December 31, 2004

Year in Review - Rhiannon

Rhiannon's biggest achievement this year has been learning to read! YAY! This was a big step for her because she LOVES being read to and can now read to herself more, though I still read quite a bit. While she began reading skills at 4, it was just shortly before her 5th birthday that she made the breakthrough and now she reads pretty proficiently for her age. She loves reading and will read several shorter books aloud to me each day. It is by far her favorite subject and the one she almost always chooses when given the chance. She will read to her siblings, to me or Serona, her grandparents, to her dolls and just to herself. You can see her current reading list in my monthly reading list post.

Any of my regular readers have seen her progression over the year. Homeschooling has been going well. We have been working through Phonics Pathways, Story of the World, Abc Verses: Hiding God's Words in Little Hearts, First Language Lessons and Miquon Math. In addition we have been doing letter of the week lessons for science, history, handwriting and other lessons. We have studied Beethoven and Mary Cassat. We've listened to many different books on tape unabridged and listened to hundreds of storybooks.

This year she has developed closer friendships, memorized several poems, given an Irish Step Dance Performance, learned to color in the lines, advanced in her art skills, mastered her two wheeler, learned to swing by herself. She began dictating blogs outloud to me and her faith has increased tremendously.

Rhiannon loves to read, play dress up (especially as a princess), live in an imaginary world with her brother, play with playsilks, dinosaurs and her dolls and dollhouse. She discovered that she has "agrativity" a medical condition that prevents her from falling asleep before midnight unless someone is sleeping next to her to balance the gravity in her brain. She informed us of this condition which she discovered and named herself.

It has been a great year with her and I look forward to the upcoming year. We have truly been enjoying our homeschool journey and look forward to all the future brings us. Thanks for reading.


Year in Review - Ciaran

Well if I had to sum up Ciaran's year it would be FROG. Strange, huh? Well I have watched him grow up so much this year and much of it believe it or not was related to his love of frogs. Somehow loving and learning so much about something he was so passionate about helped him gain confidence in other areas and helped him shine in those areas as well. He has had a big year with many changes.

I've always felt three was a highly turbulent age. So many will tell you to watch out for the terrible two's but I never experienced that, for our family three seems to be much harder. There are so many emotions and so many growing pains during three and the same was true for Ciaran. The first half of the year was much harder for him than the second half, he seemed to hit a stride this summer and it just keeps getting better.

We started the year with some challenging moments, temper tantrums, difficulty controlling himself and expressing himself in positive ways. He has grown so much that it is hard for me to remember those days believe it or not even as intense as they were. He still has moments of course but he truly is a wonderful joy filled little boy now.

Back to the frog point. Sometime over the summer Ciaran began catching frogs and toads and he is very good at it. He is observant, patient and quick to catch them. He really enjoys it and it gave him confidence. We began devouring books from the library on frogs. Suddenly he wanted to initiate reading and he wanted to listen and learn. He learned 20 different species of frog by name and picture and can tell you which ones are poisonous and why. He understands the life cycle and can describe metamorphosis. Through frogs he learned to count, learned his colors and is starting to learn his letters. When he talks about frogs he just chatters on and on and he is proud when he can catch one when no one else can (especially when he caught a tree frog while we went camping). He gained his confidence through his passion for frogs. And it shows everywhere else.

He says the most beautiful and sweet prayers now where up until recently he would just say "Thank you for all things good, Amen" which is still a good first prayer I know. He is so much more conversational and able to express himself more. I am not going to give all the credit to the frogs, after all it is him that has come out of his shell more but it does seem to be quite a coincidence. I learned that working with rather than against your child's interest can have far more benefits than just them enjoying and learning about that one subject.

This year has been the year of learning new words and conversational skills. It has also been a year of gaining friendships. He has his own friends now, many are also Rhiannon's as our homeschool group is very inclusive but he has started having playdates and has friends he considers his own. His imagination has really taken off and he and Rhiannon can play for hours in their imaginary worlds. He initiates play and often I recognize it from a book we have recently read. He loves dress up and his trampoline. He is getting more into cars and action figures, especially star wars ones. He likes computer games and got a vsmile for christmas that he enjoys. He is still artistic and creative.

Some of his favorite things to do are read, play with dough, do anything with scissors and glue, dinosaurs, cars, blocks, marbles, and of course frogs. He plays well with his sisters though him and Sirah have their moments as he adjusts to her getting in his stuff. He is a helper by nature and wants to help clean and cook and help out mom and dad. He is compassionate and sensitive and still can be a bit moody but he is getting much better at controlling his emotions.

We make inroads with potty training and then we have a regression, we are just letting it take its course. He has his own room now, a special frog room. He has learned so much and is so much more talkative now. His smile is infectious and he brings happiness to my saddest moments. It has been a great year for Ciaran.


Year in Review - Sirah

Well it has been a very big year for Sirah as it is for most children her age. Sirah is now 1 and a half and a fun, beautiful and energetic little girl. She is very independent, very happy and very demanding. She is what some might deem a "high-spirited" or "high-need" child and she wants to be held constantly. But her smile is cute enough to melt you into doing it and if that fails her insistent screaming is annoying enough. LOL! But we do not always give in lest you fear we are raising completely spoiled kids.

