Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Because the big 'S' word comes up so often in homeschooling discussions, I thought I would share links to a few articles and posts I have found recently.

Three of my links send you over to Principled Discovery where Dana has some pointed things to say on the subject. Check out How Education Became Indoctrination, On Socialization, and So, how do I plan to socialize my children?

Here are a few funny (and a few not so funny) socialization responses over at A to Z Home's Cool.

Greg Sherman, Ph.D. gives Ten Good Reasons to Homeschool. It is an excellent article and sums up my reasons for homeschooling quite well. Check out Reason #6.

Homeschooling and the Myth of Socialization by Manfred B. Zysk is another interesting article if your eyes haven't yet glossed over.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Lesson Planning

I promised to share with you, those readers who might be interested, my non-scientific, laid-back, low-key lesson planning for Levi's Kindergarten year.

We began doing 'Kindergarten' work in February of this year, as Levi had turned five in January. I would have held off until this fall if I hadn't felt that he was more than ready. Sitting still in a chair for hours a day or being quiet for long periods of time (particularly where there would be a group of children and/or interesting information being presented) would not have been an ideal situation for him, but he was definitely up to working on new skills and taking in new information.

My lesson planning methods early in the year were certainly low-key. I simply used a calendar with a large amount of white space and lines for writing for each day of the month. When we covered educational material, watched an educational show, went on a field trip, worked on a skill (writing, math, or phonics), or completed a project together it was written on the calendar. I was able to see at a glance what we had covered and what had been missed. So many of the things that I wrote on the calendar were a part of our everyday lives, but I needed to see in black and white that I was doing my job.

While much of our learning environment comes naturally, I truly delight in sharing 'aha!' moments with Levi, and I adore having the shared imaginative landscape that comes from reading together--I absolutely take this responsibility seriously. Educating our children is a tremendous job. It is a priority that cannot, must not, get shoved down the list by the mundane chores of life, by tempting frivolous activities, or by lack of self-discipline. For myself, some planning, list-making, and accountability is necessary to make sure the job gets done well. But I also have to realize that there is a point in time where one must put down all the lists and plans, roll up one's sleeves, and get to work.

We 'schooled' lightly but consistently through the summer months and then more deliberately beginning in September. Our main curriculum (math, phonics, and grammar) are fairly straight forward when it comes to planning and implementing. Mostly they require 'doing the next thing.' When I sat down to plan our school lessons, September through December, I started by counting the number of weeks. There were 10 regular weeks, 2 'Thanksgiving' weeks, and 4 'Christmas' weeks. I then figured out where I wanted to be by the end of the year and planned backwards. How many lessons would we have to cover each week in each subject to reach that point? It was also important to give ourselves some breathing room. I didn't want to over-schedule and then constantly feel the need to play catch-up.

For other subjects I had a general idea of the material I wanted to cover. For example, I wanted to read The Story of the Orchestra for our music studies, adding in additional material for each composer introduced in the book. It was fairly easy to go through the book and realize that we would probably need to read about and listen to one composer weekly. I pulled out the books and other resources I would need for each subject and made similar rough plans for each.

The next step was to type up a simple weekly lesson plan form. I listed each subject (some with basic notations regarding the number of lessons to complete weekly) and left blank spaces in which to write. Each week (usually on Saturday or Sunday) I print one off, penciling in any specific lessons, passages for reading, or projects I hope to do. If any extra materials are needed for projects or experiments, I add them to Monday's shopping list.

I thrive on specific schedules, but I've had to content myself with a loose routine at this stage in our lives. Most of our lessons happen early in the afternoon while Leif is napping and Luke is having quiet time. Often Luke joins us for reading or projects after Levi's desk work has been finished. We usually begin with copywork for handwriting. Levi copies sentences (which I have prepared in advance) on his writing paper while I quickly read over the math lesson and gather anything we might need. After math, we migrate to the couch to work on phonics and grammar lessons. Then we read, do projects, or whatever else might be in our plans. I keep our stack of current 'school' books on the desk behind the couch so they are easily accessible.

