had something to do with it since I was the highly medicated person in the house last night. It's a mystery.

Homeschooling with DVDs

We've all heard about the stereotypical social studies teacher, often a coach, who teaches mostly by showing filmstrips in class. I used to love filmstrip day because I could put my head down and take a little nap. Clearly, I didn't find them educationally useful.

As a homeschooling mom, though, I use a lot of DVDs and TV shows with my kids. On days when I don't feel well, having the kids watch a DVD is a great way for us to "do school" without my having to do much. The kids also get to see where historical events took place.

Here are the kinds of DVDs and TV shows that I use and how I use them.
1. Historical fiction
Just like historical fiction books, films based on historical events can be quite useful to help us understand historical events. We have watched "Spartacus" and "Ivanhoe", to just name a couple. These are great to let kids get a "feel" of a historical time period. The caveat here is that you need to be aware which movies may not be historically accurate. Using "Gone with the Wind" to teach about the Civil War may not be the best idea.

2. Documentaries
I love documentaries. We get to see where historical events happened, what the costumes were like, and often get to see recreations of historical life. We recently watched DVDs about knights and armor where we got to see how armor is made as well as the different kinds of armor. Another show about castles let us visit several type of castles throughout Europe. I usually preview documentaries because I don't make the kids watch shows that I find terribly boring (the ones I would sleep through in school). So, I just got a DVD about William Wallace that I'm sending back without having the kids watch it because even I couldn't get interested in it. Instead, we'll be getting the History Channel DVD on William Wallace.

We use documentaries for history, but also for science. When we were studying birds, we watched David Attenborough's documentary on the life of birds. We learned a lot of information that we didn't get from the book, but we also just got to see birds in action that we couldn't see here in the Great White North.

My favorite DVDs tend to be the History Channel and Discovery Channel DVDs. I also like Ken Burns, but his are all about American History and we are working on World History right now.

3. TV shows
Of course, we love TV shows like Mythbusters that can be easily translated into something educational. Mythbusters actually posts a little "Warning: Science Content" right before their scientific explanations. We also really enjoy watching the Food Network. We all enjoy the Food Network Challenge shows where several chefs compete to do something in a certain time frame - for example, make a wedding cake. Iron Chef America is also really fun because the teams of chefs have one hour to make a certain number of dishes using the "secret ingredient". One of my favorites is Good Eats, not only because Alton Brown is kind of funny, but also because he includes lots of "science" information.

We don't watch too many network TV shows, but we have developed a love for Monk. I know, you're thinking, "How is Monk educational?" It's really not terribly educational, but the kids and I do get a chance to talk about OCD and how living with it must be quite difficult.

And, let's not forget Animal Planet. We're not huge animal fans here, but we really enjoyed watching Meercat Manor. Not only did we learn about the meercats, but we learned about desert life, in general, and the Kalahari, specifically. We also enjoy Blue Planet and some of their other specials.

4. Instructional DVDs
Most of what I've described so far has not been specifically designed for teaching kids. In fact, the few times that I have turned on PBS or History Channel shows that are specifically for the classroom, I have found that they were pretty boring and didn't contain anymore "educational" material than the "regular" documentaries. But, there are a couple of DVDs that I would like to mention.

Those of my generation will remember Schoolhouse Rock. There are many of us who learned the parts of speech from "Lolly, lolly, lolly, get your adverbs here" and American Government from "I'm just a bill". These are now available on DVD and can be quite useful to help reinforce what kids are learning elsewhere.

The Standard Deviants collection of DVDs is another set of instructional DVDs that can be useful. These are DVDs that have been developed by educators about different subjects. They are more didactic than Schoolhouse Rock but are still pretty entertaining. The one downside is that they present a bunch of information on one DVD so renting them to use as the main part of your educational program probably isn't practical. What I have done is to show a Standard Deviants DVD as a review of something we've recently studied. For example, I'll probably get the World Geography DVD again soon to review the geography we've been learning in World History.

We really enjoy using DVDs and TV shows in our schooling. Not only is it convenient for me, but it helps to reinforce what we're learning elsewhere in the kids' minds. And, it's often lots of fun!

