Saturday, January 26, 2013

Little years - needy years - wonder years

 Sometimes we have those days. Those days where everyone seems to go crazy, when the toys have lost their luster, everyone is looking for a way to irritate their siblings, days when craziness takes over. I've noticed a pattern about those days. They are the days I start without reading to my little girl first. 

They are the days we are focused and my goals are set high. They usually come on the heels of a few really productive days. Now that we've been so productive for three days, I think, I should add in an extra history book, or do an extra math project with my oldest. By 9:30 am, the morning has started on its downward trajectory. By 10:30, everyone is frustrated. By lunch time, I'm ready to complain to anyone and everyone.
A while back, we started with Circle Time but my kids and I aren't that sort of people. One memorizes best by reading, another by writing, and only my little girl by hearing. Somehow, having your 4-year-old sister outshine you in poetry memorization is discouraging. The chaos that ensued from the way I implemented Circle Time defeated the whole purpose. We still do memory time, but usually in the car, and not in a circle. For us, it didn't work as a way to draw everyone together but as a way to highlight issues. Not the way I wanted to start my day.
We're in a rhythm that works now, starting the day off with a book for my little girl, her choice. Often, the big kids are still cleaning off the kitchen table by the time we're done. If the morning goes smoothly, she spends some time with us at the table, then some time playing on a blanket, before we all read together, with her on my lap, at Sonlight history time, and then finish the morning off with the two of us making lunch together.

If the morning goes poorly, I find something independent for the bigger kids to do, like math practice or alphabetizing spelling words, while spending special time with my little girl again. If the morning goes exceptionally poorly, and she has a really bad attitude, we make a coffee cake after I deal with the attitude. The bad attitude is usually the fruit, the root is needing mom. If she can't get mom with sweetness, then sourness comes out.

And so we found what works for us - savoring the little years, knowing they won't last forever, and that she needs me now, and that I am blessed to have her little today.

Monday, January 21, 2013

German has been long neglected...

It is hard to speak two languages at home. Ask a native speaker who lives in a country where a different language is spoken. Unless they have many relatives or a community where they speak their second language, they've probably given up teaching their children their native language.

Choosing to speak two languages at home isn't a one-time choice. It is a daily, hourly, even minutely choice, and for the last few weeks, I've been making the choice to give into exhaustion, excuses, and ease instead of switching into German.

Then, once I've not spoken German for a few weeks, it feels silly to speak it. Why speak it now if I won't be speaking it in ten minutes? How can I tell my children not to fight in German if I am worried they won't understand? Won't it look silly if I say a few things in German and then give up?

Ah, the ease with which I make up excuses!

I got out a book of fairy tales last night to read to myself. No input quickly leads to no output, so I worked on the input last night. It is high time to read a wikipedia article on winter and storms so that I can talk about things that are on our mind to my children (what did people do before wikipedia???).

It is time to just do it again. Steering is easiest while moving.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Math shakeup: Three years into RightStart

I love math. A preschool teacher predicted to my mother that I'd be good at math based on how I built with blocks and I actively remember enjoying first grade math. When it came time to choose a math program for my kids, I knew I wanted them to love math and understand math the way I did. I chose RightStart and have enjoyed teaching it. After nearly four years, I still enjoy teaching it, am surprised by how well thought out it is, and recommend it to anyone who will listen.

John loves math. The program is perfect for him.

About two months ago, Anna told Daddy she didn't like math.

Uh-oh. This was not an acceptable turn of events.

I knew the week prior to this statement had been hard, as we'd worked on some mental math concepts she had disliked and I had gotten frustrated with her. It didn't shock me, but I knew it wasn't only from the prior week.

We spent the next week playing math games. We covered no lessons and did no new concepts, but I spent the week playing games I thought she could do easily, to built up her confidence. It was a good week.

After that, I didn't know what to do, but a friend recommended the MEP (Mathematics Enhancement Programme) curriculum from England. It is free, and now that we have a printer, I could print out a bit to "try."

I gave Anna the printouts and she ate it up. She loved it. She grabbed it first thing every morning and raved about it each evening to Daddy. I let her do ony MEP worksheets (which is only part of the program) and RightStart math games for another week.

Finally, the time came when she needed a real lesson, not just worksheets and games (although some people can make those into a full curriculum, I love how RightStart is taught). I couldn't bring myself to abandon RightStart philosophy, so I pulled out RightStart again and gave it a try. I rewrote the problems I knew would vex her and decided to work by the clock instead of by the book.

It has worked. She still doesn't say math is her favorite subject.

