Saturday, November 12, 2011

So apparently I haven't been blogging much! I blame a broken camera. But I bought a new one so maybe I'll update more often.

My kids have been up to some interesting stuff. Really interesting stuff. Like self designed experiments in which they come to the conclusion that the only way to kill a zombie is to crush his brain. Here is Henry with his cup of zombie brains.

Helen's experiment was about rotten eggs. Apparently if you leave eggs out for weeks they become really stinky.

Henry has also developed a deep interest in Ancient Greece. I believe it was sparked by our new routine of picking up Little Caesar's Pizza after his enrichment program on Tuesdays. He really likes the costumes of the period.

Here he is as "A Greek."

Here he is as a Greek sculptor working on a "huge statue." That's an olive leaf wreath on his head. He designed it himself.

Here is his "Acropolis"

Here are the Olympians wrestling. The women have been kicked out since they weren't allowed to watch the original games. But he did later decide those rules were stupid and let them join in.

I don't have any pictures of him dressed as Zeus hurling lightning bolts at Athens. 

It's occurred to me while watching Henry do this self-directed unit study that "self-directed" really, truly, is the key to learning this sort of stuff. I never told him to build an acropolis out of blocks. I never suggested he might use his tinker toys as lightning bolts or to create Poseidon's trident.

I remember being asked to do such things in school in an effort to make the learning "meaningful" and "hands on." But it wasn't "meaningful" because I usually didn't care too much about what we were learning about. Which sucks because now, I wish I'd learned more. I don't wish that I'd "paid more attention in school," I wish that I'd retained more. I think Henry will retain a lot more about Ancient Greece than I ever did simply because he's learning about it at a point when he asked to learn about it. And he's learning it in a way that is truly meaningful for him because he's designing the learning tasks. Another kid might want to do detailed drawings of an acropolis or write stories about the gods. I love that my kids have the freedom to learn in ways that work for them.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Celtic Harvest Festival

We decided to head out for a little family fun today. I highly recommend the Edgewater Celtic Harvest Festival to those in the area with small kids. It was really, really low key and fun. And the only thing we paid for was $1/person for the sword play.

This kid was mean. I had to intervene and tell him to stop jabbing Henry in the crotch. 
Not sure where his parents were!

My leprechaun!

Watching hurling. Or some other Irish ball and stick sport. I told you it was a chill festival.

Kids playing bagpipes and drums. Very cool.

Cutest baby ever.

So we were watching a puppet show which, honestly, I was a little bored with. In another area they had started up a little Irish weapon demo and I suggested Henry might prefer to watch that. I should have known better. He was way into the puppet show. Here he is, balloon sword drawn, ready to face the evil Nick-a-Brick. He moved behind his daddy before a bit of protection before drawing his sword.

They had a lovely little arts and crafts area where Helen enjoyed painting 
blarney stones and popsicle sticks.

Here's part of the weapon demonstration. We were able to catch the end of it.

Henry and Ryan are currently in the back yard running at each other with swords and shouting "huzzah!" We'll definitely be going back next year!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

So we've been "back to school" for a couple of weeks now. And our life doesn't look any different than it did before we "started school." Except the neighborhood kids aren't as available for playing. Which means I've had to suck it up and engage in some light saber fights. (When I'm feeling schooly, I call this physical education.)

We've started our Five in a Row curriculum. The first week we read the book 3, maybe 4 times. The second week the kids revolted, I got angry, and we read two pages of the book one time. I decided it wasn't worth it to push, so we just let it go. This week, we read the book once on Monday and we read half of it in the waiting room at the doctor's office this morning. We're having a book themed dinner tonight, but that's really the extent of our activities.

Henry is obsessed with Star Wars/Clone Wars at the moment, and I'm going with it, but I must admit to some discomfort on my part.