Saturday, May 24, 2008


I used to enjoy watching the TV show ER until they did a C-section in the Emergency Department. That was just too much for me. But, I did know the ER from the perspective of a doctor for several years when I was working. During my last year of working, I also got to know the ER from the perspective of a patient, having had to go in for treatment of severe migraines several times. I have been fortunate, though, that I haven't been in need of ER services for over two years - until tonight.

My migraine today started at 4 in the afternoon. I took my usual cocktail of medications without relief. I also tried non-medication things like watching a movie for distraction. But, by 6pm, I needed extra help. So, Mr. Math Teacher and I spent three hours in the ER for me to get iv medications. We're home now and I feel like a whole new person - it's quite a change from several hours ago when I was throwing up my guts and I was sure my head was going to explode.

Despite all the "fun" of the evening, I did realize that I have several things for which to be thankful.
1. I haven't needed to visit the ER for migraine treatment in over two years. I still have the migraines, and often (i.e. several time a week) have to adjust my plans, but the pain and nausea have been under pretty decent control.
2. I didn't have to wait long for treatment in the ER. Part of this is because our rural ER isn't often full to overflowing, but another part is because they do a very good job of triage and getting treatment to people who need it quickly.
3. The ER staff (doctors and nurses) are all quite good. Not only did they treat me well tonight, but I have seen them work behind the scenes and have been pleased with their work.
4. I have a wonderful husband who has never made me feel bad about having migraines. He didn't hesitate about taking me in for treatment. He took excellent care of me the entire time, making sure I had water to drink, a washcloth for my face, etc. He also called the kids several times to make sure they were OK and reassure them that I was fine.

The ER is not a place I want to spend an evening, but if I have to, I'm glad that our rural hospital has a good ER and that I have a wonderful husband. Mostly, I'm glad that God is still in charge.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Great Outdoors as a Classroom

This week's Heart of the Matter Online meme is to discuss how we use the great outdoors as our classroom. At first, I thought I'd have to sit this one out since I don't really do much stuff outside, but on further reflection, I have come up with a few examples.

1. Flowers - the kids helped me choose the flowers and did most of the planting. They are also responsible for the watering.

2. Schoolwork outdoors - when the weather is nice, I will often read aloud to the kids while they sit on the trampoline. Well, they walk and do a little jumping, but they have to be pretty quiet.

3. Independent stuff - the kids have been building seige engines in the back yard, having been inspired by our study of medieval history, castles, and warfare.

4. Archery - today, we're going to meet Mr. Math Teacher at the Conservation Club and do some archery. Mr. Math Teacher is going to try deer hunting with some friends this fall, so he needs practice. The kids and I just have fun with target practice.

What do you do to use the great outdoors as a classroom? Check out Heart of the Matter Online and add your ideas.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

It's good for me

This article in Scientific American says that blogging is good for me. The researchers cite studies that show that chronic pain patients cope better when they do expressive writing. They are trying to figure out what the physiological effects might be. Anyway, I enjoy it so I'll continue.


My deepest sympathy and prayers are with the Steven Curtis Chapman family in the loss of their youngest daughter. May God give them the peace that is beyond our understanding.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I Love . . . . Achoo . . . .Springtime!

Yes, it's definitely spring. Everything seems to be blooming right now. And, this year, I appear to be allergic to everything. I took loratadine last night before bed, but was still sneezing and had itchy eyes this morning, so I took another dose. There was absolutely no effect. On the drive to reading lessons, Ga'hoole Girl told me it looked like I had been crying. My eyes were red and puffy and I still couldn't stop sneezing. So, I stopped at a convenience store and picked up some Tylenol Allergy med with chlorpheniramine and phenylephrine. I was kind of tired on the way home, but things were improving. When we got home, the symptoms started to return, so I took some diphenhydramine. This has worked the best so far, but I've been in a fog all evening. And, of course, the allergies just make my headache worse. I'm hoping it doesn't trigger a migraine. In any case, I've got some generic Zyrtec for tonight. I'm hoping to avoid the diphendydramine tomorrow.

