Saturday, October 4, 2014

Lately Life


I’ve been spending a huge amount of time with Levi, working on lessons. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride and I’m looking forward to a straighter, more horizontal stretch ahead. Please, assure me that’s what’s ahead. Okay, maybe I’m delusional.

So the other kids have been doing a lot of their own thing. For Luke, that means reading, riding his motorbike, organizing my drawers, playing with his snap circuits…

Then a little over a week ago, my sister dropped by some no-bake cookies for Russ. He had helped them with their computer and requested no-bakes for payment because he loves them and I never bake them (what does that say about me?!). Luke thought they were the best thing evah. He begged me to let him call Aunt Shan and get the recipe. I finally gave him permission, but I was distracted when he called her. A little while later he presented me with his rough draft, a final draft, the recipe printed by Levi on an index card, and an index card file with the label (from the label machine) “recipe box.”

This led to an interest in the corner of my kitchen counter where I shove all the recipes I print off from the internet as I need them. My organizational system must have left something to be desired, because he took the wad of papers, three-hole punched them, and put them in a binder he had labeled “recipes.” While working on this project, he found a recipe card for marzipan, which he promptly inserted into his own card file for future use.

The next morning he woke me up asking if he could make no-bake cookies. Seriously. So, like any really good mom would, I said yes. Mostly I said yes just so he would leave me alone and I could go back to sleep. And he had no-bake cookies for breakfast, which are no less nutritious than cold cereal or oatmeal with brown sugar, right?

I thought this would satisfy Luke, but the next day or two he was scrounging around in the kitchen cabinets for the ingredients for marzipan. Many of you have never tasted marzipan (or even heard of it), I’m sure. Essentially, it’s like almond-flavored play-dough. You mix almond paste (not butter, paste is totally different) with powdered sugar and corn syrup (super healthy) until you can work it into shapes without it sticking to your fingers. Then you add food coloring and other accessories (cloves, cinnamon, frosting leaves, sprinkles) to turn it into miniature fruits and vegetables. Some talented people, like my best friend’s parents, can make these specimens look very realistic. We’re not so talented. But it has been a Christmas tradition (one of our very favorites) since before Leif was born (we make it during our St. Nicholas Day party with my best friend and kids). Marzipan is an acquired taste—and we’ve all acquired it.

Luke found the ingredients. I had TWO cans of almond paste. Which means he’s made marzipan twice now. I refuse to buy more almond paste, because I have no self control around the stuff. And I want to keep its status as a special holiday treat.


Luke also got out a difficult puzzle of the United States (which they are studying this year for geography). This was a more intricate puzzle than he had ever attempted, but he was determined. His brothers helped a bit in the beginning, but he completed the bulk of the puzzle on his own.


Unfortunately that is our only table in the whole house (other than the one we’ve recently put in the office/library/schoolroom for Levi’s workspace), so it’s difficult to have large puzzles in progress very often.

Then there’s Leif. If Levi doesn’t give me gray hair this year, Leif will. The kid is so smart and so stubborn. I try to have everyone do math together in the living room with individual white boards. Leif and Luke are perfectly capable of doing Levi’s math (whether or not they want to), and I only have them do the warm-up, lesson instruction, and practice questions together. They don’t have to do all the problems for the rest of the lesson. But Leif is always sneaking off. Always with something new written on his white board. Have you watched a cartoon where a character takes off with a poof, a cloud of dust and some “dash” lines the only thing that remains? That’s what it’s like for Leif, but he leaves behind his white board instead of dust. Can you hear the sound effects that go with this next picture? Zip. Dash. Poof.


The silly thing is that he’s a whiz at math. After he threw a stubborn fit, I had him work through a common factors problem with me and he totally rocked it. Then he wanted me to take a picture of his math whiz face (above left).

Just today I wrote 90 – 33 on the white board (vertically, with 90 over 33) and asked him to do it in his head. He gave me the answer (no sweat) and I asked him how he did it. He said “Zero minus three is negative three. Nine minus three is six. Sixty plus negative three is fifty-seven.” He was adamant that it should be “sixty plus negative three” because he already had a negative number. He just turned eight less than two months ago. Maybe it’s the thousands of hours he’s spent reading the 25 Life of Fred books we own.

But if he doesn’t want to do something anyone asked him to do? Or wants to do something anyone told him not to do?

Heaven help me.

In more cheerful news, he is enthusiastically learning how to diagram sentences. Because sentence diagramming is da bomb.

Leif and Luke (and Lola) have also been enjoying a wide range of books and videos that correspond with our topics this year.


I always have stacks of books about math, science, geography, art, and more from which the kids can feast so that their world isn’t devoid of learning while I’m otherwise employed.

We finished up Columbus and the Pilgrims, and now we’re working our way through the Revolutionary War. It’s pretty easy to find a thousand pictures books on each topic.


October is the knee-deep mark for our 5th year of Classical Conversations. We’re wet up to our ankles with weekly choir practice (and music theory homework each week), weekly AWANAS for all four kids (date night!!), and swim team practice 3-4 afternoons during the week (which takes 3+ hours each afternoon). (Please don’t tell me that my children are unsocialized.) We’ve skipped several field trips because I just don’t want to add to our schedule.

Russ is now the head swim coach (sigh) in addition to his ten other jobs, and he’s prepping the house exterior to be painted. Not much down-time to be found.

That’s life.


carole said...

I know I'm going against the grain here with my idea - I know, I know - but have you ever, would you ever, consider unschooling or project based homeschooling? Even for a year or two? Your home seems like the perfect environment with so many amazing books. Plus your kids are fabulous readers, wildly imaginative, and you are feeling exhausted (although that is also the product of being a mom to four!) . Why not let them take charge of their education and go along as their mentor and support person? :) I'm crazy, I know. ;)

Ariana Sullivan said...

