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(homeschooling)

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Oh look, you’re back! So am I!

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Lots of changes happening around here these days, ladies.  Firstly, we’re moving. Yep, we’re moving house. And although I’ll be sad to leave this lovely old Victorian with its oak woodwork, ten foot ceilings and charming little nooks and crannies; I’m more than ready to say good-bye to its leaky plumbing, cracking plaster and frail electrical system. Broken toilet? Flickering lights? No worries! In just a few short weeks such horrors will be easily remedied by a simple phone call to Mr. Friendly Landlord. I couldn’t possibly be happier to leave home ownership behind. And wait ‘til you see the new place… you’re gonna love it just as much as we already do. I promise.

But moving to a new home is only the start of the new adventures around here.  With most of my children long since done with their schooling and Noah teetering on the edge of *sob* high school, my homeschooling journey seemed to be coming to an end.

Enter Arianna.

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Since Amelia is caring for our darling little friend fulltime now, and since her mother is interested in homeschooling, and since she’s also a wonderfully obliging individual who’s only too happy to totally make my year, it looks like we’ll be starting all over at pre-school once again. And since Early Childhood Education is one of my passions (and incidentally the subject of my degrees), I am insanely ridiculously excited at the prospect. So while we’re packing and moving house, I’m busy sorting through all of my manipulatives and curriculum and educational philosophy materials.

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Soon it’ll be a little bit Waldorf-y and a lotta bit Charlotte Mason around here. With a smidge of letter of the week tossed in for good measure.

SO STINKIN’ PSYCHED!

And one more teensy thing:  you girls know that I’ve always been all about the baked goods: Monday morning muffins, Friday evening pizza, coffeecake, fresh homemade bread. And butter!

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I surely do love me a good stick of butter, oh yes! Well my friends, it looks like all of this self indulgence and unrestrained butter consumption has finally caught up with me. Apparently all it took was a little… ahem, episode last April to wipe the smile off my doctor’s face. Some further testing over the summer resulted in a fistful of prescriptions. BMI testing confirmed the fact that I have pretty much become the human equivalent of that stick of butter I love so well. By last month my doctor was looking downright stern as he suggested I acquaint myself with the works of Dr. Dean Ornish. Dean Ornish as in no-fat, no-caffeine, no-refined carbohydrates, fer cryin’ out loud! How am I supposed to live like that??

Why, with a smile on my face, that’s how… what didya expect?

Some things never change.

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A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.

Proverbs 17:22

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Learning to be a helper

Every morning when it’s fine… and some mornings when it’s not… the girls and I head out to the backyard to hang laundry. Amelia  has already done the wash, Millen fetches the basket of wet clothes up from the basement, and Arianna flits around like a very excited little butterfly.

“Help you? Help you?”  she asks, the “you” becoming progressively more high pitched and emphatic with each repetition.

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Once we’re outside, Millen takes her job of sorting through the laundry very seriously, all of the tee shirts first, then dresses, pants and skirts; all clothing of one type hanging together so we have a neat and orderly looking clothesline. Undies and bloomers go on the middle line, safe from the prying eyes of the neighbor boys. This is very important, especially if you’re Millen.

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Arianna starts out calmly. She takes the tee shirts from Millen and hands them to me. One at a time. One at a time… but then the excited little butterfly part of her personality rears its adorable little head and she starts running around through the wet wash, hiding behind the leggings. And then, in a fit of hilarity she pushes over the laundry basket, grabs a handful of clothing and throws them high into the air.

Oh my.

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And when I say, “Oh Arianna!” in a terribly disappointed and shocked voice, she runs away.

Oh my, my, my.

And then, when I call her back, around the end of clothesline she goes, giggling and smiling flirtatiously back over her shoulder in what, she mistakenly thinks, is a terribly winsome way.

Oh, my goodness me.

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I take her by the hand and walk her back to where I was standing. “We come when we are called,” I tell her. We pick up all of the laundry from the grass and we look carefully to see if any has gotten dirty.

“Sorry DeeDee,” she says, and I give her a hug.

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And then we get right back to work.

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Did you know that clothespins are extremely fascinating?