Allergies have not been this bad for me before. Last year, I had more symptoms than I had had previously. Before that, I think I avoided some problems because I worked most days in a hermetically sealed building and came home to a house that was often air-conditioned. Now, I'm home most of the time, and we don't use the air conditioning till it gets downright hot. We haven't even put the window units back upstairs yet, so we sleep with the window open. Whatever the cause, I hope that the cetirizine (Zyrtec equivalent) and restarting my nasal steroid will keep my allergies under better control these next couple of weeks. After all, it's almost dance recital week!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Congratulations, Wild Man!

We have reached a milestone. Wild Man is ready to stop his reading lessons. He has had about 18 months of reading lessons with a tutoring company to help with his dyslexia. His progress has been amazing. Eighteen months ago, he started again with learning letters and sounds. Now, he is reading almost independently. He still has some trouble with decoding. He needs to learn a few more letter combinations and needs lots of practice to help with big words. Dyslexia will likely always make reading more challenging for him than the rest of us, but I'm thrilled at how hard he's worked. As a celebration, we are going to take cupcakes to reading lesson tomorrow and I'm going to get a couple of balloons.

Congratulations, Wild Man!!

Cooking - May 20

The kids really want to learn to cook these days. Ga'hoole Girl and I made a list of goals for her for this week and the list includes baking bread and making shortcake. Today, we made French Bread which was pretty successful. It was more dense than we wanted which was probably because the oven was too warm for its rising so it started to bake too early. We will probably also add a little gluten next time. But, Ga'hoole Girl has the hang of the breadmaking process, so she's on her own next time.

Wild Man started his day with a breakfast experiment. He cut up a frozen waffle into pieces and then cut a couple of pieces of lunchmeat into little bits. Then, he put them in a pan and fried them up together. He said it was great.

Then, Wild Man and I made cupcakes. It was from a mix, but I still think it counts as baking. He and Ga'hoole Girl came up with a frosting schema after a rather intense discussion. Basically, Wild Man's cupcakes were frosted white so he could use gel for decorations. Ga'hoole Girl's were frosted with chocolate and then decorated with colored vanilla icing. All in all, it was lovely.

And, I love, love, love my dishwasher. The cleanup from today was incredibly easy.

Playing and Learning

In a perfect homeschooling world, I would have lots of supplementary materials for my kids to help them learn and retain what we're studying. We would do tons of hands-on stuff and there would never be a dull moment. Of course, it's not a perfect world, and I don't have the time or energy to plan any extra stuff.

But, I don't think the kids really need it, after all. I went outside today to find that they had built a pretend (thankfully) trebuchet in the backyard and had the house under seige. Back in the fall, Wild Man was pretending to be a Spartan, so he made himself a helmet from an old ice cream bucket. Last week, we were watching a DVD about castles and Ga'hoole Girl made a mott and bailey castle out of legos. She's planning to try to make some ink/paint using some ideas from one of our read-alouds.

It appears that just leaving the kids alone has been allowing them to create their own "supplementary activities" - things that they think are fun and that they do all the work for. Ga'hoole Girl is almost 13, an age when lots of girls (especially in school) are starting to pay attention to boys, hair, and clothes. I'm happy right now to see how she is content to play pretend games. There's plenty of time later for boys. Right now, both kids are having a great time playing and learning.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Music while working

I just checked on Wild Man who is working on math on the computer. He is working on ALEKS, his math curriculum, and also has a Steven Curtis Chapman CD playing. I recall being told when I was younger that kids should study in a quiet environment. I have found, though, that this is not the most helpful for my kids. They both do quite well when music of some kind is playing. I have played classical music at times for them, but they now use their mp3 players to choose their own music and listen with headphones. Not only do they get to listen to the music they want, but they can drown out any other sounds which is great since Wild Man can't do anything quietly! Mr. Math Teacher also uses this idea in his classroom. When his students are working independently, he lets them have their mp3 players (with headphones, of course). The more that I get away from the "school" way of doing things and loosen up, the happier we all are.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Flower update 5/19