I feel like I should be doing more. He's making progress in his reading. He's starting to read signs and stuff. I don't know what he's reading in books, because he's not sharing that with me. I don't have the first clue where his mat skills stand at the moment, except that he's developed a new interest in money because he wants to safe up for a rifle so he can complete his Davey Crockett costume.

I guess I need to read some more John Holt or something. Honestly, many of the unschooling blogs leave me cold. And yet I'm seeing some of the same things play out in my own home. I'm raising a Star Wars obsessed kid whose greatest skill is his agility with a light saber.

Help me find some perspective.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mary!

Today the Church celebrates the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Last year we made a cake for Mary, and Helen still talks about it. So this year we threw a birthday party with some friends.

The kids wanted to make a red cake and decorate it with roses. Our roses were inspired by Lacy's awesomeness over at Catholic Icing. I'm not sure how Lacy got hers to look so cute. But the kids had fun making them anyway.

We decorated the dining room with our various Marian icons and statues, and had our friends bring their own to add.

Henry spent much of the morning running around involved in sword play, and in an effort to tie his play to the feast day, I told him about the Seven Sorrows of Mary and showed him this picture:

Helen then decorated the picture and hung it on the wall as part of our decorations. And Henry created his own drawing to add. That's Jesus in the middle on top and Mary on his right and Joseph on his left.

Then he added his own depiction of the Trinity:

How cute is this little guy? He looooooves Mary!

Notice the gorgeous statues of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of Le Leche. 

I didn't get any pictures of the primary party games. The girls played house and the boys were engaged in light saber fights in the back yard. What? Don't you have light saber fights at your Marian feast celebrations? 

Happy Birthday, Mary!! 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Zone of Proximal Development Part 2: The ZPD and Learning to Write

In my last post I explained a bit about what the ZPD and scaffolding are and what scaffolding looks like when "teaching" babies how to roll over. In this post, I'll provide a couple of examples of scaffolding the writing process.

I'd like to start by pointing out that writing is not a single skill, but rather a number of skills that come together into a finished product. In order to write, say, a thank you note that you would like your friend to read, you must 1) conceive of the idea of writing the note, 2) choose the words you need to express your gratitude, 3) decide which letters are in the words you want to write, 4) form the letters on the page, 5) plan ahead so you don't run out of room and 6) put the words in order. I'm sure I could think of more skills involved, but we'll leave it at that.

So that's at least 6 things your child is doing if he's trying to write something on a piece of paper. It's a big task.

The first trick to scaffolding is identifying when your child is on the verge of moving up the skill ladder and determining what kind of support he needs to make that step. The next trick to scaffolding is recognizing when your child needs to just hang out and get comfortable on the rung he's on before trying to make the next step.

For example, my son has recently learned to write. If you check the list above, he's pretty good at steps 1 through 4. Steps 5 and 6 are still a struggle for him. Frequently throughout our day he will bring me something he has written and ask me to read it. He still writes pretty big. He hasn't developed the fine motor skills he needs to neatly form tiny letters on the page. So he can fit two, maybe three words neatly on a page before he runs out of room. At this point, he just starts putting the letters for the words anywhere they might fit on the page. The result is something like this:

Which is fine if you have some context (that's a drawing of Abraham Lincoln), and there's only one word climbing up the page. But when the message is longer, it becomes a huge mess:

I have no idea what those say, though I do spot the word "the" in the second picture.

One day, feeling a bit frustrated, I told him that you have to write from top to bottom and left to right or people can't read it and it doesn't make sense. I wanted to show him. I wanted to have him rewrite what he'd written. He wanted to punch me in the nose.

I really should have kept my mouth shut in that situation. I wasn't scaffolding, I was pushing. He's not ready to move to the next step. He's still getting comfortable with steps 1 through 4. The effect of my "help" was to make him feel incompetent and angry. I shut down all learning opportunities at that moment and replaced them with a flood of frustrated tears.

So there's a great example of what not to do. But every once in a while my instincts are better.