But math games and math worksheets are.

And she no longer fights the solid foundation she is getting from the systematic teaching of RightStart.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

 Our year, not in chronological order. Maybe I'll fix it later...
January 2012: at the cabin with grandparents and cousins

September 2012: moving across the country via the southern route
December 2012: Grandparents from Virginia join us for Christmas!
February 2012: baby spends 5 days in NICU and we decide to take life a bit easier
May 2012: visit to Em's cousins in Oregon

Summer: marshmallows at the cabin with grandma and granddad, rounding out a day of hiking
March 2012: Em travels to Switzerland with Dan and baby

October 2012: at the Art Institute, beginning to enjoy all Chicago has to offer
May 2012: exploring giant redwoods on our way home from Oregon

Summer 2012: learning to rollerskate
November 2012: special Thanksgiving with Grandma, Grandpa, and Great Grandma in Indiana

More Summer 2012: hiking in the redwoods near our house
More Summer 2012: 1930ish Model A at Woodies at the Wharf

Saturday, January 12, 2013


Examining an Athenian vase. We just read about Sparta and Athens!

Monday, November 19, 2012



Outside my window they are trimming the trees for winter. The sky is gray and most leaves are gone. The weather warmed up over the weekend and we enjoyed being outside without the heaviest coats. We spent most of Anna's birthday outside!

I am thinking about procrastination. But that'll have to wait until later. :-)

I am thankful for Thanksgiving plans and friends near and far. I'm thankful for our lovely apartment that now looks lived in. It is amazing what a few pictures, organized books, and real chairs at the dining room table can do. We took the folding chairs outdoors on Saturday. Yay!

In the kitchen, I made a cake for Anna's birthday. It wasn't elaborate, but I've learned that elaborate cakes and parties are for the parents, not the kids, and that simpler is often easier, cheaper, and no less thrilling to the kids.

I am wearing jeans and a t-shirt. What's new? But tonight I get to change into a leotard and tights because I'm in a beginning ballet class at the University! The students offer it free to community members. I've been going for a little over a month now and I feel like I'm wearing concrete blocks on my legs for a few days after the class.

I am creating a new Drawing with Children lesson. The kids were asking me for one over the weekend.

I am going to Dan's relatives for Thanksgiving.

I am reading German books to myself, Winnie the Pooh at night to the kids, and The Odyssey adaptation by Geraldine McCaughrean during the day.

I am hoping to do watercolors with the kids. I have the paints and the paper and the plan. Everything is sitting on my desk. We were supposed to make watercolor lanterns for the German group's St. Martin parade last week. It didn't happen. I'd still like to watercolor, though. I've got everything sitting on my desk to make me remember what we should be doing every time I sit down. We made a frog lantern instead.

That's all the time for today! Best wishes for a lovely week.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fitting it all into our day

Our school days start fairly predictably: after breakfast, I tidy up while John starts math reviews. I do a math lesson with him, then tutor Anna in her math lesson while John does a practice page of math independently. We play math games, then move into the living room for read alouds about history and science, followed by narration (which counts as oral composition). By now, Matthew has joined us and is making things interesting. We move back into the dining room, do some handwriting, spelling, and grammar, and have now covered, more or less, the three Rs as well as science and history. Most of this gets done everyday.

Formal art lessons, however, rarely get done. We can't do them with the baby up because he is too needy and when the baby is down we need to do the basics. By mid-afternoon, I'm working on dinner, laundry, maintaining the house, and trying to get a short quiet adult-time. Art lessons fall by the wayside.

I finally found a solution. The perfect solution for us.

Daddy travels. A lot. By 7 pm on days he is out of town, I'm ready to crash but the kids aren't. While he was away a few weekends ago, I did an art lesson as soon as dinner was cleaned up and the baby was asleep. Last night, when Dan told me he'd be gone for dinner for work, I knew just what to do.

I told the kids we could do a drawing lesson once the baby was asleep, the kitchen was clean, their bedroom was clean, and they were tooth-brushed and ready for bed. All these (except the baby sleeping) happened lightening-fast. I haven't seen their room that clean for a month! No nagging or help was required from me because the incentives were perfect.

They got ready so fast that I had to read to them for about a quarter hour while the baby fell asleep.

Then, we did the art lesson. We got out the special paper and the special markers. I showed them the sample I had made earlier in the week, and I walked them through the lesson. They were quiet and happy. I got to relax and draw, too. I let them stay up forty minutes past their bedtime so that they would have enough time to color their designs. Even so, I didn't feel like I was crashing.

We finally found a place for art.