Tuesday, July 31, 2012

School's Out!

We just finished the last chapter of our history book!  This accomplishment officially marks the end of our school year.  (Just to review--we took several months off last fall for the birth of our little I.8) I am a bundle of mixed emotions.

Relief.  The burden of organizing the kids through daily school is lifted.  I can breathe more easily.

Dread.  Temperatures still climb over 100 each day.  The idea of having housebound, unorganized children is enough to make me want to hide my head in the sand.

Anticipation.  Now I have time to research and plan for the semester ahead.  I love planning.

Hope.  I'm hopeful that my E12's requests for more independent work will bring a light and joy to her life that will fuel a true love of learning.

Satisfaction.  I love learning with my children, and knowing we're making progress makes my heart happy.

Here we go.  Into a break that includes Cousins' Camp and lots of empty days waiting to be filled.  How I pray that our break will refresh our bodies, minds, and spirits and prepare us for the year ahead.

Astronomy, Check

Last week we finished our Astronomy book.

I loved doing astronomy with the girls.  Next week is the Perseid meteor shower, so hopefully we'll get a good look at the "falling stars" while we're out in the country at my sister's house.  I hear the girls talking about planets and space travel, so I think they learned some good stuff.

But I'm glad to be done.  Many homeschoolers admit to not finishing books and there are ever so many books that we have not finished, but when we can complete a course of study, I feel good about it.

I like finishing a task.  I like starting a new one.

Chemistry is next on our list.

(But not until after our August break)

Tying Shoes

This weekend was our homeschool association summer family dance.  80s themed.  Everyone was invited to come in costume, and my girls were determined to accept that invitation.  So on Saturday, after chores, we dug through our closets and costume bins to find what we could, then we headed out to a local thrift shop to fill in the gaps.

While we were there I found a pair of tennis shoes for A5.  Hers disappeared a month or so ago.  We've turned the house and van upside down trying to find them all to no avail.  I bought the shoes; they're pink . . . with laces.

So far in her short life A5 has only had shoes that fasten with velcro.

The adventure has begun.

We sat down on Sunday to learn to tie shoes.  I was determined to work slowly and patiently.  She was convinced she could do it perfectly the first time.

Shoe tying is hard work.

I watched her pudgy little hands--still baby hands in so many ways--struggle to copy what my experienced hands can do so easily.  She cried.  She threw the laces away from her and shouted, "I can't do this!"  She collapsed on the floor with her arms over her eyes.

I said, "We don't have to do this right now.  We can take a break.  You're learning.  You're doing a good job.  It just takes lots of practice."

She pulled herself to a sitting position, "No!  I want to do this now!"

We tried again.  She caught on to the first 2 steps just fine, but helping that rabbit run around the tree and dive into his burrow is hard.

We tried.

She cried.

We tried.

She cried.

I tried to tell her she was doing fine and we could take a break and do it some more another day, but she just wiped her tears away and tried again.

Then E12 came up and said, "You should just teach her to make 2 bunny ears and tie them together."

I'd already considered that but had dismissed it as actually harder than the way we were doing it because of the difficulty of keeping track of 4 layers (2 laces bent double) of laces.

I asked A5 if she wanted to try a new way.


She threw herself on the floor, kicked her feet, cried, shouted that she wanted to learn the way mom was teaching her or she wouldn't learn anything.

At which point I declared the lesson over.

Even though there was so much high drama and intensity of emotion I am impressed with the determination of my small girl.  She is still so very young.  She has so much growing to do.  She has so much to learn.  Every day is a challenge.  Every day she gets up with her game face on and works at mastering the world in which she lives.

No wonder she cried.

