Saturday, January 30, 2010

Waiting for Baby (knitting?)

What does one do when waiting, and waiting for a baby,
who wants to stay right where she is?

She takes two hours and coupons to Joann's and sits gracefully on the floor in front of the knitting and crochet books, devouring patterns and ideas. Because she is dreaming of wearing normal clothes again, she falls in love with this book... "French Girl knits" by Kristeen Griffin-Grimes. The patterns are exquisite.

There is one particular catch. She can't knit. Frantically, she looks for a "French Girl crochets." No such luck. Aah, she thinks, she will just learn to knit. After all learning to crochet from a book worked. Let's see... got it, this book will work- "I Can't Believe I'm Knitting!" from Leisure Arts.

Two evenings are spent trying to figure out how to cast on, and the garter stitch. All signs point to total confusion. This is how far she has gotten...

You know all of those people who said knitting was easier and more relaxing than crochetting? They lied.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Where to take Math

I was over at, watching a video about symmetry and group theory, and then I watched Arthur Benjamin’s video on how he would change mathematics education. He asserts that our mathematical hierarchy starts with the four processes and builds to the pinnacle of calculus. He claims this is an outdated pinnacle and we should be building towards statistics instead. Statistics is more useful and would help the entire population to make better decisions in their lives.

What should the purpose of math be? In many ways it is the same question as what is the purpose of education? Is it so we can grow up and get a good job, make good living decisions and pay our taxes? Or, as Charlotte Mason suggests, is it to have our feet firmly fixed in as many rooms as possible, to think and to fully live in a world full of ideas? Would it be possible to build to statistics and calculus, the useful and the inspirational? Hmmm. What about geometry? Can I just study that in depth? Perhaps, there is so much to study and learn, we all may just need different paths, and there is no one right sequence to follow.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Look At Our Day

As I work with homeschooling families, I am well aware that everyone does this differently, and most families do it differently as seasons and circumstances change. If you were to ask me each year I would give you a different sequence and a different focus for most of my kids. But since I was asked today, I will tell you how it was done today.

I wake at 6:00, take a bubble bath and read in the tub. Then I dress, start laundry, make muffins and my husband’s lunch. The older two children wake at about seven and turned on a CD of biographies of famous individuals from history as they stay curled in their blankets in bed, until I called them at 7:30. They come in to the front room with their blankets and curl up again while I begin reading to them about trouble in the Balkans and the assassination of the heir to the throne to Austria. We pull out a map and see the changes that occur to this region of the world. Then we read 1 Nephi 18, as the little ones tumble out of bed and join us on the floor, we discuss the reasons behind disrespect to parents and cruelty to others. This discussion takes longer than usual and we decide to skip our novel for the day. We try to read a chapter from a novel each morning-currently from “Gulliver’s Travels.” A book that is not feeding the discussion bucket as much as I like books to do.

Then it is time to eat. We sit down to breakfast and I pull out the self-portrait of Picasso. As the children eat they look closely at this painting and then I hide it. I ask the four-year-old to tell me what he remembers about this painting, then I ask the six-year-old to add anything, then the nine-year-old and last the eleven-year-old adds his details. I then turn the painting around and the children see where they got it right and where they missed a detail or two. I then add this painting to the other three of his we have already studied. I ask the children whether it is harder to study Picasso or Mary Cassatt. Is it better or worse for a painter to constantly be changing his style? After this discussion we turn to poetry and I pull out the card box and turn to the next card in each child’s section, and have the children recite a poem they have previously learned, starting with the two-year-old and moving around the table. This month we are all learning the same poem, and each child then recites as much of “How Doth the Busy Bee,” as he or she can. Some get confused with the previously learned Lewis Carroll spin-off, and everyone is impressed that the four-year-old has almost all four stanza’s down. I then read a poem from American history and the children are excited to hear it has the same rhythm as the poem they are learning.