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And really rather tricky to operate? Millen gives her a few pointers

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Before we know it, the baskets are empty, the laundry is drying on the line, the clothes are oh-so-beautifully pinned, and we go back inside.

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Our work here is done.

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Joyful waiting

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and if you’re not altogether certain of what exactly Advent is, don’t feel badly. You’re not alone, my darlings. I myself was not totally clear on the concept until alarmingly recently. But never fear…

It’s YouTube to the rescue!

I love this video by Busted Halo* which explains Advent in a lighthearted, warmhearted and encouraging manner. Advent is all about hope and joy and preparation… getting ourselves ready for the most amazing gift. Such good stuff.

So, how does this “getting ourselves ready” look ’round these parts? Well, we’ll be decorating the house this afternoon and having a special dinner this evening. We’ll be making an Advent wreath and lighting candles every week. We’ll be doing the daily scripture readings and fun activities found in Truth in the Tinsel, a wonderful resource created by a, much more creative than I, young mother. I, personally am going to be trying to focus more closely on the hope part of the process than I have in the past. Less on preparation of the house and the table and what’s going to be under the tree and more on preparing my heart. More joy.

Joy is good.

What does the Advent journey look like at your house? Do tell!

*Busted Halo is a Catholic based website and while there is much there that I find uplifting and enjoyable, I am not Catholic. I’m Baptist. So yeah…. theological differences abound.

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All the news that’s fit to print.

I know what you’re thinking… what’s Diane been up to for the last coupla months? Right?

Well, Noah made a crawfish trap (very appropriately out of a tomato soup can, I might add.) He reports that it works great, and is tentatively planning a campfire crawdad meal for himself and his buddy Caleb.


We’ve been making all kinds of new varieties of pizza, like this Mexican chili pizza. With guacamole. It was good.

Pastor came over for an unannounced visit the other day. I was in the middle of my heavy cleaning routine, dressed in an old overall jumper with bleach stains across the front, my hair falling out of its braid down the back of my neck. The living room was littered with cleaning supplies and the detritus I had just pulled out from under the couch cushions and behind the piano. I was panting lightly from the exertion of washing down the stairs. A bead of sweat was precariously close to dribbling off the end of my nose. So yeah, me at my best…. pretty much.

“I’m not proud,” I thought.
But then, as I sat down opposite Pastor an appalling heart-stopping scene met my eyes: the large sunny south window just behind him was filled.. absolutely filled with flies. Flies! I’m talking like from a horror movie or an episode of Hoarders or something. Now, I swear to you on my favorite housedress (the one made of real actual vintage fabric and handmade 100% cotton gingham bias trim) that those flies were not there a mere fifteen minutes before. Where they came from, I know not, but they were having a hoe-down-show-down in that window fo sho. They hummed and they buzzed. They bumped their disgusting little bodies against the window. Every few minutes one or two of them would venture out and buzz around my sweet pastor’s gray head, crawl on his hair or perhaps settle companionably upon his hand. And all the while he sat there chatting graciously, occasionally waving his hand oh-so-casually dontchaknow, as though shooing away hoards of noisome insects is just a usual occurrence whilst visiting one’s parishioners.
OH EARTH, SWALLOW ME.

A while back Betsy apparently noticed that I was inquiring about (LUSTING FOR is probably a more accurate descriptor) a certain kind of luscious chocolate-y zucchini cake, so she took it upon herself to write out the recipe. She tucked it into her purse and gave it to me during the greeting time of Sunday morning services. She’s so sweet, that Betsy.

We’ve been to the thrift store where we scored some amazing deals. Real Uggs. Worn maybe two times. $6.95 God is good.

We started school with a dinosaur unit based on this lapbook. Hands of a Child, where have you been all my homeschooling life?

Our little town had a memorial ceremony for the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Main street was blocked off and an enormous American flag was suspended from the ladders of what had to be the two biggest fire engines in the county. Our local fire fighters stood in solemn lines and the bells from the Lutheran church rang over and over and over. I just sat in my car and remembered those firemen that ran full force up the towers when the rest of the world was running down. They’ll never stop being my heroes, those guys.

