Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thankfully A Week Off

We took this past week off from school work. My husband has been home and my sister was in town... it was a much needed break. While I'm pleased that during this time, each girl has read many books, worked in "fun" workbooks, learned about building and measuring from our home projects, crafted sculptures, jewelry and other works of art, researched Thanksgiving and discussed why or why not modern Americans should have a three-day feast like the Pilgrims, I am most grateful that they have enjoyed lots of play time with each other and with family. And, honestly, I'm thankful that I was able to catch up on several neglected projects while all of this was going on. This has been a truly wonderful week off.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Reflections

In eavesdropping on my daughters playing with their dolls, I learned that some of their dolls and animals have the following names. I asked where they came up with them, and here is what I learned:

Isabella (of Isabella and Ferdinand)
Elizabeth (as in Elizabeth I of England)
Mary (of Mary Queen of Scots)
Titania (from A Midsummer's Night's Dream)
Helena (from the above)
Joan (as in Joan of Arc)
Buttercup (from The Princess Pride)
Hamlet (from Shakespeare - by the way, this is the name of a stuffed pig; too funny since we're vegetarian)

At least the history lessons are being put to use somewhere! Well, I'll admit that The Princess Bride has nothing to do with history but I love that story despite the fact that Buttercup is a vapid, helpless damsel-in-distress. Oh well - at our house she was cast as the family dog.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Progress

"True progress quietly and persistently moves along without notice."
~St. Franciss of Assisi

It is incredibly rewarding to see and hear the progress of one's children when homeschooling. It happens subtly, without bells and whistles, without tests and report cards. But when, one morning, you step back and notice the difference it is like the warmth of the sun has entered your soul.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

One Down, Three to Go...

Quarters that is. Yesterday marked the "official end" (I put that in quotes because there isn't an official anything; I just make things up to keep me honest) to our first quarter of homeschooling this year. Ten weeks in and I feel like we're just getting started. I mean that in a good way. It has been (for the most part) a very good school year. The girls are enjoying themselves, I'm enjoying the girls, there is lots of learning going on, we have a good balance with extra activities... enough said. Still feeling lost, however, when it comes to meaningful communities and friendships. Sigh. I guess you can't have everything.

To celebrate our progress, the girls and I went to lunch. Oh - and I let the older three skip oral reading for the day. I don't know which elicited a more excited response but they were a happy crew yesterday, and when I hinted that the celebrations for quarter ends would get better and better as the year goes on they about fainted from the anticipation. Now I have to come up something good in the next ten weeks for the end of the first half. Suggestions??

As we face the upcoming thirty weeks of school work, I only feel slightly nervous. For the most part, I feel confident that we will accomplish the goals I set out. However ... a little voice in the back of my head is reminding me that I haven't reached the midway point yet. Halfway through the school year (usually in January) I typically hit a wall. The wall consists of me being bored with the plans I made. I do finish things, but I get way off schedule and take too many breaks, etc., causing our school year to continue well into the summer OR for me to double up the workload each day leading to days that quickly become too long. Not fair to anyone involved. This year I'm determined to either (a) miss the wall completely; (b) climb over the wall; (c) punch my way through it and bypass the nonsense I've brought upon myself in previous years.

Here's to positive thinking!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Home Economics

I admit it. The food in our house is "weird." It's out there. It's definitely not part of the Standard American Diet. THANK GOODNESS. I am thrilled with that fact. I like that my kids (and I) don't have cereal out of a box for breakfast, unidentifiable animal products out of a can/box/package for lunch, and drive-thru for dinner. When I think about health and nutrition, I believe a big part of eating healthy is actually knowing what it is that you put in your mouth - whole, natural foods prepared in health-promoting ways. The following breakfast recipe is a break from that. While it's not "bad" for you it's certainly not up there on my list of healthy recipes due to the fact that it's mostly cornmeal and it's cooked with oil on a griddle. And once in a while I can live with that. Let me put it this way: I think that this recipe can be part of a healthy diet so long as you aren't eating this for breakfast every day and limit things like this to special mornings. Today was one of those days. Typically we reserve pancakes, skillets, etc., for the weekend but today I needed an extra kick to get me going. The following recipe evolved over time from several traditional recipes. For your eating pleasure, I present...

