Friday, July 27, 2007

things you hear at my house....

There are many phrases that I must say 80 times every day. Especially to Kain, because he doesn't listen. And if he does listen, he doesn't remember. I guess every mom has those phrases that you wish you could just tape record yourself saying so as to save the energy or repeating it all day long. Like....

..."Use your quiet voice."

..."Be gentle."

..."You have to try three bites of everything on your plate."

..."You are interrupting."

..."You left the front door open."

..."Kain, you have to come IN HERE, I can't HEAR YOU! I SAID, I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!!" (Kain always insists on talking to me from the next room. Always. Several times a day.)

All day...I say these things to Kain all. Day. Long.

And then there are the comments I make to Kain that should just should never need to be said. Like...

..."It's not ok to throw your bike at people. Even if they did make you mad."

..."You can't wear your ninja hood to church."

..."Please don't pretend to shoot people when they are coming back from communion."

..."You cannot hide grapes in the couch cushions."

..."When I'm walking right behind you carrying Jack and three bags of groceries, why is that the ONE TIME IN YOUR LIFE that you decided to shut the front door?"

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Our past school year in review, and our new school year coming up...

Thoughts for this past year...

Maria has been awesome. She works independently well and works with me well also. It has been really fun for me to move out of the early elementary age stuff and have some good discussions with her on topics of all kinds. Math has been especially an enjoyable challenge. She started out the school year feeling very overwhelmed at all the new topics in Saxon 54, and through this year she has learned many "big kid" concepts, like decimals, division, percents, etc. We will continue with Saxon 65. Her spelling slowly improves. In fact, John and I noted just lately that she seems to have made a big leap in this problem area. We will continue Writing Road to Reading and Starting a Spelling Notebook, and with Intermediate Language Lessons' gentle approach to grammar and writing. I look forward to developing her writing skills quite a bit this coming year. Our curriculum makes a big leap in that area during 5th grade, and it's not an easy subject for her. We'll also use Handwriting Without Tears for one more year of cursive practice. We will continue to work with the St. Joseph's Baltimore Catechism, this time with No. 2, and also with Faith and Life's 5th grade book, Credo. We'll memorize more poetry, including the very long Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. We'll work through Latin Christiana I again, including the grammar lessons this time through. We'll be starting the Concepts and Challenges in Earth Science book, as well as having fun with these monthly science kits on all kinds of topics. We'll continue with Pioneers and Patriots for American history, as well as all the great historical literature recommended by Mother of Divine Grace. We'll be using The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide for, well, geography and our timeline. And finally we'll be using bimonthly art kits from My Lil Picasso with all the kids. Maria will also be working through the Drawing Textbook and doing picture studies from Seton's Art 5 book. We will also continue to use Our Musical Year and Introduce Your Child to Classical Music in 52 Easy Lessons as a family. And at some point this year I hope to purchase a piano so Maria can begin piano lessons. We will also use the wonderful reading lists published in Real Learning by Elizabeth Foss and in Catholic Mosaic by Cay Gibson.

In particular for Kain, who will be joining our homeschool this year for first grade, he will finish working through Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons (love those easy lessons), as well as reading through many easy readers and the Little Angel series. We have been working through the first third of Teach Your Child...over the summer. He will start memorizing poetry as well, especially young-child friendly Robert Lewis Stevenson, and memorizing the St. Joseph's First Communion Catechism. He will make an illustrated book of narrations about various Saints, as well as one about Aesop's Fables. He will practice printing with the Handwriting Without Tears series. We will work through the Saxon 1 book for math, and pursue as many interest-lead nature studies as I can fit into our days. First grade is a light year with lots of time for learning through play, and I will be putting together quite a few Montessori-style activities for Kain as well.

Both of the courses of study are largely what is laid out in Mother of Divine Grace. The ideas are not mine. :) It's a lovely curriculum that truly respects the mother and the student. We have been blessed to have it.

Jack will be starting a slow three year-long perusal through Little Saints preschool curriculum. He also has a fun subscription to monthly Brighter Vision kits, and he'll have plenty of Montessori lessons to try and distract him from other fun activities like dumping cereal boxes on the floor or putting toys in the toilet.

