Sunday, August 28, 2016

End-of-Summer Recital

On Saturday night, the children played in an end-of-summer recital.

Margaret (5), Mary (7), John (9)

The real John

I was so pleased last night to be able to attend this recital! You see, when I'm pregnant, I'm too sick and tired to stay up for a seven o'clock recital, and that whole first year I have a baby, the baby is too loud to come into a recital, yet I won't be separated from him, so I miss a lot of recitals and send Chris in my stead. You know how sweet my husband is? Even at 13 months, I still will barely separate from my baby, so we took separate cars, allowing Chris to sit outside in the van with the baby and three-year-old while I sat inside with the older kids. Then, when our children were done playing, I slipped out, drove away in my van with the littles, and Chris stayed with the olders for the remainder of the recital (many of which concertos were 20 minutes long) and for the socializing potluck afterward. This is a common method we do (it's how I ever go to a dentist or doctor's appointment in my first year postpartum) and I'm very grateful for my service-oriented husband.

Mama at the recital

This was Margaret's second-ever recital and I was tickled pink to see her more relaxed in anticipation of it than she was the first one.

Margaret playing "Chimichanga Cha Cha" by Jennifer Linn

(You can't know this from the above video, but when Margaret forgot the name "Linn," every parent in the audience, not just me, whispered "LINN.")

Margaret playing "Village Dance" by Randy Jones

This was our studio's "Concerto Recital," meaning that any students who want to enter the November concerto competition must have been able to successfully perform their concertos by September 1, thus there were a whole lot of students performing concertos last night.

I was amazed sitting there at how the children begin playing a 30-second song, and two years later are playing a four-minute concerto: how did that happen? Well, blood, sweat, and tears is how it happened, but still the metamorphosis amazes me and makes me smile.

The children have now learned the notes of their concertos, but now begins intense practice for the next two months to improve the technique (how each note and rest is played--faster, slower, louder, softer, with what emotion) and to improve timing with the accompanist. For the writers amongst us, the below is like a rough draft concerto, and the final draft is yet to be written.

John playing "Concerto in Classical Style" by Martha Mier

Mary playing "Concerto in d Minor" by Walter and Carol Noona

Mary playing Minuet No. 2 by J.S. Bach

I had promised Joseph (3) that I would be taking him out to ice cream after the recital, which was basically a bold bribe to get him to sit in the van with Daddy and miss out on going inside to hear the music or stay for the potluck. It ended up being an unusual and very dear time for me to take just my wee boys out to ice cream (and really go into a restaurant instead of the drive-through).

Good ice cream, Mama!

How blessed is this Mama, I ask you?!

Postscript: The night of the recital was also the 11-year anniversary of my entrance into the Catholic Church (conditional Baptism, first Confession, first Holy Eucharist, and Confirmation) and that of our marital engagement (which happened later that same day). Who can ever imagine where eleven years will bring us?

Friday, August 26, 2016

7 Quick Takes Friday


The big news around here is that these Luddite parents allowed the children to purchase off-brand MP3 players with their allowance money after our mulling over the matter for at least half a year.

We purchased them as a tool because the children need to be listening to professionally performed versions of the pieces they're learning on piano and violin. If they hear only their own efforts, they don't know how to play the song really well. You know how music you listened to as a youth (for good or for ill) gets into your very soul? A musician needs good music in his soul. (Listening to music is a very important learning technique: see here.)

However, I have only the one computer for the children to sit around and listen to their various music lists, plus I must supervise any use of YouTube because of the inappropriate commercials that pop up, and how one video rolls to another automatically. Thus: MP3 players would really help in this regard.

Thomas listening to Suzuki violin music

We let the children load their piano and violin songs, some classic children's fairy tales, homilies by some traditional priests (at their request, they love them), and one book (currently requested were "Kidnapped" and "Alice in Wonderland").

Still, the lure of technology was so strong for these bunchkins, and it made Mama very anxious. For the first two days, the children asked to listen to their players all the time (yes, I keep them in a bin and permission must be obtained). Chris has tried to calm me, to remind me that the novelty will be really strong this first week, and assured me that we could navigate these seas.