I hope she'll feel brave enough to try again today.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Science vs The Computer

Getting computer time at our house is very important; I limit computer time severely because I realized one day that the daily 1/2 hour turns I thought they were getting were actually 2 and 3 hour screen-time fests as they watched one another take turns.  Now the older kids get 1/2 hour turns every other day with intermittent turns to request library books or check facts here and there.  The little girls use the computer every day--unfortunately, as a babysitter.  [It's a bad habit that we're working on breaking.]  At any rate, when Mom says yes to the computer, it is cause for much rejoicing in the land.

Today J8 and S9 were working on their Individual Pursuits; they're working their way through an Usborne science experiment book.  They love it!  Today they were in the middle of building a contraption out of a yogurt container, string, hard candy, and sundry other items when it was time for S9 to have her turn.

"Would you like to have your turn later so that you can keep doing your experiment?" I asked, expecting a solidly negative reply.

"Yes!  Thank you, Mom!  I really want to finish this!" she said.

I tried to play it cool even though I was stunned, so I called casually down to M10 who was typing up some reading notes, "You can keep going if you want.  Your sister is going to take her turn later."

She was thrilled.

I'm thrilled. 

It looks like the computer is settling down to its proper place as a useful tool instead of the end-all, be-all of their existence.

History Lesson Delayed

Little I.8 is teething.  He is more miserable than any baby I've ever had.  Frozen blueberries, ice cubes, and frozen peaches seem to work the best, but they can only be used intermittently, and he won't nurse well.

He's not sleeping either.

So when he was screaming in misery as I tried to lead a history lesson, I turned to E12 and asked her to read aloud to her sisters as I attended to the baby.  She wasn't happy about it, but she complied.  I left the room hoping to return to at least find all of the older girls still in the same place I left them.

It only took 5 minutes to see that I.8 was going to need my full attention for quite some time.  We're trying to finish school by the end of the month so that we can take a break in August.  I wanted to get that lesson completed, but my wiser side finally admitted that my baby was far more important than my schedule.  I walked into the kitchen to release the girls from our afternoon lessons and found them . . .

listening to E12 read aloud!

They actually groaned when I told them that school was temporarily cancelled!

"Awww, Mom!  I was listening to that story!  It was a good one!" said M10.

Thank you, my dear ones, for that small, happy moment in an otherwise most difficult day.

The girls scattered to their free-time activities of choice, and I settled in to figure out how to soothe my desperately uncomfortable baby.  The afternoon passed quickly.  The dinner hour passed amicably.  Evening story time arrived.

The girls reminded me that they had a history lesson still to do.

[Who are these children?  And what did they do with mine?]

I pulled out the history book and started reading.  They listened; they contributed; they putzed around a little bit.  They're really my children.

We read and talked and thought together.  I didn't require the usual written response, and they were glad.

It was a good lesson.

I'm glad I cancelled afternoon lessons.
I'm glad I took care of my baby.
I'm glad my children are mine.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Weekend School

We went to the library on Friday morning.  H2 selected her basket of books and retired to her favorite rocking chair to look through them while she waited for her sisters to make their own selections.  I walked across to the periodical section to see what homeschooling magazines might be offered.  As I browsed, I turned to look back at my H2.

She was not where I left her.

A quick glance revealed her new location; she sat in a miniature chair with her book open flat on a miniature table in front of her.  She held her hand in a small fist with her index finger out as she pointed to the words on the page.  She was "reading."

My heart caught in my chest as I saw my small daughter working so seriously at being big.

E12 found a book on fashion drawing.  At first glance she was dismissive.  But later she pulled the book out, and soon she had a stack of clean paper and freshly sharpened coloring pencils at hand.  She studied and drew and studied and drew all weekend.

I said, "This is what Individual Pursuits is all about--finding something you love to do so much that it is what you want to do even when you could be doing something else."

"I hate Individual Pursuits," she said.

"Then I don't think you understand Individual Pursuits.  Do you like what you're doing right now?"

"Yes!  I love it!"

"Then that is an Individual Pursuit." 

"Okay, I guess I like Individual Pursuits--as long as I can do this!"