As for our coming month off, the kids will get to sleep in if they'd like, have plenty of freetime, swimming a couple of times a week, days at the park, a couple of days at least at the lake, a visit to Grandmom (my grandmother), Meme and Papa over to visit (my mom and dad), and beginning flag football and cheerleading with Upwards. I will be organizing our school room, making some Montessori lessons for Kain and Jack, and just generally doing all the "getting ready for school" stuff.

a case for year round schooling.

So, we are officially done with this past school year. Those of you August-to-May homeschoolers among you are undoubtedly horrified. :) But we do homeschool year-round. It started off by accident. The first year, we pulled Maria out of "real school" half way through the school year. I was working full-time and planning a June wedding, so things ran into well into the summer. The second year we moved in October and purchased, some would say unwisely, a fixer-upper. I also became pregnant that January and spent the first trimester teaching between naps on the couch. So we ran well into the summer. The third year, also in October, Jack was born. And again,,,we ran into summer. The fourth year, which was this past year, I thought, "Why am I trying to fit school into the whole 'August-to-May' thing again?" So, I didn't. And it has been a good fit. Here's our benefits to schooling this way...

---Learning becomes a lifestyle, not something we take big breaks from. Even during our shorter breaks we continue to read, add to our timelines and nature journals, write, craft...and the kids learn not to blink and eye when their mom declares a "beaver unit study" and say "Mom, there's no school during summer!" (Maria did this kind of thing the first three years of homeschooling anytime she smelled me drumming up a "learning opportunity".)

--It lets us plan our school year around the liturgical year. We can celebrate the church year to it's fullest when we have plenty of time off around Christmas and Easter, as well as take the day off for smaller feasts.

--It let's us enjoy nature more as well. Summer in Arkansas is yuck. It's hot and humid and we probably spend as much time indoors during the summer as yankees spend indoors during the winter. It gets so hot and humid and miserable that the kids sit inside and complain about being bored far more often than they do in the winter. Many winter days are suitable for going on a day hike, exploring a nearby cave, or going to the zoo. Fall and spring are mild and beautiful...outdoor learning prime-time. Why waste them all inside?

--It let's me plan around family events with more that move, that pregnancy, that birth, ill and hospitalized extended family, deaths in the family, and visits to family that live out of state...not to mention the stretches in January where everyone has the flu one after another and no one is well for three weeks.

So, we have our own calendar. We start our school year in September. Labor Day is in fact our first day of school. Weird, I know, but it's a "fun day"...we pile up all our cool new books and fun supplies, look through them, do some fun activities that I'm sure I'll be describing here in a few weeks, and then go to Chuck E. Cheese for our "not going back to school party". The next day starts our school year for real. I aim to get through 12 weeks of our syllabus. We have school 3-5 days a week. The syllabus plans 4 days a week, 32 weeks a year, but we just do them as we get to them. It's usually four, but sometimes it's an odd week. Depending on illness, field trips, co-op days, Holy Days, and various unplanned factors, we stop in early to mid December and take off until after Epiphany.

We start up again the second week in January and school anywhere from 10-13 more weeks are so depending on where Easter falls that year. This time seems to be a bit slower-paced than the fall activity-wise, but it's also the most likely time to lose kids to illness for several days at a time. In any case, we stop by holy week at the very latest...preferably a week earlier to leave time for spring cleaning chores. We take four weeks off, no matter what. We are usually feeling fried and need a long break by then. Then we pick back up and finish up our school year for as long as it takes, or until the end of July, whichever comes first. The spring is usually pretty busy with activities, but then when May comes things slow down again and we can lay heavy on the books and finish up.

So, that was our plan last year. And it's our plan for the coming year. I have received my pretty new planner in the mail and mapped out our plan for the year. We have our books and syllabi and we are ready to start....well, kind of. I mean, we *could* start, but I have a lot of organizing to do in the school room and some things to set up for Jack before September comes...

An altogether lovely day...

I planned to stay home today and finish catching up on all the neglected housework from the previous week.....
....and then realized it was a beautiful 72 degrees outside, very unusual for Arkansas in July. So, chores were shoved aside once again and we headed outdoors before the good Lord realized how inappropriate the weather was and cranked up the thermostat. We had a lovely morning, and I don't regret schlepping off the chores one bit. They are still here, waiting for me.

