Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Carnival of Homeschooling

The Common Room is always up for company: again this week they're hosting the Carnival of Homeschooling. One post the DHM points out in particular: "One Step Ahead of the Train Wreck."

Monday, May 25, 2009

First Lessons in Nature Study

Jeannette Tulis posts on the Childlight USA blog. What does the Charlotte Mason method of nature study really look like?

How to learn English with Charlotte Mason

Well, if CM methods work for French and Spanish--how about for English as a second language?

This post comes from a Canadian homeschooling blog--in French--La joie d'apprendre!

Crayons' Snowflakes


Crayons finished her gingham embroidery cloth last Friday.

What to do at a horse party

There are some pretty terrific online lists of horsey party activities. We checked out Pony Party Ideas, the "Horse Power Party Planning Guide," and Birthday Parties for Kids. Mama Squirrel could have put an entire list together of really fun things to do outside--relay races, tag games and those sorts of things. If Crayons had been a little bit younger, she probably would have done exactly that.

However, this year we simplified the list. Counting on a sunny day, we planned for a sack race and horseshoes in the back yard, and a Bingo game afterwards.

And yes, it was sunny and quite hot for May.

The sack race was kind of lukewarm--some of the girls were still feeling shy and didn't feel too excited about into putting their feet into garbage bags. The horseshoes game was a bit more successful--Mr. Fixit showed the girls how to play and a few of them even made "ringers."

However, the next time Mama Squirrel looked out the back window, the game was over, and there were girls all over the swing set, girls hula-hooping, girls playing with the toy lawn mower, and one girl playing badminton with Mr. Fixit. You take one warm day in Ontario, one big back yard, and a couple of swings, and kids will more or less make their own party.

We finally got everybody back inside for Bingo. Mama Squirrel had taken our old Bingo cards--they're really old, worthy of the DHM's Rattery stash--and covered the BINGO part with paper loops (stapled together, slid over the cards) that said HORSE instead. So--under the H, 1; under the O, 16. Everybody got a chance to make a HORSE--after you won once, you had to stop playing. Each winner got to pick a little plastic horse.

And they opened presents, and ate, and then--everybody wanted to go back outside! Some of them stayed outside for the rest of the party, and the rest came back in to play with the gifts--Anna Sophia's new clothes were very much appreciated, thank you (you know who you are).

So while Mama Squirrel would have loved to try a few more of the organized ideas, and might have if the girls had seemed to be running out of things to do--she admits that sometimes it's better to let your guests just have fun than make them play Musical Saddles.

Horse parties--enough of this galloping around

"I want a horse party"--sounds simple, right?

A lot of the horse-and-pony-party websites assume that you must have unlimited funds and/or local stores brimming with cowboy toys. Some peoples' descriptions of their children's parties sound more like the Calgary Stampede. We wanted to have fun, but maybe not on that scale. Still, how hard could it be to come up with a few horse-themed decorations or toys?

Mama Squirrel can now understand why people end up buying the whole thing online.

We went to a party-ware store that had one mylar horse balloon--and that was it, the rest of the store seemed to be all 40th-birthday parties and adult Halloween costumes.

We went to the bulk store and couldn't find anything neat or original (which turned out to be a good thing since one of the guests has peanut allergies and can't have anything from the bulk store). Jellybeans and pretzels would have been fine, but we were hoping for something sort of cool, like gummy horseshoes.

We went to the "bargain store"--like the dollar store but they charge more. They had no party stuff at all. And very few horses.

We went to the Big Z department store, looked in the toy aisle and found nothing except big toy sets. We did pick up some striped paper plates and napkins, and two packages of dried-fruit snacks.

We went to the Craft Store. All the horse stickers were in the scrapbooking section and priced accordingly. We settled for plastic harmonicas, two packs of balloons, and a Toob of tiny horses (which ended up as game prizes). Mama Squirrel also bought a big ball of brown yarn--which became horses. (Note on the harmonicas: we would probably have been better off with the kazoos they sold, since those are supposed to sound kind of bad anyway.)

(We already had stuffing and scraps of other yarn for manes and saddles. Mama Squirrel would point out that the pattern, while quite good, has a couple of quirks. There's no mention of tails, and there's also no mention of stuffing the legs--but since we didn't want collapsed horses, we thought it must have been just an omission. Also, if you'll notice, all those seven horses were made by the same person using the same pattern--and some of them are quite different, depending on how firm they are stuffed and on the angle that the head is sewn on. No right or wrong, just pointing out how much Results Can Vary.)

