Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

We are enjoying our first Christmas in our new home this year. The boys went sledding for the first time this season, only a couple inches but I guess it was enough for the sledding hill. They also had fun following a snow maze Jacob worked on. Jacob and I are recovering from mild colds, but otherwise all is well. I have been working on a December update in my head but that probably won't be until January to recap some of our FIAR adventures. Tonight is the Christmas pageant at church (W will participate dressed as an angel, he is quite excited.) Better get started making some cookies for Santa. :)

Merry Christmas to you and yours! Here are some Christmas stories we have been enjoying lately.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Happy birthday to C!

C turns two years old today! Happy birthday to my little guy, he is really no longer a baby. I am taking some pictures and trying to get a last minute photo nice enough to mail out in some Christmas cards. The boys are looking forward to seeing their cousins this weekend. Today Auntie Julie is over to visit, and tomorrow C has a doctor's appointment for his 2 year checkup.

Yesterday was our Little House homeschoolers book club meeting and it was great to visit with our friends and talk about the books. It is a monthly group and we are going to work on a quilt as a group project over the winter. I think we will start reading Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder soon for storytime in the evenings (a chapter or two at a sitting). It'll make for nice winter reading with the boys as it is getting really chilly here in NH!

W has been reading The Birthday Box by Leslie Patricelli to C as it is very appropriate for birthday time reading. C received Tubby by the same author for his birthday, and it is so adorable. He also got a basketball hoop (little tikes size), puzzles and clothes. We made an ornament with his hand print to add to the tree, and baked some birthday cupcakes. Santa also sent video messages to Will and Caleb via Portable North Pole's web site. It has been a fun day.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

When One Plus One Equals One

The other day W told me that sometimes one plus one equals one.  I was a little skeptical, but I've been helping him understand addition by showing him that it is a process of putting things together.  I've been emphasizing the process of addition because I don't want math for him to be what it mostly was for me and most children: meaningless manipulation of symbols.  I remember some half-hearted attempts at making math meaningful in school by making us solve contrived word problems or insisting upon units.  One teacher would become upset if the class answered "what is 3 pigs plus 3 pigs?" with "6" instead of "6 pigs". 

In any case, I asked W when it might happen that one plus one equals one.  He replied that when he attaches one toy to another toy, he has one toy.  I liked that example.  I suggested another by taking two glasses of water and pouring them into a third glass, showing that one glass of water plus one glass of water can equal one glass of water.  The best example was then suggested by Beth: if you add one herd of sheep to one herd of sheep, then you have one herd of sheep.  I was happy to see W developing an understanding that our answer depended on how we performed the addition, as well as what we were interested in counting. 

So there you have it.  Sometimes one plus one equals one.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thanksgiving Reading and Activities

I still have a couple of catching up posts to make, but I thought I'd share the Thanksgiving books we have been reading, and share some links that I have found useful. A fun sing-a-long book is One Little Two Little Three Little Pilgrims by B.G. Hennessy, which has cute and well researched illustrations by Lynne A. Cravath. For older children, Eating the Plates by Lucille Recht Penner is a great chapter book to learn more about what it was like to be a Pilgrim. W is enjoying it so far, I've been reading him a chapter or two at a time. Another book about giving thanks is Grateful: A Song of Giving Thanks by John Bucchino (The Julie Andrews Collection). I was happy to stumble upon this one at the library and it has a great message. The accompanying song sung by Art Garfunkel is available on iTunes.

Plimoth Plantation and Scholastic partnered to present a webcast which gives a brief introduction to what life was like for the Pilgrims and Wompanoag in Plymouth around the time of the first Thanksgiving. Click here to watch a reply of the webcast. Scholastic also offers a page of free Thanksgiving printable activities. If you live in New England, a field trip to Plimoth Plantation makes for a fun and educational experience no matter your age. My husband and I were actually married in the garden there so I can vouch that they are an excellent wedding spot as well. :)

Next Wednesday I will continue the long held tradition of Pie Day, and will enlist young W's help in making pies to bring for Thanksgiving at my Aunt & Uncle's house. We will be "rowing" Cranberry Thanksgiving next week, although with the holiday and Jacob's day off Friday we will be less focused on homeschool work those days, and may use the long weekend to start decorating for Christmas.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween 2010 - Woody and Buzz

For those followers not on Facebook, here is a glimpse of our own personal Woody and Buzz. They are really hoping the big man in red will bring them Toy Story 3 this year for Christmas, and Buzz Lightyear (with wing span). ;)

Friday, October 29, 2010

FIAR The Glorious Flight

I was not familiar with Alice and Martin Provensen before reading The Glorious Flight which is covered in Five in a Row Vol. 1. After this week, I will be looking to add some more of their books to our home library! W enjoyed The Glorious Flight, and it was a perfect book for FIAR since it has many different elements and you could really go in any direction with this one. First of all, for geography we covered England, France, and the English Channel. We also talked more about French culture and language which we had previously talked about when reading Madeline for FIAR. Other topics which applied to the book included art, language arts, history, inventors, the science behind flying and of course early aviation. Another great book about aviation is The Little Airplane by Lois Lenski, which is very descriptive of the mechanics of the airplane. Today to finish off the week we made paper airplanes and tried flying them outside. (Most of them were a little top heavy thanks to taped-on "propellers").

