Monday, July 31, 2006

Squirrel Reading

Someone found our Treehouse by searching for "squirrel reading." Well, Dewey (like the rest of us) is often found with a book (when he's not out somewhere playing cards). For some reason they would not let him sign up for the summer reading program at the library, but he's keeping a list of some of his favourite squirrel books anyway. Here they are.

1. Babar's Children (Jean de Brunhoff): The squirrels save the day when little Alexander falls into their tree. [Update: Aha! Now I know why this was so hard to find online: it's also called Babar at Home. In French it's Babar en famille, so I guess either title is a fair translation.]

2. Chessie, the Long Island Squirrel (Sachiko Komoto): Chessie's life in the back yard, from babyhood through mamasquirrelhood

3. Squirrel Nutkin and Timmy Tiptoes (Beatrix Potter): Timmy Tiptoes, yes (some major resemblances there to Dewey). (You can read it online here.) Squirrel Nutkin: not so fond of that one (gives Dewey the shivers). (You can read it here.)

4. Attila the Angry (Marjorie Weinman Sharmat): From the inside flap: "Attila Squirrel gets angry at small things, big things, and in-between things. He gets particularly angry at other animals, dust, trees, scissors, toothpicks, and chicken pox. One day, Attila reads an ad. 'Do you have a bad temper?'" Anger management for rodents.

5. A Nutty Business (Ida Chittum): "Farmer Flint dashed for the closet. 'When I went to bed,' he cried, 'this heap of nuts was high as my head. It has shrunk to my shoulders. Now it has shrunk to my waist. Now to my knees! Madam, this heap of nuts is shrinking before my very eyes, or I am growing rapidly taller.' 'You have not grown rapidly taller,' shrilled Madam Flint. ''Tis the squirrels! There goes one, with his face full of our nuts.'"

6. Anything with nuts in it. Or food in it.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Uncle Dewey answers your squirrel questions

Someone found our blog by searching for "do squirrels like hot chili powder?"

Dewey says: "Only with refried beans and some good salsa."

Someone else was looking for "good places to start a treehouse."

Dewey says: "Try to pick a nice starter tree in a yard without any cats. Something with nuts is always nice, or maybe near a bird feeder."

Well, you wanted to know...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Teaching to Standards

Tim Fredrick's ELA Teaching Blog has an excellent post about classroom teachers who are hung up on teaching to standards (or feel they're forced into it)--to the point that they hang up the list of have-to-do's on the classroom wall and check them off throughout the year. Every kid has to read 25 books, period (even if 3 books might be a more appropriate goal for a slow reader). Every kid has to do so-many so-long writing assignments. And the bigger problem: who sets these standards? As Tim Fredrick points out, it's not usually the parents, teachers or local community. More and more, these decisions are centralized and made by people who don't know the students and who may be bureaucrats but not actually educators. (For those of us in Ontario, "standards" are just another word for something like the Ontario Common Curriculum. Third graders study such and such, fourth graders have to be able to do this and that.)

But don't gloat, homeschoolers. As I commented on Tim's blog, being enslaved to standards is not unique to classroom teachers. Homeschoolers can be caught up in school standards because of state or provincial education laws that require this subject, that book, this skill. Or they can put themselves there by following curriculum (any curriculum, from provincial guidelines to Ambleside Online) slavishly. There are homeschoolers who worry if every last exercise in the workbook isn't done (and figure they've covered everything as long as the book is completed). Some homeschoolers knock themselves out or empty their wallets trying to get one particular book, or they keep on buying gimmick after gizmo in hopes that they'll cover everything. And that's the point I'm trying to get back to: cover "everything." Teachers with standards on the wall are trying to cover everything that some bureaucrat has demanded. Homeschoolers squeezing two years of a curriculum into one (so their kids won't get "behind") are trying to cover more than everything.

The truth is that nobody can do everything, and that learning is a lifelong process. Setting goals and celebrating achievements is good; collecting assignments and checking off pages just so you can say you've "done it" is not. Ruth Beechick's book Heart and Mind: What the Bible Says About Learning (previously published as A Biblical Psychology of Learning) makes this point, after explaining a possible model of learning with arrows going in different directions:
But these ladders [arrows] are not meant to propose that we can do a great deal about setting learning in a linear sequence for our students. The ladders are simply insets taken from the total learning model, and if we look closely at the model we will see thousands of these ladders reaching in all sorts of directions, climbing on numerous levels all at once.