We thought we had some clear gift bags, but remembered that we used them up at Christmas. Tin pails would have been fun, but not at Craft Store prices. So Crayons potato-printed paper lunch bags (we made a horseshoe and a star print), and we filled them with the fruit snacks, harmonicas, and crocheted horses. It might have been nice to have a few other candies or smaller things, but as Mama Squirrel has already pointed out, such things were not exactly plentiful (and we didn't think we could handle any more stores).

For decorations, we blew up the balloons, put out as many horse toys and books as we could find, and sidewalk-painted horseshoes coming up to the front door. (Ponytails added a welcome message with chalk.)

And Crayons took charge of the front-door table.

Horsey Birthday Food

Photos from Crayons' party:

The tablecloths were deep pink sheets (not white, but the photo makes them look washed out). (We went looking for a plastic tablecloth, but the dollar store was closed. So you use what you have.)

Did we have a horse's head cake or other fancy creation? We did not--no offense to those who do take the trouble. We just went for green icing and sprinkles. There was one large cupcake at each place, with a candle to blow out; and a plateful of mini-sized ones for seconds.

There was also a star-shaped container of raw vegetables--horse treats. (The star-shaped dish came at Christmas with cookies inside it.) And a plastic pailful of apples.

I made Rice Krispie squares for "hay bales" and stacked them around a barn-and-animals toy (Crayons' birthday gift a few years ago). (The mere idea of Mama Squirrel making RK squares makes certain parties laugh uproariously, as she has made several less-than-successful attempts in the past. But these turned out fine.)

Friday, May 22, 2009

She obviously hasn't hung around the trailer park enough

Crayons is having a slightly belated birthday party this weekend. It's all about horses. Stay tuned for some horsey party ideas...

Since we have a big back lawn and the weather's supposed to be good, I had asked Mr. Fixit if he could put together some kind of a horseshoe-tossing game. You know, maybe make some circles of heavy rope and toss them around a peg?

He went to the hardware store yesterday, but couldn't find any rope heavy enough, so he thought he'd ask if they had any junior horseshoe sets instead (the kind you can't really bean anybody with). The clerk (on the young side, I take it) seemed puzzled.

"Horseshoes, but not for a horse?"

"Yes, you know, you throw them..."

A moment's pause, and then--

"Is that, like, some kind of a video game?"

(Mr. Fixit kept looking, and today he found these rubber horseshoes at a local toy store, and on sale too. Rope rings and a stick might have been thriftier, but I think the rubber ones are pretty neat-o, especially in the retro packaging.)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Are you following these Freebies?

Homeschool Freebie of the Day has been offering downloads of the 1907 Junior Classics Library: three volumes yesterday, three today. King Arthur, Robin Hood and much more.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Crocheted coasters--with a recycling twist

Something to do with your old CDs!

Little crocheted animals

This post on DIY Life isn't new, but it still looks useful--lots of links for amigurumi and other little critters. There's a link to a horse pattern that I had already found and tried myself--very cute. I also appreciated her point that just because a pattern's published, even in a glossy magazine, it doesn't mean it's worth making (the last link on the page). It's like reading recipes--when your inner "yuck" goes off, pay attention. Trust your own taste.

There are also links to Tamie Snow's Roxycraft crocheting site (the one with one particular non-family-friendly word front and center, and a few others here and there; I hate to always have to point those things out, but just be warned); Tamie has a blog there with links to her helpful how-do-I-do-this videos (what's the best way to put little legs on little bodies?). I also like her free Play Ball pattern--nice for a very little one...and the Easter "Bunny Boo."

Maybe somebody should send a box of "Bunny Boos" to the CPSIA legions. If it [almost] worked for the Burgermeister...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

For once we agree...I think (review of Pish Posh)

Pish Posh, by Ellen Potter

Yesterday Ponytails started telling me about a book she had borrowed from her school library. Usually I don't get too interested in those things with covers that pass for pre-teen chapter books, but this one sounded a bit different, and I ended up reading it.

Don't read the customer reviews on Amazon if you're planning on reading the book--they give away too much. You can read the blurb on Potter's website, though, and the School Library Journal and Booklist reviews on the Amazon page. Pay attention to the SLJ review, especially if you have sensitive readers. There is a bit of gruesomeness towards the end, a stream of violent (although nonsensical, not-meant-seriously) threats by a bad-tempered chef, and also a storyline about hypnosis than some people might not like. Preview before handing to a tween.

Why bother reading this book then? Why I'd even bother mentioning it here?