I have embraced the opportunities to teach that we don't sit around, each of us listening to separate things on MP3 players, and thus shutting each other out.

"But I want to listen to the classical radio station"

"Great, then let's turn it on the stereo and we will all listen to it and comment on the songs we like and don't like."

"I want to take my MP3 player on our walk."

"No, dear, this is a family walk, and we're going to talk and enjoy each other, or just enjoy silence."

"I'd like to listen to some more of 'Kidnapped.'"

"Honey, even though that is fine literature, you've already listened to six chapters. Either pick up a book and do the hard work of reading it, or go do some alternate activity, like playing outdoors or doing your chores."

We're navigating our way. I have no idea what rules other families have about this kind of technology. (One of ours: no MP3 players in bedrooms after bedtime.) I was relieved to see that on Day 4 (yesterday), everyone actually forgot to ask to listen to their players even once.

Whew. All is not lost.


Scholastic Scenes

In case you missed it, I wrote a status report of our first five weeks of school (click here).

We used Math Facts Pro over the whole summer and we love it! LOVE IT. The kids are all fast on their way to knowing their math facts, in which 'knowing' means spitting them back within 3 seconds, and the facts are for addition, subtraction, and multiplication.

This week, Margaret (six weeks into Kindergarten) finished All About Reading Level 1. Normally, I just take a photo of the child holding their finished level or book, and I take them to Daddy's office to tell him the big news (and he picks them up, hugs, spins around, etc.), but I decided to make a bigger deal out of this one.

I baked Margaret a cake to celebrate! She's such a middle child and her accomplishments don't get the same attention as did the older children, so I wanted to lavish her with some attention.


Family Books of the Week (in progress or completed)

  • Read-alouds
    • "Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints" (Loreto Publications, originally published 1894)
    • "Clare's Costly Cookie" (2013)--Reading to Margaret
    • "Swallows and Amazons" (1930) by Arthur Ransome
    • All of listening on CD in the car to "The Silver Chair" (Narnia)
  • Mama
  • For Connecting with History:
  • John
    • about one "Imagination Station" book per night
    • Listening on CD to "Kidnapped" by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Mary
    • "Treasure Island" by Robert Louis Stevenson
    • "Caddie Woodlawn" by Carol Ryrie Brink (1935)
    • one of the Narnia books again
    • Listening on CD to "Alice in Wonderland"
  • MARGARET--Margaret has graduated to having her own bullet in this list because she is reading independently now! 
    • Reading sentences out of "Almanzo" by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which I am reading aloud.
    • "What Do You Say, Dear?"

Now, some evenings I come into Joseph's room to read aloud his bedtime story only to discover that his five-year-old sister has been reading aloud to him (really reading, not reciting memorized books!) while I read a chapter book to The Bigs. What a joy!

Margaret reading aloud "What Do You Say, Dear?"

Speaking of reading, this is a delightful little article, "74 Books I Read Aloud to my Children" by James B. Nance. Of course, I read the list comparing to our own little family and--while it is hard to distinguish between books I read as a child, books I've read to our children, and books our children have read themselves--I will say that our children have heard 31 of these stories ("one" counting as all seven of the Narnia books) either by my reading aloud, our family listening on audio CD, or the children reading the books themselves . . . and we're in the midst of reading aloud another one of the books on this list. Fun!


Miscellaneous Moments

After exercising modestly but steadily from about four months postpartum until eleven months, I crashed and burned for the prior month because the stress of learning how to homeschool for the first month took all my time and energy. But this week, I'm back on that old, tiresome horse and have begun each day this week with a brisk, two-mile walk with most or all children in tow. Of course, this alters our homeschool schedule yet again, but we're still getting it all accomplished (even later in the day), praise God.

I used to use cloth diapers full time. I loved the softness on the little tushes, and the old-fashioned frugality of it. However, I couldn't keep up once I had the third baby (and two were in diapers).

My success from this week is that, after four years and two more babies of hoarding those cloth diapers, clinging to the prideful idea that I'd be able to get back to the practice, I donated my entire stash of diapers--and another mom who really needed them is now able to enjoy them instead of their being locked up in my closet, benefiting nobody.