Try, for instance, to imagine a child learning the word Jerusalem. When he first meets it, it is likely to mean only a place--perhaps the place where Joseph and Mary brought baby Jesus to the temple. And of course the child has nothing like his teacher's idea of Jerusalem in his mind at such a time. It may mean almost nothing to him, but he does hear the word. As time goes on he learns more about Jerusalem: it has a temple in it, walls around it. His concept of city is also growing and he can begin to picture a city of Jerusalem....All through his growing years (which may be his whole life) he gains a continually richer meaning for the word Jerusalem....At what point will we say a student has "mastered" Jerusalem and is ready to go on to the next item?....In setting out curriculum content we make considered judgments about such things, and we keep our classes moving along in a general way. But individual students are bursting out all the seams. They do not stay in line. --Ruth Beechick, book above, pages 75-76
Bursting out all the seams--we're people, not standards on a wall. Celebrate it.

"Be a rebel. Don't do subjects."

Another post from Karen Edmisten, who's been following Amyable's CM postings. Karen notes, "For example, when we read about Archimedes, were we reading about history or math or science? The kids, ahem, didn't really care which category it fell into."

Sometimes--especially as our progeny get older and we get into that mess of categories known as "credits"--it's tempting even to pass on a good book that doesn't fit nicely into one of those categories. Biographies can fall in there with the uncategoricals--and they're often the best books we read! (Is Plutarch a subject?) We can't break knowledge down into spoon-size bits and decide what goes in the mouth when. (Charlotte Mason referred to that as the horse that gets one bean a day.)

My own school was supposedly into unit studies, interconnectedness and all that progressive 1970's stuff (learning centers with headphones, open-ended "activity cards", and few textbooks around that I can remember, other than a few rather deadly language and spelling texts). But even so, there are things I learned about without ever making connections to their wider significance. I remember playing with magnets and dutifully making diagrams of which way the iron filings went; but I didn't learn until years later that those magnets had any connection at all to electricity--not only that magnetic compasses helped explorers find the new world, but that magnets made the doorbell work. Mr. Fixit, of course, seemed to pick those things up without being told, but he was a Mr. Fixit (or a Mr. Taker-aparter) from diapers on--and he was a Boy. My own completely unproven theory is that Girls--at least those who aren't parented by a Mr. Fixit--especially need that greater interconnectedness, or they will grow up (as I did) not really understanding much about how the world works (or even how the doorbell rings).

Here's the quote which inspired Karen's post:
"One thesis, which is, perhaps, new, that Education is the Science of Relations, appears to me to solve the question of curricula, as showing that the object of education is to put a child in living touch as much as may be of the life of Nature and of thought. Add to this one or two keys to self knowledge, and the educated youth goes forth with some idea of self management, with some pursuits, and many vital interests."--Charlotte Mason
Yes, we need to teach history, and geography, and as much knowledge as we can give of the world and the universe we live in and how it works, and the people who live and have lived on this planet--and of the King over it all. But we need to teach it as an all, not just as parts.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

More from the apprentice

Well, I had my voice lessons yesterday...the teacher is quite nice and I had fun. She told me I had to bring two things next week: 1) A blank cassette. 2) A list of five songs I'd like to sing. Okay, so the tape I can handle, but the list? I am really having trouble with that. One thing is that I know it'll be easier singing songs with female vocalists, so that narrows it down a bit...but I still can't some up with anything! I think maybe one song might be Dancing Queen, but I know I'm going to have a hard time with four more. Oh well.

While I was getting the aforementioned can of icing, I stopped into the drugstore, because it's free sample week! (Sorry, I think it's only at this specific one.) So, what did I get? I got a nice assortment of stuff: John Frieda "brilliant brunette" Shine Release Moisturising Shampoo; John Frieda "brilliant brunette" Light Reflecting Moisturising Conditioner; John Frieda "brilliant brunette" Shine Shock perfecting glosser (stuff to make your hair shiny); Biore "Pore Perfect" pore unclogging scrub; Biore "Pore Perfect" Shine Control cream cleanser; Biore "Pore Perfect" Nose Strip (like a little mask for your nose). top it all off, you can get different samples almost every day this week! Honestly, I think if I had gone the other days, and went in the days ahead, I'd have quite the arsenal of stuff!