My little girl is also learning to write. She's not really "writing" as defined in the 6 step process above; she's pretty much just forming letters on the page. Her fine motor skills are more mature than her brother's and she is able to form letters quite small and neatly. She doesn't know all of her letters, but she is very interested in writing her name and has picked up that "H" is the first letter of her name.

Helen had been writing "her name" for several weeks. Here's an example:

Note that I am aware that you do not spell "Helen" HOI. But I hadn't said anything to her about it. She'd tells me she'd written her name and I'd say, "wonderful!"

She kept practicing and made the following progression:

Note that she is practicing. She's doing the same thing over and over. Not because I told her to. Not because she has a worksheet to complete. She's doing it because writing her name is important to her right now. Also note that up to this point, I hadn't given her any instruction on writing her name. We'd talked about how Henry and Helen both start with H. We'd pointed out H's. Everything else she'd picked up just from living our daily lives.

Then one day she was no longer satisfied with the progress she was making on her own. We were at the library and while I was showing Henry how to find books using the computer, Helen requested her own scrap of paper and teeny golf pencil from the basket by the computer. She then pouted, "I don't know how to write my name." I asked, "Do you want me to show you?" She nodded. So I wrote her name on the piece of paper and she copied it. She has been practicing her name, again without prompting, for several days now and it now looks like this:

So in this case, the scaffolding I provided was a model for her to copy. Note that it still isn't quite right. But it's a lot closer than HOI. The letters aren't in the right order, the "L" is backwards, and there's no "N" at all (probably because she doesn't feel up for tackling that diagonal line), but the model I gave her bumped her up to a new level of competence. My job now is to stand back and let her get comfortable at this level until she's ready for my help to move up the next rung of the ladder.

How will I know she's ready? More than likely it will be because she asks me. If I felt I just couldn't hold back, I could ask her if she wants to learn to draw an "N." Because I know she's capable of tracing small letters on a page, I could print a handwriting worksheet for her and show her how to do it. But if I did that, I would be careful to present in a pretty nonchalant way. "Hey Helen! I put a worksheet on your writing table that shows you how to write the letter 'N.'" And leave it at that. If she asked for help with it I would help her. If she ignored it, I wouldn't bring it up again. I'd just leave it there.

The essence of scaffolding is waiting until a child is super ready to take the next step and offering just enough assistance to get him there. It's holding a child's hand as she jumps across a little stream. As opposed to pushing her across a river in a canoe. Either way she'll reach the other side, but if she makes the leap herself, the experience will be much more rewarding.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Zone of Proximal Development: When to Push, When to Hold Back

Recently in my homeschool circles, there has been much discussion of when it might be appropriate to push/encourage/nudge our children. How can we discern whether a little encouragement or guidance from us will help them jump to the next level of competence, or push them over the edge of frustration?

Lev Vygotsky, the great educational theorist, posited that there exists what he called the Zone of Proximal Development, or ZPD in the educational jargon. Vygotsky believed that the ZPD is where the greatest learning occurrs. The ZPD is that area of competence just beyond a person's current level of achievement - a level that one can reach with just a bit of the right help. He called this help "scaffolding."

Scaffolding is something we all do more or less naturally with babies. Imagine playing on the floor with a baby who is lying on his back and rolling to his side. He's just about to roll over. He's almost got it. He just needs a liiiitle encouragement. You hold out a favorite toy just beyond his reach. He reeeeaches for the toy and - woop!- he rolls over. Yay! You've just scaffolded rolling over for the baby.

Now notice, if that baby was not yet reaching for toys, or was not yet capable of getting most of the way over on his own, or wasn't interested in rolling or reaching at that moment, your efforts would have been fruitless.

Again, this comes naturally for most of us when we're working with babies. But it is much less intuitive when we're working with older children. With older children who have more or less mastered the art of walking and talking, we tend to push a little harder. If a 5 year old can't write his name, we may feel compelled to put a pen in his hand and use our hand over his hand to walk him through the steps. This isn't scaffolding. I'm not sure what I would call it, but it isn't scaffolding.