After breakfast today the older two children watch the next lesson in Excellence in Writing-they love the teacher, who uses humor and inflection superbly. They note the next two dress-ups, the because clause and strong adjectives, and they write a keyword outline on Washington. Instead of moving straight into their first drafts, I briefly explain how to give a speech from a keyword outline and they take turns giving one to Brennen and me before going on to their first drafts. During this time Brennen reads a chapter to me, and I then read to him about the Revolutionary War, while he finger knits. The younger two children are building train tracks on the floor. Brennen then wants to do the division board on his own.

The older two children finish their papers and move on to their required work. Kamron does a math lesson in Saxon, then picks which two books from his list he will read today-“Oliver Twist,” and “The School of the Woods.” He must write a summary using the writing dress-ups he has learned so far after he reads and then he is free to study what he chooses. Aubrey is working through an online math program, called ALEKS, and then she chooses to read and write about, “All-of-a-Kind Family,” and “Nature Reader 5,” but only after telling me what she learned about the brain and how it learns stuff from your senses. She asks me to correct her spelling after she writes her paper on it, and I wonder if my child who hates to be corrected asks just to see if she can shock me.

While the older two are working, I sneak in a few minutes of work time, and I respond to emails. Then Logan asks for a new activity, and I glance at my clipboard to see which activities I have not yet introduced him to and we settle on learning about weights with the scale and the knobbed cylinders. Sethie wants to match baby and mother animals, and Brennen chooses to do a dot-to-dot with numbers through 70. After awhile Sethie wants to cut, and then do playdoh. Brennen moves to studying pop-up books, then making his own story about a snake and creating a couple of pages of pop-ups about it.

Pretty soon Kamron is done and wants to do a music class with the little ones. Aubrey asks for a sewing lesson. After this, I do a puppet show of my impromptu version of “Little Read Riding Hood,” with a reversible doll and silks. Kamron gets most of the irony and subtle humor I throw in and as we move to cleaning up for lunch he can’t stop talking about a few of the phrases I threw in, until the other kids get it too.

Lunch is time for recalling all they have learned. I ask questions about what they have read and I write short notes on their study logs. We all clean up and then it is my time to work. I have packages to log in, two reports to write, emails to answer and a run across town to drop of some supplies to a family who needs them asap.

While I spend the next three hours on this, Aubrey reads an American Girl book, and then dresses her doll and does her hair, while listening to history story tapes from Your Story Hour. Kamron builds forts with the younger boys and then plays checkers with Brennen. Seth has several bursts of crying and wanting to hit, because he thinks all cars and trains are his and Logan picked one up to play with it. I stop my work to explain and convince Seth that he can’t take a toy from someone else, and then I use distraction. I set up a train track with “two circles, please.” When he is involved I head back to my room to work.

Soon it is four-thirty and time to do chores and dinner. I sort through my chore cards and pull out the ones that most need to be done. The children pair up and I hand out the cards. One child has a melt down, and a discussion of fairness and hard work in life follows. After this child finally accepts what needs to be done chores continue. I fold laundry, oversee, and grab a homemade dinner from the freezer. This I have bought from a woman who is a great cook, as my time is limited now. After an hour Dad comes home and the children are mostly done with chores. The table is set and we all sit to eat together. Tonight the children want to know how Dad and I met, and why I would date someone four years older than me-that is so old. Then the conversation turns to the coming baby and my daughter asks, “So how did the seed get to mom’s egg anyway?” Dad tells her when he kissed me that is what happened. I tell her I’ll talk to her later when it is just she and I as the boys aren’t ready to hear all about it yet.

Dinner clean-up, baths and a wrestling match follow. Then I take the three younger boys into their room for story time. They all want “Uncle Wiggily,” then we read the next chapter in Famous Heroes about Lincoln. Brennen reads three stories to us from a Bible Reader, then Logan reads the first story in the book to us again. He almost has it memorized, which makes him feel great to read it. The boys take turns saying prayers, and they want me to say prayers with them too. Then they all want to pick the tape tonight and a squabble breaks out about who gets to pick, which makes me laugh, because they all want “Alice in Wonderland.” I tuck them in with their tape on and visit the older two kids. They are listening to the history tapes again. Aubrey is painting “a girl with a watering can,” and Kamron is building a triple-decker rock monster mansion out of legos. I tell them twenty minutes until lights out. Then I settle down to check emails, put in an order for work and read, while talking to my husband. Logan, our night owl, comes in to tell us that in the Alice story there is broken glass. He comes back to say she keeps growing and shrinking. After the third time, I take my computer and park myself in front of his door, until he stays in bed long enough to fall asleep. All the kids are finally asleep. Time to crochet one line on my current project to put my mind to rest and then prayers with my husband and sleep.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Receiving Service, Giving Service