On Thursday I'm having a knitting club at my house, I'm going to call it "Chicks with Sticks". So far, I've only got a few people coming. I hope I get a little more response. :( If you happen to be one of my friends reading my blog, and you want to come, let me know!!

I put some stuff in the sidebar: What I'm reading and what I'm knitting.

One little word

There are times when it's very nice to have the Internet handy--to be able to search quickly for something you really need to know, like how to "fudge" an extra cup of powdered sugar for a Treehouse dweller's chocolate birthday cake icing.

On the other hand, it's important to double-check your sources. The first "substitutes" site I found via Google suggested blending one cup of granulated sugar and 1 cup of cornstarch in the food processor. Thinking that sounded a little odd, I checked another site, which had an almost identical chart: 1 cup of granulated sugar--oh, 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. Well, that made more sense. Two more sites--both said 1 tablespoon. The first one must have been just a typo.

But boy, I hope nobody tries that 1 cup-1 cup recipe. Yech. One little word makes a big difference!

[Update: if you try this, it seems to take an awful lot of processing before you end up with anything close to powdered sugar--it's more like superfine. I hate to admit it, but we ended up using a can of icing from the corner store instead, after monkeying with that icing for awhile and still crunching sugar. What did we do with the first icing? Made it into cookie balls and sent them to work with Mr. Fixit (for his co-workers). There, now you know ALL.]

Friday, July 21, 2006

Some things we did this week

1. Met Coffeemamma and three of the Blue Castle progeny in the park, along with another Ambleside Online mamma and her family. It was so nice to talk in person after all these years of long-distance chats!

2. All the Squirrels went to the Elora Gorge, and had a good time wandering through the woods, oohing over the precipices, and climbing up and down 59 steps (Ponytails counted them) carved out of the rock.

3. Mr. Fixit, Ponytails and the Apprentice went to Cruise Night with Grandpa Squirrel. Ponytails says, "There were a lot of people, and we met one of our cousin squirrels, and he had some new wheels--it was long and black, one of those cars with no roof, and it had red seats, I think. It was really cool and it made nice smoke."

4. Ponytails made Shrinky Dinks (Shrink Art). Note to Coffeemamma: "thank you so much for the Shrink Art, it's very fun!"

5. We played a new game called Woolworth that we found in a Dover books preview. (This isn't the card game Woolworth, it's played with two nickels, two dimes and a printed-out playing board which would be really easy to copy yourself. If I can find this online anywhere, I'll post a link.)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Five Things by the apprentice

I don't know if I'm *supposed* to be doing this, but I figured it couldn't hurt. It sounded fun. :-D

5 things in my refrigerator:
*My* refrigerator? I don't have one. How about...what I would put in if I had one.
1. Cupcakes that my friend and her mom made, with little whales on top.
2. Twix ice cream
3. Diet Pepsi
4. Mr. Goudas or Chubby ginger beer
5. Nail polish

5 things in my closet:
1. Guitar
2. My memory box
3. A lot of bags and purses, because people keep giving me them
4. 3 sheer tops that I absolutely love (and got on discount)
5. My old cats-eye sunglasses that I stepped on but just can't throw away

5 things in my purse:
1. Pocket Neopet
2. Lip gloss
3. Nail file with a mirror on the back
4. I had some candy, but I ate it...
5. Bead store bonus card

5 things in my car: about my bike?
1. Bell
2. Lock
3. Helmet
4. Seat
5. Me

And now I'm going to share a lovely lip gloss recipe I tried today:

a chunk of Dora the Explorer lip balm
a squirt of Caboodles Dynamic Duo lipgloss in Grape
purple food colouring
lemon food flavouring

You need to heat it up in some way. You could microwave, or if you don't have a microwave, put your pot into some boiling water.

Many thanks to cyens on She told me how to do it, and then I got very creative with the ingredients.

Books, more books


1. The Talisman, by Sir Walter Scott. Heads will roll. Ewww... But it was an excellent story--knights and honour and chivalry and jousting in the middle of the desert.