Because it's just a better story than most. It's not about malls and shopping. It's not about boys. It's actually a story--a weird story with bizarre characters, but still a story, and an imaginative one, reminiscent of Ellen Raskin's fantasy-mystery-satire books ("things are not what they seem, people are not who they say they are") (The Westing Game, The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues, Figgs and Phantoms, The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel)). Or E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. If Clara has her share of angst, it's not without just cause: she's grown up in a kind of magic goldfish bowl created by her parents' anxieties and secrets--a sort of eleven-year-long Westing Game. She's definitely a snob, she may be spoiled, but she does have guts and resourcefulness. There's enough to like about Clara--and the other characters, even her father-- to make this fantasy more realistic, and enjoyable, than some of the "realistic" tween novels. There's also some fun computer stuff.

Worth checking out.

Crayons' Grade Two: Plans for this week

Daily: Opening songs, memory work (part of Longfellow's "Psalm of Life"), Hidden Rods Hidden Numbers, Calculadder. We haven't been doing Calculadder this year but I thought we would fit it in now since most of our regular workbook pages are done.

Tuesday:

Start preparing a paragraph for dictation
British history / gingham embroidery (working on the hem of the tea cloth)
Library unit: working on ideas of how things are sorted out in a library
Family Math: Rolling Records Part Three (probability activities with dice)
Pagoo
Handwriting worksheet
Gym Class

Wednesday:

Work on dictation paragraph
Mr. Pipes / sewing
Library unit
Gifted and Talented Workbook: probability pages
Artist study: Van Gogh
Handwriting
Art

Thursday:

Work on dictation paragraph
Composer study
Pagoo
Finish the history chapter / sewing
Library unit
Family Math: might start Random Walk (activity with a checkerboard)
Handwriting
Gym

Friday:

Dictation
Mr. Pipes
Pagoo
Robin Hood / sewing
Handwriting
Art

Play ball

Home School Dad hosts this week's Carnival of Homeschooling: Take Me Out to the Ball Game edition.

Best of the Mommy Bloggers Carnival will be at Momspective.com -- not up quite yet though.

Monday, May 18, 2009

On hairy eyeballs

Kate Haas, Toronto Star, May 17: "No, I don't have a TV. And no, it's not about you"

"Other parental decisions don't seem so fraught to me, at least at the level of personal interaction. My first son was formula-fed and, despite what we're all led to believe, I never faced a flicker of disdain from any of the breast-feeding mothers I encountered.

"And non-vaccinators in my circle don't get the hairy eyeball from the rest of us. So what is it about not owning a TV?"

Friday, May 15, 2009

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Rhubarb, what to do with it

We've gotten quite a few Google hits this week for things to do with rhubarb, since we did post about it a few times over the past couple of springs.

You can make rhubarb pie.

You can make upside-down rhubarb muffins. There's an easier muffin recipe in Edna Staebler's last cookbook (she has a whole chapter of rhubarb recipes), and there's Coffeemamma's sour cream version.

You can make rhubarb jam.

You can make all kinds of fancy rhubarb things.

You can break off a piece, sprinkle salt on it, and eat it raw. Not my thing really, but some people like it.

But short of that, what's the easiest thing to do with rhubarb, especially if you're not a baker and/or you don't have time? Put it (the chopped-up stems--you do know not to eat the leaves, right?) in your microwave and cook it. The way we did it two years ago, or the even easier way I cooked it last night: a big glass measuring cup about half full of chopped rhubarb, a bit of brown sugar, and two spoonfuls of water which were entirely unnecessary. I keep having to remind myself that Rhubarb Makes Its Own Juice. I also added two spoonfuls of last summer's strawberry jam, and a grated apple, but those things are also unnecessary (nice, but just extras). Repeat after me: chop rhubarb, add a LITTLE sweetener, cover, and microwave until it's soft enough to eat. Take it out and stir it if you're not sure, and put it back in until it's done the way you like it.

No crust, no batter, no gluten, no dairy, no salt. Eat it over ice cream / frozen alternative, or just plain.

Quick, somebody send the DHM some chocolate

"We've been had. We've been snookered, beaten, robbed, and left for dead and the politicians are rifling our bodies for loose change.

"And we're going to let these same people take control of our health care? What do we care, I guess. We're dead, anyway." -- "Oh, The Economy," posted at The Common Room

Photo found here.

Speed Baking: We Did It!


At 3:34:11 this afternoon I logged into the computer.

I quickly checked the mail and then read Meredith's post "Quick, Cheap Cookie Tray." Short version: she needed something nice--ASAP. "With basic ingredients, I can pull together these cocoa powder brownies and sugar cookies with 15 minutes of measuring and mixing," Meredith says.

Could those recipes for brownies and sugar cookies really be that speedy?

Could I pull something together that fast if I had to?

Start your engines.