W finished the first book of Handwriting Without Tears "Letters and Numbers for Me" and was very enthusiastic about singing the song featured at the end of the book. He is on chapter 13 for Math-U-See (Addition Plus One) and I love watching that little light bulb go off as he figures out the problems. On Thursday we spent the day in Hudson with Aunt Julie, and then met with friends for the annual downtown trick or treat. It was such fun! Needless to say W didn't get much workbook work done that day, but we had a great time with his best friends from Hudson (A & his little sister C and their mommy). We will do a separate Halloween post (or re-cap post) in the next few of days.

I couldn't resist introducing W to the episode of one of my favorite television shows of all time Road to Avonlea entitled "Dreamer of Dreams" (Season 2), when Jasper Dale tries to invent a flying machine. Image courtesy of The Magic Lantern Road to Avonlea Epiosode Guide. W loves the kid scenes in Avonlea but doesn't quite know what to make of Mrs. Potts yet. But really, does anyone? :)

Early in the week, our picture books by post swap book arrived! Thanks to Zoe & her kids at Playing by the Book. W was thrilled to have a package to open and inside was Wendel's Workshop by Chris Riddell. It is a hilarious book to read aloud and also inspired W to learn more about inventors and robots. Thank you so much to our book swap partners!! W has read it dozens of times already. Your book is currently en route but I will let the title be a surprise when you receive it.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

FIAR: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel

Last week for Five in a Row W read Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton. The book follows Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel Mary Anne during the time when steam shovels were being phased out by modern technologies, but in the end there is a good use for her. It has some repetition throughout, but also has some challenging words for beginning readers. This was one book that he was already familiar with but he is still enjoying it and thinking about it in depth. Also he can read it on his own now, so we alternated reading throughout the week.

On Monday W made composite characters using paper plates, he drew faces, and then he thought of two people he knows and what those people like to do, and made up a new name for his character. The one he based on me and the cat was Ludwiga who likes to cook and play with mice (eeew!) He also made up Tree who likes to play with their cat and give hugs based on two of his aunties, and Cada who likes to work on the sledding hill and play with masks. Anyway, I think he got the general idea of the term so when he hears it again he might remember it. ;)

For Math-U-See W finished chapter 12, and is grasping the concepts of addition. Each addition problem has a few different steps: identify the number, find the unit block for that number, write the number, color in the blocks on the paper to match with the unit block, and finally say the number. Sometimes the numbers wind up written backwards but for Kindergarten that is what happens. This makes for some very colorful papers! C even joins in the fun sometimes although I try to keep him interested in his own papers to color while W is trying to figure out problems.

Last week we also participated in a Paranormal "Ghost Hunter" Hike through one of the homeschool groups, it was a lot of fun and we found a nearby place to go hiking.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Little Men Namesake

   When we started the blog, I didn't go into much detail into the name choice. Our blog was named "Little Men" not just since we call our boys that sometimes, but also as a shout out to one of the lesser known books by the esteemed author Louisa May Alcott. She is famous for Little Women, but the sequels to the classic novel are usually not remembered. Good Wives is often seen as part two of the book and has been thus included in most publications. Little Men and Jo's Boys and How They Turned Out followed many of the lives of  the original characters from Little Women, and of course added new characters for the school for boys that Jo March Bhaer started up with her husband.

The books are available free online or cheaply on Kindle, and are a wonderful peek into a world long past. Children's literature was not LMA's favorite thing to write, but it gave her success and became what she was known for. If you are ever in Massachusetts, a visit to Orchard House and a jaunt over to Walden Pond to follow in the footsteps of Henry David Thoreau makes for a lovely literary day trip. When W gets a little older I will take him back, since the only other time he was at Orchard House he was in utero. :) The books will make for good family read alouds in the future.

I have a soft spot for Victorian literature, much of it is still relevant today in many ways and many of the gems of the past are just waiting to be enjoyed. The picture is courtesy of the Celebration of Women Writers web site which is a wonderful resource. There are lots of books available online that otherwise are difficult to find copies of, and extensive links to background information; a treasure trove for bookworms, history-philes, and homeschoolers.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

FIAR book review: The Rag Coat

Last week we rowed The Rag Coat by Lauren Mills. The book deals with the concepts of loss, grieving,  friendship and acceptance. It is set in the Appalachian region although there is no specific state or town mentioned, so besides giving an overview of where the Appalachian Mountains are located, W wasn't too interested in the geography parts of our FIAR. As a science component he learned about coal, how it forms under the earth, and mining, and especially due to a news story about mining W appreciated how difficult that job is, and exclaimed he didn't think he would want to do that when he grows up. We were thrilled for the miners in Chile as they were rescued last week.

We listened to a lot of Bluegrass music, including Dolly Parton's touching song "Coat of Many Colors", which the book was partially based on. I think Dolly has even written a similar book based on her song. As a bluegrass fan myself, we do listen to it a lot anyway. :) Another appropriate song for the week was Brad Paisley's "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive" which is about working in the mines in Kentucky.

W's favorite activity of the week was making a collage out of fabric bits he cut into a rag coat. The template he used was from the Aussie Pumpkin Patch blog's Free Lapbook printable. We also found another book set in the Appalachians at the library, When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant, which could have been a great book to row (I am going to keep that in mind for the future). W enjoyed learning about the johnny-house, and I think he is thankful we have modern day plumbing. He watched the pilot for Christy, which is probably more interesting to older kids (and adults, I enjoyed it more now than I did when I was growing up), as is the book of the same name by Catherine Marshall that the series is based on. The television show is beautifully shot and gives viewers an idea of the realities of poverty in the Appalachian region in the early 20th century.