She loves dogs, real ones, stuffed one, plastic ones and she calls them all "antock" which is the way she pronounces the name of one of our Australian Shepherds. She can also say dog but she prefers to call them antock consistently. She can almost always be found holding or carrying a dog around or laying on the floor with our two Aussies (who are EXTREMELY patient and forgiving) thinking she is one of them. She will let them lick her face and lays on top of them, they let her poke at them, stick her hands in their mouth and do things you can not imagine a dog would tolerate and they are very gentle with her. We are always there of course, it is cute to watch her lay down between the two of them on the floor and lounge or play with them.

She is definitely our stuffed animal child, which up until now we have never had. She loves little ones in particular and gets very adamant about having two in her hands. Her current favorites are a little cheetah, monkey and dog. She also loves playing with the museum quality plastic animals we have that are very realistic. Surprisingly her favorite is not a dog but the panda bears. She also enjoys knocking over blocks, especially if her siblings just built them, driving cars, rolling balls and dancing. She dances with her playsilks and to music. She still loves music and has taken to banging on a drum.

This year she learned to crawl, walk, run, walk backwards, and her favorite climb. She is amazing climber, some days it simply drives me bananas truth be told. She thinks she is older than she is because she is the youngest with siblings close in age so of course she believes she should do everything they are. She walks up the stairs without help on two feet and can get onto countertops and tabletops with ease.

She has begun talking in little bits. Some of her vocabulary includes dog, no, frog, hi, bye, go, up, please (used very infrequently, antock (dog), eye, ear, nose, nannies (nurse), down, dada, mama (also used infrequently), gentle, and baby. I may have missed a few. She prefers to not use words though she has gotten much better about using words in just the past few weeks. She clearly understands far more than she speaks though and can follow all simple directions and even some complicated ones that involve going into another room and retrieving something.

She loves to play peekaboo though sometimes she takes a long time to move her hands from her eyes. She sings songs she made up and tries to sing her abc's. She has the cheesiest grin once the camera comes out and the saddest face when she is sad and the cutest mad face that you are trying so hard not to laugh at. She loves to brush her teeth and goes to the bathroom and says "eeee" which is what she says while you brush. She carries toothbrushes and shoes around and we always need to find them somewhere in the house. She brings you books and climbs into your lap waiting for you to read to her. She still likes to chew the edges of books atleast board books finally taste better to her then the corner of adult paperbacks!

She has moved into a big girl bed, sleeping on the bottom bunk, sharing a room with Rhiannon. She still does not sleep through the night, but hey we haven't yet in over 5 years and someday we will again. She is into the taking all her clothes off stage and would prefer to stay that way. Unfortunately she has also learned how to take off her diaper. She wants to be outside all the time but it is far too cold and she is picky about which shoes and coat she wants to wear. She picks her clothes out each morning, or atleast part of them.

All in all she is a joy to be around. She is fiercely independent doing things her way and happy to entertain herself for short periods of time. Yet she is also fiercely dependent, wanting to be the center of the universe, demanding to be held and still climbing into our bed each night for atleast part of the night. She is learning so rapidly, enjoying life and growing up. We are enjoying every minute of her, even the temper tantrums.


Free Online Classics

This website publishes many out of print and classic books for children. Check out The Baldwin Project...Bringing Yesterday's Classics to Today's Children


December 30, 2004

Free Resource: Dog Safety

We recently received in the mail a nice kit from the American Kennel club on safety and care for dogs. It came with a video and book for each Best Friends: Children Love dogs and Dog Safety. We watched Dog Safety yesterday and did the workbook that comes with it. The kit comes with video, lesson plans, copy master sheets and is free. To order your kit send an email to Remember to include your name, homeschool mailing address and daytime phone.


Daily Round-up

This more counted at physical education. Rhiannon tried out her new Ballet Home Studio and worked on learning her positions and then dancing, she had fun. Insread of a tutu she wore this fairy costume and a tiara.

Ciaran was wearing his tree frog costume and trying to do it as well, Sirah sat on my lap. Then Ciaran got his exercise by jumping and hopping like a frog on our trampoline. After our workout we had a snack and some stroy time. We began Black Beauty as a read aloud today and read several other small stories.

We had lunch and took a group nap, wonderful! It was much needed as we are all recovering from being sick, right now I have it the worst. Rhiannon read to me while I cleaned up the kitchen and straightened up. Music this afternoon, listening and dancing to Mozart with playsilks and playing the harmonica.

Fun family trip to Costco scheduled for this afternoon with handwriting practice and math file folder game in the car. We need to get supplies for Serona's upcoming 30th birthday party, wine and cheese, yum!


December 29, 2004

Rhiannon's House Book with Illustrations

Rhiannon's Houseboat

Rhiannon's Tent

Rhiannon's WoodHouse

Rhiannon's Treehouse

Rhiannon's Apartment

Rhiannon's House on Stilts

Kid's Choice

Today I decided to give the kids complete choice (for the most part) over what we did and when. They surprised me in some of their choices, I admit to fearing a day of videos and video games, but I was wrong. This morning we made waffle sticks together, it was chaotic but fun and tasty. Then we played a new Christmas game, Finding Nemo. Ciaran won and he was so excited.