Well, they're not all alive, but more are alive than not. The petunias are going strong. The basil is a little puny, but not in too bad a shape. I'm pretty sure we're going to lose the marigolds, but they were planted in a barrel with terrible soil that drains very quickly. I think I just need to get rid of the barrel. The pansies and violets are kind of iffy, but still hanging in there. We thought we would lose the chamomile, but it appears to be making a comeback. I'm quite pleased with how it's all going so far. We planted rather early, apparently, since it's been kind of a cold year. We haven't gotten any frost since we planted, but we have had some chilly nights. We'll see how it all goes over the next few weeks.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Life in a Small Town

I have come to really love living in a small town. When I bought too many flowers last week, I gave some to the neighbors. One of our neighbors loves to make popcorn, popcorn balls, and cookies and regularly brings some over. Yesterday, the kids and I biked about 1 1/2 or 2 miles to the drive/walk-up ice cream shop for ice cream cones. The kids went on to the park while I biked home. The other night, I sent Ga'Hoole Girl to the store on her bike for salad dressing and parmesan cheese. In our subdivision, we were so far away from everything that we had to drive. Now, we can ride or bike to the library, ice cream shop, park/pool, city hall and downtown, and grocery store. We now even get movies here in town (well, one at a time). The theater is a very old one with the original stage. The seats are old and not as comfortable as they could be - they are also mismatched (one row of one kind and another row of another kind - I think they were purchased used). The candy and soda selection isn't great, although they do sell some less-known brand of bottled soda that my kids love. But, it's within a 5 minute walk of the house which saves a good $8 in gas.

There are some downsides, of course. For one thing, I don't do my main grocery shopping here in town. The grocery store is small and doesn't have a great selection or great prices. I usually shop in the big city every week or two when I'm already there (I found Ancho chiles there last week!). We are also far away from the city. We drive 30 miles to piano lessons/Sam's Club/cheap grocery store. We drive 35 miles in the other direction for dance class. It's not perfect, but I'm very happy right now with our small town.

Prince Caspian Review - May 18

"Prince Caspian"
Our family went to see this movie last night and loved it. It is based on the book by C.S. Lewis, but doesn't follow the book faithfully. Usually that drives me crazy, but the producers in this movie really did a good job of making it work. Once I was able to forget the book, the movie was quite enjoyable. The special effects were so well-done that they didn't look like special effects. The characters were, as usual, well cast and well played. I wasn't thrilled that they tried to add some romance between Caspian and Susan, but it was minor so I'll probably forgive them. They also added some aspects to Peter's character that I wasn't thrilled about. Overall, though, I highly recommend this movie. Enjoy!

Fencing - May 18

Today was the first fencing class. Until this week, our family knew nothing about fencing. But, between the Internet and the fencing class, we're all getting an education. The fencing classes are held in a church gym on Saturday mornings and are taught by the fencing coach at Lawrence University. We went at 8:30 since the kids are beginners and the teacher taught them some beginning stances and beginning footwork - attention, en garde, advance, retreat, and extend. They even got to work with a foil a little bit. (This class teaches only foil, although the teacher does give private lessons in the other two disciplines of epee and saber.) At 9am, the intermediate class started. My kids also participated in this class (although they hadn't yet learned lunges, parry, and some other things). The students in this class also used the teacher's equipment and were just above the beginner stage. At 10am, the advanced class started. We watched about the first 15 minutes of this class. They did all the same beginning footwork, but a LOT faster. It was really cool to see the more advanced moves.

Ga'Hoole Girl really enjoyed the class and really wants to continue. Wild Man isn't so sure. He's only ten and has trouble with being committed to working at things (except baseball). But, Mr. Math Teacher had a great time watching and he thinks that he's going to start the class next week. It looks like Ga'Hoole Girl and Mr. Math Teacher are going to become fencers. Who knows about Wild Man - by next week he could be all gung-ho about it. Anyway, it seems to be a great sport!

