Friday, July 25, 2014

Altar Boy Camp Day 2

After a second day of altar server training and group sports, Chris took John back to the hotel for swimming . . .

. . . dinner at a restaurant, then an hour and a half meandering about the giant outdoors store Cabela's . . .

. . . before retiring with an episode of the (original) Lone Ranger in bed.

I can already tell that my dear son is going to have some adjustments from all this wholesome but much-more-than-normal fun when he comes back to his ol' mom and her school work and chores.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

"What's the Mall?"

Last week, I discovered I had a list of rapidly approaching, time-sensitive specific clothing needs for the children being in the Shakespeare play, the Latin choir concert, and for one homeschool uniform, plus one child suddenly outgrew all her shoes.  I made a list of each item by child with sizes.

Armed with my list, I took all the children to two different consignment shops one day. The next day we went to the Goodwill. Without time to order items online, I was discussing out loud that I might takes us to the mall to buy some items new.

Our five-year-old pricked up her ears and asked:

"What's the mall?"


I'm pleased she has no need to have experienced the mall. When I must venture into that labyrinth once a year (or less), I come storming out determined not to go back. (Ultimately, she still didn't visit the mall because I found enough of what I needed at used clothing stores and was able to sew and modify a couple of items.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Altar Boy Camp (Again!) Day 1

To our great surprise and delight, John had a second opportunity this summer to attend a Latin Mass Altar Boy camp, so we decided this was worth the investment of time.

John ready to enter the church

The boys have server instruction all morning before attending Mass.

The uniform: white button down shirts, black pants, black belt, black socks, black shoes

Working up a good sweat from sports

Then the boys have lunch together before playing sports.

John has two same-aged pals there who also traveled with their parents from Charlotte, so he is enjoying spending time with them. After the first day of camp ended for the afternoon, Daddy took John swimming and then out to dinner with some of our friends.

"I love you, Mom" from John

Mary Tries the Violin

Miss Mary loves her Latin choir . . .
and her folk songs singing class (both of which last only the summer) . . . 
and her piano lessons (which she is continuing) so much . . . 

. . . that we're letting her try taking violin lessons as well! Who knows if this will 'take,' but we said we'd give her through August as a trial.

Mama could just eat her up!

Violin on her back

After renting her size 1/8 violin last week, she had her first lesson on Tuesday. She was so excited that she picked out her "first lesson outfit" 36 hours ahead of time, then the night before surreptitiously changed out of her pajamas and slept in her daytime outfit so as "to be ready."

My understanding is that learning to play the violin requires much patience because of all one must learn before one can even create notes, then how long it takes to make notes before being able to combine them. I was pleased to see that Mary maintained rapt interest through the first violin lesson, which consisted of: learning how to open the violin case, how to rosin the bow, how to hold the bow, the names of the notes of the strings, all the names of the parts of a violin, and finally--for the last three minutes or so--how to run the bow across the violin strings.

Despite all that necessary teaching before she could make so much as a note, Mary's reaction was an enthusiastic and repeated, "I can't wait until my second lesson! I love it!"

Violin holds a special place in my heart because my mom played it, so I would find it lovely if her granddaughter turns out to enjoy playing it as well.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What Mothers Do

The other day conversation led to mothers. I asked Margaret (3-1/2), "What do mommies do?"

Confidently she answered, "Mommies give hugs! And they clean the kitchen!"

That about sums it up!

Monday, July 21, 2014

When Catholic Homeschoolers Go Bad

Police Report

Arresting officer: Captain Daddy

Date and time of arrest: Sunday night, July 20, around 9:00 p.m.

Suspects: From the notorious 'Mater Dei' gang: Goofy Boy, Tree Climber, and the junior member Sweet Pea

Criminal Code Violations:

Section 100 Paragraph 4:  Children out of their beds after 'lights out'

Section 173 Paragraph 6: Fraternizing with siblings in their other bedrooms

Section 212 Paragraph 3: Playing stereo above Volume 3 (aka 'setting for bedtime listening')

Section 243 Paragraph 12: Entering storage closet without permission

The gang was discovered to have congregated in Goofy Boy's hideout for an unauthorized slumber party. Gang members had entered the storage closet without permission to obtain their sleeping bags (one red with cowboys, one green with jungle animals), which they had arranged on the bedroom floor. All suspects were quietly tucked into their bed or sleeping bags listening to a Gregorian Chant CD they had found, playing it far above the permissible volume for nighttime listening. Plus they were awake too late.