For Math-U-See W is starting addition, which he has already been able to do in simple verbal problems for a while and loves it, and seems to be enjoying writing a bit more. He has been asking to do more with it lately so that is encouraging to me. Over the weekend we went to our local library booksale and found some great children's books (score!), and checked out the annual Pumpkin Festival in Keene, but that deserves it's own post.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Toddler Speak

In the past couple of weeks, I have noticed C using new words each day. Sometimes it surprises me. Last week before our pumpkin painting party, we had the pumpkins lined up on the rail of the deck, and all of a sudden he pointed and said "pumpkins!" Well, it didn't sound perfect, more like "punkins" but I knew that is what he meant so it sounded clear to me. He also loves pointing out hats now, since he has a hat to go along with his Halloween costume. I absolutely love this age. Being the youngest, C didn't really need to speak much since his older brother does a lot of that for him ;) and we hadn't focused on baby signs beyond milk/nurse, all done, and more, but it is nice to know he is progressing. We still don't understand most of his babbles but I am not worrying, he definitely knows what is going on.

One of my big worries with homeschooling was how to keep the little one busy while the big one does his lessons. Gradually, we are getting in the swing of it and trying to keep C busy, but often crayons and paper or playing with his trains can keep him happy while W works. Another biggie is to keep the snacks rolling; grapes and pretzels can be very entertaining. C wants to be involved in what we are doing, and he can, just on his own level. He will have the benefit of going through Kindergarten. Twice. :)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Apple Pie!

Last weekend we went apple and pumpkin picking at a local orchard. This week for Five in a Row we are reading How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman. So of course the first thing we did Monday was make an apple pie following the recipe in the book using our freshly picked apples. The pie was delicious and W enjoys helping (his favorite thing was the egg wash on top of the crust). The pie did not last long enough to get a photo. We may make another for the weekend, and will still have many apples leftover for a big batch of applesauce. Next week we will be hosting a pumpkin painting party for a local homeschooling group so we will decorate the pumpkins the boys picked out.

In the book, many countries are visited while the girl gathers ingredients for apple pie (semolina wheat from Italy, a chicken to lay an egg from France, Cinnamon from Sri Lanka, and apples from Vermont to name a few). It reminded me a lot of Pancakes, Pancakes! by Eric Carle, which our family is very familiar with. Since we already read Madeline for FIAR, W recognized the Eiffel Tower from the artwork in the book. We had fun playing around with Google Earth "flying" from one country to another as well.

Today the sun has finally come back. We had several rainy days in a row, so it is nice to be able to play outside more finally! W helped me gather some of the many acorns that are covering our front yard to use for decorating. I also finished painting the bookcase we got at the Mill Store to put in our loft as a library/ homeschool center. I added adhesive chalkboard to the inside of the cabinet doors for the bottom part, so I will take photos once it is up.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

September Reflections & Great Web Resources

 The past month has been a whirlwind of moving in all while getting settled into our Kindergarten homeschool year as well. We have been loving rowing our first few books with Five in a Row, which we may refer to as FIAR on the blog sometimes. In the past few weeks we have read A Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack, Lentil by Robert McCloskey, Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans, and this week are wrapping up September with A Pair of Red Clogs by Masako Matsuno. Through the stories we have covered a few geographical and cultural lessons about China, America, France, and Japan.

W is now on lesson 9 in his Math-U-See Primer and we are working on place value by using the "tens" and "units". Each lesson has 7 pages and some days he does a full lesson while others he will do one or two pages and then other math related projects. He enjoys playing with the blocks after he finishes the lesson part so that keeps it fun. We try to work math in other ways as well, like in FIAR projects and cooking (although he got pretty frustrated when actually trying to use chopsticks for their intended purpose). :)

Initially I did not know where to begin with teaching science. FIAR has a few science projects, but not many, so I picked up The Giant Science Resource Book for grades 1-6 which will be useful in the next few years. We used the section on leaves and trees to identify some leaves outside and then Will wrote the names onto cards which are now adorning our refrigerator.

W has wrapped up Hooked On Phonics Kindergarten levels 1 & 2, and is using a few different materials for handwriting which he is slowly improving with. I wouldn't push him into it except I do want him to be on the same "level" as the public school kids as he will have to be evaluated before homeschooling first grade in NH. Most of all right now we are enjoying settling into our new home and spending more time outdoors. Over the past month we have also attended a Colonial Fair in Massachusetts and an Apple Fest in NH, and have been lucky enough to meet some new friends in our town.

We are always on the lookout for homeschool resources on the internet, and here a few of W's favorite sites for reading, games, mazes, and music.

We would love to hear about your favorite kid friendly web sites and homeschool resource sites!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Summer Reading & Stargazing

We are reading Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne to W for storytime. He has been enjoying it so much that I think we will start The House at Pooh Corner soon, or rather as soon as I can find it, since it is likely packed away in a box at the basement in the house. Also I want to introduce him to the poetry collections also by Milne. I can't wait until we and our books are all under one roof! W also enjoys the Disney movie The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, which stays true to the spirit of the book. 