I think I did the baking in the opposite order to Meredith's--I did the brownies first and then the sugar cookies (they bake at two different temperatures), but it still worked out fine. I didn't have any lemons or lemon peel for the cookies, so I used a quarter teaspoon of lemon extract.

For the fruit I used two sliced pears and a cantaloupe.

I don't know exactly what time I started baking after printing out the recipes, but let's say 3:40 p.m.

By 4:40 p.m., I had the whole thing put together and the bowls and spoons washed, plus dinner well on the way. It would have been 4:30, but I had to find the melon baller in the basement pantry, answer the phone, and grate the burned bottoms off one pan of cookies--I got distracted for a minute right after the buzzer went. (Sounds horrible, and Amy Dacyczyn got hissed when she did it on national television, but it really truly works and you really truly wouldn't know the difference if you do it gently and use the very small holes on the grater.)

An hour's work, a nice dessert. Thanks, Meredith! I'll remember this next time it's my turn to stare blankly and say, "Oh--I did promise, didn't I?!"

Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival

His Mercy Is New hosts this week's CM Carnival.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"They got him out and emptied him; Alas it was too late"

"In the output of those writers who have deliberately written for children, it is surprising how largely the subject of death is found to bulk. Dead fathers and mothers, dead brothers and sisters, dead uncles and aunts, dead puppies and kittens, dead birds, dead flowers, dead dolls--a compiler of Obituary Verse for the delight of children could make a fine fat volume with little difficulty. I have turned off this mournful tap of tears as far as possible, preferring that children should read of the joy of life, rather than revel in sentimental thrills of imagined bereavement.
"There exists, moreover, any quantity of verse for children, which is merely verse and nothing more. It lacks the vital spark of heavenly flame, and is useless to a selector of Poetry. And then there is the whole corpus of verse most of it of the present day which is written about children, and this has even more carefully to be avoided. When the time comes that we send our parents to school, it will prove very useful to the compilers of their primers."--Kenneth Grahame, The Cambridge Book of Poetry for Children
I have a lovely (virtual) hair-wreath to send to anyone who can identify the poem in the subject line.

A friend and a library, what more could you ask for?

How would you like to hang out with Charles Lamb on a vacation at Oxford, sometime around 1823?

He never got the chance to study there himself. But he liked to hang around the hallowed halls, especially when the students were gone for the summer, and pretend:
"Here I can take my walks unmolested, and fancy myself of what degree or standing I please. I seem admitted ad eundem. I fetch up past opportunities. I can rise at the chapel-bell, and dream that it rings for me. In moods of humility I can be a Sizar, or a Servitor. When the peacock vein rises, I strut a Gentleman Commoner. In graver moments, I proceed Master of Arts. Indeed I do not think I am much unlike that respectable character. I have seen your dim-eyed vergers, and bed-makers in spectacles, drop a bow or a curtsy, as I pass, wisely mistaking me for something of the sort. I go about in black, which favours the notion. Only in Christ Church reverend quadrangle I can be content to pass for nothing short of a Seraphic Doctor."
But the part that really made me laugh is the description of the friend he runs into there, the one who stands by the library bookshelves so long that somebody should give him a leather binding (these days it might be "implant a security microchip"):
"With long poring, he is grown almost into a book. He stood as passive as one by the side of the old shelves. I longed to new-coat him in russia, and assign him his place. He might have mustered for a tall Scapula."
And then there's this further description of the friend:
"D. is delightful anywhere, but he is at the best in such places as these. He cares not much for Bath. He is out of his element at Buxton, at Scarborough, or Harrowgate. The Cam and the Isis are to him 'better than all the waters of Damascus.' On the Muses' hill he is happy, and good, as one of the Shepherds on the Delectable Mountains; and when he goes about with you to show you the halls and colleges, you think you have with you the Interpreter at the House Beautiful."
(All quotes from "Oxford in the Vacation," published in Essays of Elia by Charles Lamb)

Catching up on CPSIA

Overlawyered provides links--more stuff is happening.

Carnival of Homeschooling

The Carnival of Homeschooling: Some Things Moms Love is up at Jacque Dixon's blog Walking Therein.

Monday, May 11, 2009

More on libraries

From Alberto Manguel's The Library At Night:

"Books lend a room a particular identity...In turn, the space in which we keep our books changes our relationship to them. We don't read books in the same way sitting inside a circle or inside a square, in a room with a low ceiling or in one with high rafters. And the mental atmosphere we create in the act of reading, the imaginary space we construct when we lose ourselves in the pages of a book, is confirmed or refused by the physical space of the library...."

An Amy Update

There have been a couple of Tightwad Gazette / Amy Dacyczyn interviews and updates in recent months: "Still the Queen of Thrift" was one I hadn't seen. [Link update 09/11:  try this instead .]