I made peach jam on Saturday.  M10 and J8 busied themselves with finishing some of S9's birthday presents, so S9 found herself at loose ends.  I invited her to help me in the kitchen.

She happily cleaned glass jars and measured sugar.  I asked if she wanted to empty the dishwasher or stir the hot fruit.  She chose stirring.

About 2 minutes later she said, "This is hard work!  I'd rather empty the dishwasher!"

"Are you sure?"  I asked.  "I thought you'd like to cook."

"This is so hot and so hard!  I'd really rather empty the dishwasher."

We switched jobs.

We worked companionably, and now we have a clean kitchen and 9 pints of homemade peach jam.

A friend invited us to swim at her neighborhood pool with her granddaughter.  We were delighted to be invited and happily threw ourselves into the pools--big kids in the big pool, little kids and mom in the little pool.

At first the 2 little girls pottered around getting used to the water, but after a time they began working in earnest to accomplish something.  They retrieved little rocks that our friend threw for them.  They jumped up and down splashing.  They put their faces in the water.

Suddenly A5 realized that she'd taken her feet off the bottom and that she'd propelled herself forward.

"I can swim!" she yelled excitedly.

"I saw you!  You did swim!" I yelled just as excitedly.  "Do it again!"

She was eager to comply.

She swam again and again and again.

I homeschool for many reasons, but one of them is so that I am around to see my children's joy as they master something new.  A5 had stars in her eyes on a hot July afternoon.

 Her radiance lit my heart.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

One of the Secrets a Cool Mom Knows

Temperatures are crossing the 100 degree mark every day.  Today was just too hot to head outside and continue working on our bird house.

Soooooo . . . what to do for Matters of Interest?

I pulled out a book on my shelf and looked up something quick and easy and "cool."

We hung spoons on our noses.

While the girls were finishing up their copywork, I hung one on my nose and just sat quietly.  It took at least 3 minutes for anyone to notice me, but when E12 did, smiles erupted all around.

"How do you do that?"

"I've done that before!"

"Mom!  What are you doing?!?!"

I smiled enigmatically and told them to finish up.

When they were done we all hung spoons from our noses.  It was hardest for E12.  She persevered.  She succeeded.

Along the way M10, S9, and J8 had a blast hanging spoons from their noses and seeing how long they could keep them up.  J8 was even able to jump gently a few times before it fell.

A5 and H2 watched us with cautious eyes.  Eventually A5 dared to ask to use my spoon to try.  The spoon fell rather quickly, and her face crumpled in disappointment.  "Don't give up!  Do it again!  Do it again!  It will work eventually!"  I cheered.  She was diligent and was rewarded with a precariously hanging spoon.  A huge grin dislodged the spoon, but she'd already been rewarded enough to be joyful.  In seconds that spoon was hanging again.

There was nothing academic about what we did.  It was just a little bit of nonsense that nourished our spirits for a few minutes on a really hot, really boring school day.

And then we ate chocolate bread for lunch!

Melted Crayon Bugs--Ugh!

First we found a cute bug template via an online search.  Then we dug out all of the broken crayons we could find and scraped them into little shavings.  This took a tremendously long time and a huge effort.  Along the way we made an enormous mess of the kitchen table and three of my butter knives [which are in the dishwasher now--I wonder if they're coming clean].

Oh, well.  A5 has been practicing her reading a lot on her own.  It is no problem to let preschool go long.  We chatted happily about the wonderful creation we were about to make.

Moving into the living room where the ironing board was set up, I plugged in the iron, traced the bug image onto waxed paper and helped the little girls dump a variety of crayon shavings onto the outline.  Then came the moment of truth!  Melting the shavings!

Though I tried to be careful, the colors blurred together into rather a muddy shade.  "Its beautiful, Mommy!" said A5 as I expressed some doubt about our results.

Some of the wax oozed out the side and onto the ironing board cover.  I'd heard that pressing a hot iron through a tea towel would pull the crayon out of the fabric.  I spent 10 minutes trying.