Book Reviews - May 17

It seems like forever since I did any book reviews or updated my book list, so I'm going to do a little housekeeping today. You may see a book show up on my book list, but then I don't write anything about it. Usually, it will be because it's just not a good book, or I didn't finish reading it (because I didn't like it or couldn't get into it).

Lies Homeschooling Moms Believe by Todd Wilson
This is a great book by a homeschooling dad that was written to encourage those of us moms who are educating our children. It is an excellent book - it's so good that I sent a copy to my sister-in-law. The Heart of the Matter Online is doing an online study of the book, as well. I got my copy when a group of women from our homeschool group did a group order. I very highly recommend this book to any homeschooling family. The author addresses many of the issues that come up in our lives. We start to believe that we are the only ones who can't do it all, who have messy homes, and who sometimes don't like homeschooling. Then, he finishes it with a discussion of the truths that we can use as antidotes to these lies. Excellent book - read it.

The Official Book of Homeschooling Cartoons Vol. 1-3 by Todd Wilson
Todd Wilson is also the author of three volumes of absolutely hysterical cartoons about homeschooling. Of course, the reason they are so funny is that there is underlying truth in all of them. The cartoon about the mom with scraggly kids who meets the mom with perfect kids is funny because we all feel like the mom with scraggly kids sometimes. Another very highly recommended book.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Rod Dreher recommended this book on his site, "Crunchy Con". Since I enjoy his site so much, I thought that I would surely enjoy the book. And, it is set in New Orleans, where I lived for four years while doing my medical training, so I thought that I would enjoy that part of it. Well, I didn't really enjoy it. The reviews all said that it was just hysterical. But, I didn't get it. At all. But, now I understand some of the references made in the "Crunchy Con" blog. I don't recommend it (especially for kids) but you might like it if your sense of humor is a lot different than mine.

The Hippie Trip by Lew Yablonski
I watched a History Channel show on the Hippies and decided to do a little reading about it. The author of this book was one of the experts that was interviewed on the TV show. Basically, this book is the result of a qualitative sociological study of self-described hippies in the late 1960s. Mr. Yablonski went to hippie communes in both California and New York. He includes many interviews and the results of a survey that he did.

I found this to be a fascinating book. I thought hippies were just a bunch of crazies who talked about "free love" and took drugs. Well, there was a lot of that, but the movement was much deeper. Some of the people interviewed in the book were very idealistic about their values and the use of psychodelic drugs. Others were less coherent and more selfish-sounding. Overall, the author sympathized with the hippies goals, but had significant criticism for the movement, particularly the violence, use of drugs, and not caring for children. He shows very clearly that society needs some organizing principles or it falls apart. I really recommend this book if you are interested in 20th century history.

The King James Only Controversy by James R. White
I don't often use the KJV of the Bible, except for doing fixed-hour prayer (the recited prayers of the Daily Office). But, I really don't have much against it as a translation. Since I read Alister McGrath's book about the history of the KJV translation, I have had more appreciation of it. This book by White, though, is written to those considering what White calls KJV Onlyism. There are those who use the KJV only and they fall into three categories: 1. Those who prefer it, but believe that other translations, while not as good, are not inherently bad, 2. those who believe that the KJV was especially preserved by God and is the best translation of the Bible, and 3. those who believe that the KJV was given by a special act of inspiration and is the only acceptable English translation (some even say that the KJV trumps any differences in the original Greek and Hebrew). White is writing to show that the KJV version of the Bible, while a valid translation, is not inherently better than other English translations. He does not argue for a specific translation. White does a good job of explaining the translation process. He argues convincingly that the KJV is a good translation, but not divinely inspired. I recommend this book for those considering the KJV Only position.