Like Rufus M.

Alberto Manguel writes about libraries:

"But for most writers, even if the stock of books is not formidable, to be able to enter a place where books are seemingly numberless and available for the asking is a joy in itself. 'I knew this was bliss,' [Eudora] Welty wrote late in life, 'knew it at the time. Taste isn't nearly so important; it comes in its own time. I wanted to read immediately. The only fear was that of books coming to an end.'"--The Library at Night

Crayons' Grade Two: Better Weather, Change of Pace

We're in the last few weeks of the school year, and I'm finding the school days are almost too short to reasonably pack in some of the things I'd like to do. Not so much cramming history or anything, so much as playing with some of our stuff, and making more time for things like "Gym Class" and "Art Class." And gingham embroidery, I guess that's "Domestic Studies." And trying out the Tintin Games Book Crayons got on a recent happy day in the Treehouse. (Hint, it involved candles.)

Gym Class, at the minute, means getting out badminton rackets (Crayons was given some small-sized ones last year) and plastic balls with holes in them (we use golf-practice balls), and seeing how many times we can bounce the balls on the rackets without losing control. (It's harder than it sounds!) I got the badminton idea from a thrift-shopped copy of Physical Education for Homeschoolers by L.S. McClaine.

Sometimes we throw a Frisbee back and forth too, but Mama Squirrel is notoriously bad at that.

Art Class recently has included a Van Gogh-inspired still life with oil pastels. We had no sunflowers but lots of dandelions, so that's what we drew. Crayons was also given a set of "opaque watercolours" and we'll work those in too.

Today's list of things to do: Two chapters from Pagoo, six pages from Mr. Pipes, a game from Family Math, reading My Librarian is a Camel, writing a letter, and some of the other creative stuff.

P.S. We finished Pilgrim's Progress last week!

CPSIA and your yard sale--not just hot air?

Hot Air posts about the new government-issued instructions for what Americans can and can't sell at yard sales.

You can get a copy right here.

One wonders what the Clean House folks will do about that.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Rummage Sales

Last week's rummage saling: a box of oil pastels, a cassette recorder, a sweater (for Mama Squirrel), a skort (it turned out not to suit Ponytails, but we'll put it aside for Crayons), drawer organizers, a cap, and several books. Plus a cloth shopping bag, since this was a fill-up-a-bag sale and for an extra fifty cents you got to keep the bag.

Today was too rainy for much outdoor yard-saling (it's off and on, keeps pouring rain and then the sun comes out for awhile), but there were some church sales. We came home with two Beanie Boppers (Crayons' treasures), an embroidery set (mostly for the floss, needle and any other useful parts), a plastic tool box, two sets of punch-out wood dollhouse furniture, paper doilies, a "Country Flowers of a Victorian Lady" greeting-card keeper, and several books including Lasagna Gardening. Mr. Fixit found some records including a never-been-opened copy of The Mennonite Piano Concerto.

Friday, May 08, 2009

On the CPSIA front

The Common Room offers some pointed remarks about what is and isn't happening.
"It is my believe that the preference for optimism over facts is the result of a particular political bias from those uncomfortable with the role that Waxman has played in sticking it to crafters and who have pinned their hopes on the President to fix all that is wrong with the CPSIA. and I don't about anybody else, but I find it both amusing and also unrealistic to dismiss facts, information, and reality as 'whining' and second guessing."

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Songs and Stories

A really nice post about all those good things.

For Amblesiders: I Promessi Sposi

Suitable for Mixed Company's review of Alessandro Manzoni's I Promessi Sposi was posted WAY back in December, but I missed it then.

The Apprentice and I got only about halfway through that before she defected to high school, but I've always thought I'd like to go back and finish it. We were just getting into the swing of it...hampered by the fact that we were trying to print it out as small as possible and kept running out of chapters. It's a LONG novel. At that time the only copy we could find to order was very expensive, so we opted for an as-you-need-it printout. I know it's in the Harvard Classics as well, but it's in the half of the set we don't have.

You can now buy a newer translation of it (translated by Omero Sabatini) called Promise of Fidelity, and also a Penguin Classics version translated by Bruce Penman and called The Betrothed. All the same book. (Yes, I think that's a typo on the Chapters.ca page--I don't know who Bruce Manzoni is!)

Is public high school all that perky?

"Still, secondary school also has plenty of perks," writes a teenaged former homeschooler, now enrolled in public high school.
"Government funding provides us with a vast array of resources generally not available to those who learn at home, while student initiative has led to the creation of a dizzying number of extracurricular opportunities.