Then we made model desert with a paper plate, sand, and model magic. They formed snakes, cactuses, lizards, frogs (I tried explaining but lost), and volcanoes??? out of the model magic then glued it to the bottom of the plate and covered it with glue and then sand and left it to dry. Tomorrow we will paint or use markers to add some color. We reviewed some things about Iraq as this was a coop project that we were catching up on.

The kids had some free play time while I nursed Sirah and then it was lunchtime, Sunflower Butter and Jelly sandwiches with apples and something else I have forgotten and apple juice (a treat for them as they are usually limited to water or soy milk). Some reading time and then we watched a free educational video we received from the American Kennel Club on Dog Safety. I thought it was not that well done but the kids really enjoyed it and learned from it. Rhiannon did some followup work in a book they sent with the video.

Naptime for Sirah and Ciaran. Rhiannon and I had reading time, she read two books to me while I crocheted on the couch in the library. The last book she read was about different types of houses. She decided to make a book, she wrote and illustrated about different kinds of houses. She typed the name of the house then dictated some lines to me and I typed, we printed it out and she drew the pictures to go with it. It turned out nice.

Then Rhiannon and I played Sorry Card Revenge, kind of a cross between sorry and uno. It was fun though she was sad that I won, she had to deal with losing two games in one day which is not always easy for her. She handled it well though.

We headed upstairs to make dinner and Sirah and Ciaran both woke up from their naps. We made spaghetti and butternut squash while we played an imaginary game. I spoke in a different voice and called them by different names and used an accent and they were more than willing to help me with the chores of dinner, cooking, cleaning and setting. Serona came home and I headed out the door to the library by myself (Hooray) to get some books for next week's lessons and some sanity time.

I was impressed at the children's choices today, when they could have chosen anything they often chose educational activities and had a great time doing it. We had a good day all in all.


December Reading List

This month I will admit to not covering all the books we have read. There are too many things going on I am sure I am missing a few here and there, but here is a sample atleast.

Curious George and the Puppies - Rey, H.A.
Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon - Lovell, Patty
Sleeping Beauty - Treasury of Fairy Tales Adaptation
Frog Went a Courtin - Langstaff, John
Abuela - Dorros, Arthur
Graders: Big Machines at Work - Rogers, Hal
Dr Suess ABC - Dr Suess
Gusts and Gales: A Book About Wind - Sherman, Josepha
Gift From the Sea, A - Banks, Kate
Outside Over There - Sendak, Maurice

First Bear of Africa, The - Ichikawa, Satomi
Cottage Garden Alphabet, A - Wisnewski, Andrea
Mary Poppins - Walt Disney adaptation
Wide Mouthed Frog, The - Faulknet, Kaith
Golden Sandal, The: A Middle Eastern Cinderella Story - Hickox, Rebecca
Make Way for Ducklings - McClosky, Robert
Mama Do You Love Me - Joose, Barbara M.
Kissing Hand, The - Penn, Audrey
Little House, The - Burton, Virginia Lee
Miss Rumphius - Cooney, Barbara

Twas the Night Before Christmas - classic version
Polar Express - Van Allsburg, Chris
Giraffe That Walked to Paris, The - Milton, Nancy
Bear's Christmas, The - Morett, Bridgett
I Spy Christmas - Wick, Walter
How Do Dinosaur's Say Goodnight - Yolen, Jane
Christmas Story, The - Downing, Julie
God Made All the Colors - Lion Publishing
Kisses - Cyndy Szekeres
Frog and Toad are Friends - Lobel, Arnold

Frog and Toad Together - Lobel, Arnold
Frog and Toad All Year - Lobelm Arnold
Goodnight Moon - Brown, Margaret Wise
Friendship Garden, The - Walt Disney Pooh
Good Morning, Good Night - Mitchell, Melanie
Gulliver's Travels - Swift, Jonathan (great illustrated classics abridged)
Jacob's Gift - Lucado, Max
Polar Express, The - Van Alssburg, Chris
Night Before Christmas, The - Moore, Clement
Christmas in the Big Woods - Wilder, laura Ingalls (adapted)

Nativity, The - Illustrated by Winjngaard, Juan
Star Tree, The - Colle, Gisela
Bear's Christmas, The - Moret, Brigette
Merry Christmas Big Hungry Bear - Wood, Don and Audrey
Good Mousekeeping and other animal home poems - Lewis, J Patrick
Tortoise and the Hare - Stevens Janet adaptation
Christmas Carol, A (adapted by Annie McKie)
Nativity Play, The - Hall, Valerie
LIttle Fir Tree, The - McKie, Anne
Sam's Special Sandwiches - Hall, Valerie

Little Toy Theater The - Hall, Valerie
North Wind - Johnston, Beryl
Wide Mouthed Frog - Faulkner, Kaith
Tigger's Breakfast - Milne, AA (adapted)
Black Beauty - Sewell, Anna
Disney Princess The Little Mermaid
Disney Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day
Friendship Garden, The - Walt Disney
Disney Winnie the Pook and the Honey Tree