Review of surveillance video from the local hangout called 'The Den' reveals the gang had earlier that evening been spotted having a raucous good time at an occasional gathering known as a 'Family Movie Night.'

The movie in question was Disney's 1969 "Rascal," about a young man who adopts a baby raccoon for the summer.

As there can be no doubt, hilarity ensues from this animal adventure. Witnesses report consumption of one mood-altering substance: chocolate-chip ice cream.

Judge's Ruling: The judge could not help but be merciful to this gang of Catholic homeschoolers gone bad. The stereo was turned down a notch, children given kisses on their foreheads, and they were left to listen to Gregorian chant while the Arresting Office and his wife slumped down and thanked God for such 'problems.'

Teaching Children to Read: Accomplishing Daily Reading

Many people are busy in their own ways, but homeschooling mothers are busy in a particular way I'm experiencing all too quickly. It really isn't 'natural' to be 'doing school' in a formal way for hours daily when it also is a full-time duty to care for a home and the youngest set of children who aren't in school yet. Some people try to educate in a very informal, real life kind of way to avoid this problem. However one handles these pressures, this is an intensely busy time and I think it is the homeschooling mother's goal to be making her hours work double- and triple-time.

One problem area I had last year was finding time for my then new-reader to read aloud to me daily. It is a common recommendation that, once a child is reading at all fluidly, he should be assigned to read a certain number of minutes per day (e.g., 20 minutes), something beyond his phonics reader, usually a book assigned by the parent so it is stretching the child's reading level, not 'twaddle.'

This was one more thing on My List. My List has far more duties on it than could ever be accomplished and this goal consistently fell off the list.

If a parent is reading books to a child and even if the child is reading books to himself silently, why should a parent take yet more time to have the child read aloud to the parent?

  1. The child (with the parent's guidance) learns to read with emotion instead of flat affect, to use 'voices' for the various characters.
  2. The parent will discover if the child is simply skipping words he doesn't know instead of pausing to figure out the words.
  3. The parent will discover and correct words that the child is consistently mispronouncing.
  4. The child's reading speed and fluidity will increase greatly.

In the last three or four months, I've found a great solution: one I remembered from my very own mother! My mom often required me to read aloud to her while she was cooking dinner, telling me that cooking was boring and I could help entertain her. Considering that it was just me and my mom in the house, that was a very quiet, peaceful time of day, which certainly doesn't reflect what my house is like while I cook dinner these days. Nonetheless, a fabulous idea this was!

Instead of putting one more item on my formal To Do List, for months I've been integrating this new tactic into my life, making it natural to all of us. Daily I ask my seven-year-old to sit down and read aloud to me while I finish getting primped for the day, or while I fold a load of laundry, or right after lunch when everyone is dispersing into Quiet Time. Also, when I read a literature book to the children at bedtime, the two oldest often ask for turns reading a few paragraphs aloud to the group, so I now encourage that as well. Honestly, the child hasn't yet figured out that this is a requirement because I express such desire and pleasure at having him 'entertain' me! (If a child did balk and refuse, I'd have to start requiring this because learning to read fluidly is vital for learning all other subjects.)

Two children and one baby all ready for the day; one child getting ready in the other room, Mama still getting ready.
Gathered all but one child into the master bedroom.
Assign 7-year-old to read to 3-year-old and Mama. Baby is toddling around the room, door shut, can't escape.
Bonus: This separates siblings who fight if left unattended and occupies 3-year-old.

I have learned a few things through this wonderful new practice in our home--which may be obvious and boring to my readers, but this problem spot stymied me for about a year so surely I can't be the only one who would benefit from this idea!

