11 December 2008

Unexpected lesson

Since I'm having no luck finding the words to start this entry, I'll use TJ's. At the moment she said this, it felt like her soul was speaking to my heart.

My worries wake up with me
and yawn
and eat breakfast with me.

In retrospect, I, too, could have said good morning to those worries over a bowl of cereal. They have been present in our lives for the last year and a half (except for that too brief hiatus over the summer). What makes it worse is that I know the names of the worries, and that I let them trick me into thinking they were friends.

I hesitate to name the source of the worries. The blame doesn't belong to the organization we were in, nor to the girls in the group we were part of, nor to their leaders (who truly did try to help my TJ fit in), nor to the parents. Friendship: you just can't force it.

TJ and I have had a number of discussions about friendship since her revelatory words on Friday night. The best analogy we came up with to help her understand the situation was that finding a friend is like finding a piece of a puzzle that fits with your piece. The girls we had been meeting with -- twice a month! since September 2007! -- their puzzle doesn't have a place for TJ's piece.

TJ has lots of true friends, but they don't all know each other. I thought that this activity would provide her with a community of friends based on common experiences (what we did during our meetings). The five other little girls in the group all attend school together, leaving my dear one the odd one out of virtually every conversation. "Mommy, why isn't anyone speaking to me?" Also to be read as, Mommy, can you get me out of this situation?

It is obvious ... now.

So, whose lesson is this, anyway? Required reading: Little Big Minds by Marietta McCarty, a book on sharing philosophy with kids. Chapter 2, Friendship.

One bright spark from this misery, TJ came up with the solution. She just had to come down to my level and speak in a way I could understand. I guess I have the topic for my next blog entry.

07 December 2008

Cranberry Thanksgiving

Who Owns the Sun was a timely choice for the election, kind of by accident. Cranberry Thanksgiving, by Wende and Harry Devlin, was our choice for the weeks around Thanksgiving by design. I am beginning to suspect that all of the books in this series are going to be morality tales. The lesson from this one was, in essence, not to judge people by appearances.

The girls enjoyed this book for the story and the language. They liked the phrase, "Too many whiskers and not enough soap!" that the grandmother used to describe the old tar that Maggie invites to their Thanksgiving dinner. Grandmother asks Mr. Horace, a lonely city slicker who smells of lavender, to join them. Guess who steals the recipe for Grandmother's famous cranberry bread?

The authors provided us with that recipe, no theft necessary, and it provided us with the chance to talk about halves and quarters. TJ gets the concept, but I have to phrase my questions just right. Asking one half plus one half doesn't work for her yet. "If I give you half a cookie, and then I give you the other half, how many cookies did you eat?" That one she knows. That one little PJ knows! To think that I never liked word problems.

We visited my parents one day during our Cranberry Thanksgiving experience. Without my prompting, the girls used the toys in my old Sesame Street Little People playhouse to act out the story. TJ used a lot of the dialog word for word from the story as she played. That was neat to see.

The cranberry bread recipe at the center of the story is a good one. It is a quick bread that verges on being a cake. I suppose I could post it here if there is interest. Grandmother won't mind, as long as I give her credit.

30 November 2008

It's so easy to get caught up in other things ...

A brief recap of October and November is in order (and my apologies to friends and family who asked for updates!). Despite my best efforts, I got caught up in election emotions. Every time I started to write here, the entry turned into a rant about something or other that didn't have much to do with our homeschooling experience.

Five In a Row for us has become Five Every Other Day or So Spread Out Over a Couple of Weeks. Or in the case of Who Owns the Sun by Stacy Chbosky, it took us a month. The book is narrated by a boy who discovers there are some things too wondrous to be owned, including a person's heart and soul. He and his family are slaves in the pre-Civil War South; it is quite a lesson for him.

The author was a fourteen-year old girl in the '80s. The last line of the book is something to the effect of "My parents would be proud to know that their great-great grandson became governor of this state." It was moving to read this in the context of the presidential election of 2008. TJ and PJ don't really get how wondrous it is that America has elected Barack Obama.

We didn't do a lot of math or science with this book. The girls created a list of their own of "Things too wondrous to be owned," which inspired their own artwork. We also attended a political rally for Obama with 35,000 other people, a crowd that included at least twenty of our local friends. It was a great experience to be in that crowd -- such good will, hope, and energy.

I have to leave this update here for now. The girls are asking to play, and why would I sit at the computer instead of having fun with them?

13 October 2008

Making the proverbial lemonade

I misplaced the book. The FIAR book! The book about Mako, the little girl with the red clogs. I've been referencing Mako with some frequency because TJ has been complaining about her purple crocs. "No one else has two straps!" "They are dirty!" "When can I get new ones that fit?"