I have had several experiences lately which seem to be teaching me about service. I can not say I have learned all the lessons I am supposed to from them, but as part of my pondering I am writing about them.

A short time prior to Christmas I was at the grocery store with my middle child. A man from East India came up to me as I was looking over the chip aisle and asked me if he could see my shoe. He proceeded to sit on the floor and take my shoe off then take my foot in his hands and massage it. Truth be told I felt rather uncomfortable and tried to stop him. He explained he was graduating from school and had studied the technique he was using. He could tell by my feet they were very sore and this would go a long way to helping them to feel better and for me to get a good nights sleep. Being eight months pregnant and having been on my feet most of the day I could not deny that my feet were indeed very sore, and I let him continue. He worked on one foot and then the other, and then he went back to the first again. For twenty minutes he held my sweaty socked feet in his hand, expertly massaging them in the chip aisle in the grocery store. I asked him if I could do anything for him, and he said no, it was his way of thanking me, and then he went on with his shopping. Why would a stranger perform such a service? He had talents in the area of service he gave, did he simply want to share those talents with those he thought they might help? What did he mean that it was “his way of thanking me”? I’m sure I had never helped him before.

As I was leaving the store a woman with one bag on her arm came over and insisted on pushing one of my carts-yes I had two. Again I accepted this service and she went out of her way to take the cart to my car, gladly doing so.

These people were helping me and they weren’t getting anything in return! Almost in desperation I racked my brain for someone I could serve. Sure I had dropped off a few cans of food and put money in donation buckets in front of stores, but… And then guilt swept over me. I had a neighbor who was lonely and poor. She came over often, in the morning, afternoon and evenings. She needed someone to talk to and occasionally she asked for food or money and to use the phone as she had none. While I let her use the phone, and gave her bus fare and food occasionally, I often explained I did not have time to talk as I was so busy with working from home and teaching the kids, blah, blah, blah. And … I had never given her anything beyond what she had asked for. I unloaded the car and immediately took over a tub of cookies I had bought. She was packing and explained they were being evicted and had to be out on the 22nd of December. Her sister, whom she lived with would be staying in a homeless shelter, and she would be staying in the dining room of a friend. She smiled when she said this as she knew two of my children had slept in our dining room until we finally had set up the garage for them. She then gave me a pair of booties for the baby, and I wished I had some money to give her to help her out and vowed next time I went anywhere I would get some from the bank. Then she moved. She has stopped by once to ask if I had money for bus fair, and I gave her all I had, but surely I could have done more.

And I have to wonder, why do I wait until I am specifically asked to help anyone? I do tend to help when asked and I enjoy doing so. I remembered the lady at the gas station, recently, who was out of gas and money and I filled her gas can, but she asked. The babysitting for others I had done, but they asked. The answers to questions for people I write, who ask, and those who I visit monthly for church, because I was asked to. Must I always be asked to help? No, now that I see this weakness, perhaps I can open my eyes to serving others-even without being asked.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Math Studies

In an earlier post I mentioned the gap in my math education. I have since read two books on Montessori math, am halfway through one on Waldorf math and halfway through one on the history of the equation of symmetry. Whenever I study something I want to share it with my children. So in addition to our regular studies we have been doing a lot of other math, and especially studying with Montessori materials. I have gained so much respect for teaching in this concrete way that allows the children to choose what they are going to study without compulsion. Herein is another similarity to TJed Leadership education.