2. The Treasure Seekers, by E. Nesbit, with Ponytails.  One of the Bastable Children books.

3. Ourselves and Philosophy of Education (re-read), both by Charlotte Mason. These two books are very closely connected--if you're into jotting in margins, you can cross-reference them back and forth in many places. In fact, two different parts of Philosophy are pretty much summaries of Ourselves. One of the points that keeps hitting me as I've been rereading through the Home Education Series (Charlotte Mason's books) is that The Curriculum is a vital part of what she's talking about (although some people have misbegotten the idea that a specific curriculum isn't central to CM), and yet it's not where you need to start working through her ideas, and it doesn't even take up a great amount of space in the books. She did give lots of detail on what school lessons should be like, and education, schools, and children were obviously where her heart was; but that was just one application of her bigger picture. I think that's why she made that somewhat mystical comment to a student teacher at her college: "My dear, you have come here to learn to live." (The Story of Charlotte Mason, by Essex Cholmondeley)

Working on:

1. A Biblical Psychology of Learning, by Ruth Beechick. You can see it with its new title here.

2. The Wouldbegoods (second in the Bastable series), with Ponytails

3. Finishing up some odds and ends and things I started too long ago.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Carnival of Homeschooling on its way

News from the carnival: The NerdFamily is hosting this week, but NerdMom has been under the weather, so it will be posted as soon as she is feeling up to it. (Update: it's up now, here.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The DHM's Five Things, and Cooking By the Campfire

The Five Things part is a meme that the Deputy Headmistress sent our way. Cooking by the Campfire comes at the end, so hold on.

5 Things in my Refrigerator:
1. Head of broccoli
2. Package of tofu
3. A last bit of smoked Jarlsberg cheese (one of my favourites)
4. Half a pan of no-bake brownies (recipe below)
5. Last night's leftover Scoobi-Doos (coloured macaroni spirals)

5 Things in my Closet
1. Framed family photos we don't have anywhere to hang
2. A couple of toys that are "doing time" (confiscated)
3. The kids' too-big-too-small shoe box
4. About three dresses that need to be dry-cleaned
5. and two that need to be ironed.

5 Things in my Purse:
1. Library cards
2. Loonies and twonies
3. Boring stuff like keys.
4, 5. Dustballs.

5 Things in My Car
1. Mr. Fixit
2. Mama Squirrel
3. The Apprentice
4. Ponytails
5. Crayons

No-Bake Brownie Recipe (from Vegetarian Times)

I've doubled this recipe to make enough for an 8-inch square pan, but you could always cut it in half again.

In a saucepan, combine 6 tbsp. powdered milk with 2/3 cup water. (Or use regular milk.) Heat the milk, not to boiling but just quite warm. Stir in approximately 12 oz. chocolate chips (if you're short, you can make up the difference with a couple of unsweetened chocolate squares, or cut back on the total amount a bit), and stir just until melted and smooth. Stir in about 2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs, and press into a greased square pan. (The original recipe called for nuts, but we leave those out). Chill until set, or just set aside if you don't have a refrigerator (the recipe was part of an article on camp food). Cut in squares. [2012 update: we have also discovered that these taste good if you stir in some mini-marshmallows at the end.  More like S'more.]

Oh, the wonders of the Internet: I knew that recipe I'd clipped was from a 1995 VT article by Jasmine Star, and a Google search for her name brought up the whole article online. It has lots of tips, grocery lists and recipes for campfire cooking, particularly for vegetarians. (I have not cooked over a campfire myself for a long time--we are pretty much homebody squirrels these days, and the closest we get is cooking over a barbecue.)

Scott? Who reads Scott?

The novels of Sir Walter Scott were so familiar and important to the educator Charlotte Mason that she not only included them in term programs as a matter of course, but referred to them frequently in her own writings. The second part of her book Ourselves is loaded with illustrations from Scott (as well as from Dickens, George Eliot, Plutarch, and other writers with whom she assumed teenagers would be familiar!).
I can hardly conceive a better moral education than is to be had out of Scott and Shakespeare. I put Scott first as so much the more easy and obvious; but both recognise that the Will is the man....Both Shakespeare and Scott use, as it were, a dividing line, putting on the one side the wilful, wayward, the weak and the strong; and on the other, persons who will.--Charlotte Mason, Ourselves
Unfortunately, most of us didn't grow up reading Scott, and although we might have a vague idea of what Ivanhoe or Rob Roy are about, or might have heard about some of his poetry, many of the other books are strangers to us. Scott's books aren't even on a lot of best-books-you-must-read lists any more, except again maybe for Ivanhoe, and some people don't even count that really as one of his best books. I read one discussion of "classics" (I've forgotten what it was now) that simply lumped Scott with "writers who are no longer read," implying that there was good reason for that. The books are long, the first chapters are usually boring, they're extremely politically incorrect in all kinds of ways, and there are said to be lots of historical inaccuracies in them.