It didn't work.

My mother uses the ironing board often to press her clothes for work--she dresses in very nice, professional clothing.  The ironing board cover is now in the laundry.  If it doesn't come clean enough for her to safely press her clothing then I'll need to get a new cover.

The melted crayon was dark enough [note to self: blue crayon melts very dark] that I couldn't see the lines of the bug.  I cut the outline blindly.

It was still cute.

I handed a bug to H2 who promptly asked if she could give it eyes.  "Sure!" I said more heartily than I felt.  "I'll help you with eyes in just a few minutes."  I called to A5, who had disappeared mysteriously while I was attempting to blot melted crayon wax.  "Your bug is ready! It is really cute!  Don't you want to come give it eyes and tie a ribbon on it so we can hang it in the window?"

"No!" she yelled from her bedroom where her head was stuffed under her pillow.  "I hate it!  It smells bad, and I don't want to touch it."


We never made eyes.  We never tied ribbon.  We never hung our cute bugs in the window.

We'll never do melted crayon crafts again, either.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Wanted: Knitting Mentor

My darling M10 loves to knit.

She loves reading about knitting and daydreaming about creating the beautiful things she sees in knitting books.

Yesterday I told her to pick up her knitting needles and yarn and actually practice the things she was reading and daydreaming about.  I promised to buy her yarn and supplies for projects if she practiced what she talked about.

She talked about knitting for several more minutes.  I finally said, "Go knit!!!  Go practice!!!  Go knit!!!"

"Can I use the computer to watch that video about how to purl?"

"Yes, but you have to have your knitting needles in  your hands as you watch, and you have to practice as you go!"


15 minutes later she came upstairs triumphant, "I can purl!  I can do it!  Look at what I'm doing!"

She practiced the rest of the day.

Seriously, her work looks good, and if she'll keep it up, she could really become a master.  The next step is  to learn how to read and follow a knitting pattern.

Now, do I learn how to knit and help her?  Do I just keep finding YouTube videos?  Do I find someone who knits to work with her?

Perhaps a combination of the 3?

Bernouli's Principle Botched

I found a fun science experiment book--just little activities that can be done easily to illustrate random scientific principles.  I thought it would be fun to use for Matters of Interest here and there.

Yesterday I was all set to illustrate Bernouli's Principle by using a hair dryer to blow air across the top of a roll of toilet paper that was loosely looped over a broom handle.  The air was supposed to cause the toilet paper to rise and blow forward and cause the roll to unroll.

It sounded fun!

It wasn't.

The air blowing across the toilet paper did nothing more than cause the loose end of the toilet paper to rise and flap in the breeze.  We tried higher air flow.  We tried lower air flow.  We tried nudging the roll a little to get it going.

Nothing worked.

I tried to salvage the moment by showing them how cool it was that the TP would at least lift with all that air on the top and describing how this principle works over airplane wings.  E12 said with attitude, "So if someone blew air across the top of my head, I'd float?"

"Yes!" I exclaimed.  "If the air could move fast enough or hard enough above you to counteract the effects of gravity, and we could get the air pressure underneath you started, then you'd float.  You're lighter than an airplane, and airplanes are held up by the air pressure underneath them."

"You mean the only thing holding up a plane is air?" yelped S9.


"I'm not going on any more plane rides!" she stated firmly.

E12 grinned and said, "Cool!  I'm going to try to fly!"

Perhaps the lesson wasn't so botched after all?

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Little Girls are Missing

Our little girls are gone on an outing with Grandma today.  It is supposed to be an unforgettable day--complete with petting puppies at the pet store and choosing a special lunch at a mall food court [they've never done this before].  I'm quite sure they will come home with stars in their eyes.

In spite of a teething baby, it is rather quiet around here without them.  School for the big girls has gone relatively smoothly without interruptions or tantrums.