1. Find gripping subject matter. We read phonics readers for learning the mechanics of reading. But readers are deadly boring and it is my goal to get away from them as fast as the child can. The children are hearing high quality literature from me or on audio CD in order to increase their vocabularies. But for free-reading time to improve fluidity of reading, I think it is valuable to have the child read something that interests him deeply (again, not twaddle!).

For my seven-year-old son, books that grab his passion are ones like The New Way Things Work, Fifty Famous People, or hagiographies, especially about male saints. While my boy really does listen to a lot of fiction, I notice that right now he reads non-fiction. My daughter reads passionately of other subjects. Finding a passion, if at all possible, helps a lot.

2. Read aloud classics and high-quality literature. I do not like 'twaddle' and I never have. A brief description by Charlotte Mason of twaddle should suffice:

  • Talking down to a child
  • Diluted
  • Undervaluing the intelligence of a child
  • Reading-made-easy
  • Second-rate, stale, predictable
  • Goody-goody story books, or highly spiced adventures of poor quality, titillating
  • Scrappy, weak, light reading

Now that I have two fluid readers, I can truly understand why it is advised for the parent/teacher to be daily reading several grade levels ahead to the children. The vocabulary increases and sentence structure improves exponentially, something I see down to our three-year-old. Then when the children start reading in context, they can figure out innumerable words that they may not yet possess the phonics skills to decode but they can get half way there before recognizing the advanced word because they heard it read so many times in all that high quality literature. If any readers of this blog are mothers of tiny tots who think reading aloud books that really stretch the child won't matter much, I want to encourage you otherwise.

3. The various ways we learn really matter. I am far from knowing all there is to know about the various learning styles of the typical human brain or all the possible learning disabilities. At its most basic, experts say there are three learning styles:

  • Auditory
  • Visual
  • Kinesthetic

And some experts way there are more ways of learning, but navigating through the basic three gives a homeschooling parent plenty to consider.

By teaching my own children spelling and reading, I have learned just how powerful a style of learning can be: apparently, I can't learn aurally (via my hearing) almost at all. Note that I have been a voracious reader since four years old, I majored in English literature, I write (still blabbing on in this blog post!), my spelling is almost perfect, and, before I married, I ran a self-supporting business editing books for publishing houses.

Yet I can't hear the word when it is spelled to me!

How often does this happen with a young child reading aloud?

"Mama, what does this word say? M-I-C-E."

Only in my house, it goes like this:

"Mama, what does this word say? M-I-C-E."

"Um, what did you spell? Say it again."


"You're going way to fast. Speak slowly."


"Just show it to me. Oh, that says mice."

As my children asked me to spell more and more words, I noticed that I could not for the life of me hear them. And that's when I put together the pieces of the puzzle showing that I don't learn with my ears.

When I took lecture courses in high-school and college, I had to transcribe the professor's talk. Just listening would mean I came away retaining almost nothing. Therefore, my notebooks are ridiculously fat, containing hundreds of pages of scribbles. It's not that I had to review my notes so often but that writing down the words put them into my brain in a way that listening to the words could not. (When an early Christian, I transcribed my pastor's sermons each week. Once I began having babies, I had to hold squirming tots and never again could take notes during homilies. This was a sorrowful loss to me: if you ask me after Mass what a homily was about, I'm going to tell you, 'I have no idea.')

When I listen to people talking to me, just chatting in conversation, I don't retain well what they are saying. So once I learned to type in junior high-school, I developed an odd quirk: I type with my fingers on my palm. If you notice my fingers twitching while I'm talking or listening to you, it is because I am typing out what you or I are saying. And that 'types' the words in a visual field in my brain so I can actually absorb them.

People who come into my home often comment on my huge white board in the kitchen showcasing our calendar and every list, chart, or tasks we need to do. How many times have I heard in my life, "Oh, you're so organized!" No, I'm so forgetful. If I don't write something down, it doesn't count. My husband can attest how many months he can remind me to buy shaving cream as we're upstairs readying for the day, but that doesn't stay in my brain long enough to walk downstairs and write it on the grocery list. (You know what? Finally, I'm going to solve this problem by posting a secondary Upstairs Grocery List in the hallway up there!)