Our tendency to want to push to this extent comes in large part from a system of schooling that has tricked us into thinking that all kids need to learn the same skills at the same time and at the same rate in order to be at "grade level." If a 5 year old can't write his name, he is "behind" and we must push him to "catch up."

Nah. The problem with this kind of pushing is that it makes learning harder than it has to be. I could start coaching a baby on rolling over from the day he comes home from the hospital, but he's probably not going to roll over any sooner than if I'd just waited until he was ready. But in the mean time, I may make him think that this rolling over business is a lot of stupid hard work that he's not really interested in doing.

Okay. So what does scaffolding look like beyond the babyhood? A big question that keeps popping up in my circles, and one I've written about before, is teaching writing. I'm not sure why we're so preoccupied with writing, but it seems that we are. So in my next post I will look at what scaffolding looks like when teaching a kid to write.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dreaming of Timelines

One of the biggest "gaps" in my own education is in my understanding of history. It was never presented to me in a way that I could wrap my brain around. I still struggle with seeing the big picture. So I've become obsessed with creating a big picture of history. Literally. I want to make a wall timeline.

At first I envisioned something like this:

Isn't that cool? I've been racking my brain for where in the world to put something like this in my house. I even found a lovely free printable timeline at a fellow homeschooler's site, Just the A.D. part of it is 70 pages. I did the math. I would need about 50 linear feet of wall space. I don't have that.

The Guest Hollow timeline is meant to be put in a notebook. It's awesome for that. Notebook timelines are great, but my brain needs to see the big picture. The whole picture. All at once.

So then I came across this:

It goes up one side for the years before Christ, and then comes back down the other side for the years Anno Domini. The one pictured above came from this squidoo page. It's published by Konos and comes with the printed pictures.

This is perfect. This gives the big picture. Of course, I'm not willing to shell out the cash for the premade timeline. And I'm not terribly interested in what someone else thinks I should put on the timeline. So I'm going to make my own. Other people have done it.

Here's one from Kindred Blessings.

Here's one from Homeschool in the Woods:

Here's a pretty amazing one from Peace Creek on the Prairie.

And a really neat one from Higher Up and Further In.

And here's a really great how to with specifics for spacing and such.

Lots of ideas. I'm still trying to figure out exactly how we'll do ours.

But I do know where we'll put it. The only wall in the house that can accommodate such a monstrosity is in our dining room. The wall has been blank for the two years since we moved into the house because I've been waiting to discover the perfect display for it. I was thinking of a brightly colored still life. A giant cluttered timeline wasn't really what I had in mind.

Which brings me to a whole new issue. When you put one of these bad boys in your home you are declaring, loud and proud, we are homeschooling geeks. Our house is for living and learning. It will never ever be featured in Better Homes and Gardens. I'm okay with that. Mostly. I can almost guarantee that through the years this timeline will provide much more fodder for dinner conversation than a depiction of flowers in a vase. No matter how lovely those flowers might be. But a fairly large part of me longs for a tastefully decorated house.

But, I think I'm willing to sacrifice that for what I think a timeline like this can do for our family. Living with this timeline will give my children the opportunity to document what they learn through the years. It will help them revisit what they've learned each time they add to the timeline, and see how things all fit together. They'll be able to see that while the United States was busy fighting the Civil War, Franz Shubert was premiering a new symphony.

They'll be able to see how the Saints and the history of the Church fit into the rest of world history. Their knowledge of history will build on itself and will be constantly reviewed so that they will really know history. It's something I've always wanted for myself. So this ugly timeline will be a gift to me and to my children.