This park is almost always empty and kind of an undiscovered treasure for us. The playscape is old and simple, and it's tucked back in a residential area. But it is really a lovely place with lots of shade, big open fields, picnic tables, bathrooms, BBQ grills, and a wooded path. The blog-sized pictures just don't do this place justice, not to mention my gorgeous group of kids, so feel free to click on the photos and see it all close up. :)

So...first a turn on the swings. My one regret with this park is that it lacks a baby swing. Today, however, Jack gave the big-kid swings a try! He did really well too...

But this big-kid equipment proved still a little too big.

Off to the woods...

Here's the best part...the woods have a fresh spring-water creek running through them. The park used to be the site of a hotel and sanatorium. Fabulously cold and fresh water, even on the hottest days...this is the basin the spring bubbles up through. The mom behind the camera is trying not to imagine the emergency room visit that would follow a slip from this wall...Maria is trying to build a dam to slow the flow of water.

Here is an "island" in the creek. Kain is playing "stranded shipwreck victim", while Maria is playing "nervous kid scared to death of crawdads whose Mom talked her into going into the creek anyway". Jack is carefully picking his way over the rocky bed. He is completely fearless and fell in the water several times trying to climb steep, slippery banks.

Our discovery of the day, a small beaver lodge! The prospect of exploring this was enough to even make Maria brave the water.

The very tiny "beaver pond" on the other side of the lodge.

And the most pitiful picture ever...on the way back to the car, soaking wet still, Jack begged another ride on the swings. He wasn't so lucky this time and fell hard, belly first, onto the sand. Here he is, very wet, very dirty, and very tired.

We came home, threw grubby river shoes in the washer for a rinse cycle, cleaned up poor Jack, and had a quick lunch while we looked up beavers in our animal encyclopedias, then looked for some pictures of beavers and their lodges online. The best part of homeschooling....learning continues even during summer break. Mom's teacher hat is always on.

Monday, July 16, 2007

blogging lite...

Sorry, I have not been a very good blogger this month. I won't be for the rest of the week either. We are eating/sleeping/breathing vacation bible school at our parish this week. Here's some gratuitous photos to make me feel like I accomplished something here. I'll be back in earnest in a few days with lots of "starting our new school year" news..

John and the kids, reading away...we do this a lot in our house.

Some decorations I made with our Little Flowers group for our end of the year tea party. I have beautiful pictures of our sweet girls, but can't post random pictures of other people's children. :)

Some photos from the Tulsa Air and Space Museum...

Kain the pilot...

Kain was really into this tornado machine and played with it for a long time...until we finally had to drag him away to see the show at the Planetarium.

Jack and Maria building a space ship.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The face of super-genius

So, Jack is showing signs of being, well, pretty darned smart. I hesitate to say "gifted", because I'm not even sure you can judge such a thing in a 2 year old, but he's definitely very bright. I posted here about realizing that he could count to 10 a several months ago and how no one knew where he learned to do that. A while later he could count to twenty...shortly after that he counted to 30...except he said "twenty-ten" for thirty. :) He also quickly learned all his shapes and colors. Then we realized he knew all the letters of the alphabet. Upper and lower case. And he can recognize written numerals too. We found that out when he started reciting license plates when we would walk through the church parking lot. Now, I'm seriously not sitting him down and teaching him this stuff. First of all, you can really sit a two year old down and teach them anything,,,,at least not this two year old. He has learned this all through play,,, play, and being read to many times a day. He loves to be read to and will often bring you a book and demand that you read it. He seemed to learn his alphabet from alphabet books we've read, and then cemented the knowledge with his wooden ABC blocks. He went through a stage of playing intently with those blocks many times a day, lining them up, naming the letters, grouping them by color, etc. He was so interested in the letters that the next logical stage seemed to be to start casually teaching him the sounds that they make. Again, I'm not one for formal teaching young ones, quite the opposite, but I do follow their natural interests wherever they may lead. So when I would change his diaper, I would hand him one of his blocks, say one with a "D" on it, and he would turn it over and say "big D" on one side, then "little D" on the other. Then I would say, "D says "duh", and he would smile and repeat it. Like a little sponge, he learned them all, and he would sit and practice with them on his own..."P says "puh"..."Q says "kw"...and often adding objects from books that we've read..."Q says "kw", queen". We've just been blown away by how quickly he's taken to this. One day, we heard him reciting the alphabet *backwards*. Backwards! Who can do that? Not me! Just quickly and naturally, "Z, Y, X...", all the way to "A". He also memorizes picture whole picture books that we bring home from the library and read a handful of times. Makes me wonder what he'll be like when he *does* start kindergarten! He's just a joy because he enjoys it all so much...thoug at times it's awkward, like when you're out in public, say in the doctor's waiting room with a handful of other toddlers, and your toddler is walking around and pointing to the animals on the mural saying, "Hello orange lion. Hello green sea turtle. Hello purple giraffe." Then goes up to magazine covers and points to letters saying, "T says "Tuh",,turtle. I says "ih,,iguana,,,k says kuh, koala bear." Then goes to a toy clock on the floor and says, "Zero! Zero's the hero of the number tree! Get out of our tree the bumblebees shout, and all the numbers tumble out. Chicka Chicka 1, 2, 3, will there be a place for me?" And the other moms are staring at him, and finally they ask, "How *old* is he? Three?" Um, well, no, he'll be three in October. And then I feel oddly embarassed about the whole thing for some reason.