Copernicus' Secret by Jack Repchek
So, why in the world did I read a biography of Copernicus? Because it was there. I found this on the new book shelf at the library and just stuck it in my bag. I ended up really enjoying it! Mr. Repchek does a good job of making Medieval history comprehensible and interesting. Copernicus spent almost all his life in an isolated part of Poland, but yet was an interesting person. For one thing, he was a canon of the Catholic Church, but had a mistress. He certainly was not the only canon to take this liberty, but the exchange of letters between him and the bishop is interesting and revealing. It is also quite interesting that his work would have almost certainly not have gotten published without the help of a German scholar named Rheticus, who spent a year helping to put the manuscript together. It was, of course, a scandalous piece of work - the Church did not like hearing that the Earth is not the center of the Universe. My lack of astronomy understanding did not prevent me from understanding this book and I highly recommend it for general reading.

The Darcy's Give a Ball by Elizabeth Newark
This, as it's title suggests, is another of the Jane Austen follow-up books. I can't recommend it nearly as highly as the other books in this genre that I've reviewed. It is a pleasant book to read, but there isn't much substance to it. One thing that I thought was kind of funny was how all the guests to the ball are the characters and imagined offspring thereof from all the Jane Austen novels. If you're a big Austen fan, this book will divert you for a few hours. Otherwise, I'd find something else.

Exile by Kathryn Lasky
This is the most recent book in the Ga'Hoole series. You may recall that this is a series for children that our family has been reading as the books become available. This book was well-written, as were the previous books, but I didn't find it nearly as engaging. Many of the plot devices were obvious. The characters are not well-developed. Overall, you will enjoy it if you're a Ga'Hoole fan, otherwise you probably won't get much out of it.

The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory
This book, by the author of The Other Boleyn Girl, is another intriguing piece of historical fiction from Medieval England. In this case, the other Boleyn girl is Jane Boleyn, the widow of Goerge Boleyn. The story is told from the points of view of Jane Boleyn, Kathryn Howard, and Anne of Cleves. It starts with the planning of the marriage of Anne of Cleves to Henry VII and covers the marriage of Henry and Anne, their annullment, Henry's courtship and marriage of Kathryn, Kathryn's adultery (and Jane's part in it), and ends with Kathryn and Jane's executions. (I'm not too worried about giving away plot since most people interested in Medieval History probably already know the outcome.) Ms. Gregory again does a good job of making historical fiction even more interesting. Anne of Cleves, who is something of an enigma in most stories, becomes someone that the reader can identify with and feel sympathy for. I listened to the unabridged version on CD and really loved it. The characters were well-voiced and I had a hard time turning it off. It's clearly inappropriate for children, but definitely recommended for adults interested in fiction of this time in history.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Blogging fun

I just edited my blogroll so check out some of the new sites I've listed. "Stuff Christians Like" is great for a laugh (and my counselor tells me that I need to laugh!).

I just spent 20 minutes getting my blogs set up on Google Reader so that I can be a more efficient blog reader. Guess what? There are actually people subscribed to my blog! Thank you, whoever you are. I hope you're enjoying the show!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Playing with Fire, Basketball, Fencing

Yes, I let my kids play with fire. Very heavily supervised. This is one of the great parts of homeschooling. We can do crazy things like this. My kids have been enjoying making fires, so I let them make a fire in our fire pit while I'm there to watch. Wild Man today discovered that dry pine needles make great tinder, but the sticks trimmed from a bush less than a week ago are not dry enough to burn well.

Actually, today was a nice, relaxed homeschool day. The kids babysat this morning (while I stayed home - I didn't feel real well today). This afternoon we watched "Ace of Cakes" on the Food Network. The kids then cleaned up the backyard so Ga'Hoole Girl could mow the grass. They then proceeded to play Medieval Pokemon - a game they have made up in which they play Pokemon but with the cool stuff from the Middle Ages that we're learning about. Wild Man and I did some reading together then I read history to the kids while they walked/played on the trampoline. We had some great discussions about separation of church and state.

Wild Man got his basketball hoop (birthday present) put up today. He's just thrilled. We did our little fire-making while Mr. Math Teacher and a friend were working on the hoop. When it was done, Wild Man let me take a shot. I got it in the first time! So, I didn't try again.

We are going to see "Prince Caspian" tomorrow night here in our little town's movie theater. We can walk to the theater - that's really cool. Of course, the theater is really old and it shows. The seats are not as comfortable as in a nice new theater. But, it has character, and I think we'll have fun.