I'll post pictures when I get it up.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Semester Book Plan

I did it. Last night I spent a few hours working out our semester long plan for Five in a Row. I have a hard time doing this. I have a hard time picking a book for one week, let alone several months. I want everything to be perfect. And then I get into this idea that everything we do that week has to tie into the book and that I need to tie it into the various Holy Days and Feast Days that are happening and I get overwhelmed and decide since it can't be perfect I'm not doing it at all. I push past that feeling and then comes the feeling that the whole exercise is futile because my kids aren't going to be interested in doing any of this anyway. And then I push past that feeling and try to clarify why it is I'm doing Five in a Row at all.

This is what I've come up with. I'm doing Five in a Row because I want some starting point for sharing the things I want to share with my children. I want something to motivate me to get off my butt and interact with my kids. Maybe it's the leftover "schooling" in me, but, what can I say, I loved school. I was a student for the first 25 years of my life and then I was a teacher. I have school in my blood. So, for better or worse, I haven't been completely deschooled and I feel I need some sort of something to organize stuff around. At least for now.

One of the tenets of unschooling is to introduce children to a wide variety of topics so that they can discover their own personal interests and passions. Five in a Row gives me a gentle but systematic way of doing this. It was through a Five in a Row study last year that I learned how fascinated I am by the history of flight. I'm hoping we'll discover more new interests and passions this year.

So here's my plan for the first part of the year. I'm putting this up here in case someone reading this wants to play along with us either on a regular basis or just occasionally. I plan to do a field trip on Thursdays that ties in with the book/unit for the week. It'd be fun to have other families join us who were working on the same thing.

We're starting the last week of August, the 29th, with Andy and the Lion. We'll also read St. Jerome and the Lion. After that:


  1. Mary the Mother of Jesus by Tomie dePaola. The Feast of the Nativity of Mary is on the 8th so we'll be taking a quick break from Five in a Row. However, it will still feel very FIAR as Tomie de Paola writes amazing children's literature.
  2. Down Down the Mountain
  3. Papa Piccolo
  4. Lentil
  1. Henry the Castaway
  2. The Tale of Peter Rabbit (with a field trip Monday to see the CSO perform a musical version of the story!)
  3. Madeline
  4. Halloween (That's not a book title, it's a holiday. And it's a big one around here, so we'll just read our favorite Halloween titles.)
  1. The Giraffe that Walked to Paris. This might get pre-empted as Halloween happens on Monday of this week and All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day are big around here as well. We may just give into the festivities.
  2. Another Celebrated Dancing Bear
  3. Babar to Duet or not to Duet. We'll be attending a special field trip this week to see a symphony. It's on a Tuesday. I'm trying to get our enrichment program to do it as a field trip since it's on our enrichment program day. But if not, we'll skip school and go anyway.
  4. Cranberry Thanksgiving
For December/Advent, we'll be doing Elizabeth Foss's Advent and Christmas with Tomie de Paola unit study. I'm very excited about this. The books we'll read will be:
  1. Merry Christmas Strega Nona
  2. Country Angel Christmas
  3. The Lady of Guadalupe
  4. The Legend of the Poinsettia
  5. The Clown of God
  6. Jingle the Christmas Clown
  7. The Story of the Three Wise Kings
  8. The Legend of Old Befana
So that I wouldn't lose steam after the holidays, I went ahead and planned through January. After we finish up the Epiphany celebrations (which around here includes making tamales, so Tomie dePaola will fit right in!), we'll continue as follows:
  1. Katy and the Big Snow
  2. Amber of the Mountain
  3. Salamander Room
So there you have it. I know it doesn't seem like a big deal to pick out a few books, but it always exhausts me. It's hard to know what the kids will find appealing. I'm hoping these titles work out well for us. If not, we'll just drop them and try again the following week!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"Back to School" Anxiety

Not sure if it's the slight cooling of the days, the garden harvest, the back to school sales everywhere or the fact that Henry returns to his enrichment program in a couple of weeks, but I'm starting to feel some anxiety about this coming homeschool year.