"Then, of course, there is the adventure of it all. During my first week I wrote a math exam, forgot my lunch, got lost multiple times, misplaced a textbook, and learned how to use a combination lock. Luckily, I did not make the same mistake as my sister and put the thing on backwards."
Hmmm...guess what? Those are the same sorts of things I did my first week in high school. And my first day in grade 7-and-8-school...I couldn't figure out why the teacher didn't call my name; turned out I was in the wrong homeroom. And my first week in a new elementary school...I got lost coming back from the washrooms. And my new third-grade teacher thought that another girl and I who had similar names must be the same person and only prepared for one of us. Yes, I did exist, in spite of multiple attempts to leave me off the list. And I was never homeschooled, so at least you can't blame that...I was just the kind of kid that those things happened to.

But more to the point, what's this former homeschooler doing going on about the "vast array of resources generally not available to those who learn at home?" You would think she, of all people, would know better.

Now in the case of our Apprentice, we did decide to avail ourselves of an easily-accessible drama class (although many homeschoolers participate in homeschool or community theater opportunities) and science lab (just because it was something The Apprentice thought would be interesting). Also we could not manage to replicate a hairstyling classroom at home, something that's offered at our local high school though not at most others. Those tentative forays into public education evolved quickly into pretty much of a full-time thing for the Apprentice, once she realized that she was already partway to a diploma and that having that piece of paper might not be a bad thing. But I'm thinking of homeschoolers who have worked in family businesses and who have devoted countless hours to special interests such as music...some who ride horses, some who volunteer at pioneer museums, some who raise soybeans, some who raise ducks, and some who just raise kids...and many of them have come up with many marvellous resources and activities that aren't offered at any public schools around here. (Here's just one random blog post about a homeschool family doing interesting things.) I know a mom with a Ph.D. in chemistry who inspires others with her homeschool science resourcefulness, and another who sent a message today reminding us that she'll be starting up French classes again. (This same lady has also started writing and directing musical-theater shows in our homeschooling community--too bad the Apprentice missed out on those.)

"Even though I have studied the theory of multiculturalism, I never had a proper comprehension of what the word meant until I stepped through the doors of my high school," says the columnist. But I'm thinking, just in the group of local homeschoolers we know, of families who have travelled to Kenya, Egypt and Ireland; of a young lady who has decided to "nanny" for a short time for a missionary family in Europe. And people who have hosted exchange students for shorter or longer periods, and our friends at the Abarbablog whose children grew up around international students (and one of whom has travelled to Uganda with the AbarbaPapa). (The older AbarbaKids have moved on to public high school as well--much like our Apprentice, they had strong interests in various subjects and didn't feel as if they were relinquishing control by enrolling in school.)

And then there are our online friends, more people whose children homeschooled all the way through high school and who don't seem to have missed out on much of that vast array. Here's just one:
"The HG met with two history advisors to discuss her 50 page paper. They tell her it is outstanding work, they've not seen work of this caliber from an undergrad before, and encourage her to look into contacting a state historical society and getting it published as a small book. There are some changes she needs to make, but they are so pleased with her work that they tell her she can do this over the summer, and they will each devote some time to helping her with the project- overseeing her work, suggesting lines of additional research, and helping with the query letter."--"Other Nifty News" posted on The Common Room
So yes, I'm glad overall that our Apprentice found her feet in the halls of a public high school. There was a time for her to take that on, and she did it in a way that worked for her. It's given her specific opportunities that might not have happened for her otherwise, and...ironically...maybe has even increased her sense of control over her own education. Because she came from a background of independent learning, she's never felt like she had to be one of a "thundering herd of teenage sheep" or that she was being forced to take a lot of useless classes she had no interest in. She's there, most days, because she wants to be there. She's even reviewing extra chemistry (which she isn't even taking right now) because she wants to write the upcoming Avogadro Exam (a competition that almost 5,000 chemistry students wrote last year). (And just for the record...she's been there three years now and still has problems getting her locker open.)

So if she's made good use of the school resources...does that leave us back where we started with our "used-to-homeschool" columnist? That if homeschooling was small and, according to her account, somewhat restricted, then public high school is bigger and offers so much more? The article ends with this statement:
"The best part of school is that it has forced me to expand my horizons, to depart from my comfort zone and gain a better understanding of the world we live in."*
Not necessarily so. For some students, yes. For others--the world itself is big enough to be a wonderful classroom.

*The funny thing about that is that I've heard older students (particularly the dropouts and late-in-life autodidacts) say exactly the same thing...about homeschooling.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Why I won't unschool

Joanne Rendell published an "Education" piece in the May 3rd Toronto Star, called "Why I Won't Send My Son to School." A note at the end states that a longer version of the piece appears on babble.com, and yes, it does.

