Pulling Tolstoy off the shelf

Pulling Tolstoy off the shelf one day I flipped through Anna Karenina while waiting for my son to collect his shoes. The hefty volume opened easily, and I was a little surprised to discover the following:

“You’re very, very funny,” Darya Alexandrovna repeated studying his face tenderly. “Well, all right, it will be as if we never spoke of it. What is it, Tanya?” she said in French to the girl who had just come in.

“Where’s my shovel, Mama?”

“I am speaking French, and you should do the same. ”

The girl wanted to do the same, but forgot what a shovel is called in French; her mother told her amd then proceeded to tell her in French where to find the shovel. And Levin found this disagreeable.

Now everything in Darya Alexandrovna’s house and in her children seemed less nice to him than before.

“And why does she speak French with the children?” he thought, “How unnatural and false it is! And the children can feel it. Teaching French and unteaching sincerity,” he thought to himself, not knowing that Darya Alexandrovna had already thought it all over twenty times and, to the detriment of sincerity, had found it necessary to teach her children in this way.

My thoughts instantly applied these words to my own parenting and home education. Living and teaching educational and moral integrity are a great concern to me. So often I fall prey to comparing myself to others, or even worse, comparing myself to unrealistic ideals, which live solely in my own head. In the end, my children may be the ones to suffer. Instead of allowing them to explore their own, genuine interests, I demand standards which do not honor who my children really are. I want to be authentic, full of integrity. I want to love my children for who they are, allowing them to pursue their own fields of study, despite the fact that they may be far from my own. Relationships before arithmetic. Sincerity and strong moral character before chemistry. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8.

What parent doesn’t want their child looking to them with love and respect? First, I need to show them the same love and respect, perhaps in even greater quantity. Even if it entails encouraging the compilation of Hogwart’s spells. Or let’s say, baseball statistics.

As I speak and live for my children, let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. Psalm 19:14.

Sliding Tolstoy back on the shelf, I help G tie his shoes.

Who Said Math Was Fun?!


Math, in any of its forms, has never been my favorite subject.  Once I had mastered rote memorization, I quickly lost interest, and quite frankly, easily became confused.  For this reason I was somewhat surprised when one of the motivating factors in beginning our homeschool journey was teaching math to my own children.  Now I want to pause and insert a disclaimer here.  In no way do I have a bad taste in my mouth regarding public education, or the new methods of teaching mathematics.  However, what do you moms really think of front end estimation or the lattice method for multiplication?  It is very likely that since mathematics has first been taught, parents have complained , “Well, that is not how we did it back in the day.”  I remember my father and uncle patiently attempting to teach me algebra while I cried out of frustration.  They attempted while I lamented, “That is not how Mrs. L—— showed us.”  Once my children reach pre-calculus, we may learn the “newfangled” methods.  In the meantime, I will show them the tried and true ways which have got me thus far.

Anyway.  While allowing my kiddos to get those mathematical bits of rote information down pat, we could make it a bit fun every once in awhile.  This is easily achieved with my three-year old.  Math is everywhere around us.  Once the older boys are on to me that we are actually reviewing lessons learned, and not just playing, it had better be fun.

My nine-year old, S,  is learning division this year, but still struggles to have his multiplication facts as firmly in his head as I would like them.  He also has that nine-year-old boy energy that would just prefer to jump up and down repeatedly like a pogo stick than, say, write out his multiplication table over and over.  The world is his trampoline.  So, the kind-hearted and understanding mother that I am, I came up with what he calls, “run-around-the-house math.”