So, what do I glean from those three puzzles pieces:
  • I have to write it down.
  • I have to write it down.
  • I have to write it down.

Which translates to: I have to see it. Visual learner to the extreme.

Why does this matter? I'm no longer in school. (No: life is school! Continuing education forever!) It matters because I now have a glimpse into other people's brains. A child I'm teaching could learn this way or any other number of weird ways I can't currently conceive. For example, what if a child possessed almost no aural learning and for reason of young age or physical disability, lacked the fine motor skills to write things down? It could appear that the child couldn't learn at all. But perhaps that child just needs extremely creative accommodations to learn visually.

Now I realize that if a child seems to be hitting a major roadblock in learning, the parent/teacher needs to explore deeply how that child is learning or not learning, then try to create accommodations. Truly, I never before realized how important is this factor. I thought we had learning preferences that were nice, but not critical. But seeing (pun intended) my own inability to hear the words my children spell to me has made me realize otherwise.

(On this subject, I still rave about All About Reading and All About Spelling because the program teaches visually, aurally, and kinesthetically simultaneously: all types of learners will benefit!)

If fellow homeschooling families (or parents in general) have tips to share on how to encourage our children to read daily, please do share in the comments section!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Farmer Mary

On Saturday, Mary (5) enjoyed the special treat of harvesting vegetables with her daddy.

Her big brother has enjoyed several special events lately, so we were looking for something for little sister when we received an email from a local parish that maintains a very large working garden: vegetables were ready for harvest but the parish needed extra pickers!

Isn't it a funny meditation: We as a society are so far from the land that this idea of going to pick vegetables (what is child labor among immigrants) was so exciting to Mary that she dressed in her work clothes the night before and slept in them. Probably only about one hundred years ago and definitely two hundred years ago, nearly all children would have experienced the common, boring labor of harvesting their own family's garden plot. What will life be like some decades from now? Will children be excited at the prospect of a field trip to go clean a child's bedroom because we all have robots or genetically engineered creatures who do that labor for us?

Mary called me on the way home, giggling with joy that she got to pick corn, tomatoes, squash, and peppers for three hours. Then she and her father drove the harvest over to the low income-based retirement home for donation.

On the subject of service projects, we try to be on the lookout for projects we can do as a family. Our time is too short for us often to be dividing up, or to have one parent taking one child somewhere age-appropriate that isn't friendly toward tiny tots. I remember Michelle Duggar explaining in an interview this same concept for their family of ultimately 19 children: they would do service projects they could do together, like fan out and pick up all the trash on the grounds after their church service. Today's harvesting would have been a perfect opportunity for our whole family, but the plan arose rather suddenly and I already have a long list of time-sensitive chores I needed to complete that day.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Milestone: First Real Knife

Whittling with Daddy
At seven-and-a-half years old, John has received his first Real Knife. Oh, how long he has wanted one! Now he is the proud owner of a petite Swiss Army knife. The rules are that he may only "do knife work," as he calls it, with an adult supervising. Daddy is teaching John how to whittle.

Working with a knife,
the boy should probably be wearing shoes
In preparation, father and son sat down to watch a knife safety video online. The best take-away from the video so far was that one sits down to work and first checks one's "Blood Circle." Without holding the knife, stand up, put one's arms out in a circle, and turn around slowly. Everyone within reach of one's arms is in one's Blood Circle and needs to step farther away before one begins working with a knife. This advice is both prudent and has given us parents many giggles about the humorous phrase "Blood Circle." John is taking his Blood Circle seriously!

The joke picture Daddy emailed me from the store:
"We found John's perfect starter knife!"

Friday, July 18, 2014

Visit to Freedom Park

On Wednesday, I took the two littles to lovely Freedom Park to walk laps during the older children's Shakespeare rehearsal. Margaret (3) enjoyed so much my undivided attention as she trotted alongside me and never stopped chattering!

Seriously pondering the ducks

"Be a tree, Margaret!"