W has also been reading several Disney themed books that his Aunt gave him (thanks Noreen!) On a recent trip to Falmouth to visit Grandma we stopped in at Eight Cousins, one of my favorite book stores, and we bought The Big Dipper by Franklyn M. Branley which is a wonderful introduction to astronomy and star gazing while also being a challenging yet readable book for W's level. He now he enjoys looking out for the stars at night and has been able to spot the big dipper. I would highly recommend this book to Kindergarten age children and plan to seek out more books in the Let's Read and Find Out Science series. Last year we enjoyed What Lives in a Shell? from the library, but I think that now that W is doing the reading he may get more out of it.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Kindergarten Lesson Planning

We will move to NH at the end of August, and W will begin homeschooling Kindergarten this September. Our main curriculum for this fall will revolve around Five in a Row and the Math-U-See primer. We are also planning a unit study on Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. W loves the "My First Little House" books so I can't wait to share the originals with him. Combined with some gardening, cooking, crafts, history, science and geography from FIAR, along with several phonics and early writing workbooks, I think it will be a pretty well rounded curriculum. We joined a wonderful forum with local homeschoolers and I can't wait to set up a play group and coop activities once we get settled in.

I picked up several teacher planning books at the Target dollar spot similar to the one I used for PreK last fall. They have blocks for each day of the week and make it easy for planning. They should help keep us organized. After the move I am hoping to turn our old changing table/shelves into a work-box style education station where we can keep all of the current books and supplies organized and at hand.

One surprise of moving to the Live Free or Die state is that there are actually more legal restrictions on homeschoolers. For age 6 and onward NH requires an annual evaluation along with your annual letter for intent to homeschool, while in MA you merely need to send the letter with your intent to homeschool to your local school district. Granted, some MA towns are more homeschool friendly than others, but I was certainly surprised that moving to NH means adding extra restrictions.

Often we hear that there should be more standards and tests, although please ask yourselves the question of who makes these tests and sets the bar. Every child learns differently and has different talents in life, and I see homeschooling as a way to more naturally express these talents and focus on their interests. Learning is about context as well as content, cramming meaningless dates into your brain when learning history does not spark a love for history, yet spending time to understand the events and how they affected people often does.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

New Hampshire Vacation

This past weekend we took a trip up to the White Mountains area of NH with Jacob's company. He took the day off Friday so first we went to North Conway and walked around and browsed a few of the shops. We ate lunch at the Up Country restaurant. We never know what to expect with the boys when taking them out to eat but they did okay and the meal was nice. Then we checked in at the hotel and relaxed and watched the Red Sox game. The boys were so excited about the hotel so that made it a bit tough to settle them down that evening.

Saturday morning we woke up to downpours. At breakfast we were still deciding if we should go for it and do Storyland that day or not, but we decided to go for it. When we got to the park it was still pretty bad, so we bought ponchos. Why do the adult ones come in yellow with the Storyland logo plastered all over yet the kid ones are plain white? :) We dressed the boys in swim shirts which turned out to be a very good idea, in addition to the weather there is a splash pad there. Anyway, after about 15 minutes the skies cleared up and then there was occasional drizzle but the rest of the day was actually quite nice. They didn't have the usual crowds due to the weather so there were fewer lines for rides and W loved riding on the Polar coaster, many spinning rides and the flume. C enjoyed the Storybook portion best which was more toddler friendly, and the rest of the time he was in the stroller. After we got back to the hotel, C took a nap and W and I had fun swimming in the pool while Jacob watched C and read.

Saturday evening we went to the dinner at the Mt. Washington Hotel, and along the way back to our hotel afterwards we stopped at an ice cream shop with a playground in the yard. The rain seemed to cool things down also so the humidity was a bit more bearable.

On Sunday we went back to North Conway and went to the Conway Scenic Railroad, where Thomas the Tank Engine had an event going on. (We had picked up tickets for this on Friday). C especially liked seeing Thomas. W was a bit grumpy for part of the day, but between the long car rides, the excitement filled weekend, sleeping pattern thrown off and being sick earlier in the week I am sure there was a reason, so we tried to make the best of the situation. There was a train ride with views of some mountains and a river, and tents set up with various activities for the kids. They also had a tortoise which the animal handler said was estimated at 50 years old, and expected to grow much larger. W said she moved really fast so he petted her but then kept his distance. After Thomas we visited a couple more places in North Conway including the local library book sale. Later we headed home but first went along the Kangamangus Highway to enjoy the scenery.

We are on the cusp of closing on a new home in southern NH, and by late summer we should be moving. W begins his homeschool Kindergarten after the big move once we get settled and into our routines. Needless to say we are all excited about the move and having a bigger yard. We will post much more about the move and our transitions in future posts on the blog.

Friday, July 2, 2010

School Learning and Real Learning

A fresh graduate with a Master's Degree, I took an entry-level job in technical support at a software company.  I spent a little over a year in this position, answering questions about over 80 products, most of which I had only a passing familiarity with.  I always preferred getting customers "off the phone" as quickly as I could so that I could research and provide help through e-mail.

I found the position stressful and was happy to transfer into a non customer-facing position, but I gained more technical expertise in that year than any other year of my career, and probably more than my six years of collegiate education put together.

What sticks out to me now is the manner in which this learning took place.  On our first day, we were not put in a training class or lectured to, but given a project to develop.  We were given two days to complete it, and coding it required that we would learn a wide swath of our flagship program.  After a couple of token orientation classes, we were put on the phones within a few weeks.