Run-around-the-house math – This is a fun activity we use at the beginning or end of a week after the hard work (I didn’t say boring) has already been done.  We use it as a refresher.  I collect about ten 3×5 index cards.  On one side I write a math sentence.  For example, 9 x 7 = 63 or   63 / 9= 7.  If I want him to have a greater challenge, I write it down without the product or quotient.  On the flip side I write the location of where he will find his next note card.  I place them all around the house, upstairs and down, some even in the backyard, then instruct him to place his spiral notebook and pencil in one particular location.  It is usually on his desk in his bedroom.  His job is to read the first card, e.g. 24 / 6 = 4.  Then, he reads  the opposite side, which may read, “under the kitchen table.”  He places the card back down, races upstairs to his room, records it in his notebook, runs to the kitchen table and gets the next card.  This is repeated until all ten cards are completed.  By this time, he has tripped once or twice, and is out of breath, and laughing.  My hope is that the slight delay in having to remember a couple of things simultaneously, going through the motion of writing it down, combined with a little bit of moving around will all work together to help something stick in his head.  In any case, it is his favorite day of math.

Odd One Out– This is another activity we do with index cards, but is stationary.  After cutting several cards in half to save paper, I group them in fours.  Three numbers will belong together to form a true math sentence.  The fourth will be the “odd one out.”  His job is to recognize as quickly as possible which one that is.  The first group of number cards might reveal 6, 42, 8, 7.  Obviously, the 8 is the odd one out, because 7 x 6 = 42.  This is a fun exercise to strengthen his knowledge of patterns and relationships in math, or what today’s elementary children call “fact families.”

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With G, my three-year-old, math practice is easier and naturally more fun.  There is not much to plan ahead, because at this age counting with numbers just happens organically through play and conversation.  I do, however, have a couple of activities for G that we like to get out when he wants to join his brothers and “do math.”

Sensory math – With toddlers and preschoolers the more senses they are able to use, the better.  This is even true for certain learning styles as we get older.  Last year I made G a simple (I am not at all a craftsy person) flannel board with a tree, apples, basic geometric shapes and numbers.  We like to play with these in different ways.

G lining up numbers and shapes
G lining up numbers and shapes
One-to-one counting with apples
One-to-one counting with apples

Threading Beads – I have been proud of how G has grown in his hand-eye coordination.  Scissors are still a challenge for him. I frequently need to remind him that his thumb goes on top while he is cutting.  He has, however,  truly mastered threading his wooden beads  through the laces even with the tiny holes.  He also uses index cards or colored card stock with a number.  He, then, counts his beads as he strings them on the laces.

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This seems to be meaningful for him as he often initiates counting throughout his day.  “Let me see how many apple slices I have on my plate.”  Or,  “One, two, three, four, five, six ducks in that pond.”

It’s not pre-caluculus yet, but we are getting there.

Learning with Lentil

There is something so appealing about the artwork and stories of American children’s writer/illustrator Robert McCloskey.  Although his work is largely from the mid-twentieth century, it is not difficult to see why a modern child would instantly be drawn into his books.  Each of his stories has a strong sense of place, making them perfect for geography and history lessons.  Children also easily identify with the characters, whether animal or human.

While G loves Blueberries for Sal and Make Way for Ducklings, his very favorite by McCloskey is Lentil.  Lentil is a barefoot boy with tousled hair from the fictional town of Alto, Ohio.  He cannot sing no matter how hard he tries, so he learns to play the harmonica.  In doing so, he saves the day when the town grouch tries to debunk the community’s efforts at welcoming home the town’s most important citizen, Col. Carter.  There is a great lesson here about the value of learning anything new, regardless of how  trivial it may seem.  The story has built-in fun with American folk songs, train travel and brass bands.  There are several details on each page to stop and talk about.    This is a fun read with a tremendous collection of possible activities.  In fact , all my boys have loved Lentil.

G loves to make grouchy faces like "Old Sneep."
G loves to make grouchy faces like “Old Sneep.”