The comments on the article are, both surprisingly and unsurprisingly, largely negative. I find it surprising because of the large number of unschoolers who would probably post some support for Rendell after reading the article. Unsurprising because of the general public's somewhat mistrusting take on homeschooling in general, much less the kind of unschooling that Rendell describes.

Now given that this is still a very young child, I have no issue with most...well, some...of her "uncurriculum." Playing in the dirt with other kids--natural thing for a little boy to be doing. Going out to a bar with his mother and her partner late at night--not so much.

But I would never want to "unschool" my own children. To each his own, as one of the homeschoolers commenting on the article said. But I couldn't do it, and I take issue with some unschoolers' position (implied or explicit) that unschooling is the Great Step Beyond Regular Homeschooling that the rest of us haven't been savvy enough to catch onto. Much like the idea that Regular Vegetarians aren't vegetarian enough for vegans and all the rest of the very-specific-dieters.

Yeah, I've read John Holt. In fact, I pretty much started with his books. I can understand why he got frustrated with teaching and schools. I survived all the fads and experiments and weaknesses of 1970's public elementary schools. Old books, new books, no books, desks in rows, classrooms without walls, headphone listening centers, smelly tempera paints, the first VCRs, repeating what you already knew, kids getting the belt, activity cards, kids getting their mouths washed out with soap...tell me why schools shouldn't work and I probably lived through it.

I'm a fairly flexible homeschool teacher myself, especially now that I only have one at home full time. We spent way longer than I'd planned today working on a math activity that Crayons especially enjoyed. And we'll catch up on all my great plans, another day.

But if I unschooled...or, if you prefer, I let my children self-direct their own education, picking and choosing all or most of what they learned and when...I'd miss the small coincidences like finding a book about our term's artist at Winners. I'd miss the satisfaction that comes when someone's given me their best exam narration ever.

They'd miss out on Hidden Rods,Hidden Numbers, unless I left it where they would sprain an ankle falling over it. It's not the kind of book that screams "pick me up and use me." No cute graphics, just a tiny-print introduction and three series of student-created Cuisenaire rod logic puzzles. Crayons and I are going to be working through a couple of them every day until the end of the school year.

They'd miss out on some of the great but ugly books we have. Our copy of Cue for Treason looks like the old one shown here on Amazon. What kid would pick that up without major coercion? But it's a great adventure story--a bit too violent maybe for Crayons, yet, but sooner or later.

I doubt they'd find their way to Plutarch without some help, or perhaps even find their way out of the kids' fiction section at all. I loved to read when I was young, but when I was Allowed The Adult Card in around the eighth grade, I had absolutely no idea where to start, what to read, how to read it. The first two books I brought home turned out to be an adult-content education in themselves although probably not what my parents would have expected.

How shall we then expect our children to find their way through what's out there without some nudging and even some direct "Here, I want you to read this," or even better, "Here, let's read this together?" I have no doubt that many unschoolers say those same things and still consider themselves unschoolers. Maybe the only difference is that I write it down six months ahead of time. Maybe.

I might not ever get to let my kids know that they should be "Still achieving, still pursuing, / Learn[ing] to labor and to wait." I have no doubt that many unschoolers read those lines too, and interpret them in their own ways. Maybe the only difference is that I have no philosophical problem with helping the labour along a bit.

Maybe.

Crayons' Grade Two: Gingham Embroidery

Crayons likes to make craft projects on her own, and sometimes even sews something for her dolls all on her own--usually with a big needle and yarn, and usually something that's done the same day. But recently we've been trying something more longwinded--the gingham-embroidery tea cloth from Hope Chest Legacy's Lucie's Snowflakes. (The gingham embroidery link there shows both the snowflake and lace stitches; Lucie's project uses only the snowflakes and then a hemming stitch around the edges.)

This was partly inspired by the fact that we had the book here (it was bought for our homeschool support group, and I was waiting to get it stickered and take it to the next meeting), and partly by the fact that we had bought a big piece of yellow gingham, with the right-size squares, at a rummage sale. Yellow may not be the preferred colour for a beginner to work with--I think red or blue might be easier to see--but Crayons has done really well with it so far.

The book is very much goof-proof. There are photos of EVERYTHING. It's the second book in the series, and we didn't do the running-stitch project from the first book, but that didn't seem to matter. There are one or two little discrepancies between the photos and the drawings, but nothing we couldn't figure out. (Specifically, how much space or how many squares you fold over for the hem.)