Each support case presented an excellent opportunity for learning.  A real person had a real need that had to be met in a time-sensitive manner.  In turn, I had various resources to help the customers: a database of "solutions", other support engineers, and most importantly, the products themselves.  Occasionally, I would even have to disturb a grumpy developer.  Some cases were trivial or easily answered, but most represented a little project and challenge.  Given the motivation to learn an area in order to satisfy a customer, the right resources, and clear, attainable goals, I served many cases and learned more about 80 products than I could have imagined possible.

But even when I transferred to a new position, I was still stuck in a school frame of mind with respect to how to learn.  I had just experienced a year of incredible learning, and I should have thought more about why that was, and how it was different than school.  I wanted to learn about our internal software systems that I had not previously used, and how did I go about this?

By reading text.  I printed out the 200-page user's manual and committed myself to the mental drudgery of reading it cover to cover.  This was, after all, how I had been taught for more than ten years prior to my job: plod through mind-numbingly boring textbooks and hope to retain enough "material" for later use (in the case of schools, for tests).  There is no real justification for learning the material and no reason to think any part of it is more important or relevant than other parts.  There is no goal to strive for, and no hope for real satisfaction (perhaps other than having reached the end of the book).  I continued in the face of these obstacles because I believed learning has to be painful, and that I must be doing something useful through this work.

I am thankful that this attitude did not last the full 200 pages.  Given that there would be no real "test" like in school for whether I retained any of the material, I eventually gave up on the endeavor, frustrated but wiser.

There is certainly a place for reference and textbooks, but it is not as the primary vehicle for learning.  It is a failure in the school system that led me to think otherwise.  Textbooks, exercises, lectures, homework, and tests: whoever thinks this is the best model for real learning must think of the brain as a passive slate to be filled with endless facts at the discretion of teachers.  But when there is no real motivation or interest, and no hope for satisfaction on the part of the learner, the brain functions more like a sieve.

Monday, June 28, 2010

ice skating recap

W recently had his last class for ice skating lessons at a local skating rink. (W is pictured with the red mittens and Cars helmet). He was in level Tot 2 which was a beginner class for kids 3-6 who were not familiar with skating. It ran for six weeks, and for the first couple of weeks it was almost painful for Jacob and I to watch our little boy falling down so much. After the second class he had wanted to quit after feeling quite discouraged but I am very glad he decided to stick with it (I think the cardboard Zamboni that one of the instructors gave him certainly helped.) :)  I was afraid he was doomed with my lack of natural grace, but gradually he got more confidence and ultimately he could skate around on his own. He did mostly marching, a bit of gliding, and he was finally able to get himself back up when he fell down. Most importantly, he had a good time with it.

In the future I think he will be relaxed about skating and it gives him a good reminder to stick with things and practice. When asked if he wanted to contribute to this post, W said "I had fun at the ice skating rink."

Friday, June 25, 2010


 I have been quiet on the blog of late, as we are in the process of buying a new home and it is hard to keep quiet about such a major change. The closing is less than 3 weeks away now and all is going well. After a few updates we plan to move later this summer. The boys and I have been keeping busy with playdates, library summer reading, and visiting the local splash park in our town. There are several things about living here that we will miss, although our new place will be great. It has a much larger yard as well as space for a garden, and eventually animals. It is so cool and I can't wait to blog about our projects there, both here and on my personal blog. 

W is doing very well with reading level 1 books, with a few words or one sentence per page. As I mentioned, our library currently offers a summer reading program, and for every ten books he reads he can go and spin the wheel and earn prizes like animal-shaped erasers and candy. 

C is *still* teething, but overall is a happy little guy and loves playing with duplo legos and his big brother. 

Here are some fun books we have been enjoying lately (some for storytime, others read by W). I highly recommend checking out library book sales and used homeschool curriculum sales this summer, it is a great way to find some treasures and not break the bank! Also buying used on Amazon can be reasonable. We found a copy of The Complete Book of Farmyard Tales (Usborne books) at a homeschool sale which W has enjoyed reading.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Gatto on the Lessons Taught in School

This may be the best article I've read about what schools really teach children:

The Six-Lession Schoolteacher

There's a tendency to downplay the evil he discusses because "well, I went through the system and I turned out okay" or "I know a schoolteacher, and he/she says ..." 

The "turning out okay" comment reminds me of the poor father in Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron", who endures a shock every time he starts thinking too hard.  In his regular state of mind, he must have a vague sense that there could have been something better, that maybe he is not living to his full potential.  However, if someone complained to him about all these damn handicaps and the system that put them on everyone, he'd probably tell the person that he doesn't see the big deal because he "turned out okay".

And with respect to schoolteachers: of course there are individuals within the school system that actually care and make an effort.  Some may even inspire a few students.  But despite the best individual efforts of any number of teachers, the system itself enforces the lessons Gatto describes.  Schoolteachers are almost all going to think the answer for improvement is some tinkering, or curriculum change, or policy changes by the administration; if they saw things as Gatto does, why would they work for the system?