I'm sure we'll find our rhythm. I know I will continue to see my children learn and grow. But I am at a point, once again, where I feel like I should be taking a more active role in the process. Part of this is because I want to. But then I start thinking of all of the cool things we could be doing and know that we can never do it all and then feel overwhelmed by everything and then I'm frozen by my anxiety and I just do nothing. It's such a lovely cycle.

So I've worked out a weekly routine. And I've set an intention of doing math and phonics every day. I am really resisting using the curriculum we have for these areas of learning, but I'm going to try to do it consistently for a month and see how it works for us. I resist "drill and kill" or any sort of scope and sequence type learning, but then I use the analogy of a musician practicing scales and it starts to make more sense to me. I think Henry needs the repeated practice provided by things like phonics flash cards to build his fluency for reading. Or maybe he doesn't, but I'll admit I'm uneasy waiting until he's 10 to see if he just becomes a good reader on his own.

Well, I allotted the kids one episode of Hello Kitty and that is over, so my time for thinking and writing is also over.

What anxieties, if any, are you facing as the rest of the world heads back to school?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

How my son became a writer

When Henry started kindergarten last year, he showed absolutely no interest in handwriting. None. He failed every fine motor screening at his well child checks from the time he was two. At 5, as far as I knew, as far as he would demonstrate to me, he could not even draw a straight, vertical line.

I alternated between freaking out and searching for occupational therapists that accept our insurance, and telling myself it would come in time. I considered not only purchasing Handwriting Without Tears, but taking the full training so I would really know how to implement it. I used all of the tricks in my bag to entice him to develop his writing skills. I listened to advice from people who know less than I do on the matter. I listened hard to the tiny little voice in me that said, "he's fine. He just needs time."

On his first day of classes at his homeschool enrichment program, he came home with a paper that he'd written his name on. Not a scribble. Much more than a straight, vertical line. Five letters, that I could read: H-E-N-R-Y. Huh. Little stinker. Apparently he was capable of much more than I even knew.

That fact tormented me for a while. What else does he know that I don't know he knows? Is he not showing his skills because he's a perfectionist? Is he bored? And, of course, what have I done wrong? Why will he write for these strangers at school and not for me?

But again, I managed to hear the tiny little voice that said, "he's fine. You're fine. Everything will be fine."

When I asked Henry who had written his name, he said, "I did." I asked him, "who taught you how to write your name?"He answered, "you did." Really? Huh.

So although it had been established that he could, in fact, write actual letters on paper, Henry was still loathe to put pen - or crayon, or pen, or paintbrush, or even a finger loaded with paint - to paper. I didn't push it. I just made materials available and left it be.

Throughout the year he experimented more and more, but it never became his favorite thing to do. And then, one day, it happened. We had a Very Bad Day. It was the kind of day that makes you hang your head as a mother and wonder 1) how could I have produced such a rotten kid and 2) how can I look at these events and bring some growth out of them.

I'll spare you the details of his transgressions. What's important to this story is that on this Very Bad Day, Henry had to give up his TV time to write three apology letters.

It was brutal. It was excruciating. It took him a whole hour to write three letters that averaged about 10 words each. And they were pretty much illegible. I was embarrassed as we presented these tortured writings to their recipients. I feared the judgment of my failure as a homeschooling mom to teach my son to write.

I was still in a funk from the events of the Very Bad Day when my husband returned from work. He cheerfully asked Henry, "how was your day?" Henry's response? "Great! I learned how to write all by myself!"

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

From that time, Henry has become quite the writer. He makes signs, labels pictures, and writes letters. He's also started drawing pictures, which he'd never really done before.

So there you have it. While no expert I know would ever recommend that the way to encourage a reluctant writer is to force him to write letters of apology, that is, in fact, what worked in our family. Your mileage may vary.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Watching your children grow up is a strange thing. Just six years ago I became a mother when I gave birth to this beautiful bundle of baby boy. I was terrified and elated. And six years later I still experience those conflicting emotions on a daily basis.