Cornmeal Pancakes

2 cups stoneground cornmeal
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt (I actually only sprinkled in a dash)
1 1/2 cups soy milk + 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup canola oil
Ener-G egg replacer for 2 eggs (1 tablespoon + 4 tablespoons warm water)

Add apple cider vinegar to soy milk and let sit for 5 minutes (you're making vegan buttermilk). In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, rice flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix well with a wire whisk. In a medium bowl, beat the soymilk mixture, water, oil, and prepared egg replacer with a whisk until well combined. Add to the cornmeal mixture and stir until smooth, but don't overmix. Heat your griddle over medium heat (300 - 350 degrees), and lightly oil (I use a Misto for this). Spoon about 1/4 cup of the batter for each pancake. Cook for about 3 minutes (until top begins to cook and bottoms are browned) and then flip. Cook for about 2 - 3 minutes more until second side is browned. Serve with vegan margarine, maple syrup, brown rice syrup ... whatever your fancy. And don't let the small size fool you - these boys are filling!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Not Home Schooling

Yesterday we packed our bags and took our school work to a book store. We spread our work over a large table in the cafe section of the store and set up camp for four hours. From home I brought sandwiches, carrots, nuts and raisins to sustain the children and over the course of our visit I purchased $5 worth of coffee and tea beverages to sustain me. The girls are used to curious eyes and didn't pay much attention, but I enjoyed the wondering glances and smiles. We were interrupted no less than five times by curious store patrons. Three assumed I was a homeschooler, one asked if school was out for the elections, and one asked if they were home sick (odd question since we weren't home and no one was sick). All asked me several questions about homeschooling, all of which genuine and not judgmental. The girls behaved perfectly and were wonderful homeschool ambassadors.

It was lovely.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Grammar laughter and tears

My second grader detests grammar. She detests it so much that she absolutely refuses to follow almost all of the rules of English grammar when she writes. She also refuses to remember grammatical definitions, examples, jokes, quips ... you get the point. I shouldn't say she refuses to remember them - she remember them just fine when she's playing Mad Libs, reading, or doing anything other than the subject "Grammar." For whatever reason she cannot get through a grammar lesson without causing a scene. Sometimes it's a minor scene and sometimes it's out of this world.

Now lest you think that I am a cruel homeschooler forcing my young child to perform hours of grammar work, diagramming sentences and labeling parts of speech, let me put your mind at ease: we use First Language Lessons. For anyone not familiar, this is an oral program, which means I read the incredibly short lesson, we have a brief diaglogue on the subject, occassionally there is copywork or poetry memorization, etc. Very, very little writing. No diagramming. It's designed for very young (first and second grade) children. My other children love this book. I love this book. The lessons average five minutes. Unless you have a daughter that likes to throw herself on the floor in a dramatic performance worthy of an Oscar. Here's an example.

Our Lesson Today (Lesson 125)

Me: Do you remember the definition of a verb? (I'm thinking of the stacks of Mad Libs this child does with her sisters - she knows what a verb is.)

Her: (clenches fists tight and brings them to her chest; begins trembling and shaking with scarcely contained fury ... but remains silent)

Me: None of that. We're just reviewing here. Please tell me the definition of a verb.

Her: (very loud) I can't!! I just CAN'T!!!!! (falls the ground in tears, sobbing) I don't know!! I CAN'T!!!

Me: (remaining very calm) Please get up. I don't want to her the words "I can't" from you one more time.

Her: (sobbing - stops performance to check my expression and see how serious I am; decides I mean business and stands up, but keeps puts on a pained expression) Okaaay.

Me: Pull yourself together now. We're not kneeling on a bed of nails. This is just the definition of a verb. Remember when you do Mad Libs and the paper asks for a verb - it's also called ...

Five-Year-Old Sibling: An action word! Also state of being. Or linking.

Six-Year-Old Sibling: Or a helping verb - it can help the action verb - like "is crying." (smiles to herself at her little joke - looks to the five-year-old but realizes her audience doesn't get it)

Her: (fists clenched, trembling, shaking) I KNOW ALL THAT!!!!! I JUST CAN'T SAY IT!!!! Why must they interrupt?!?!?!?!? (crying very dramatically, but secretly looking to see our reaction)

Five-Year-Old Sibling: So we don't have to listen to your boring old lesson anymore.

Six-Year-Old Sibling: Yeah!

Me: That's enough, girls (although secretly agreeing with the younger siblings). And that's enough of this. You're going to have to write the definition of a verb if you won't simply say it.

Her: No! Not writing!! (sounding desperate at the thought of writing, although she writes stories, keeps a journal and writes letters in her free time) ... Okay. FINE! (sigh - tears stop, she's suddenly FINE) A verb is a word that does an action, shows a state of being, links two words together or helps another verb.

Me: Great! Perfect. ... Now, can you give me an example of a word that does an action?

Her: (Raises clenched fists to her chin, begins shaking and trembling) I CAN'T!!!!!!

Five-Year-Old Sibling: Here we go again....