However, S9--who fights with the little girls the most--said as she swept the kitchen floor after lunch, "I kind of miss the little girls.  I thought it would be great to have them gone--you know, no crying or teasing or tempter tantrums--but it's too quiet around here.  I wonder what they're doing.  I miss them."

My mother-heart sang within.

This is why we homeschool--at least one of the reasons--to nurture family relationships and build eternal friendships.

I'm quite sure that crying, teasing, and tantruming will resume within a short time of the little girls' return home, but in my heart I will know that my girls love one another.

They love one another!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Sweet Teaching

I just watched J8 teach A5 and H2 about why an orange will or will not float.  It was one of the dearest exchanges I've watched between sisters.

"Look at how deep the water is!  You can touch it."

They touched.

"Now see this orange?  I'm going to put it in the bowl.  You want to do it?  Okay."

Eager fingers grabbed hold of the orange.

"Ooohhh!  Are you holding the orange or is it staying up all by itself?"

They smiled and told her it they were not holding it.

J8 pulled out a peeled orange and asked what the difference was between the two oranges . . . at which point another child called for me and I reluctantly pulled myself away.

Watching my children teach one another is one of my greatest joys!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Hello, Great Books

My darling little J8 loves junky fairy books.

Not wonderful fairy tales--those I love and encourage my children to read!

I'm talking about cheap little fairy books that come in a series of something like 100+ and all have the same plot.

It makes me crazy that she reads them and loves them.

I mostly keep my mouth shut and let her determine her own reading path, but sometimes I'm pushy and try to point out that what she is reading is yucky, empty-calorie candy and wouldn't she like to read something more nourishing?

She smiles and tells me that she still has ever so many of these wonderful books to enjoy!

But . . .

I found her immersed in The Indian in the Cupboard this week.

She devoured it in almost every free moment she had.

Today I found her curled up with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

She couldn't hear me calling her even though I was standing 5 feet away.

I walked away smiling.

Just a Good Day of School

Today started in an unexpected way.  A good way.  But unexpected nonetheless.  That threw off my plans for the morning, so I started to panic a little bit.  Then I realized what an inspired blessing this schedule of ours really is, and everything fell into place.

We found out yesterday that the state nursing board has no record of my husband's transcripts.  That means he cannot take his board exam which must be passed in 29 days or else he loses his job as a nurse. We've been waiting for 61 days, being reassured along the way that all is well.


The kids picked up on our fear, so we spent some effort reassuring them of the power of faith and prayer.

Then this morning I accidentally read Luke 11 when I was supposed to be reading Mark 11.  Then I realized my error and read Mark 11.  Reading both chapters helped me pay attention to the fact that both chapters emphasize the power of prayer.  I felt as if a light had turned on in my head!  Heavenly Father was reassuring me that He would answer our prayers if we continued in faith!!!

What knocked me off schedule was spending extra time writing about this experience in my scripture journal.

Then it was breakfast time and time for preschool.

I also still needed to start the bread for the day and get a meal ready for a couple in from church that just had their first baby.  Oh!  And the scheduled snack wasn't prepared yet!

Inspiration struck when I realized that my little girls could make the snack while I started the bread and threw a quiche together.  They happily donned matching blue-striped aprons and mashed bananas and berries and stirred in yogurt for a frozen treat later in the day.  I stayed near and chatted with them as I worked on the bread and quiche.

The great part about me being busy with my own kitchen project was that I let the little girls spoon the fruity yogurt into the muffin tins themselves.  Yes, the table was a mess.  Yes, yogurt got in H2's hair.  Yes, they licked the spoons many times as they completed their work.  But at the end they were triumphant.  And it only took me about 30 seconds to wipe up the mess.

Sometimes I wish I could go back and raise my big girls all over again with the wisdom I've since gained.