He's no longer a beautiful bundle of baby boy. He's up to my chest and long and lean. Though he is still breathtakingly beautiful.

When he was a tiny baby his inner workings were a mystery to me. I did my best to guess when he was hungry or tired. Looking back through the lens of experience I now realize that as often as he was hungry or tired he might have been frustrated or bored.

He's always been a very curious boy. And a very thoughtful boy. Strangers commented on his pensive gaze, what was often labeled "seriousness," almost as often as they commented on his striking beauty. One friendly soul remarked that once he started talking I'd be in for it. "He's storing up all the questions he can't yet ask." I believe she was right.

When he started talking at a year old he did so with a perfection not often seen in such tiny children. By the time he was three, he sounded like a 10 year old. The only two words that he has ever mispronounced were "cholocolate" and "dubya-lu." He still says "dubya-lu" and it melts my heart every time.

He spoke clearly and often. He still has a lot to say. But what is sometimes maddening is that, just as when he was a tiny baby, I still don't always know what he's thinking. He's still a deep thinker. But he doesn't always choose to share those thoughts with me.

It's tough as a mother. I want to know all that goes on inside his little brain. I want to know his hopes and fears, his dreams and worries. It is distressing to me that he doesn't pour his heart out to me. If something is bothering him, he wants me close. He wants my physical presence, but he doesn't want to talk. Maybe this is a Mars/Venus thing. Maybe it's an introvert thing. I don't know. But I have to stop myself at times from bullying him into telling me what he's thinking.

The hardest part is knowing that the older he gets, the less I will know him. For now I have ways of getting information from others. But I won't always be able to ask his friend's mom to get the story from her child. I will have to trust in our relationship enough to know that he will open up to me if and when he needs to. That he will know that I am always there and willing to listen.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

May the Force be with you

We had to run to Target today and while we were there Henry's birthday money finally burned a hole in his pocket. He got a "really awesome" double light saber. I'll admit it's pretty cool. If you're into light sabers.

After Target we stopped at Vitamin Cottage. The kids were pushing their little carts along behind me and as we turned the corner I spotted a little boy, about 8 years old, doing some tricky maneuvers with a Star Wars umbrella. I smiled and wondered how Henry would react when he saw him.

Sure enough, he struck up a conversation about his new light sabers and all the ins and outs of Star Wars and Clone Wars and who were the good guys and who were the bad guys and who were bad guys that used to be good guys.

I let him talk for a few minutes before encouraging him along, and then we ended up in line behind the little boy where they resumed the conversation.

This whole exchange made me smile. It was neat to see my son spot a fellow traveler and approach him to make a connection.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Beet and Chick Pea Salad

I was pretty excited about this and was super pleased with how it turned out. My very own creation!

1 lb beets, roasted peeled and diced
1 can or about 2 cups of chick peas
1/4 red onion minced
2 Tbsp fresh chopped mint

3 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 clove of garlic pushed through garlic press

Assemble salad, toss with dressing. Enjoy!

I served it with baked sweet potatoes and fresh whole wheat bread (King Arthur's easy no-knead version). In retrospect it was a lot of sweetness. Next time I'll serve it with broccoli or something. Oh, I also used multi-colored beets so it wasn't such a beet red extravaganza. I was worried it would look bland, but it still was pleasing to the eye.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Read Any Good Math Lately?

Ooooooh I am so excited about this book!

Read Any Good Math Lately? Children's Books for Mathematical Learning, K-6 by David J. Whitin and Sandra Wilde.

In general, I love teaching from children's books. I find that kids don't feel like they're "being taught" and are less resistant to listening to a story than to sitting down for a math lesson. Once they've made a connection to a concept in such a natural and friendly way, they are much more likely to experiment with the concept on their own and be open to hearing more about it. I'm a huge fan of the Five in a Row "curriculum" and was super excited to find Teaching Physical Science Through Children's Literature.