So yeah, that’s what’s been going on: big game hunting, pizza, and thrifty finds. Chocolate and abject humiliation and dinosaurs and gratitude.

You know…. just the usual. Mhmm.


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To each his own

Or her own, as the case may be.

OK, so when you’re schooling children of wildly different skill levels, most of their schoolwork is going to be individual and separate. One kid’ll be doing a workbook at one end of the table while the other is doing a science experiment at the other. But if you’re like me, you’re going to want them to be able to work together whenever possible. That makes things a whole lot more fun for the kids (and also, incidentally, a whole lot easier for the maternal unit.) Of course, just because they are completing the same activity, doesn’t mean they are getting the same things out of it. When writing lesson plans which might possibly be perused by school district officials, I am careful to write specific goals for each of the children. And specific goals are important, because even with an activity like this one- making a panorama of ocean shoals encountered by explorer John Cabot- Noah and Millen are learning different things even though they are provided with identical materials and given identical instructions.


For example, my goals for Noah might go a little sumthin’ like this:
GEOGRAPHY- Able to locate Newfoundland on both globe and map with no prompts. Able to locate shoal areas along coast.
HISTORY- Able to trace route of John Cabot’s voyage. Able to articulate what finding a shoal area would have meant to voyagers of this era.
SCIENCE- Able to define “shoal.” Able to describe as habitat for various aquatic animals. Able to list several aquatic animals who live in shoals. Will be able to color illustrations with correct coloration of several species.
ART- Will explore medium of water color. Will explore effect of various types of brush strokes on application. Will explore color mixing.


And for Millen they’d go a little sumthin’ like that:
SOCIAL/EMOTIONAL- Increase independence and confidence during novel activities.
SCIENCE- Will be able to articulate why fish live in water (“breathe water”) and correctly place images of fish below water line in illustration.
GEOGRAPHY- Will be able to differentiate between bodies of water and land masses on both globe and map independently.
FINE MOTOR- Will be able to cut on irregular dotted lines independently. Using wet brush and water color pad, will be able to place color as desired on dry paper.
ART- Will explore mediums of water color and crayon.
MATH- Will be able to place fish illustrations in order from smallest to largest and vice versa. Will be able to count fish and plant illustrations and correctly determine which group has “more” and “less.”


But please don’t mention all those goals to the kids… they think they’re just painting, pasting, looking at pictures of fish and talking about this cool guy who sailed a cool ship a long time ago.

And I’d like to keep it that way.

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Last day to sign up!

The kids and I are so excited about participating in My Passport to India… it’s a five week program of videos and other resources designed to educate us about the real India: its culture, people and places. It starts on October fifth and it’s free.

Yay! for free!

It’s gonna be great and loads of fun. And it’ll be even more funner if you and your kids come along too.
So go here,
watch this video,
sign up,
wait for your goodies to come in the mail
then join the rest of us as we learn,
pray,
and share.

But hurry up, because today is the very last day to sign up.

Go on! G’won! Go onnnn! what’re ya waiting for?

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How it’s working out

I’ve mentioned before that we are trying something new in our homeschool this year: workboxes. Sue Patrick originally devised this teaching system for her own son with special needs and soon found that her daughter benefited from it as well. She began sharing her methods with other families, went on to giving seminars and eventually wrote books and materials making this wonderful program accessible to anyone. While I don’t want to share too many specifics about the system itself… Sue explains all of the specifics much better than I ever could… I’d like to show you a bit of how workboxes look in our homeschool.

The short answer is they look good. Mighty good.

Each day, the children’s work is divided up into twelve separate boxes- I’ve used these drawered plastic storage units in place of the clear boxes which Sue suggests. On the front of each drawer are little velcro dots to which are affixed numbers indicating the order which the child should complete them, the subject contained within, and if necessary, a time limit for completion of that material.


Within each box is a sticky note with detailed directions for completion of the assignment. Additionally, each of the drawers contains everything the child needs to complete a single activity or assignment. No searching around for a sharpened pencil. No wondering where exactly one could have left one’s scissors. No more wasted minutes debating the relative benefits of crayons vs. markers. It’s all here. In the box.