Rhiannon's Reads

Frog Prince, The: We Both Read - McKay, Sindy (adapted by)
Stop Train Stop: A Thomas the tank engine story - Awdry
Pony for a Princess, A - Disney Princess
Hop on Pop - Dr Suess
Up Book, The - Dr Suess
There's a Wocket in my Pocket - Dr Suess
Little Bear - Minarik - Else Holmelund
Today I Feel Silly and other moods that make my day - Curtis, Jamie Lee
I'm Gonna Like Me: Letting Off a Little Self-Esteem - Curtis, Jamie Lee
When I Was Little: A Four Year Old's Memoir of Her Youth - Curtis, Jamie Lee

Twelve Days of Christmas - by Granddreams (mostly because she knows the song so well)
Olivia - Falconer, Ian
If You Give a Moose a Muffin - Numeroff, Laura
Mom's Day Off - Coco, Eugene
Peter's Present - deMauro, Lisa
Word Bird's Winter Words- Moncure, Jane Belk
Snow Child, The - Ziefert, Harriet
Twelve Days of Christmas The - Knight's, Hilary
GingerBread Man, The - (retold by Roxanna Marino Knapp)
Little Red Riding Hood - (retold by Roxanna Marino Knapp)

Three Little Pigs, The - (retold by Roxanna Marino Knapp)
Three Billy Goats Gruff, The - (retold by Roxanna Marino Knapp)
Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The - (retold by Roxanna Marino Knapp)
I feel Happy - Doudna, Kelly
Getting a Haircut - Radabaugh, Melinda
Olivia - Falconer, Ian
Where Do Ballons Go - Curtis, Jamie Lee
Horses - Klingel, Cynthia
Ballerina Bear - Siewart, Pauline
Chad Checks: The Sound of CH - Ballard, Peg

My H Soundbox - Moncure, Jane Belk
You Smell and taste and feel and see and hear - Murphy, Mary
Very Hungry Caterpillar, The - Carle, Eric
Let's Find Out About Houses - Shapp, Martha and Charles

Mommy Reads

Good to Great - Collins, Jim
One Minute Manager - Blanchard, Kenneth
Anna Karenina - Tolstoy, Leo
Help for the Harried Homeschooler - Field, Christine
Built to Last - Collins, Jim
Treason - Ingrahm, Laura
The Bad Beginning - Snicket, Lemony
Purpose Driven Life, The - Warren, Rick

Last updated December 29th, 2004

Tsunami Lesson Plan and Resources

I have been getting a lot of requests and search hits for Tsunami Lesson Plan and Tsunami Relief so I thought I would put together some information for everyone. These sites range in ages from the youngest to high school level, I have learned a lot from them as well. I would strongly encourage you to preview any resources before you give it to your child as it may be beyond what you want them to understand. Some of the pictures can be devastating. I have focused more on putting together a lesson plan/unit study approach than on the current situation. Though I feel strongly that donating of our money and time are important now. For more information on that see the below resources or my recent post Tsunami Relief - Please Help

Here are some of the resources I have come up with, please feel free to share any others in the comments section or email me and I will add them.


Overview and definition

PBS Tsunami Web Special

Tsunami FAQ

Killer Waves National Geographic

Tsunami Textbook preK-2

Tsunami Text 2-4

Tsunami Text 5-8

Guide to Survivng A Tsunami


Most Recent News on Recent Tsunami

Current Totals by Country


Donate Today!

How To help - most recent

Homeschoolers Helping Victims

Tsunami Experiment

Scientists who work with Tsunamis's and Warning Systems

PBS follow-up questions

Homemade Book

Word Search

Tommy Tsunami and Earthquake Coloring Book

Simple Worksheet


Tsunami Game

Tsunami Online Book for Kids

Half-Stepping or Perfectionism

I've struggled with the difference for awhile. Serona is very big into the concept of half-stepping and never allowing it. I've even had Rhiannon memorize the poem

Work by Anonymous

Work while you work
Play while you play
This is the way to stay happy each day

All that you do
Do with your might
Things done in halves are never done right

After 7 years of marriage I have adopted the philosophy. However, recently I have come to realize that I need to be careful in the way I apply it. You see I suffer from a paralyzing perfectionism. I am so afraid of not being able To do something right that I never do it until I feel I will have the time to dedicate to it. This is especially true for me and housework.

Yesterday I came to the realization with clarity when I was walking past my entry way with a wet rag. I decided to just wipe up what I could with that rag - that floor has not been mopped in weeks which is terrible since it is our entryway. I thought about getting out the mop and bucket and realized I would not have the time to do it so I just wiped up the big stain, puppy pawprints and what wiped up. While I was doing it I felt guilty about "halfstepping" but then when I was finished I looked at how much better it looked and it took me all of two minutes while walking down the stairs. Now if I had not put aside my drive to not halfstep and be perfect in the way I did it the entryway would still be muddy. Don't get me wrong it is not done as well as needed but far better than before.

It is the same concept with 15 minutes of cleaning. We can do anything for 15 minutes and truthfully a lot more gets accomplished in that time than you think. It is when we look at ALL that needs to be done that it seems overwhelming, but broken up in little bits atleast we can start and get things better than they were before. It is the same way I approach schooling with my young ones, one task or one 15 minute activity at a time this makes it seem feasible and easier to plow through.

Don't get me wrong I do not disagree with the concept of half-stepping I think it is very valuable and I believe that when we are working on something we need to give it our everything and do our very best. However, we need to not let our drive to get things done perfect every time prevent us from starting at all. There is a balance there and I encourage you to find it.