Our chapter book reading usually happens in the evenings. We go through our 'circle time' notebook (which includes memory work, poetry, Bible verses, Around the World cards, some art study, and a little bit of geography) all together during our breakfast time. I'm sure that Leif is memorizing the poems along with us. Grin. Some mornings we make it through a single poem. Some mornings we review from beginning to end. Some mornings I barely manage to get breakfast on the table without a nervous breakdown.

I plan on doing lessons about four days each week, but rarely plan our 'off' day in advance. With three little guys, I never know which day will go down hill due to illness, failed nap attempts, or any other number of things. Some weeks I find we spread out the lessons over six days, without any concentrated effort.

When we complete a lesson, again, I simply fill in the blank spaces on our lesson plan form. Sometimes we accomplish everything I had planned, sometimes we do not and the plans get rolled over onto the next week. At the end of each week, I have a tangible record of what we have accomplished, and it gets filed in a 3-ring binder. Nothing fancy. Nothing stress-inducing. Nothing that would particularly matter to anyone other than myself and my desire fulfill my responsibilities.

And in the end, it isn't the paper that really matters. It is the light in Levi's eyes when we are learning, discovering, imagining, and just plain living that is the true reward for a job well done. I love engaging him in conversations. I love watching him make connections.

I don't know if anything in this post has been helpful, but I will follow it up with specifics for each subject if anyone is interested.

The Gallant Pig

I recently finished reading Babe: The Gallant Pig to Levi. (I have to admit here that Russ read a few of the chapters...) I know I rave about so many of the books we read, but this story is another one for the wonderful list. Babe is a lovely example of the rewards of being polite and kind. I love the simplicity. I love Mr. and Mrs. Hogget: he, the silent type--she, the boisterous, rambling, head-nodding, red-cheeked, farmer's wife. They seem so genuine.

We often watch the movie version of books once we have read them. I remember watching Babe years ago and loving it. The movie ended up in my cart at Amazon (wonder how that happened). Levi loved it! Babe is a perfect family movie. Add it to your collection!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Creating the Spring Orchard

After much cold, rainy weather already this autumn season, the last few days have been gorgeously sunny. I adore cool, sunny autumn days! The boys have breathed in quantities of fresh air, and a few projects have been accomplished. We (well.... Russ) managed to plant three fruit trees to begin the Spring Orchard. (We'll be planting more in the spring.) I planted 50 daffodil bulbs with Levi's assistance and have various other bulbs to plant in the next few days if our weather holds out.

Eventually, we will have fruit trees bordering the length of our driveway, each tree circled by masses of flowers in the spring. Hence the name Spring Orchard....

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Around the World Apple Pie

Need ingredients for an apple pie, but the market is closed? You'll need to pack a suitcase and catch a steamship bound for Europe! How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World is a picture book full of vivid, whimsical watercolor illustrations. Gather wheat in Italy, cinnamon in Sri Lanka, and sugar cane in Jamaica! When you have finished reading this story, your mouth will be watering for hot apple pie. Luckily our neighbors have an apple orchard, although Vermont would have been lovely!
Because I had a five-year-old and a three-year-old helping (and a one-year-old under foot), we experimented with an easy press-in crust rather than rolling out a traditional pie crust. The boys loved getting their hands messy (and the counter, and the floor....).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Guilt, Ignorance, and Responsibility

Do you ever wish for ignorance? I wish I was completely ignorant of the fact that much of the world's chocolate comes from the labors of oppressed people. What is our responsibility as consumers? What does a person do with the guilt they feel when overwhelmed by the feelings of responsibility?