Read Any Good Math Lately? promises to provide just as much fun and learning. The book divides math into 10 different skill sets including place value and numeration systems, fractions, geometry and multiplication and division. For each skill set it examines a number of ways of approaching the problem and highlights books that represent the problem in that way. For example, the subtraction chapter addresses subtraction as take-away, subtraction as missing addend, subtraction as comparison, subtraction as set-within-a-set and the inverse relationship between addition and subtraction. Books

So you can see this book will take us beyond the basic "count to 10" picture books so popular for young children. (But don't worry, those are included as well!)

After examining varying approaches to the problem, Whitin and Wilde provide examples of how teachers have used books to teach these concepts in their classrooms. Examples of lessons and pictures of children's work are provided for grades K-2, 3-4, and 5-6. You're then given a list of activities for "further explorations." And finally, a list of a dozen or more children's books that will help teach that concept.

The activities are brilliant and include a lot of writing about math. One example is a letter a boy has written to his father explaining the concept of factorials and when and why you would apply this math function. Younger kids have drawn pictures or written their own stories illustrating math concepts. There are many suggestions of how to find math in real life. I love the way Whitin and Wilde show how to use these books to make math relevant to kids. They really help to answer the question, "Why do we need to know this?"

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco

Every once in a while I read a children's book that is so good I just have to share it.

Patricia Polacco makes almost every "recommended books" list I've ever seen. When I'm at the library and haven't planned ahead and put some good books on hold, she's on my short list of authors I check for to make sure we take home at least one good book. Which is how we ended up with The Junkyard Wonders. I didn't know anything about it other than that Poloacco wrote it, and the title combined with the plane on the cover made it seem promising.

I should have previewed it first, but I didn't. There is a very sad event halfway through the book.

This true story is one of the most heart-warming and inspiring I have ever heard. It's an especially good story for any child with learning differences, but it in no way isolates the "typical" child. If you want a full plot summary, I'm not going to give it to you. I don't want to ruin it for you. But it follows the "misfits do great things" story arc that is so loved in literature and film.

This is a story of hidden genius, the amazing things you can accomplish when you believe in yourself, and the power of having someone believe in you. Be sure to read the author's note at the end. But have a tissue handy when you do.

I recommend previewing this book yourself before sharing it with your child. One of the children dies halfway through the story and if you're not paying attention (as I wasn't) and you're not prepared for it, it can be a real punch in the gut. As I realized what was happening I couldn't read through my tears. I stopped and told Henry that it was very sad and asked if he wanted me to continue. He did. He handled it just fine, but he's had some experience with death. You'll need to decide if your child is ready for it. It's not what the story is about, and the story doesn't dwell on it, but it is crucial to the telling of the tale. The recommended age for this book is 3rd-5th grade and I think most children that age would be able to handle death the way it is presented in this book.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Baby Led Weaning

It seems recommendations for starting solids are all over the place these days.  I've got three kids. With my first, I did the whole introduce-one-single-food-puree-every-four-days thing. The kid hated solids and we threw away so many purees and the whole thing just stressed me out. With my second and third, I have followed the advice from the baby led weaning folks. It's been a lot less stressful.

The point of this post is not to tell you how to feed your baby. That's up to you and the advice of your pediatrician. But I wanted to share what I find to be the pros and cons of this method of introducing solids.

Con: It's a really big mess. A really. big. mess.

  • I can feed myself while the baby feeds himself.
  • I don't have to prepare extra food for the baby.
  • Baby loves it.
  • It's a lot of fun.
  • It makes for great photo ops.
I have pictures to prove it.

Helen, 7 months, enjoys a bowl of spaghetti

Thomas, 6 months, eating a banana

Broccoli pacifier

Peas and carrots, carrots and peas . . .

mmmmm . . . chicken!

Yummy peach!

Again with the drumstick, this time with an uber cute hat.

That was a bagel. Could he be any happier??