December 28, 2004

Tsunami Relief - Please Help

Most of you are well aware of the recent disaster in Asia from the largest earthquake to hit in the past 40 years and the devastating tsunamis that followed. Death totals range from 11,000-15,000 at the time of this writing. For more information read this, this and this.

Please do more than just read about it though. Pray, volunteer and donate if you are able. I recommend World Relief because it is targeted assistance. World Relief is providing immediate assistance which includes:

"Your gift today will rush food and Family Survival Kits to Asian countries affected by the December 26 earthquake and tsunami and provide other relief as needed.

Each kit provides things like blankets, tarps for temporary shelter, water purification tablets and cooking supplies. We will also provide other critically needed relief response, such as food or medicine, where needs arise."

The Red Cross will of course get involved as well and you can donate to them (though the donation goes straight to the general fund whereas World Vision delegates it directly to the current crisis). I am sure there are many other great organizations that will rise to offer assistance. Please add any you know of in the comments section.

Do what you can to help. Recall how the world came to our side in the days following September 11, 2001. Let us come to the aid of the thousands of people who lost a loved one or are hurt or dying themselves. Remember when you die two things that say a lot about you are your checkbook and your calendar, where will you spend your money, time and energy?

UPDATEDeath totals over 20,000 now and CNN has posted a list of several agencies you can utilize to help out. Check it out.

UPDATEDeath totals over 70,000 now and CNN has the followuing list agencies you can utilize to help out.

Action Against Hunger
ADRA International
American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Inc.
>American Red Cross
Association for India's Development
Catholic Relief Services
Christian Children's Fund
Church World Service
Direct Relief International
Doctors Without Borders
Food for the Hungry, Inc.
International Aid
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
International Medical Corps
International Rescue Committee
Lutheran World Relief
MAP International
Mercy Corps
Network for Good
Operation Blessing
Operation USA
Oxfam America
Plan USA
Project Concern International
Save the Children USA
U.N. World Food Programme
World Concern

Personally I can not recommend all of these and would again urge you to consider donating directly through World Vision but there are many resources available out there to help.


December 27, 2004

Good to Great

In case you missed it during the chaos of the holidays be sure to check out my post on Finding Your Purpose - Are You Good or Are You Great.


Family Updates

We are all doing okay, Sirah has the flu and the other two have colds so that has been keeping us busy. She pretty much needs to be held 24/7 including while sleeping. Which gets a bit tiresome as you can imagine. I can type while I hold her or you would not be getting this update!

The kids are enjoying their many Christmas gifts and I finally downloaded some of our pictures. I realized I had not written about our visit to a local nursing home. The kids went to a small nursing home last week, there were 9 residents all women all in their late 80's and 90's. They sang Jingle Bells, Rudolf, Frosty and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Then they made a craft for each resident - a snowman ornament. Then they shared snacks with the residents of rice krispy treats and juice. Ciaran did a good job talking with his resident, a nice woman in her 90's very hard of hearing but he was good about it. He was a little intimidated when we first got there but then enjoyed himself. Rhiannon really made a connection with a woman in her 80's and asked to go back and visit her. We took some pictures togther and assured her we would come back to visit after the holidays and when all the kids were healthy. On the way home we talked about how nice it is to talk to people of all different ages and Rhiannon showed some maturity in this area and told me why it was important to be friends with people of all ages.

One of the hardest things about being away from family is the kids do not experience this intergenerational closeness on a daily basis. We may start going more regularly if the kids continue to do well and enjoy themselves. I wish we could be closer to the children's great grandparents, they still have 5 out of 8 alive.

We are working on thank you cards as part of schoolwork, reading some of our new books, practicing handwriting and working on a horse unit study. We are recovering from the holidays, from being sick and from the cold. We hope to get outside sometime this week when the temperature gets warmer, atleast we are in double digits now.


Horse Lesson Plan Resources

Here are some resources we are using for our unit study on horses, more to follow:

Horse Fact Sheet and Coloring Sheets

Online Painting of Franz Marc: Blue Horse

Dot to Dot

Horse story worksheet

Horse anatomy

creature feature

horse quiz

horse template

horse clipart

horse is a horse of course lyrics

Famous Horse Quotations

A very Merry Christmas

We had a wonderful Christmas here at our home. While we do miss being near our extended family at the holiday season there are nice elements to it as well. We have no obligations, no running around, no time table and just enjoy each other and the day. We were all finished and ready for bed at midnight Christmas Eve I was excited and then Rhiannon woke up several times around 3am, then Sirah woke up and then they let us sleep in until a little after 7am!

This year for Christmas eve we went to the Mall of America. I must admit to being hesitant to do this as I thought it would be crazy but it actually turned out to be a great idea, we parked right in the front, there were no lines at Camp Snoopy and the kids each were given some money their great grandparents had sent to spend. They each bought something to eat (ice cream for Rhia and a candy bar for Ciaran), some fruit juice in a snoopy souvenir cup, passes to Camp Snoopy (enough for several rides each), and some small treasures (Ciaran - a red eyed tree frog and some bubbles that harden. Rhiannon some shiny painted rocks and gems). They h ad a blast and we enjoyed the time all together.