She might have a point with that last one.

Still, the book has appeared at just the right moment in our lives. All I have to do is say sweetly, "Yes, Mako, maybe I will get you new ones before the next festival day," and TJ stops whining.

And I couldn't find it, just when it was time to read it.

The plan was to read it to them as they ate a Japanese lunch like Mako might have had. It was a stir fry of snow peas and carrots, beef, and udon noodles. TJ discovered a new love for beef, and PJ slurped down the julienned carrots. Instead of enjoying lunch with them, I ran around the house looking through piles of stuff (because that's the way I "organize") not finding A Pair of Red Clogs.

To set a good example and not panic about losing the book, I decided to make the best of it and try something that I've been wanting to do anyway. It's the technique of narration as described by Charlotte Mason; just see how much of the story TJ could recreate, since I COULDN'T FIND THE D**N BOOK. (Is it clear how much I have to censor my internal dialogue, that I practice it in my blog?)

TJ then proceeded to narrate for me, beginning to end, Mako's story of the red clogs with the crack in them. I "scribed," to use the CM terminology, and wrote three and a half pages.
We followed this with the math lesson I had planned for TJ, of circling the multiples of 2 in a Hundreds Chart. Then she wanted to circle the odd numbers on another copy of the chart, and then to put hearts around each individual number.

All's well that ends well. Daddy came home and found the book ... next to the bed.

08 October 2008

A Pair of Red Clogs

My favorite part about the FIAR curriculum is the art lesson. It's right in the middle of the week and GREAT for the Wednesday afternoon doldrums.

A Pair of Red Clogs is our story this week. The illustrations are done in colored pencil, "Like Ping was," TJ observed. Also like Ping, the illustrator chose a limited color palette of red, blue, yellow, and black. Our box of pencils has fifty hues! For the last two art lessons, we chose to follow the cues of the illustrators.

If I had proposed that the girls use only four pencils for a picture, I think they would have gotten mad at me. The interesting thing is that I didn't have to suggest it myself. After examining the illustrations carefully, TJ decided on her own that she wanted only those colors to do the assignment. "Assignment" used loosely, of course.

You can see the result from this week. She turned a stick figure (that I provided) into her own illustration of Mako kicking off her red clog. I love it!

29 September 2008

We will not be ordering the duck.

Because I just can't let go and embrace unschooling all the way, I am adding the tiniest bit of structure to satisfy the teacher inside me. I have been looking at curricula for almost three years now: Waldorf, Charlotte Mason, the Well Trained Mind topped my favorites.

What they all have in common is gentleness and appreciation of literature -- even children's books as literature. Each of them is too didactic for me to embrace completely. I like pieces of them ... but I had hang ups, too. Especially as applied to TJ's learning style, none of them fit the bill.

Plus, when I notified the county that TJ would be educated at home, I explained that she would be completing a series of "unit studies" designed to meet her interests as she did her three R's. Reading, Riting, and Rithmetic, right? I did not use those words exactly. Can you imagine? The stumper for me: in the big, wide world of education, WHICH units to study? Where to start?

It figures that the last curriculum in my search is the one I like the best. (Sure, sure, the thing you're looking for IS always in the last place you look for it, because then you stop looking.) The idea is to read a picture book every day for five days in a row. Each day you do a different activity afterwards, with a loose structure of Social Studies, Language Arts, Art, Math, and Science tie-ins through the week. Ta-da! Each book is a unit!

Bonus: Little PJ can participate too. And for me, I love to read to my girls, not that I needed another excuse.

We are reading The Story About Ping this week. I'm thinking about doing a lap book like this one to go with it. On the other hand, we haven't finished our first lap books yet ... so maybe we'll go out for Chinese on Friday to celebrate the end of this short "unit." We just won't order any duck.

25 September 2008

Hard Lesson

There is one correct answer to the request, "Clean up what you were doing before you start something else."

The answer is not "No!"

If the answer is no, then guess who cleans the stuff up? And guess where it goes? And guess who cries when she sees the scraps of paper that she "worked so hard on" in the recycling bin?

I am not heartless -- they really looked like scraps of paper. She had been making a collage with pictures cut out of a (toy) catalog. Then she disappeared upstairs to sing and dance to her own internal music. Wouldn't you think she was done, too?

Maybe, MAYBE next time TJ will remember that the only answer is, "Yes, Mommy."

24 September 2008

School House Rock as an educational tool ... no, really

Sing along with me the School House Rock refrain, "Ha-a-ay, learn about the U S A." Constitution Day passed us by last week (September 17), but we are making up for it by school-house-rocking out the Preamble of the Constitution.