The kids first fencing class is Saturday morning. Yes, fencing. They love to pretend swordfight and were asking about learning to fence. It took a little searching on the Net and a couple of phone calls, but I found out that the Lawrence University fencing coach does fencing classes on Saturday mornings. It's a 30 minute drive on a Saturday morning, but it's so worth it if the kids enjoy it. And it's cool - how many other kids on the block fence?

I've got lots of thoughts and ideas about relaxed homeschooling and unschooling, but it's getting late. I'll post more later.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Cooking Class - May 14

So we cooked yesterday. I have to say that we really enjoyed ourselves. The Salsa was good, although it should be better today after it's sat in the fridge for a day. I don't eat salsa, so Mr. Math Teacher gave the verdict. Ga'Hoole Girl also liked it, but she is very anti-jalepeno peppers so she fussed while she was cutting them up. Wild Man and I made the soup. Overall, it wasn't bad. I didn't like the fact that it was so sweet. Part of that was because I used White Zinfandel when a Chardonnay might have been better. Also, the recipe calls for 10 ounces of apple cider. I think next time we'll try making some beef stock in the crock pot (from another Good Eats episode) and using a different recipe for the soup. But, it was a nice dinner.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The flowers are still alive 3 . . .

I think my thumb is turning a greenish gray. We may yet get to green.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Cooking Class

Both my kids have become big fans of the Food Network, particularly Good Eats, Ace of Cakes, and Iron Chef America. On some recent Good Eats episodes, Alton Brown made French Onion Soup and Salsa (different foods, different episodes). Ga'Hoole Girl and I have been dying to try out those recipes, so Mr. Math Teacher and I just got back from the store with the ingredients that we need along with some crocks for the soup. We couldn't find a dried Ancho Chile, though. I don't even know what it is. Besides, we live in a small town - even the big grocery store doesn't carry exotic stuff. The soup also called for a splash of cognac as an optional ingredient, but at $15 for a really tiny bottle, we decided to pass on that. It sounds like a cooking week around this house!

Happy Mother's Day to Me!

We got a dishwasher!!!! An appliance, not an employee, btw. Dishes has become my nemesis in the whole stay-at-home mom thing. If I feel bad for a few days and don't keep up with the dishes, everything else falls apart very quickly. The kids keep up with some of the dishes, but a lot of it is just my mess. So, we had a carpenter come in and take out the built in desk in the kitchen and replace it with a countertop. Then, Friday, the plumber came in and installed the dishwasher. It is somewhat smaller than the one we had in our old house, but our whole house is smaller, so it's OK.

The flowers are still alive 2 . . .

I think my thumb is starting to lighten up some. I'll take pics as soon as it quits raining.

Lions, and Tigers, and Bears. Oh My!

OK, no lions or tigers, but Mr. Math Teacher and the kids came back from their little trip up North with tales of bear sightings. Our church did an overnight trip to a Christian camp in the Northwoods over the weekend (this is the same camp where we go for family camp and youth camps in the summer and a winter weekend in January). Mr. Math Teacher took the kids this year. The place is pretty rustic, but most of the wildlife that we usually see is small. This year, though, there were three bears - a momma and two babies (yearlings) seen near the dumpster by the dining hall. The bears seemed pretty comfortable around the camp, though, and went from the dining hall around to the canteen. They were remarkably unworried about people - and the kids were remarkably unworried about the bears. The camp staff got all the campers rounded up into one place well away from the bears while another staffer went out to shoot the bears in the backside with some rock salt to convince them to look elsewhere for food. I imagine there's a good chance that those bears will have an appointment with the DNR rather soon.

My weekend was far more quiet and I like it that way! But, I'm glad to have my family home again.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

How Much Structure

I've really been pondering how much structure do I need to impose on my kids' education. I generally like to be a structured and organized person, but I'm having to learn flexibility because of my headaches. But, I'm also wondering how much structure is best for my children and their learning.