Then we headed off to Christmas Eve service at our church. Kind of mixing the secular with the Christian after having spent the whole day at MOA. Service was nice, they do a nice children's service that is more informal and the kids really enjoy. It presents the Christmas message and lets the kids sing carols and watch a fun play, we go each year and enjoy ourselves. This year we had the added bonus of getting to watch the message from the adult service as it was being played in a room where the kids could walk around without disturbing anyone and we could listen. Then we walked around the church and saw all the trees that were decorated and took some pictures.

Home for dinner and getting ready for bed. We read a wide variety of Christmas stories and then hung our stockings up from oldest to youngest, even the dogs had stockings this year. We ended the evening by reading Twas the Night Before Christmas and the Polar Express (both which we read each year). The kids were so excited they actually fell asleep within minutes of laying down (a record for Rhiannon).

Christmas morning the kids let us sleep in some and then they looked in their stockings. We read the Christmas story from the bible (we read Luke's version) and talked about God giving his only son for us as the greatest gift and then we prayed and then they tore into the plethora of gifts that were under the tree, most from the generosity of their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and extended family.

Christmas morning we do not rush, we do not push and as they open a gift we let them open it and play with it if they want. The process can take many hours. This year the last gift was opened after 3pm, having started at 7ish! We prefer doing it this way as it allows them to enjoy and focus on each gift rather then just rush rush rush to get to the next present. Also when we see this attitude rising in one of them we stop opening gifts for awhile and eat some breakfast or play with what we have already opened and then we go back to it later.

The children received many great gifts as did we. Believe it or not we managed to have everything put away in its new place before bed that night. We had one toy get broken early on and we decided then that everything needed to get put away before we had more tears. I was amazed but it happened, it made today much nicer as well.

A great big thank you to all who blessed us this Christmas and welcome to all our new readers. It has been a wonderful year here at our home and we wish you the best for the upcoming year.

Serona, Tenn, Rhiannon, Ciaran, Sirah and the Aussies!

December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas

Hope you and your famly are having a Merry Christmas, we are. Bloggin to resume next week.


December 21, 2004

Free Resource: 5 a Day Nutrition

This is another fun free resource and lesson plan we have received and used in the past. It includes a computer game, booklet and recipe book for kids. My kids have played it and really enjoyed it. It is free from Dole and available here.


Free Resource:

We just received our free kit from the EPA called Planet Protectors. The kids have not yet worked through it but it appears to be a nice free resource that I feel I can recommend. It includes the following:
Your Planet Protectors Club kit includes:

* An official membership certificate
* An official Planet Protectors Club badge
* Activity booklets for grades K-3 and 4-6
* Great adventures on the Web

The kids were pretty excited. You can get yours here.


College Conservatives Fight Back

Serona has an interesting post over at Cyber::Ecology about how some conservative students are standing up to their liberal professors. Having been a conservative in a very liberal college and graduate program I say Kudos and best wishes.


It's Cold Don'tcha Know

Our three day forecast
Wed Dec 22 Partly Cloudy 6°/-4°
Thu Dec 23 Mostly Cloudy 3°/-8°
Fri Dec 24 Partly Cloudy 5°/-1°

Don'tcha wish you lived in Minnesotah? That is not even the best part, here is our current weather alert:



All this and we are not even going to have a White Christmas!

Good Friends

Today we spent the entire day with good friends at their house. These are friends that we see once every few months but the visits are wonderful and we never seem to keep it shorter than 5 or 6 hours. The kids do wonderfully together - even Sirah did not nap all day and somehow never got grumpy! The mother and I just get along very well and we can always find things to talk about to fill the time. Today we spent much of the time talking about homeschooling and answering some of the tough questions for her. Homeschooling is an option that might consider though their son is currently in public school, they are investigating the options and considering it as a possibility. So she played devil's advocate and I answered question after question the best I could. I did not mind, I actually enjoyed it - it really depends on who is asking, how they ask and why they ask on how much I feel like responding.

Like many of the "different" or non-mainstream choices that Serona and I have made I have grown a thick skin about the criticisms of homeschooling and understand that many people have already made up their minds and nothing I say or do will change their minds. Still I will share our reasons and I will share that I am convinced we are making the right decision for our family at this time. As always I put the best foot forward about homeschooling but don't deny the challenges, risks and difficulties but when the criticisms come I always ask if they really believe those things about my kids and our particular family and I have yet to get a yes. Of course some people may be unwilling to offend me or say so but I believe when they look at our family they see the good that homeschooling has brought it and they back off. The reality is if homeschooling is done well it is hard to even compare it to public schooling as they are apples and oranges. People will not know the end results and benefits for years but they can see many positive attributes my children possess now, while not all are attributable to homeschooling some are. Keep up the great work!


Three Little Pigs Lesson Plan

Today Rhiannon read "The Three Little Pigs" for her reading time. It was pretty close to the original and she did a nice job with it. After she read it we decided to reenact it ourselves. Since it is far too cold to go outside (-2) and build homes we used what we could find inside. I was the first little pig and I made my house of paper envelopes instead of straw and was done quick. Ciaran was the second little pig and he made his house out of foam blocks. Rhiannon was the third little pig and she made her home out of big wooden blocks. Then we took turns being the wolf and pigs. We recited the lines from the story and acted it out. Ciaran was the wolf and blew down my house so I ran next door to his house, Rhiannon was the wolf and blew down his house easily and then we ran next door to her house and Sirah and I were the wolf together on Rhia's house which of course could not blow down. They lit a "fire" in the chimney and I had to run away. It was great fun and brought many laughs and we had to do it again. Sirah learned to blow and we all really know the story well now.