Most of the drawers simply contain the necessary curriculum and materials to complete that day’s work for a single subject area.


Sometimes there is a little added something to add a bit of fun to otherwise dreaded work.


And sometimes the activity is all fun, with no work involved.


The variety spices up our school day and keeps the kids perking along to the next workbox, and the next and the next. As the work in each box is completed the number square is removed from the front of the box and placed on the child’s HOME sheet. When all the squares are HOME, the child is done with school for the day. It’s as simple as that.


Soooo… how is it working out?

Well, the kids love it. The first thing they do every morning is check through their workboxes to see what interesting things they have ahead of them for the day. And I gotta tell ya, there’s nothing like knowing a Bike Ride is in box number nine to get a boy through the Language Arts in box number eight. They love having their work all laid out in such a concrete manner… no more asking, how much more school, Mohhom? or when are we gonna be done?


I love it too. I love not having to hear those questions. I’m not a fan of whining… nope. Not. A. Fan. I find myself digging out all those manipulatives and games that have been languishing in the back of the school cupboard for years, and that’s a good thing. But mainly I love all of the work that we are getting done. I don’t know exactly why it is, but we are now able to get through all of the activities in our curriculum every single day… including the “optional” ones. And the “enrichment” activities as well. I can see the difference that makes in both the children’s enthusiasm for learning and for their comprehension of the material as well.


The only downside to the program that I can see thus far is the amount of time it takes on the part of the Mom-unit. I spend a couple of hours every weekend planning for a week’s worth of workboxes and a half hour or so every day setting them up. Even so, things are going quicker every week we do this, and I am gradually coming up with a system that is smoothing out the kinks. For example, I have structured the days so that each one ends up with a different “fun” activity:
~On Monday the kids do a nifty new craft project or a baking activity.
~Tuesdays they each look through a cookbook, choose a recipe to be included in the next week’s menu and write out a shopping list for all of the needed items.
~Wednesday is piano lessons… and lunch out!
~Thursdays we do a hands-on history activity or a science experiment. Once a month we’ll go on a field trip. This week we’ve learned about the travails of early ocean voyages- so we’ll be making hardtack. And sampling it too.
~On Friday afternoon we’ll be going to the playground or to a park with friends.

So yeah… like I said, so far so good. I’ll keep you all posted as the year progresses and we work out more of the kinks. Yup, workin’ out the kinks. That’s mah job.

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We got

Oh ladies! Such fun times are being had in the Tomato Patch this week!


We got rows and rows of little letters and circles just waiting to be filled in.


and we got lots of freshly sharpened #2 pencils to do the fillin’ too… all in the most boring and undistracting colors possible of course.


We got a nice new squishy pink eraser in case a body should need to change the filling in one of those circles… or two. Or three.

We got a boy. A not-so-happy boy.


And because I’m such a nice mama, we got bribes… err, did I say bribes? I meant… rewards. Yeah, we got rewards. Or better yet, incentives. I think I’ll call these incentives. That sounds good. ummyeah.

We got a timer. The dreaded-tomato-timer-of-death, according to the boy.

We’ve even got an oh-so-welcoming sign on our front door.

Betcha can’t guess what we’re up to?

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There’s nothing like a day off…

… to put a smile on one’s face, a spring in one’s step,


and completely discombobulate one’s weekly routine. My carefully crafted five-day schoolweek plan is down by one day. We have some testing to complete which’ll knock another entire day off. And then there’s the planning and crafting and packing for Grampa’s big eightieth birthday shindig which will poke holes in what’s left (happy holes to be sure… but holes nonetheless.) Noah thinks it’d be in the best interest of all if we just called off school for the rest of the week. He tried to sound all noble and self-sacrificing, but my weasel-detection skilz have been finely honed from decades of parenting and from living in my own skin. I remained surprisingly unconvinced.

So now I need to decide whether we should work extra hard to cram an entire week’s worth of work into two and a half days, or whether we should have an easy week of it, with lots of review and crafty stuff. The better part of me is lobbying for the former, while the weaker part of me is leaning HARD for the latter.

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

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