Sunday morning scene . . . Joseph (3) seemingly running the pancake griddle and Margaret (5) feeding and entertaining the one-year-old. Who's running this joint?!

Four monkeys, only three of them stuffed!

Driving one afternoon, we spotted this impressive geyser of water from something like a burst underground pipe. I indulged the children by making a U-turn and driving past it three times.

The children have really gotten into playing cards with Daddy lately . . . I mean, these kiddos sit down to play with him at least once per day! They're becoming so good at playing Gin Rummy, 500 Rummy, and Hearts. (Next on our list is that we want to learn Spades as a foursome.) I had to chuckle with pleasure one night when I came down from tucking in the littles only to see this scene of discarded items: their playing cards and their rosaries. While I'm tucking in the smallest ones, the biggers are praying the rosary . . . and then, if they have time, out come the playing cards!


Meals of the Week 

. . . shared to show that "My career is homeschool mother, not gourmet chef!"

  • Saturday
    • Taco night
  • Sunday
    • Luncheon served at a goodbye party
  • Monday
    • Chicken thighs, roasted potatoes, sauteed mushrooms, green salad
  • Tuesday
    • Hot dogs, homemade macaroni and cheese, tater tots
  • Wednesday
    • Personal pizzas
  • Thursday
    • Grilled chicken; pasta with various jarred sauce choices; sauteed carrots, Vidalia onions, and bell peppers with salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar, and thyme (so good!); chocolate cake to celebrate Margaret's reading
  • Friday
    • Invited to another family's home for dinner


Random picture taken by my three-year-old . . . when I look in the mirror, I generally see my 25-year-old self, but when I see a picture, I realize there are a whole lot more wrinkles and imperfections now! I hope that my soul, which counts more than my skin, is much sweeter now, though.


Bonus Reading

Even Business Insider is talking about homeschooling (click here)!

You Are Here

"This 1897 Text Gives Three Clues Why So Many Students Can't Write"
For more Seven Quick Takes Friday, check out This Ain't the Lyceum.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Checking In: First Five Weeks of School 2016-2017

Fair warning: This is probably mostly a "grandparent's post," meaning that close relatives will care most about how we're doing.

We have finished our first five weeks of school now, so I'm looking at how our 2016-2017 year is going. We are accomplishing a lot, but I am definitely still getting my sea legs.

1. Mondays are really hard.

I wish I could avoid talking to anybody on Mondays. I try hard on Sunday night to calm my heart for Monday, and I'm still blowing up on Mondays. Every other day of the week, I can see rationally that we are doing well, the children are learning, and the house is neat enough to function, but on Mondays, the "demons prowling about the world seeking the ruin of souls" run riot over me.

2. Thinking in terms of blocks of time helps.

I vacillate between trying to schedule every 15 minutes of each child's time, and my own, and trying to keep things loose and breezy. Something in between seems to work best. As long as we have toddlers and babies, we aren't going to be able to follow a strict schedule. I need to have the flexibility to respond to life flying at me fast.

When I think of all our duties divided into blocks of time, our days go best:
  1. Desk Work
  2. Computer Work
  3. Mama Teaching
  4. Music Practice

3. Waiting to POUNCE

I'm realizing that flexibility and willingness to compromise my ideals is a must in order to teach with my extremely active three-year-old (NOT a child to sit quietly and complete a puzzle for an hour, like some I hear about) and climbing whiz one-year-old (who can now push a piece of furniture to where he wants to climb the kitchen counters, piano, tables, desks, and so forth).

Why not just lock up the baby? Well, he is already incarcerated in his highchair from 7:00 when I wake him up while I cook, serve, and eat breakfast, and while cleaning it up, and then through Morning Basket time. So, come 8:30 or so, this baby needs to be allowed to run off some energy!

And the baby still spends all the time I do use a pack-and-play wailing so loud that it is difficult to teach.

Wailing baby

The three-year-old does get sent outside to play a lot, but sending him out alone has its own risks (thankfully, he is not a wanderer).

While a color-coded, chart schedule is what I desire, I've discovered greater success during this season of life in my WAITING TO POUNCE method.

As soon as the baby goes down for nap (currently, around 10:00 on the dot), I POUNCE! I put the three-year-old in front of an "educational" television show and rush the other three kids up to the school room for about 90 minutes of direct mama teaching. The subjects that require direct teaching from me are daily History, and then rotating throughout the week Composition (Mondays), Grammar (Wednesdays), and Geography (Thursdays)./  .

Five weeks into the school year, our strict schedule is morphing into a fairly strict rhythm that looks like this:

  • Morning Basket Time at the table (allowing stragglers to finish breakfast)

  • Mama teaches Kindergarten
  • The fourth and second graders are alternating desk work with music practice
  • Mama simultaneously supervises fourth and second graders (answering questions about desk work, correcting their tempo on music)
  • The three-year-old mostly gets sent outside to play.
  • The one-year-old climbs everything.
  • Mama tries not to cry.

10:00-11:30 (while the baby naps for 60-90 minutes):
  • The three-year-old watches television.
  • Mama teaches subjects to the other three children.

  • Second and fourth graders are finishing up anything they can finish up in a half-hour gap.
  • The three-year-old gets his television turned off, and probably goes outside to play.

  • Lunch, then recess (outdoors).

1:00-2:00 or 3:00
  • The three-year-old (who has accumulated about three hours of outdoor play by now) is in Quiet Time from 1:00-2:00 (with a timer, strictly required to be in his bedroom). He rarely naps.
  • Mama is supervising the second and fourth graders finishing up any desk work, computer work, or music practice not yet done.

3. Planning

You can't be ready to pounce during available teaching time if you don't know what you're going to teach. I am a firm believer in planning my days now. Plan, plan, plan.

4. Timers are so useful!

Purchasing two of these little digital timers has been such a boon to my homeschooling life! I use them many times during my school morning, assigning a child to do a task for X minutes, whether it be running flash cards or taking recess in the back yard. I use them for time outs, music practice, chores, and cooking.

The beep is SO VERY LOUD that I can hear it throughout the house or from the back yard. These little guys can clip onto something, or stand upright on a surface. Honestly, I'd like to buy about four more of them so I have one for at least every person in the house.

5. We like so much about learning.

We really do love the subjects that I am teaching and the children are learning, and for this I am grateful.

I asked the children what they are liking about school so far. Each child cited as a favorite Math Facts Pro, Keyboarding without Tears, and Teaching Textbooks mathematics. They like IEW Geography-Based Writing and Beautiful Feet Geography. Mary cited also liking Seton Science and Seton Religion. Margaret likes that she has graduated to doing math, now that she is in Kindergarten. Basically, they listed much of what they do each day, which made me glad.

Nobody spoke up and said, "I hate such-and-such."

6. It is okay not to love all the subjects.

That said, five years into homeschooling and I've learned that it is really okay that some of the core subjects simply require drill and hard work. I don't even think it's useful to accommodate to each child's learning style or desires (and Mama's teaching style), because certainly no employer or college professor is going to do that.

7. Memorization is meritorious.

When I began my homeschooling career, I considered being "a flash card mom" an insult. Now, I am a convert! I am seeing the fruits born of memorizing many facts during these elementary school years, as those facts become the material with which young minds work during their middle- and high-school years when they have much more reasoning skills.

Math is coming so much faster and easier now that I have my kids drill their math facts (addition, subtraction, and multiplication) once or twice daily. They are flying!

Now that we've spent one year memorizing History facts in CCE, I have seen our History studies blossom. When I am reading a living history book or a textbook, the children (whom I might think are not even listening) will hear mention of a name, place, or date, and interrupt, "Hey! I know that!" They will then burst forth in the memorized ditty about the historical fact. They're piecing together in their minds so much of history, which is going to create a tapestry of the past for them.

Using World Geography Games has helped them learn all the fifty states before our year of U.S. History even began (when my goal was for them to learn the states by the end of this upcoming year).

8. Reading covers over a lot of gaps.

If we did nothing in a particular day except our reading routine, I should feel pretty good about that. This helps me feel better about sick days and such.
  • We read aloud Scripture at a meal (usually breakfast).
  • I start Kindergarten by reading aloud one Bible story and one picture book to the five- and three-year olds.
  • I read aloud a holy reading at lunch ("Under Angel Wings" for the last few months, almost done).
  • I read aloud living history books (and a textbook) for History daily (see Connecting with History).
  • Our bedtime routine includes lengthy reading aloud by Mama, accomplished most nights of the week:
    • A chapter of a pleasure book for the older children (this week, "Swallows and Amazons")
    • I read a chapter of a pleasure book for the five-year-old (this week, "Farmer Boy")
    • One or two picture books for the three-year-old
  • The children get tucked in bed . . . 
    • . . . where the second and fourth graders read one chapter of their assigned literature (John just finished "Call of the Wild" by Jack London and Mary is reading "Treasure Island" by Robert Louis Stevenson).
    • The three- and five-year-olds listen to an audio book of their choosing on a CD player in their rooms (currently, they are each obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder).
  • Often, after finishing their lit chapters, the little bookworms insist on reading one chapter each from their pleasure books (John is currently reading again the entire "Treasure Box" series and Mary is reading "Caddie Woodlawn.") It is pretty normal that we have to go in and tell them to STOP READING and take away flashlights. They have each adopted Mama's "sleep association" of needing to read something in bed before being able to fall asleep, even if we come back from a late Mass or something and we're exhausted.
A crate for each child, full of his or her books

9. Homeschooling requires discipline.

The longer I homeschool, the more children there are, the more I see that a pretty solid level of discipline is required to make this work. Around here, there are five children whose souls and characters are being formed, day in and day out, moment by moment, and Mama (as the primary teacher present) has to call upon a tremendous amount of energy to keep disciplining (discipline = to teach, to disciple). (Neither Chris nor I don't pretend to be perfect at this.)

Obedience is one of the highest of the cardinal virtues, a habit which children, as well as adults, must learn if they hope to achieve heaven. (Click here for a nice article on obedience.)

It is the rare child or the rare moment when a child will be obedient without the adult requiring it of them--which requires us to exert a lot more effort than we desire. But it pays off in the long run!

I was recently encouraged by and I highly recommend spending the $3 to buy Ginny Seuffert's talk, "Overcoming the Hurdles of Homeschooling," from the 2016 national homeschooling conference (click here).

10. Dads!

The invisible heroes of homeschooling are dads, without whom none of this would be possible (for most mothers, anyway)!

Homeschooling around here requires a husband that financially supports us, freeing me up to teach, and who doesn't mind that all our walls are plastered with school posters, that meals are decidedly simple, and that our house does not look like Better Homes and Garden.

Thank you, Chris!

Friday, August 19, 2016

7 Quick Takes Friday


Weekend Memories

Last weekend was full of enjoyment! On Friday, I took the children to the Holy Family Playgroup at our parish, which had reserved the parish gymnasium for some air-conditioned free play while Mamas got to visit each other. We don't normally get to participate in this group because we have CCE on Fridays during the academic year.

Then on Saturday, we attended a blow-out birthday party in the morning, followed by a delightful Poetry Party in the afternoon (yes, we were so tired). At the Poetry Party, each child recited a poem (some memorized, some being read) of their own choosing, and the more practiced children in the group were amazing and inspiring. One nine-year-old from another family performed "The Charge of the Light Brigade" by Alfred Lord Tennyson (memorized and acted) so well, I was holding back tears.

Then on Sunday, some of our family attended the Latin Mass altar servers' family potluck to honor and appreciate them for the last year of service. The boys played a rousing game of dodgeball and everyone ate from a glorious potluck.

Unfortunately for me, I was having a Stinker of a Day: the five-year-old felt sick before Mass, but we weren't sure it was something real or not, so we proceeded ahead to Mass. While there, she was weeping and curled up in a ball with a vomit bag, sure she was going to be sick. I waited in the bathroom with her for half an hour while she wailed and shuddered, before taking her home, leaving Chris with three children at church. But then she rallied and was absolutely fine! We missed the party, the baby's nap got shorted before Mass and then in the afternoon because I had to wake him to go pick up Chris and the gang from church. Then--just as a deluge rain storm tore from the sky--I had to attend a five o'clock Mass to fulfill my obligation: the guitar Mass with immodestly dressed lady lector, and my baby wailing the whole time. Leaving my family at an 'off time' messes up our whole routine, there were discipline problems during the evening, and then my baby mysteriously kept waking up after he was asleep for the night, so I still couldn't do any of "my" work. My will was at odds with God's will Big Time on Sunday, and instead of responding with holy resignation, I threw an adult temper tantrum.

But the rest of the weekend was quite enjoyable for everyone!


Triumphs of Thomas

We have first words!!!

Thomas (13 months today!) has long been saying "Mama" and "Dada," although it is hard to know for sure that they are intentional. As the kids point out, he cries "Mama!" when he is mournful, and "Dada!" when he is happy.

But in one week, he began intentionally saying "bye-bye!" (while he waves his hand) and "up," when he climbs. Are those not perfect first words for this adventurous fellow?

Speaking of climbing, now he can push a chair over and climb atop the kitchen counter. I am doomed.

Thomas now tries to get himself a cup of water from the dispenser.

Thankfully, this week he began signing WATER, so he can get water just by asking us.



Miscellaneous Moments

Lately, Chris has been taking our children to Tuesday music lessons (where he works remotely), but he wasn't able to this week, so I dropped off my three oldest and took my two littlest for a walk on the trail right near the music studio.

It was fun to listen to my three-and-a-half-year-old tell me all his important thoughts uninterrupted. His catch phrase these days is, "Mama, I have to tell you something."

Afterward, as we drove back to the studio, Josey informed me calmly that "there is some kind of bug on the ceiling above you." Then, "I think it's a spider." Frankly, I didn't believe him, but I pulled over to look and, indeed, there was a fuzzy, jumping spider on the ceiling of the van, whose discovery meant--OBVIOUSLY--that I could no longer drive. I armed myself with old fast food napkins and an empty Ziplock bag. With these primitive instruments of death, I gathered all my courage, squished the spider with the napkin, and encased what I hoped was his corpse in the Ziplock bag.

It was this dramatic action or I was going to have to put the boys in the stroller and abandon my van on the side of the rode while I walked back to the music studio.


Scholastic Scenes

We are really enjoying writing pen pal letters every Friday! Last week, even I wrote to someone a snail mail letter. We're receiving letters back now throughout the week, which brightens any day. My husband found some old-fashioned resources reproduced online to help teach the art of correspondence.

Starting to have older children means I can sometimes hand off tasks, like reading a book during Morning Basket while I'm changing a diaper or washing the dishes.

As I try to supervise music practice more closely, I've been bringing Mary into the kitchen while I'm cleaning or cooking . . . do you live in the kitchen all day like I do?

Thomas comes in and dances in circles to the music.

Of course, he wouldn't dance once I got out the video camera . . .


Week 5 and I'm really liking the IEW composition program!

Wondering why Margaret (5) was quietly content in her bedroom for so long, I discovered her covering many slips of paper with her and her sister's names in cursive. So endearing!


Family Books of the Week (in progress or completed)


Meals of the Week 

. . . shared to show that "My career is homeschool mother, not gourmet chef!"

  • Saturday
    • After attending a birthday party at one home all morning and a poetry party at another home all afternoon, I doubt we'll need any dinner.
  • Sunday
    • Altar servers' annual potluck at church, with me contributing homemade macaroni and cheese, plus store-bought chocolate cake
  • Monday--The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
  • Tuesday
    • Random frozen things to clear out our freezer, as Chris was supposed to be at a business dinner . . . but then he walked in the door. Oh well!
  • Wednesday
    • I had a dinner planned, but we ended up eating out at fast food due to a late doctor's appointment that sprang up.
  • Thursday
    • hamburgers, tater tots, pasta, corn on the cob
  • Friday
    • planned: cheese calzones, salad, zucchini


Bonus Reading

For more 7 Quick Takes Friday, check out This Ain't the Lyceum.