Rhiannon followed it up with some worksheets based on the story and then wrote an ending about what she felt happened after the wolf ran away and illustrated it. I will post it later. Then she colored some pig, wolf and house cutouts and glued them to popsicle sticks to act out the story again and again. She and Ciaran took turns acting it out as a performance for me while I cooked dinner. It was fun and easy. If it is warm by you you could actually do this outside and on a larger scale and have more fun with it.


Egyptians on the Nile Lesson Plan

We did a chapter from Story of the World for history this week and had a great time with it. We learned about early Egyptians living along the Nile. We read the story, Rhia narrated it and then we did some map work. Placing the tribes and kings in their right location and then discussing the war that happened between the white and red crowned kings. I had the kids make crowns and swords out of construction paper and then they "dueled" out the history lesson letting the white king win and take the red crown to make the "double crown". They had a good time and I think it really brought the lesson home for them. We are currently discussing whether or not to do the other project which is to build a Nile replica. With it being winter it would need to be inside and with two dogs and Sirah we are not yet convinced it will work, will update you on our decision.

Rhiannon is really enjoying Story of the World, she claims recently that it is her favorite subject behind reading. The lessons are short but detailed yet easy for a child to remember and their activity book is key it offers great ideas to do and springboard from. We are moving slower through it than I had anticipated but we started at a younger age and we are moving at our own pace enjoying the lessons before we move on.


Rhia Narration

The Little Girl who Did Not Like to be clean (from first language lessons)

Once upon a time there lived a little girl, she did not like to take baths. She screamed every time she took a bath. When her mother said it was time to bathe she would screm and say "I like being dirty, I hate being clean." Then her mother said if you don't stay clean you'll be as dirty as a pig.

That night when she went to bed thinking about pigs. Suddenly she wasn't in her white soft bed anymore. She was in the middle of the pig pen! Mud squished between her toes and fingers. She splashed in the mud, three little pigs came up to her and pressed their little snouts against her, they wanted her to play. She jumped up and they played a game of tag. After that they rolled in the mud and after that they heard food. The little girl and the three pigs ran to the trough but all the little girl found was slop.

She climbed out of the pigpen, tiptoed along the roads until she came to her own house. She slipped into the backdoor and into the bathroom. Turned on clean fresh warm water and then ran to her mother to tell her all about it. Her mother said "you had a dream" The girl though it was a good dream because it changed her mind about baths and she said "I DO NOT LIKE BEING DIRTY NOW."

December 20, 2004

SOTW Narration: Egyptians on the Nile

The Egyptians lived on the Nile River in Africa. The red king and the white king had fights. The white king won, defeated I mean the red king and took his crown away and put the red crown over his own white crown and announced that he was the king over all of egpyt. That one had a white spike in the middle and a red covering around it. The Nile river flooded their crops. The farmers were unhappy because when the Nile River came in it would wash away their crops. But the Nile farmers liked the river because when it came up it took dirt from the bottom that's called silt and silt had vitamins in the soil for the crops to stay healthy.

Where is the Nile River - In Africa
What country did the Nile run through - Egypt
What did the Nile do every year - wash away the crops. (I correct her) - it came up every year and flooded
Why was this important - to bring water to their crops and soli for the dry seasons.
What were the two tribes who lived in Egypt called - she did not recall then I spurred with Upper - she said upper and lower egyptians
Who ruled them - the red king and the white king
were they friends - nope
who won the battle - the white one
what kind of crown - with a white spike and a red band around - a double crown.

Christmas Came Early - Thanks Serona

I had an outstanding weekend and much of it was due to Serona and his loving kindness and generosity. On Saturday afternoon I went to an afternoon tea at a good friend's house. She had all the women from our hs support group over except one who was out of town. We had a wonderful afternoon with great things to eat, great conversation and an ability to feel like an adult instead of just like a mom (though I know they are not mutually exclusive they often feel that way). We exchanged Christmas ornaments as a present to each other and I received a really cute snowman.

I knew that Serona was planning something as he was sneaking around the house calling all my friend's husbands and being quiet about the whole thing. Well around 5:30 when we were getting ready to leave - a limo pulled up to her house to take us downtown to eat dinner. Unfortunately one person could not join us as she had previous plans that could not be changed. Serona had decided that morning to do this and put his spur of the moment plan into action.

The limo was very nice. It was one woman's first time in a limo and another's third time. I have been spoiled as I have spent quite a bit of time in limo's as my grandfather was a limo driver. Still it has been a long time, perhaps since I got married, since I was in one. The driver brought us downtown to my favorite restuarant - a nice vegetarian friendly place with a nicer atmosphere. Serona had prepaid for both the limo and the dinner so all we had to do was enjoy!

It was a wonderful evening - filled with stories, laughter, tears and overall great friends going deeper. We found out things we never knew about one another and shared the qualities we most admired in each other - which was hard for me to hear. It is often very difficult for me to accept a compliment. But from these women it was truly special as their opinions mean so much and I know they are truly honest with me. We spent a few hours over some great food, good wine and then sharing all the desserts on the tray together!