But if you want to do some exploring of what made Scott so vital to the Victorian mind, or if you want to get some idea of the plots of the novels, the Walter Scott Digital Archive is a good place to start. If you click on Works, you get a page for each book, with plot summaries; and the site has lots more Scott stuff as well. There's also a complete list of the books, if you want to see the "Waverley Novels" all in order.

A bit of Scott trivia to end with: did you know that those were the books that kept Laura sane during a difficult pregnancy in The First Four Years?
And now the four walls of the close, overheated house opened wide, and Laura wandered with brave knights and ladies fair beside the lakes and streams of Scotland or in castles and towers, in noble halls or lady's bower, all through the enchanting pages of Sir Walter Scott's novels.

She forgot to feel ill at the sight or smell of food, in her hurry to be done with the cooking and follow her thoughts back into the book. When the books were all read and Laura came back to reality, she found herself feeling much better. (The First Four Years, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, pages 107-108)
I hope this helps anyone who's interested in Charlotte Mason but is as bewildered by all the references to Scott as I first was.

What I'm Reading

A Century of Kindergarten Education in Ontario, by Barbara Corbett (from the library) "In it, Dr. Corbett discusses the history and issues specific to kindergarten in Ontario 1887-1987 that mirror similar changes going on all over the world at the time."

The Talisman, by Sir Walter Scott (I'm almost done this one, and it's very exciting if you like Richard the Lionheart and Saladin. It was made into a 1954 movie called King Richard and the Crusaders, but I haven't seen it yet, so can't say if it's much like the book.)
Sir Kenneth was left for some minutes alone, and in darkness. Here was another interruption, which must prolong his absence from his post, and he began almost to repent the facility with which he had been induced to quit it. But to return without seeing the Lady Edith, was now not to be thought of. He had committed a breach of military discipline, and was determined at least to prove the reality of the seductive expectations which had tempted him to do so. Meanwhile, his situation was unpleasant. There was no light to show him into what sort of apartment he had been led---the Lady Edith was in immediate attendance on the Queen of England---and the discovery of his having introduced himself thus furtively into the royal pavilion, might, were it discovered, lead to much and dangerous suspicion. While he gave way to these unpleasant reflections, and began almost to wish that he could achieve his retreat unobserved, he heard a noise of female voices laughing, whispering, and speaking, in an adjoining apartment, from which, as the sounds gave him reason to judge, he could only be separated by a canvas partition. Lamps were burning, as he might perceive by the shadowy light which extended itself even to his side of the veil which divided the tent, and he could see shades of several figures sitting and moving in the adjoining apartment. It cannot be termed discourtesy in Sir Kenneth, that, situated as he was, he overheard a conversation, in which he found himself deeply interested.

Ourselves, by Charlotte Mason
Literature, a very Rich and Glorious Kingdom.––Perhaps the least difficult of approach, and certainly one of the most joyous and satisfying of all those realms in which Intellect is invited to travel, is the very rich and glorious Kingdom of Literature. Intellect cannot walk here without Imagination, and, also, he does well to have, at his other side, that colleague of his, whom we will call the Beauty Sense. It is a great thing to be accustomed to good society, and, when Intellect walks abroad in this fair kingdom, he becomes intimate with the best of all ages and all countries. Poets and novelists paint pictures for him, while Imagination clears his eyes so that he is able to see those pictures: they fill the world, too, with deeply interesting and delightful people who live out their lives before his eyes. He has a multitude of acquaintances and some friends who tell him all their secrets. He knows Miranda and the melancholy Jaques and the terrible Lady Macbeth; Fenella and that Fair Maid of Perth, and a great many people, no two alike, live in his thoughts.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Happy 5th Birthday...

Happy Birthday to all 3,114 of you (and you know who you are). We are firing a salute in celebration. (Hold your ears.)