I've got a Five In A Row approach to this topic (FIAR to be explained in another post), yet somehow we're balancing this against our unschool-y tendencies. My goal for TJ is to recite the Preamble, in broad terms to state what the Constitution is, and to name some of the liberties listed in the Bill of Rights. That should be enough for a kindergartner, no?

Monday, TJ and PJ navigated through the School House Rock dvd while I got a break (shower, coffee, sudoku -- small necessities!). The Preamble tune got stuck in our heads.

Tuesday we printed out the text, with "We the People" in that old fashioned, fancy font. It turns out that there are a lot of interesting words in that short segment of the document! So she asked me what promote, tranquility, and posterity mean, and I wrote above the words. She asked about most of the words, in fact.

Wednesday was a bit of review. Mostly we finished listening to the Little House in the Big Woods, but we didn't try to connect it to the Constitution. TJ can tell you that we, as Americans, have the right to say what we want, go to church if we want to (or not go, if we don't want to), and to hang out with our friends.

By the end of the week, I'd like her to create a poster about what the Constitution means to her. We're going to send it off to a contest for next year's campaign to promote Constitution Day. Didn't you know? (I didn't.) The signing was September 17th, 1787.

We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America.

12 September 2008

Monkey Bread

I've been on a bread baking kick for a couple of weeks.  The girls love the sandwich bread recipe from America's Test Kitchen Cookbook (my kitchen bible) so much that they eat the crust.  It is cheaper, and more fun, to bake our own, so we've been making lots of bread.

This particular cookbook has lots of pictorial explanation, and the very next recipe after the sandwich bread looked so tempting!  Monkey bread is a variation on the sandwich bread dough that elevates it to dessert heights: seven tablespoons of butter, almost two cups of sugar, lots of cinnamon, and nuts.  (We didn't use nuts because we were going to share this with lots of kids.  But I do want to try this with pecans.)

"Where's the chocolate?" they asked.   

"You are going to like it even though there isn't any chocolate.  Trust me."

We had a great time measuring out the ingredients and talking about yeast.  TJ will tell you that the yeast burps, and that it needs sugar to eat and something to keep it warm.  She knows that the burps make bubbles in the dough, and that the bubbles make the bread rise.

The next step is the most fun: divide the dough into thirty-six pieces and roll them into balls.  I foresee lots of lessons in multiplication and fractions as we make this recipe in the future.  Then dip the balls in butter, roll them in cinnamon sugar, and then fill up a bundt cake pan with these goodies.  

This recipe is awesome.  It even makes its own sauce!  "Drizzle the leftover butter and sugar mixture over the dough balls."  We turned the bread out after baking and caramel dripped out of the pan.

I thought it would be nice to get a picture of this fabulous thing when we got to park day.  I showed up carrying my platter with still warm bread, and suddenly all the kids who had been on the play equipment were in the shelter around the picnic table where I had placed the bread.  I turned around to get my camera out of my bag, turned back ... and it was like locusts had descended.  The whole thing was almost gone!  

Which is fabulous.  We had a blast making the bread, and I can't ask for a better end to one of our kitchen creations.

11 September 2008

Coffee House Kindergarten

The preschool co-op started for PJ this week, and I had the good fortune to be in the classroom with her on the first day. She has the advantage of familiarity with the way the day begins, having watched her big sister the last two years. PJ walked in the door and right away knew what to do: put her show-and-tell in the basket, hang up her bag, wash her hands, and find her nametag. From there it was different, because she stayed and her sister left.

PJ had a pretty good first day. She did three paintings, made two "kissing hands," and played at the bean table for a long time. I hope she will do well without me next week. I'm a little nervous about her because she was so clingy, but she has friends there and she likes her teacher. She's going to be okay! And I'm going to repeat that affirmation to myself to make it true.

What does TJ do while PJ and I are at school? It won't happen all that often, but when it does, she is off to Coffee House Kindergarten with Jennifer and G. Jennifer took the kids to our usual coffee place (for the record, this is not an SBUX but a locally owned cafe). They played with Cuisenaire rods by making patterns with them. Jennifer brought along her yarn dobbie and knitted rainbow snakes that the kids formed into letters.

And they ate doughnuts.


Thank you, Jennifer, for the Tinkerbell bracelet and necklace! PJ is so attached to them, that she has to know where they are before she goes to bed.

10 September 2008

Apple picking

There are moments when I am certain that homeschooling is the right thing for us. Like when we took off for our favorite apple orchard on Wednesday afternoon with our friends from Idle and Blessed.
They picked more apples than we know what to do with. Then the kids rolled down a grassy hill and chased each other around for almost an hour.  Jennifer and I sat back and watched and enjoyed the mountain air. We had the place to ourselves, so it wasn't a big deal when PJ shed her clothes. Nature au naturel! Lucky girl.