History and Math – We naturally combined these two activities together as Lentil introduced us to the folk song “She’ll Be Driving Six White Horses.”  Of course, we had to learn all the verses and sing along.  Although, with my pitiful singing voice, I admit G did ask me to stop after awhile.  Then, we counted out six of his white(ish) horse figures.  We also figured out how many we would need to take away if we had counted seven, or eight, or nine…you get the idea.

iphone1 274iphone1 286Geography – This was easily covered with our laminated placemat and a variety of United States puzzles.  We are neighbors to Lentil, so it was easy to pick out all the surrounding states.  We also decided to create our own map with Citiblocs.  I really thought he would be much more interested in building each street and landmark, but really he wanted to hurry and get something down so he could reenact Lentil walking down the street playing his harmonica.  iphone1 282

iphone1 275Music – The entire story is music, so we had to experiment with it all.  Not only did we listen to brass bands, marching bands and jazz, but we also blew a little horn ourselves.  Then, we just had to test out how the harmonica sounded in the bathtub.  Here we talked about acoustics a bit, but G was mostly interested in making noise.

Sensory Play- Sensory bins are taking over my kitchen, so it was no surprise that we found a bowl to use for yet another one.  This time with lentils.  I don’t think G remembered what lentils were from our last fall/winter diet, so this was a new experience for him.  We got out measuring cups and scoops, and just enjoyed covering our hands in the tiny, flat legumes.  And, of course, we made LENTIL STEW!  Our recipe will be coming up.

"Schliiiish!"  Pretending to be Old Sneep, sucking on a lemon.
“Schliiiish!” Pretending to be Old Sneep, sucking on a lemon.
The tone was "improved one-hundred per cent."
The tone was “improved one-hundred per cent.”

Other projects- G was thoroughly enjoying Lentil, but I felt we had to leave Alto, Ohio at some point, so there were other ideas in my head that we didn’t get to THIS TIME.  The Alto residents decorate the streets with American flags, so a decorating day or parade could be lots of fun.  Col. Carter promises to build Alto a new hospital, so why not build a sensory bin full of dirt, rocks, construction trucks, etc, or maybe just build a hospital with blocks?

Let us know if you have enjoyed Lentil as much as we have.

Starting out with a good book

While growing up, my father and grandfather were both printers.  As a girl who loved the printed word, I found this to be a fitting heritage.  It is true; I am one of those peculiar people who  take pleasure in smelling books.  I savour them, really.  I can still distinctly recall the scent of my third grade social studies book.

Yours truly sniffing a Christmas present back in 1988.
Yours truly sniffing a Christmas present back in 1988.

I do read books on my Kindle app today, but if I particularly want to spend my time as with a friend, I hold a book in my hand, and flip its pages, taking in either the musty or crisp  aroma.  Charlie Bucket, Anne of Green Gables, Laura Ingalls, Emily Byrd Starr, then later Alyosha, Antonia, Jo March and Levin.  They are all dear friends.  I cannot imagine growing up without them.    And so it seems appropriate that I should begin a blog  dealing largely  with literature.

Literature-based learning is simply engaging in authentic activities based on the book’s themes or details.  Instead of asking children comprehension questions or providing a young child with a color page, we pay attention to where our child’s eye is naturally drawn in a picture book, or what older children repeatedly mention in a book discussion.

My three-year-old, G, has always loved books.  From an extremely early age he would follow the text along with his finger from left to right.  He is completely engaged in his stories and loves to create his own.  It is not difficult to take his lead in creating enrichment activities and pre-reading exercises.  However, I believe this approach to children’s literature will also engage the reluctant reader and fidgety child.

G sometimes picks out books for us to “study,” but not always.  We like thoughtful story lines with beautiful, detailed illustrations.  G often surprises me with all the tiny, background details he notices, and how he is eager for his vocabulary to expand.  We read our chosen book every day, sometimes more than once, for a week or so.  During this time G and I delve into preschool science projects, literacy activities, geography lessons and field trips, all based on this particular book.

Most of all, we have fun.  Literature is by far my favorite thing to share with all three of my boys.  I still read to A and S, although they have been literate for years.  I have even caught them smelling a book or two.  Yes, curling up with a good book is my favorite thing to do with my guys.  Well, maybe besides getting a hug.