Real improvement is possible when you withdraw your support from the school system.  You may be forced to pay taxes to support the system, but you are free to withdraw your children and let them have a real education.  Without handicaps.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pat Farenga Speaks

Last Friday, Pat Farenga spoke to a moderate crowd at Barnes & Noble in Framingham.  I was unfamiliar with him before the event, but we nevertheless bought a copy of his book Teach Your Own (and had it signed of course).  Pat told some stories, provided a few insights into problems he sees with schooling, and stressed the importance of mutual support among the different groups of home/un schoolers.  It was an interesting talk by an entertaining speaker, and I am glad we went.

Pat made two points that I especially liked with respect to schools.  The first has to do with what he called the "charade of learning", where students memorize facts for tests and subsequently forget it once the test has been taken.  I've thought before of how all of the exercises, homework, and testing of schools can produce the illusion that actual learning is taking place, and I was glad to hear Pat discuss this point (and express is with a nice phrase). 

The second point Pat made that I liked had to do with motivation and satisfaction.  In particular, he compared school-learning to playing poker with matchsticks; it doesn't feel "real".  The result is that students don't feel like they have anything invested and don't care as much about the results.  Even if a student does perform well and get good grades, the satisfaction is diminished because there was no personal risk involved.     

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Homeschooling Book fair in Framingham

We are looking forward to attending the AHEM Book fair and celebration of homeschooling in Framingham tomorrow evening, Friday May 14th. They will have events all throughout the day. Here is a link to a flyer with a voucher to support AHEMAdvocates for Home Education in Massachusetts, Inc., if you happen to be in the area tomorrow. Their web site is a great resource for homeschoolers in MA.

W is excited that Spot the dog will be there, and I am sure C will love him as well. I am hoping to stay late enough to hear Pat Farenga speak (if C cooperates), but plan on picking up a copy of his book either way. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

a farmland day


We spent mother's day at Davis' Farmland in Sterling, MA. It was a chilly and windy day but the boys enjoyed seeing all the animals and of course playing. The best part about going in the spring is seeing all the newborn animals. You can buy cups of feed to feed many of the animals yourself. They have highland cows, calves, alpaca, llamas, many rare breeds of sheep and goats, pigs, chickens, rabbits, and many more animals. I would like to plan next time for a day that is much warmer when the splash park section is also open. 

I wanted to adopt these calves...

and this lamb.

W was often asked what his favorite animal was, to which he replied "all of them". Good answer. The staff is very friendly and knowledgeable about the animals and willing to answer questions. It is a great place for young children who want to get up close to a variety of farm animals.

No visit is complete without seeing Snickers, the nicest llama ever.

Friday, May 7, 2010

May Book List: Ferdinand and company

Here are some books W has been enjoying lately.
  • The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, Illustrated by Robert Lawson
  • Angus Lost by Marjorie Flack
  • Fat Cat Sat on a Mat by Jenny Tyler (Usborne Phonics) 
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf is a sweet one. It follows the life of a bull in Spain who just wants to enjoy the flowers and not run and fight like the other bulls. One day a bee changes his plans and he is chosen to fight the matador, but after they finally realize his peaceful nature he is returned home to enjoy the flowers once more. It has a great message for kids and one many grownups should heed as well.

And Marjorie Flack, where have you been all my life?? I love her simple but heartwarming books which were written in the 1930's. Angus Lost is a gem. It follows a dog, Angus, who gets lost and the story appeals to kids today even though there are occasional references to the milk man (a good way of throwing in an improvised history lesson). 

W is loving the Usborne Phonics readers lately. Fat Cat on a Mat, Big Pig on a Dig, Toad Makes a Road, you get the idea. He has gotten several of them out of the library, and they are definitely at his pace right now, he can handle them on his own but also likes to take turns reading pages sometimes. I appreciate that it doesn't use little pictures next to each word like many early readers seem to do. 

Getting back to Ferdinand, there is a very cute Disney cartoon from 1938 that featured him, and it stayed remarkably close to the book. I am a huge Disney fan, especially when it comes to these classic shorts.

Monday, May 3, 2010

New York, New York

  Last week our family visited New York City for a few days. My cousin lives there and the photo above is her view, what a lucky gal! It was amazing, and she was a very gracious host. For me and the boys it was our first time there, although Jacob had been before many times when he was growing up. Among the highlights of our trip were visits to the American Museum of Natural History, which is very fun for kids and kids at heart, Central Park, seeing the skyline at night, and eating cupcakes and gelato. My stomach is groaning just thinking about our total caloric intake, but all the walking worked it off, right?? :) 

This photo amuses me to no end.

The boys were troopers. We did make sure and stop at a few playgrounds. It was amazing to me that for several blocks W would complain that he was getting SO tired of walking, but as soon as he saw a playground he would light up and have the energy to run around for more than a half hour! Gotta love five year olds. 

C stalking a pigeon at a playground in Central Park

My cousin watched W while Jacob and I took C to the Met for a couple of hours on Sunday, and I really enjoyed seeing several of the exhibits although the museum is so huge you couldn't hope to see everything in a full day never mind a couple hours. We especially loved the bronze statue of Diana by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. 
Courtyard view of American statues at the Met

Our museum experiences were overall great (i.e. no extended crying from C and no temper tantrums from either), but it did make me realize that it is still a little early for W to really enjoy and appreciate museums and especially fine art. I had been wanting to take him to the MFA in Boston and I may hold off on that, since 5 is still quite young and there is plenty of time for discussing Rembrandt and Monet, right now the best thing is to stick with finger painting and hands on activities. 