The ride home was quiet with four sleeping children. It was a great day at Princess Baking School.

09 September 2008

Why do squares roll?

TJ asked "Why do squares roll?" this afternoon. It took me a moment to catch up with her thought process. She was asking about rolling dice. We've been playing Yahtzee.

We had a conversation about dice and marbles, rugs and wood tables. She has a great sense of the physical world. The marble would definitely roll farther than a die, and would definitely go farther on the floor because it is smooth.

But she's not satisfied with knowing these things. "I think we should do that in Princess Baking School for a science experiment."

Now where do I find some marbles?

07 September 2008

School on Sunday

I wonder how much I need to keep track of "lessons." Not for the Commonwealth of Virginia, which could not care less, but for my inner record keeper. I have gone so far as to write up a plan for our unit study for Little House in the Big Woods. The words "objective" and "teaching method" appeared, I guess because some habits die hard.

We listened to the book this evening, which happens to be a Sunday. The girls worked with yellow play dough as we heard about the sugar snow, the dance, and maple candy. They didn't do anything school-ish, like a product to show comprehension. (There are no work sheets in the kindergarten class at Princess Baking School! There will be lap books.) Proof that TJ is listening: she giggled when Laura and the other Laura Ingalls got into a spat over who had the prettiest baby sister.

Nothing is really different in the way we go about our days, and the fact of not changing is taking some getting used to. September, to me, meant disrupting what felt like the natural order of things. As the school year wore on, a stomach ache always arrived on Sunday evenings in contemplating the homework I had left to do for Monday.

I will have to remember that we "did school" on Sunday so that, maybe, I can feel a bit less guilty about "doing nothing" later in the week.

04 September 2008

We're doing the fun stuff

I attended the orientation session for PJ's preschool this morning. I like the co-op aspect of it, and I like that it will give her a chance to rely on herself and not on me. She'll decide what activities to participate in, she'll follow someone else's directions and rules, she will experience success and failure and then come home and tell me all about it.

TJ's preschool teacher was there this morning too. I like talking to her, and she has a real interest in TJ's homeschool experience. She asked how it's going ... which is a question I've been getting from a lot of people ... and what is there to say? We haven't changed much about what we do at home except that we have a bunch of activities that are starting up with the school year. I told her that I didn't think there was much to do, school-wise, for a kindergartner. "What do they do all day there, anyway?" I asked. "Mostly just move the kids around," was her offhand remark.

I know that isn't true, exactly, but that is one of things that I sense about a kindergarten classroom of twenty-seven children. And that's another one of the reasons why we're homeschooling. TJ's peers have spent much of the week learning how to sit at their desks, raise their hands to visit the restroom -- or not, as I understand that there were a number of kids who got home and the first thing they said was, "I have to go potty!" -- and other new behavioral rules. TJ played, played, went on a field trip, and played some more. With friends, for anyone about to use the S-word.

There are many academic expectations for kindergarten, according to the Virgina Standards of Learning. Not that I am following the SOLS! I refer to them in the moments when I doubt myself and wonder if I really can homeschool. The document reassures me that I can so do better than what is expected.

Of that long list of objectives, the set that interests me most is for social studies. TJ can count to thirty, count backwards from ten, and pretty much do the math that is expected by the end of the K year. (To see the Virginia SOLS for all subjects and grade levels, click here.) Same with the reading objectives ... so that leaves us to pursue the fun stuff.

The next time someone asks, I guess I can say just that. "We're doing the fun stuff!"

03 September 2008

Field Trip! On the second day of "school"

(I know that at some point I will get over following the school year calendar.)

For our second day of "official" homeschooling -- official if you follow the school calendar, but not really since learning is a lifestyle -- we went on a field trip. TJ has been asking to go back to the Air and Space Museum. I thought it was because she likes astronaut ice cream so much, but it turns out that she knows how to have a great time there!

Our first stop was "Explore the Universe." TJ wanted to find every hands-on experiment there, and clamored to go "explore the universe some more." Which, as Jennifer pointed out, is a pretty great thing to say at the start of her homeschool experience.

The "How Things Fly" exhibit was a hit. So was walking through the living area of an actual space ship, although the label "waste management" was too euphemistic for her. If they'd called it a potty, she might have tried to figure THAT out.

Also fun: the paper airplane competition, riding the escalator, and, yes, the astronaut ice cream.

02 September 2008

Princess Baking School

"First" day of homeschool for TJ: have a playdate, draw pictures, eat home made mac and cheese, and meet friends at the playground.

I asked her, "What should we call our school?" since TJ has gotten a couple of inquiries recently about what school she will go to. I wanted to call it School of the Little House in the Planned Community, but she nixed that.

She decided on "Princess Baking School." That works for now!