GOSH, I really loved this post! Your life is so very different from mine since your kids are so different but I feel like I was right there experiencing it with you and Luke! haha
I love these stories about your daily life.
I'm fascinated by how capable your boys are! I'm amazed at the school you guys do. It seems so time intensive and I feel like I use every second of my day keeping up with my own simple homeschool schedule! I don't know how you do it! Do you feel worn down often?

We have the same problem with puzzles and it's pretty sad because every single one of my kids (besides the baby) loves puzzles and would love to have a giant one constantly in progress but with only one table we do a giant puzzle about once every 3-6 months only.

Heidi said...

Carole~ I get where you're coming from. I really do. :) But we've had SO. MUCH. "unschooling" time in the past few years. I've NEVER been able to do a full homeschool schedule even if I was really trying. And we had a super long, relaxing summer. So the boys now think that if they have to work for a couple hours that they are unreasonably tortured. ;)

I've always said that I think unschooling (when done right) is much more work than regular schooling. At least for my personality. The mess from projects (as well as coming up with the stuff the kids need for it) drives me crazy (and they usually need help which is not my forte either), and they really need a way to work in some writing in particular (and math for Levi, but he wouldn't gravitate toward any project involving math). It would still be a battle over implementation, follow-through, and clean up. Or *I'm bored and I just want to play with electronics.* I think some parents are great at getting their kids excited about things and then working in stuff like writing without making it seem like a chore, but that's MORE work for me!

Leif has done next to nothing formal for school for years now. That's just the way it went with two older brothers whom I could teach together (he would never stay with us) and a little sister who needed a ton of attention (starting from when I was pregnant and he was 3 years old). Leif could read well and do math well, so I just left it at that. But now we're reaping some unpleasant behavioral issues from that. Like, unwillingness to work or obey. :( (He is also less capable of doing independent projects. And clean-up... not at all.)

Levi's hit 7th grade. His formal work load has been super light until now, but I think this is an important time to step it up. The transition is just notsofun. He desperately needs formal math instruction, and he needs to learn to be willing to work hard with a good attitude. He's in a class one day a week, and the work he does at home is all laid out for him. The social/accountability aspect is so good for him because all the kids are doing this work, it has a deadline (otherwise it simply wouldn't happen), and he is accountable to someone other than me.

Luke is the one who could do it. He could do projects on his own. He could come up with a few ideas. He's the most likely to clean it up. But he is also the ONE child who will do independent school work. He begs for a list, gets it done, and then wants computer time. This child is not fun when he's unemployed, because he just wants *something to do* or computer time. The only real formal work (other than his independent list of short tasks) is math we do together and his writing assignments from the class we attend on Mondays (it's 24 weeks, so not a full year). He really needs that formal writing instruction. I can see a big difference between last year and this year.

Seriously, I hear unschooling and I think we have to do all the learning we're already doing, but now I have to make it so fun and exciting and messy that the boys never think they are doing work. Ha!

Heidi said...

Ariana~ You have so much OTHER stuff going on in your life. Like having a 5th baby, moving 3 times!!, surgery for your baby... And I look at all the fun little crafts and projects and fun play that you guys do and I'm amazed. :)

carole said...

Heidi, I was "thinking out loud" too early in the morning. I really appreciate your honesty and don't mean to question your decision making. :) I know what you mean about unschooling done well - it's messy and involved just as much as classical hs is more structured and involved. Hearing that Leif has been essentially unschooling/reading voraciously on his own is fun. So you do implement a mixture of approaches - we do, too.

Anyhow, I was up early and made my comment and then went to church and my I laws and all the while I was thinking, "ack! I should delete that!" (sigh)

Heidi said...

I'm glad you posted your first comment, Carole. I don't mind a bit. :)

I just made a long story even longer. Ha!

Yes, we use several different approaches. Not necessarily intentionally, but more because it just happens that we all work that way. I'd say we are very relaxed with classical content. :) Even when I attempt a detailed schedule, it always ends up sliding (very quickly) into that pattern.

What we're dealing with now (and have been in the past) is more along the lines of character issues (for *all* of us). Obedience, self-discipline, time-management, good attitudes. Those things come into play whether we're doing unschooling, relaxed, or classical. We've really failed at the Charlotte Mason goals of attention and habits. ;-P And then there are the few skills the boys are having trouble picking up in a more relaxed, delight-led environment. So we really get to practice our character formation when spending time working on those. :D The only way I could really make this easier for myself is to un-parent. Ha!

Seriously, I took your comment in the manner that I know it was intended--friendly, interested, helpful, conversational. :)

carole said...

In-laws *

Thanks for the warm response. Yeah, character ... that's a tough one for all of us.

Kate said...

Just chiming in to say how much I appreciate the conversation above! This interplay between the structure of our days and the way it affects my kids' habits and character is something I've been thinking about, and I really appreciate the way you've laid out the pluses and minuses of the way you've schooled, Heidi...and also the way you're thinking about it as you move forward.

Unknown said...

We LOVE puzzles around here! (West Michigan)
We always do puzzles as a family during Christmas break and so my husband made a "puzzle board." It's simply a piece of plywood with some dark-colored felt duck-taped on. At one house it went above the fridge, at our apartment up on the counter, and now it's under my son's bed. He has a 1000 piece puzzle of Impressionist's Paintings going. He loves to work it while listening to Story of the World, Lord of the Rings, Narnia, or Bill Potter cds. We can gather around the table and then easily move it for dinner.