I appreciated Heather's post and the following comments over at her blog, Becoming. As I was thinking a little bit about the questions raised, I came up with this non-professional, non-earth-shattering, nothing new advice (mostly to myself):

Start with one thing and let the rest go. Seriously. It doesn't help much to become paralyzed with guilt and consequently unable to do anything. If you are a planner/list maker like myself, make a list of things you could do to become more socially and environmentally responsible. Depending on where you are in life, the things on your list might be small or large, but try be specific. For example, list 'switch to organic milk' rather than 'eat organic food.' Your list might look something like this:

1. Switch to organic milk.
2. Find local source for eggs.
3. Keep lights off in house when not in room.
4. Stop using heat dry on dishwasher... let the air do its job.
5. Vote.
6. Volunteer at local shelter.
7. Buy only fair trade chocolate.
8. Use cloth grocery bags.
9. Visit a farmer's market.
10. Plant a small veggie garden.
11. Use local honey to replace sugar in recipes when possible.
12. Switch to environmentally friendly household cleaners. (Vinegar and baking soda if nothing else...)
13. Have a sit-down dinner with family at least four times a week.
14. Stop shopping at Walmart.
15. Take children to a nursing home to visit.

If you want to try my trick, list the things you already do (like vote) and mark them off. Grin. Then pick one thing on the list. Try a smaller thing to start with such as air-drying your dishes. And Just. Do. It. Give it some time to sink in. Let yourself get comfortable with it, then move on. It might be a week; it might take a month or two. Don't let yourself get hung up with guilt over the other things on your list. You'll get to them! If something new comes to your attention, add it to the list. Don't let yourself get side-tracked.

What is first on your list?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007



by Ilex

Yellow harvest moon
Early morning field song is
Calling autumn in

Blue cloud snow falling
Winter is ice cold dropping
melted icicles

Spring birch trees shiver
The evening breath whispers through
Listen to the wind

Summer cicada
Purple dawn rises above
The garden blossom

Sunday, October 21, 2007



I had the privilege of taking photos of my sister's children.
They are absolutely adorable, handsome, and gorgeous!
I don't have the time to figure out how to work in photo shop,
so my method is to take 400 pictures
knowing that I'm bound to get a few
that turn out well!
I'll spread the pictures out over a few
days so as not to overwhelm you.
(And, no, not all 400.)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Walnut-Pear Sour Cream Cake

This cake was on the top of the 'to try' recipe stack. It was as delicious as I had hoped.

I used pecans instead of walnuts and plain yogurt with 1 tsp of baking soda instead of sour cream.... because that is what I happened to have on hand. It would be amazing with whipped cream, but it didn't last long enough around here to be embellished.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Climbing Phase

We have most definitely entered (for the third time) the climbing phase. This is the phase where I can't take my eyes off a certain boy for 2 seconds or I find him in fascinating locations. It makes for very. long. days. Full, wonderful, exciting, but exhausting days.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Fall Treats

What foods say 'fall' to you? This is my favorite season for cooking and baking. My stack of recipes to make (some new, some favorites) is a mile high. I'm throwing out the scale because I don't even want to know what the next three months are doing to me.

We had Swiss steak over mashed potatoes and pumpkin biscuits for dinner this evening. Talk about comfort food! And remember my weakness for Anna's Ginger Thins and vanilla ice cream? Well, I found out it gets better.... top the ice cream with hot, homemade applesauce! I love the contrasting sensations of hot and cold, soft and crispy.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Silver Chalice

I can't believe I finished all 814 pages with more than a week to spare before my book club meeting! I started The Silver Chalice while on vacation, reading aloud to Russ while driving, but didn't manage to get very far (children needed attention, and all). When we arrived home, Russ snatched it away and finished it as I labored under a mountain of laundry. Finally, he gave the book his stamp of approval and handed it over.

A couple years ago, my book club decided on a choice of four books for a particular month. I chose to read The Robe and hoped to read the remaining books (The Silver Chalice, Ben Hur, and Quo Vadis) in the future. When planning out the book list this year, a member suggested we choose again from those four books one month. I was thrilled! The Robe was excellent, surprising me as I had not read anything set in that time period other than The Bible. The Silver Chalice was highly recommended, and I hoped not to be disappointed.

Disappointed I was not. The writing style was clear; the characters came to life; the plot moved along; there was romance, mystery, adventure, history, and believable transformation in the life of the main character. At no point did I feel bogged down. I just wished for a whole day without interruptions so that I could bury myself in the story.