Monday, July 09, 2007


I wish ya'll could check me out today. I have been the picture of industry. My yard has been extremely overgrown for a while now, especially the back. We are talk primordial-looking here.

So, today I purposed to mow the grass. On my own, home alone with three kids, my big double-sized lot full of thigh-high grass. Oh, and I couldn't get my riding lawnmower to start, so I've been doing it old school. I'm so proud though, cuz I've been wacking at it off and on all day, and it's almost done. I started early this morning and did the front yard (for the neighbor's sake, though it wasn't really too bad there) and moved on to do the shorter third of the back yard, the area that is shaded all the time. Then during Jack's nap I tackled another area of the side yard that is shaded in the early afternoon until the sun starts to fall over the backside of the house toward evening. Now all that's left is the very worst part...the big, open, gets tons of sun all day long and the grass is wild and thick part. I'm going to put the boys to bed early this evening and tackle that mess. How, may you ask, can I do this with a push mower? Very, very takes forever. But I'm so tickled to see the yellow-green, damp paths I leave behind me when I mow down a thick stretch of grass, bugs flying in all direction, obviously shocked that their home, having been undisturbed for so long, is now being shredded by some large, sweaty, sunburned individual singing "Green Acres" at the top of her lungs. I'm sincerely hoping I don't run into any other animals living in there. In the meantime, I off to pick up a drive-through dinner. If I'm going to do a man's job, I'm gonna cook like a man. Then I'm going to throw these boys in bed, bandage up my blisters, and off I go.....

So blessed to be Catholic....

....this brings tears to my eyes. Lovely.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

the real meez

OK, Entropy got me totally addicted to this crazy thing, and this is how I've spent my morning, creating this
crazy person. Anyone that knows me can attest that I've truly managed to capture the Essence of Mel, right down to the messy living room in the background. I'm quite proud.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

And Independence Day thought...

So, it's the 4th of July, and I have a cd on for the kids, Wee Sing America, and I was struck by how many passionate references to God there were in these old anthems....lots. Lots and lots. This is not a Christian collection or anything either, and there are a number of lighter, silly songs like "Eating Goober Peas" and "Yankee Doodle".

From "America",,,a.k.a. "My Country Tis of Thee"
"Our father's God, to Thee,
Author of liberty
To thee we sing,
Long may our land be bright
With freedom's holy light;
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God, our King!"

From "America the Beautiful"
"America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success by nobleness
And every gain divine!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

From "Battle Hymn of the Republic"
"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loos'd the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword,
His truth is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me;
As He died to make men holy let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on."

These songs were often written during war time, to express patriotism so strong that men were willing to die for it. And men did. And do.

How did we go from that to this in 200 years? Is this really what most Americans want? I know that Americans still have far more freedom than many countries, but sometimes I feel like we are sliding down the other side of the slope. Have we traded freedom of religion for intolerance of religion? In another 200 years, will we still have freedom of religion or will atheism be the new "religion" of the state?