Brennen was introduced to using the rods and number board for addition.
Logan, Brennen, Aubrey and Seth were introduced to the geometric shaped insets. This activity is not always considered math. It develops the fine motor skills and control over the pencil before the children start writing, but it can lead to so many other things, including math and art.
I introduced Brennen to the division board. He loved it and spent almost an entire morning on it one day. With this activity the children pour out a number of little balls of their choice, in this case it was 82. They count the balls and write the number down and then put a "house" around it. They then decide how many skittles are going to share the balls-in Brennen's case it was almost always 9. They write the number of skittles they have chosen in front of the house and place that many skittles on the top of the board. Then they give every one balls one at a time until they can not give them out evenly. Whatever is left they have as the remainder. Then the student writes these down and starts over or puts the material away. I introduced this activity to Aubrey also, she did about three problems and then put it away, but she needed a concrete reference point for division, and even that much helped. After several days of begging I introduced it to Logan (the children aren't allowed to touch a material until they have been introduced to it). He is so far from abstraction with it, but that is okay. He built several problems and we both saw the need for him to work more with the sandpaper numbers as he still is not really writing.
Kamron continues to work through his Saxon 6/7 book. He enjoys it and almost always understands from reading the lessons on his own. He declines most other invites to some of the other concrete lessons, because "he already knows that stuff." I did do a hands on lesson with him on squares and cubes, square roots and cube roots. We built them and took them apart with rods, so he could see how they were formed and what they meant. He thought that was pretty neat. We also learned about angles of parallelograms by building paper ones.
Logan built the number quantities. He talks about this activity a lot, but he has not pulled it out again. His understanding in this area is now pretty good. When we do the sandpaper numbers he can place them in order, tell which is bigger etc. He has also begun building numbers, such as 82, 43 etc. and naming ones I build with the sandpaper numbers.

This is Aubrey's work with equivalent fractions. It was more of an exploration of materials than a formal lesson. She struggles a bit with understanding the quality of numbers and how they are related. One night everyone stayed up until about ten thirty showing Daddy different things they had been learning and it turned into a discussion of our number system, as Kevin tried to explain the relationships of decimals in the base ten system. They built numbers with rods, counted and talked about place value. At times she was frustrated, but the next day she got on her online math program, Aleks, and said I want to study decimals. At least she wasn't scared off the topic.

We have done other work, especially with geometric shapes and the quality of triangles and how they can form every other shape, except a circle. All of these studies lately have been rather fun and deeply satisfying. I think we will keep it up.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Child Sized Masterpieces Level 3

I love "Child Sized Masterpieces" (it can be found at Montessori Sevices). We have many level 1 and level 2 folders. In level 1 children match the exact same painting. In level 2 children match paintings by the same artist. I have used these two levels for about seven years. One time I even bought enough religious art postcards to make about four folders, and I have taken these to Sacrament meeting and when I have taught nursery and sunbeams. The children love to look at the cards and match them. I have had the materials to build more levels for over a year now. One night during Christmas break I woke up at about four and couldn't go back to sleep-I am beginning to enjoy those nights, as strange as that may seem. So I got up and pulled out all of the folders and built a couple sets for levels three, four and five. I was all done by the time my husband came home from the gym at 6:30.

Last week I introduced level 3 to my children. I first showed Logan, 4, and Brennen, 6. They found this level to be a bit hard. In this level the folders have about six artist with four paintings by each artist that need to be matched. Some of the subjects are similar, but the style is slightly different. Other paintings have similar styles, but the subjects are different. I helped the boys work through this level. Later I introduced it to my older two children and the younger boys helped. It was quite a bit easier for them, as they have studied several of the artists already in our Charlotte Mason type artist studies, and they were familiar with their work.

When I saw it all laid out on the table, I decided we all might get more out of it if it was left like that for a couple months. We had a world map under a plastic sheet for about three years; we all learned so much geography. I decided to try the same thing with the artwork, and I'm pretty sure we will learn a ton. I plan to play some guessing games with the titles of the works, comparisons, I spy etc. It will give us great topics for dinner conversations. This is two sets of the cards under the plastic.

A good description of the program can be found here However, I disagree that you don't need the book. I have found it valuable.