The Silver Chalice follows the life of Basil, a Roman citizen and artisan, as he is adopted by a wealthy merchant, has his position stolen from him by a dishonest uncle, is sold into slavery, and then has his freedom purchased so that he can design a silver chalice to hold the sacred cup used by Jesus at the last supper. Basil travels from Antioch to Jerusalem, Greece, and Rome to fulfill his commission.

Having very little knowledge of ancient history other than the Bible, I felt the author did an excellent job of making the story accessible and informative. I loved the picture he gave of famous men of the Bible such as Peter, Joseph of Arimathea, Paul, and especially Luke. It made me so very happy to have a little boy with the name Luke.

Levi and I have been reading through the New Testament in his Children's Illustrated Bible, and I have had a few aha! moments as I relate the two stories, even though The Silver Chalice is a fictional account. I have had an easier time seeing the larger picture.

Levi wanted to know if he could attend book club since he 'knows all about' Ben Hur. He has listened to the radio theater version of Ben Hur, and watched an animated version with the voice of Charlton Heston. I guess it is time to create a book club which he can attend! And I suppose maybe I'll have to catch up and listen to/watch those versions before my book club meeting!

My excitement to study ancient history this next year has increased. Ben Hur and Quo Vadis will be on my reading list for 2008. It is quite possible that they will both join The Robe and The Silver Chalice on my favorites list.

The Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, is a Jewish holy place found in Jerusalem, Israel. It is part of the first and second temples that were mostly destroyed. I chose this location to add to our 'Around the World' cards this week.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Best Books, Five Through Ten

I had a much harder time choosing the remaining five books for my top ten. But here we go:

6. Hugo, Victor. Les Miserables. I remember exactly why I first read this book years ago. My mom gushed and raved (and she isn't a gusher), and then promptly told me that she didn't think I could get through it. I attacked it with gusto. Isn't she a smart mom? I want my boys to read this book so that they can see one more shining example of a real man's actions. Heroic. Steadfast. Honest. Jean Valjean is *the man* (in the literary world) in my humble opinion. Don't miss the Broadway musical. Absolutely stellar. Just the other day I slipped in the CD soundtrack, and it still brings an amazing array of emotions to the surface. My boys thought I had gone off the deep end as I sang at the top of my lungs. 24601.

7. Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. I don't know what to say about this book that hasn't been said already. The movie is excellent but no substitute for the original.

8. Lowry, Lois. The Giver. I love the way this book made me think. It surprised me, shook me up a little, and left room for hope. (Unlike 1984 by Orwell.)

9. Otis Skinner, Cornelia and Kimbrough, Emily. Our Hearts Were Young And Gay: An Unforgettable Comic Chronicle of Innocents Abroad in the 1920s. I decided to provide a little variety in my top ten, and this book represents humor in its best form. It probably doesn't even qualify as fiction (it chronicles the 'real' adventures of two young ladies traveling abroad), but I'm claiming amnesia, or naivety, or ignorance, or.... something. Read this book if you want to shake with laughter. Then go read Down the Garden Path by Beverly Nichols and A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle.

10. Milne, A. A. Winnie-the-Pooh. The mark of a brilliant 'children's' author is the ability to appeal to children and adults alike. Winnie-the-Pooh is one of Levi's favorite books. Oh, but the humor, the subtlety, the timelessness.... So much is lost on the young ones! Go back and read it, or read it for the first time. Don't overlook this one because you think it is childish, or because you've heard the 'Disneyfied' version. The audio version, read by Peter Dennis, is excellent. When you're done with Winnie-the-Pooh, be sure to move on to The House at Pooh Corner!

Here is a link to my first five.

I'm still waiting for you to list one or more books in your top ten.... take this opportunity to de-lurk and chime in!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Pumpkin Patch

Continuing Fall Traditions:

A Visit to the Pumpkin Patch.
Levi 'drove' the tractor on the way to the field:

Local Scenery:

Hot, Homemade Doughnuts and Local Apple Cider:
A Haybale Pyramid for Climbing: