Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Spring Flowers

I enjoy so much the spring flowers around here! Our property is almost entirely deeply shaded woodland, so spring--before the trees are covered in leaves--is the only time I get to enjoy flowers.

And sometimes I step out in the gorgeous sunshine to check on the children and find escapades, such as their creating a "net trap" in which a willing victim--sibling--gets encapsulated and then swung in an enclosed hammock.

No children were harmed in the making of this net.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Spring Swimming

The two older children are back in swim lessons--at least for six weeks (twelve lessons) to give their skills a boost before summer.

We're trying a facility new to us and that gets rave reviews from homeschoolers. SwimMAC seems to cater to us with its homeschool-specific set of classes. What is so useful to us is being able to put all our children in lessons at the same time because a mother with many children can't be going to various lessons at different times on alternating days.

The facility seems excellent. The waiting room has many chairs in a glassed-in room adjacent to the pool, so younger siblings waiting are safe from plunging into the pool before their waddling, pregnant mother can catch them. And, so far, the teacher:student ratio at the classes I witnessed is between 1:2 and 1:3!

My six-year-old couldn't stop saying yesterday, "I can't wait till the next class! That was so fun! I can't wait!"

Monday, March 30, 2015

Margaret Is Learning to Read!

File this under "Grandparent Videos" (those interesting mainly to close relatives) . . .

Margaret, who turned four a couple of weeks ago, has started to read!

A couple of months ago, she began begging me for Reading Lessons. Every time I would say something like, "Honey, stay in your bed for Quiet Time. You can read this book," she would scream back, "No! I can't read yet! You haven't taught me!" She really understood that the big kids could do something she couldn't and she wanted to learn.

Also, I'm sure she suffers from wanting more attention. She knows that during School Time in the mornings, she has to go off and play in the Bonus Room and not bother us . . . that is, unless she can get me to carve out time for reading lessons.

So, I began using All About Reading Level 1 with her. (I know the Pre-Reading level exists, but I don't own it.) We've been going very slowly, taking many sit-downs to get through one lesson. She knows her letter sounds, but was stalled out at blending. Oh, blending! How quickly I'd forgotten the frustration of teaching blending over and over again before the 'light bulb' turns on for the child.

I'd seen glimpses of Margaret blending sounds to form a word, but today I witnessed the light bulb illuminate. She was reading words, and quickly too! Instead of needing to sound it out fifteen times, she'd sound it out two or three times before she could say the word.

I just love watching this learning phase. It is a true delight to me!

This second video was actually filmed first. Margaret was distracted by my filming, so doesn't do much reading, but I've posted it as a Real Life Snapshot in the homeschooling life. Note how Joseph (2) is right there in the mix, crawling around on the table, shouting out letter-sounds, insisting on holding Margaret's reading cards, and you can glimpse the wreck of a Bonus Room in the background.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens

To celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation, the prior afternoon I baked a seed cake, an English tradition. Not knowing what would qualify as a seed cake, I baked a pound cake and added some poppy seeds to the recipe.

A pretty moment
I don't have the natural design talent or the extra time to plan ornate beautiful moments, but I do try to put together such moments quickly! My offering to Our Lady is the result of me sprinkling powdered sugar on the cake, grabbing our Sacred Art rosary flip chart from the mantle, and sending the six-year-old dashing upstairs for her faux flowers.

Seed cake for breakfast!

Then the children and I were off bright and early for the Spring Homeschoolers' Day at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens. The event was attended by hundreds of people, all trusting that the grey clouds wouldn't drop more than a sprinkle of rain.

The children attended well-organized classes in vegetables, pond ecology, and flower anatomy.

Climbing rocks with the big kids

Exploring vegetables and fruits

Catching tadpoles for examination

Acting weird

After the event ended at noon, we enjoyed lunch outdoors and good old-fashioned running in the grass until this pregnant mama was too tired of chasing the two-year-old back to safety: then it was time to go home!

Eating lunch with friends at a picnic table

Back at home in the afternoon, the children and I planted marigold seeds, saved and frozen from my marigolds that grew like gangbusters last year. Marigolds are flowers associated with Our Lady, so planting them is another way to mark the Feast of the Annunciation. I'm a fan of marigolds because they like to get baked in the sun, they grow nearly like weeds, they're pretty and fragrant, they're resistant to pests and deer, and they're tough old gals: last year, I planted some too close to the driveway so we drove over the two-foot plants nearly daily and they never were deterred!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Outdoor Stations of the Cross

Continuing our Week of Field Trips . . . 
On Tuesday, a group of homeschoolers got together at a local parish which is known for its outdoor, life-size Stations of the Cross statues. They encompass the large parking lot on the wooded property, making a very child- (boy!) friendly prayer experience, as we get to walk and stretch our legs between each station.
At each station, the children led the prayers. Our biggest challenge was focusing the children's attention and sticks away from the innumerable piles of red ant nests.

A good turnout of families!

Mary read Station #1 and John read Station #2

Then we drove to a nearby park and ate our picnic lunches before a couple hours of vigorous play in the spring sunshine.

The Big Boys playing football

Joseph climbing

Joseph climbing

Margaret, newly four

Mary swinging like a monkey

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Great Wolf Lodge March 2015

Thus begins a Week of Field Trips! We haven't been going on many field trips in the last months, and this week happens to coincide a whole stretch of them, so we're taking off almost all academic book work for the week. 

Sunday and Monday was spent at Great Wolf Lodge, both in celebration of Margaret's birthday and as a trip for which the kids had been earning through some special work for months on end. Some friends of ours happened to be going to Great Wolf too, so we coordinated the dates of our trip to exponentially increase the fun.

Eleven children ages under 1 to 10
The children enjoyed lots of swimming. Mama discovered the night before the trip that none of her bathing suits--not even maternity--fit her, so she had to wear street clothes in the pool while supervising tiny tots (the only thing that would drag her into a pool anyway). Fun memories were made at dinner in the Lodge restaurant, at pizza lunch poolside, and more.


On the second day, Daddy had an important conference call he couldn't miss and Mama wasn't about to supervise alone four children in the water (with a couple thousand other people), so we ventured into the arcade. It may be extremely loud and a huge money-suck, but at least an arcade isn't deadly.

The kids got their first lessons about how arcades take your money like a thief, and how those claw games never really do give you the prize. Then you work so hard to earn your tickets only to turn in hundreds of them and earn about $1 in prizes. Nonetheless, they thought it was pretty fun. (And Mama learned that one must be vigilant even in a family-friendly place: one motorcycle-riding game that seemed fine when we paid the money then switched screens to one of scantily clad women dancing in a very provocative way. Mama yanked the children off the game instantly and marched us away. )

A fun time was had by all, but Mama is very happy to be home in the quiet peace of home without the din of deafening noise at that water park. Stay tuned for Tuesday's field trip report!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Happy Birthday, Margaret!

Happy Fourth Birthday to Margaret Anne! 

Margaret turns four tomorrow, but we decided to celebrate one day early--both because this was when her grandparents could join us and the solemnity of St. Joseph's feast day does make it easier to celebrate than does a Friday in Lent.

Grandparents and grandchildren
When asking Margaret what she would like to eat for her birthday, I was perfectly happy that she chose something that involved no cooking on my part: Papa Murphy's take-and-bake pizza, Buffalo wings from a local restaurant, and a Baskin-Robbins ice cream cake.

Why did the cake decorator add quotation marks to the inscription?

The candy card
Mary made a creative card which was two layers of construction paper stapled together and filled with candy. The candy may have been already unwrapped and some of it already nibbled, but her little sister thought it was the best card she'd ever received.

Receiving outfits for her dolly Sally

Practicing on her new Grow-with-Me Skates from Grandpa

The ballerina dress
Margaret has lately become enamored with ballerinas. She talks about them often and desired so much to have a "ballerina dress." I adapted a pattern to sew her one myself, sewing for a couple of weeks at night so no children would discover me (maybe that's why I was too tired to drive?).

We have always made it a family policy that only the birthday child receives presents: other siblings do not receive gifts on that day "just so they don't feel left out." So, it was unprecedented that Mary was handed a gift on Margaret's birthday . . . a ballerina outfit of her own! We did this because we knew the enjoyment of Margaret's outfit would be exponentially increased if she had a matching sister with whom to dance.

Overjoyed to be receiving a ballet dress too!
We have no intention to enroll the girls in dance classes, but they will have grand fun being ballerinas around the house!

Hugging the grandparents in thanks  . . .

Let me introduced Sally, Margaret's beloved baby doll. Sally is a simple doll, nothing fancy, her cloth body stained despite washing. Sally didn't even have a wardrobe, something Margaret longed for so she could dress her dolly.

Now Sally has a wardrobe for every occasion, as well as real dolly-sized hangers! I will neither confirm nor deny that I unpacked all the outfits and happily hung them on hangers while the girls set up a tea party.

Sally's new wardrobe from Grampa N.
Doesn't Sally look smashing now in her pink party dress?

The ballerina sisters set up a tea party using the new tea set from their grandparents, with their dearest friends Monkey and Sally (both dressed in the new clothing) as guests.

Birthday tea party