Monday, April 12, 2010

Container Gardening

On Saturday, we started adding a mix of potting soil to self watering garden containers that Jacob made from old storage containers. The potting mix is comprised of peat moss, compost, and vermiculite. You can find out more about the making of the containers on Jacob's blog to see how to put those together. We live in a condo, so although the sunlight is limited in our small yard, the containers should work well. On a recent trip to Lowe's, W picked out a kid shovel which we actually found really handy. Both the boys had a lot of fun spending so much of the day outside and helping with the gardening project.

We read Compost Stew: an A-Z Recipe for the Earth by Mary McKenna Siddals earlier in the week which was a fun complimentary book to read when planning a garden with young kids. It can be read in a sing song manner which even little ones can appreciate. Jacob recently started a compost bin although it will take a few more months for our compost to be ready.

Mixing the vermiculite into the compost. You may want to keep in mind that using face masks might be handy if it is very windy and you are working with a lot of peat moss and vermiculite.

C getting in on the action filling the containers.

We are hoping to grow lettuces, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers. This year is an experiment, since we do not have very much first hand gardening experience so as a family we are learning as we go. It will also be a wonderful homeschool project, as we are starting from seed so W can learn about the process each step of the way.  We will post about our successes and failures here in the near future. I am also planting several herbs which grow pretty easily on our deck.

W found a little caterpillar while playing, and decided to put him on a nice green leaf. This is big progress for the young man who sometimes gets freaked out by bugs like his Mom. :) 

Friday, April 9, 2010

Little April Showers

We are beginning to plant some seeds and plan on using this weekend to work on our yard and square foot gardening system that Jacob put together. On our Aerogarden there are currently around 17 tomatoes of various sizes so I am looking forward to our early crop. This picture was taken last week and my how they have grown since then, although all the tomatoes are still green and our niece calls them pumpkins.

Reading List!
Here are some spring time favorite books appropriate for April. These should all be available at your local public library.

It was a sad day when I noticed Bunny's Noisy Book had gone out of print, although you can still find reasonably priced used copies on Amazon. I had wanted to gift it at a baby shower, it is filled with beautiful prose (what else would you expect from Margaret Wise Brown?) and the illustrations by McCue are really lovely. It was a book I picked up for my eldest son on a whim and I am so glad I did, even when he grows up  I plan on keeping it in our "library". Another favorite of our family is the Little Quack series, and Derek Anderson also illustrated the classic The Potty Train, which was helpful to our oldest a couple years ago. Mr. Anderson has an excellent web site, check it out.

We are also planning on reading books about NYC because we will be taking a little trip there in a couple of weeks. If anyone has any recommendations for New York City themed books let us know by next week so I have time to get to the library for them! We plan on visiting Central Park and the American Museum of Natural History. Photos to come on Little Men after our adventure.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Who Killed Phoebe Prince?

A couple of days ago I became aware of the tragic case of Phoebe Prince, an Irish immigrant who was a freshman in South Hadley, MA.  She committed suicide after being relentlessly bullied.

One knee-jerk public response is to bully the bulliers, as various spurious charges are being filed against nine students involved in the bullying.  Politicians, smelling blood, are speechifying and passing laws saying not to bully.  Theatre.

People are also angry at the school administration and teachers for not stepping in, even though it was open knowledge that Phoebe was being harassed.

Everyone at that school must bear some responsibility for Phoebe's death.  How many students participated in the harassment in order to gain social status with their peers?  How many watched in silence, for fear of becoming the next victim?  How many teachers looked the other way, not wanting to get involved?  Many of these individuals will be wrestling with their consciences for a long time.

But the responsibility for Phoebe's death goes well beyond the particular individuals involved at South Hadley High School.  While it may be rare for such harassment to drive one to commit suicide, bullying and harassment in government schools is commonplace.  

This is what I fear that few people understand, that it was not just those particular bullies and onlookers who drove Phoebe Prince to an early death; it was the backward socialization scheme of government schools.  Those looking for a root cause ought to look there. 

One irony for parents of home-schoolers is that the primary question raised about the desirability of home-schooling is the "socialization".  As if natural socialization is for a child to interact only with other children of the exact same age, and then grouping thirty of these children together for one adult supervisor.  As if natural socialization is a highly regimented, command and control environment where children cannot use a restroom without an authority's permission, and yet that authority figure is often absent or ineffective.

South Hadley High School is not unique.  Turning over a few teachers, administrators, and bureaucrats will solve nothing.  The root problem is the system where the center of a child's existence lay not with the family or larger community but with the social pressure of other children.  Here, a child learns warped priorities and pecking order survival techniques.  This environment will always produce the Mean Girls and other social elements that made Phoebe's life unbearable.  All of us who contribute to and create that environment killed Phoebe Prince. 

Parents, it is within our power to pull support from the toxic government school environment.  It does not require politicking or letter-writing, or any other mass campaign.  It requires only direct action: pull your kids out of the government school system now!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

March Madness

This post has absolutely nothing to do with basketball, but everything to do with the excitement W has each day as the calendar creeps closer to his fifth birthday. I am afraid his actual birthday will seriously underwhelm him, although we are planning on having a small party. For months, when there is anything that he does not feel "brave" enough to do, such as use the shower instead of the bath, or eat particular vegetables, he has exclaimed "when I'm FIVE, I'll do it". We shall see! :)

We have been greatly enjoying the book That's What Leprechauns Do by Eve Bunting, Illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully. It is a library book that I am seriously considering purchasing for myself because it is so amusing. It follows the adventures of three little Leprechauns who on their way to do their important business also make sure to find a little mischief. Sounds like an almost five year old I know.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

School's Failure to Motivate Students

Several months ago I posted a failure example of the standard education system.  I hope to pick this area back up and continue the series.  In this post, I will provide a second example of how the standard education system fails. 