I have been reading a lot about unschooling and I'm very attracted to the idea of allowing kids some leeway in the choice of topics of education. [Note: I am not at all supportive of the idea of "unparenting", but there are plenty of Christian unschoolers who believe in providing discipline and guidance for their kids but allowing lots of room for choice in education.] Do children need to study science and history all the time? Would it be OK if we focused on history for awhile and then went on to a science topic? When does a child need to learn to write an essay? And on and on.

I am convinced of a few things. Wild Man needs to continue structured reading education until he is fluent with the written word. I want both kids to do math on a regular basis (btw, they're both doing ALEKS math on the computer and loving it). I love the Sonlight books and their organization.

Ga'Hoole Girl is almost 13 years old. I think she and I can start discussing thinks that she can take over. She is already taking responsibility for doing her Bible and History reading and writing assignments. Maybe we can talk about lightening up on some things to allow her to work on projects that are important to her - cooking, computer programming, piano. As Wild Man develops new interests, I can help him find ways to learn about them. Both kids want to learn to fence, so one of my current projects is to figure out how to get them fencing lessons.

In any case, I'm not ready to allow the kids to completely take over their education. But, maybe it's time to start loosening the reins a little bit and giving them some room to stretch their wings, educationally speaking. We'll just have to see what happens.

Friday, May 09, 2008

How We Socialize

It seems that everyone is always so concerned that homeschooled kids won't get "socialized" just because they're not a school for 8 hours a day. Today's Heart of the Matter Meme is "How We Socialize" so I'll be sharing the things that we do that make me unconcerned about the "socialization" issue.

1. Family - Socialization is really children learning what they need in order to function adequately in society. The family is the key to this. As parents, Mr. Math Teacher and I socialize our children by teaching them everything from not talking with food in their mouths to treating each other with respect.

2. Neighbors - We live right on Main Street in our little town so we have neighbors close by. The kids play with the kids right next door. We've become a rather popular house for the neighborhood kids because of our trampoline. When school is out, my kids don't hurt for playmates.

3. Friends from church - We are quite active in our church and have our closest friendships with other church participants. Not only do we go to the Sunday morning services, but we also are part of a small group on Saturday nights. Wild Man likes to go to church early on Sundays with Mr. Math Teacher so he can help out with the kids' church service. Ga'Hoole Girl goes to Junior High group on Thursday night, but also babysits for Women's Bible Study on Thursday mornings. Right now, Mr. Math Teacher and the kids are on a church overnight trip to a camp a couple of hours north of us.

4. Dance class, homeschool group, piano lessons, etc. - The kids are involved in several structured activities throughout the week. During the summer, they take swimming lessons and Wild Man plays baseball.

I have gotten to the point that I just don't stress about making sure my kids get to "socialize". We live our lives in community with our town and church, so my kids have plenty of time to visit with others.

Quiet, blessed quiet

The kids and Mr. Math Teacher are on their way up North to spend a night with a group from church at a Christian Camp. While I'm a little jealous about all the fun I'm sure that they'll have, I am very happy about getting to spend a whole night at home with just the cats.

We also just got a dishwasher installed today, so I don't even have to wash dishes! I plan to blog, play with my blog layout, watch movies, and do a little bit of housecleaning. Mostly, I'm just going to enjoy the peace and quiet!

The flowers are still alive . . .

Have I mentioned that I have a deep, dark black thumb? This will be interesting . . .

Thursday, May 08, 2008


I haven't been doing much blogging because we've been rearranging furniture and doing other little projects. Things that used to take a day or two now take a couple of weeks, but we can finally walk through the main part of the house without tripping again!

Today, though, was something different. The weather is finally nice, so the kids and I went and bought flowers to put in the front flowerbed. We have been in this house for 2 years and the poor flowerbed has been very lonely. The kids and I picked out lots of annuals and a few perennials then came home and planted everything. After about an hour, I was pretty well done for - sore all over and a worsening headache. But, the kids (quite to my surprise) kept on until the bed was completely filled, then trimmed the bushes along the driveway and watered everything really well. I'll post some pictures in a few days.