A5 read Hop on Pop again today.  She's memorized some of it--so has H2 for that matter--but she's really reading and so very proud of herself.  New readers are some of my favorite people.  I think it is how their eyes sparkle with delight at this exciting accomplishment.

E12 found that new ants crawled into her jar.  The ants she'd worked so hard to track and dig out of the ground yesterday fried up in the heat.  I'd thought as I looked at her jar on the porch that I should warn her about moving them to a cooler location, but I forgot.  She was heartbroken early this morning when she discovered the carnage.  However the new ants moved in by 9 am, and she spent a fruitful morning observing their behaviors and making notes in her nature journal.

S9 and J8 tried a science experiment with eggs that failed--I was able to save the eggs and use them in the quiche though.  There's always a bright side.  I'm experimenting with letting them fail this way.  They're doing the experiments with no adult supervision.  I need to remember to ask them what they learned.  While J8 spent time on the computer, S9 worked on making a list of supplies they need for their next experiment.

M10 got frustrated as she tried to work out a timeline about Henry Ford's Model Ts.  She kept coming to me with questions as I was trying to listen to A5 read.  Finally I asked, "Have you read any of the books?  Or are you just looking through them trying to piece things together? "  She admitted to the latter.  "Try reading all the way through just one book.  See what happens when you really read it."  She was annoyed but complied.  I still need to see how that is going.

For Matters of Interest today we tried listening to an audio CD about Latin.  The cover said it was supposed to be quite funny.   The kids were not enthusiastic when I presented the idea, but were happier when I said they could play with Legos as they listened.  E12 and S9 liked it and want to hear more.  J8 and M10 not so much.  I'm really glad E12 liked it because I'm hoping she'll agree to some individual Latin studies this fall.  Whatever the case I am satisfied that at least I've dropped a pebble into the educational pond.

The little girls and I finished our Usborne Book of Houses and Homes today during read aloud time.  What will our next social studies book be?  It is so fun to get to raid our shelves and start something new!

I love the quiet that falls on our house as the big girls each take their books and reading journals and find hideaways for their studies while I read to the little ones and I.7 sleeps.  Reading time nourishes my soul.

After a quick trip to medieval Western Africa and an incredibly brief tour of the stars we were finished with our school day.

All in all, a satisfying, productive sort of day.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Doll Babies

This morning Grandma went on a walk.  On her way home she stopped to visit with a neighbor.  The neighbor was cleaning out toys that her great-granchildren have outgrown, and Grandma brought home a darling pink baby carriage for H2.

That meant that H2 and A5 were in dolly heaven--they each have their own stroller now!

I considered following my plans for preschool today.  Then I got smart and joined my darlings; we played mothers and babies together.

I rarely play with my children. 

I read to them.  I feed them.  I applaud them as they perform "shows" for me.  I bathe them.  I kiss them.  I take them on outings.  I do a lot of great things. 

But I don't play pretend very well.

Today I made the effort.

Their happy little faces made my heart sing.

We dressed our babies.
We fed our babies.
We had a birthday party for one of the babies!

My little girls' eyes sparkled as we sang "Happy Birthday" to a small dolly dressed in her sparkly dolly best.

For me preschool is about spending time with my little ones doing things that make those little ones happy.

Preschool was perfect today.

Ice Cream . . . and Pluto's Not a Planet

Today we wrapped up our science chapter on Pluto.  The recommended activity in the book was to make ice cream and talk about the chemical reactions between the ice and salt.  It was rather a weak link to Pluto, but my kitchen was filled with half a dozen happy girls shaking their bags of rock salt, ice, and sweetened whipping cream. 


Perhaps not so much.


Yes, quite a lot.

I asked if they would always remember that Pluto is very cold as a result of doing this activity.  E12 answered, "Everyone knows Pluto is cold.  I didn't need ice cream to remind me of that!"

"Perhaps we should have skipped the activity," I replied dryly.

"Oh, no!  Then we would have just been mad!"

Thank goodness they're not mad!!!