One slightly unrealistic thing about the story is that Lucie--sick in bed with a cold--manages to finish all the embroidery and hem one side of the cloth all in one day, while her grandmother reads to her. Lucie must have an incredible amount of perseverance, because Crayons has been working on this for quite a few days now (while Mama Squirrel reads) and she's still not even done the snowflakes. Just saying...

But overall I'm delighted with this approach to handwork, and I can't wait to be able to post a photo. UPDATE: here's the photo.

My favourite graph paper generator

Easy to print your own centimeter-sized graph paper. Great for using with Cuisenaire rods! Or for cutting up for this Family Math activity--thanks, Jimmie! (I don't think our "number line" is going to be that big, but I appreciate the warning.)

[Update: we decided to go with 1-inch squares for the number timeline, rather than 1 cm--easier to cut out and work with.]

Make your own copywork

WorksheetWorks.com provides a manuscript/cursive handwriting practice page generator--you type in the text and it comes out as a practice page.

2014 NOTE: I notice that a lot of people are still clicking on this link, but the website does not seem to be available now.  Sorry!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Paul Scofield reads Longfellow



This is something Crayons and I will be reading this week.

How did we do? (Groceries)

What did we buy and how close did we stay to the list and the $90?

Frozen juice .50
Carton juice .99
Frozen lunches, 3 4.17
Juice boxes for lunches 2.79
Frozen mixed veg 2.29
Sausage, 1 pkg .99
Other meat 5.95

Melon 1.49
Bananas 2.74
Grapes 2.18
Celery .99
Parsley 1.29
Lettuce .99
Broccoli 2.98
Mushrooms, 1 lb. 1.98
Sweet potatoes 2.59
Baby-cut carrots, 2 bags 1.98 (I was not thrilled with the quality of these once I got them home--I think next time I'll cut my own carrot sticks)

Cereal 2.99
Arrowroot cookies .99
Pasta, 7 x 450 g 3.47
Pasta sauce, 2 jars 1.98
Boxed chicken broth 2.49
Salad dressing 1.49
Honey 3.79
Canned beans, 6 2.97
Canned chicken, 2 1.98
Canned tuna, 2 2.98
Bagels 1.98
Bread 2.98
Eggs, doz. 1.49
Margarine .99

Cream cheese 2.79
Parmesan cheese, 200 g 1.98
Shredded cheese, 300 g 2.97
Milk, 8 L 7.94

Total: $89.62

So far, so good. However, as I've said before, I'm not the only one who makes food decisions here, so some more things got put into the cart.

Food extras:

Ice cream 1.99
Bakery items 7.28
Bagged cookies 3.28
Barbecue sauce .99
Frozen fish 13.98
Extra meat 3.76
Can of juice .99

Subtotal: 32.27

Non-food items:

Plastic wrap 2.49
Shampoo 1.99
Laundry soap 4.99
Toilet paper 6.99
Other misc. 6.78

Subtotal: 23.24

And then there are some taxes: add on another 3.19.

The total came out to $148.82, minus fifty cents here or there (I added things up three times and still came out a bit short, but close enough).

Plastic wrap? It lasts us awhile, but yes, we still use it. Spare the tomatoes. And yes, I'm perfectly aware that I can make my own salad dressing, but there are certain squirrels who think that generic Thousand Island is what makes a salad worthwhile. Life is short enough, I'll never wish that I spent more time arguing with them over it.

The bakery items (pastry and rolls for Sunday mornings) are definitely we-could-do-without-those things. But again, they make some people happy and there are probably worse ways we could spend the money. If the budget had to be tightened more, those would be the first things to be chopped (sometimes I make my own versions of those things anyway).

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Even if you DO feel inadequate

We had a similar experience, homeschooling with Shakespeare!

"He flattered me at one point, saying, "So you've taught them everything they know about Shakespeare, wow!"

"I didn't know what to say then. Because all we do is read his plays. I think Shakespeare teaches them more about Shakespeare than I do."-- "All Geeked Up," posted by Katie on CM, Children and Lots of Grace

Friday, May 01, 2009

The DHM tries again (CPSIA)

We posted before about the disappointing reply (re CPSIA and pre-1985 books) that the Deputy Headmistress received from her representative.

Here is her reply to the reply.

Power...Restored

Holy Experience has a post-storm story to share.

What Shellbee Eat?

Sorry, I couldn't resist that one.

Someone nicknamed Shellbee posted a lot of links on Recipezaar, to help use up cans and packages of things that food box recipients (or cupboard-stashers) might have on hand. Not that a box of "Hamburger Assistant" is cheap food, Shellbee points out, or that you can't make something similar from scratch; but if that's what you have to work with, here are some recipes to make it stretch. And other ideas of that kind. Looks like it's worth a browse.
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