"Why do I have to learn this?"

The question can be asked in any classroom.  Students are given material to master but rarely any good reason why they should bother.  Looking back at my own schooling career, I can find here and there a few lonely examples where the subject material was interesting and I enjoyed learning it for what it was.  Mostly, here are the reasons I found to try hard at school:

* To seek the approval of authority figures (teachers and/or parents)
* To prove one's superiority over one's peers
* To have the tools to succeed at the next tasks given

I pity the children who are seen as lazy and unmotivated.  Government school teachers tend to believe they should not be responsible for motivating the students and tend to blame the students (or their parents).  Rarely do they question the schooling system itself or the manner of their own teaching.

When asked "Why should I learn this?", no teacher says "So you can feel better about yourself by out-competing other students" or "So you can have my approval".  These are obviously unhealthy motivators.  The only fall back is "You will need this when you graduate."

Yet that answer only begs the question.  Of what use will it be when one graduates?

The education failure is that, for most students, there is no intrinsic motivation for learning.  I remember students occasionally asking why they need to learn a subject throughout all levels of school.  Always the answer was that it would be needed at the next level.  In grammar school, we needed to learn it to succeed in junior high school.  In junior high, so we could succeed in high school.  In high school, so we could succeed in college.

Having graduated college, I see that most of what I was taught along the way has either been long forgotten or is of completely no use to me (or actually detrimental to me).  The only validity to the "you'll need it at the next level" reason is with respect to having the external recognition of achievement on one's resume. 

The best subject that exemplifies this education failure is mathematics.  Math is presented as a cumulative series of recipes to be "learned" by the student.  There is no start or finish to the material, but it continues on and on.  The math is never applied to any actual problem of interest, and no justification is given for learning it.  Even as the top math student throughout most of my schooling, I really understood very little of the math.  It was always primarily recipes to memorize and apply.  (Though to be fair there were occasions where some understanding would accidently slip in and provide a fleeting sense of satisfaction).  Sadly, this paradigm for studying math was continued even into college. 

It was actually through my engineering classes that I most came to appreciate and enjoy math, where there was clear application and scope.  These classes provided me with an intuitive understanding for not only college-level concepts as the Fourier Transform but also high-school level concepts such as the matrix.  Of course, in high school the matrix is just some strange thing on paper for which you must memorize operations for a test.  These operations were quickly forgotten after the test, and in the process no actual understanding of the matrix was gained. 

If students were taught language the way they are taught mathematics, they'd march along for twelve years of school memorizing progressively larger words and sentences, yet never reading a single book.

Of course, purely intrinsic motivation will not work for every subject for every student.  But always we should seek to maximize this type of motivation, so that the student actually obtains some satisfaction in the process of his or her education.  When this is the case, actual understanding of the material will be gained and not just fleeting memorization for a test.  When this is not the case, the source of the problem is not the student but the education system; what is being given to learn and how it is being taught.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

February update

How is it February already? We had a virus which first hit the household over a week ago and now we are finally all recovered. For some reason in this family it seems like we get sick one at a time, maybe that's a good thing though.

W has made more progress and is still enjoying set 1 & 2 of the BOB books by Bobby Lynn Maslen. I noticed on Amazon they have started selling the little booklets individually, although after the price of shipping I wonder if it is really worth it. I think after this we will try other books for early readers. We are currently beginning to research different curricula for kindergarten. W will be five next month.

February Fun Reading

Here are some books we are enjoying.
  • The Valentine Bears by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Jan Brett
  • Happy Valentine's Day, Mouse! by Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond
  • The Three Questions by John J. Muth (based on a story by Leo Tolstoy)
  • Sugar Snow by Laura Ingalls Wilder (My First Little House series)
  • A Farmer Boy Birthday by Laura Ingalls Wilder (My First Little House series)

    We have a small Valentine's party planned for our homeschool meetup group this week on Wednesday. Of course that is the only day that snow is in the forecast, ack. If the forecast is really terrible by Tuesday maybe I can see if Friday would work for everyone instead. We have fun craft activities (love "bug" creatures, foam Valentines and bookmarks, among other things) and I really hope the kids have fun with them. I am also going to make cupcakes, mmm... we will have some healthy snacks too though. ;) I am beginning to look forward to spring when snow won't be a worry. Next weekend we will all visit Grandma's house, W is very much looking forward to this.

    Tuesday, January 19, 2010

    Currently Reading - January 2010

    This year I plan on posting some favorite books each month. Some will be seasonal or to go along with a theme, but many will likely be some favorites that we enjoy reading together often. The boys received some wonderful books for Christmas (and C’s birthday). W is taking pride in being able to read the BOB series of books on his own.

    January 2010

    · Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton

    · Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton

    · Winter Days in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder (My first Little House book)

    · Winter on the Farm by L.I. Wilder (See above)

    · BOB books Set One: Beginning Readers by Bobby Lynn Maslen

    Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? by Dr. Suess

    · My First Signs (Baby signing)