We rode the limo back to our friends house and several departed - I went inside and ended up staying several more hours just chatting and sharing with that one person. It was a truly great night and day. The evening had a perfect start at our friend's house, with good china, great food and a warm atmosphere and then continued on until the later hours of the evening. It was an amazing Christmas gift for Serona to give me and my friends. I could not believe he just decided to do this and did it and paid for everything for all of us. He truly is a special man and I am glad to call him my husband. Thanks love.


You Know You're From MN when...

Well I finally feel like I am living in Minnesota in December due to the current temps. While the temp is 14 degrees with windchill it is -6 and it feels like it. When I turned on my car this afternoon to run some last minute Christmas errands with Ciaran the readout was -4 temp inside my car! Poor Ciaran was complaining about how cold his legs were and they really were cold! The other night I was driving home without gloves and I had to alternate one hand in my pocket and one hand on the steering wheel wrapped inside my jacket for about the first 15 minutes I drove as it was too cold to touch the wheel. I will make sure I have my gloves with me now.

Yet still I have grown accustomed to it. I realize I need to wear a coat but I am warm enough in a coat. I still walk out to check my mail without one and enjoy the briskness of the air and I still open the windows for atleast a few minutes every day to let the air circulate. I can pretty much estimate the temperature to within a few degrees and I don't mind being cold. Okay I will admit in January or February when we hit the -20's BEFORE windchill (that is actual temp) and it feels like the inside of your nose is frozen then I don't want to go outside but until then I am basically okay. We spend less time outside than I would like because I still feel Sirah is a bit young to handle the weather and even the older kids don't like to be out for more than 15-20 minutes at a time and then immediately follow that with hot chocolate. Still we don't let the cold keep us from doing things. If we did we would never go out of our home until mid march.

I do miss the snow though. I have grown accustomed to a white Christmas and the nice part about MN snow is it usually stays white all the time. Right when it starts to melt or get dirty from the slush it usually snows again. However this year it seems we are not going to have snow before Christmas and it will be like being back in NY where it was a treat to have a white Christmas. I guess part of me wishes it would snow as if it is going to be this cold there simply should be snow. It is fun for the kids to play in and quite truthfully I think it is beautiful. Yet I would be lying if I did not admit it is NICE to not have to put on snow boots and snow suits and deal with black ice and slush and three small children.

Hope you are enjoying your weather, whatever it may be.

December 17, 2004

What Is Your Purpose? Are You Good or Are You Great?

Have you ever sat down and thought about that question? It can be thought about on a lot of levels, personal, family, homeschool, home, work and so on. Recently Serona and I read "Good to Great" by Jim Collins and really enjoyed it. I highly recommend it to everyone to read. The book is written as a scientific study on what makes a good company into a great company but it has many valuable lessons for everyone even not in the realm of business.

After reading this book Serona and I sat down to discuss our family's priorities and how those affect our personal priorities. For a long time Serona and I have tried to live in a purposeful way, attempting to live out what we believe to the fullest even when it is difficult. We are in no way perfect in this but we try hard and often achieve our goals in many areas. We decided we needed to write it down and form a sort of mission statement for our family with our priorities clearly listed for us to review when making decisions.

Jim Collins outlines a concept he calls a "Hedgehog Concept" which he defines as an understanding of what you can be the best in the world at. To find this he recommends looking at the intersection of the following three concepts:

1. What you can be the best in the world at (and, equally important, what you cannot be the best in the world at).

2. What drives your economic engine.

3. What you are deeply passionate about.

At first glance it may appear like these do not apply directly to homeschooling families or stay at home parents, but we found that they did. For us we needed to take a hard look at all the things we are trying to accomplish and prioritize. We are a family that suffers from too many good options. There are many good people who want to be part of our lives, there are many good volunteer opportunities we would enjoy and be good at, there are many roles in our church and neighborhood that we would be able to fulfill and of course there are many outstanding approaches and curriculums for homeschooling, many field trips and organizations that would benefit us in some way. But good does not always make it right, being the best on paper does not make you the best for the job you need to look at the whole picture and with families that means the whole picture for everyone and for each individual. This is where we found the hegdehog concept to be so useful.

We decided to take a hard look at our lives and really decide what was important to us and what fell within the intersection Jim Collins was talking about to see what we should focus on. What we found did not surprise us, what surprised us was how much we were already living much of that out with two major areas we need to improve on. We created our family's mission statement which for us we are calling a "hedgehog concept" because Collin's book affected us both and that articulates so much to us.

For us we created a mission statement, a family bible verse and then 6 goals we want to further as a family. When we make decisions we will look at that list and see how each area is affected before making a decision, from the big to the small. We found that in many ways we are already doing that but there are places we need to improve. For us this sort of purposeful living is the way to a peaceful, balanced and happy life. It is a way to move forward towards our goals and remove the clutter and stumbling blocks in our way.

I recommend that you sit down as a family and think through some of these things for yourself and come up with your family's goals. As an example I will post the brief summary of our family's goals here:

MISSION: Living Intentionally not Reactionary through Discipline and Balance
FAMILY VERSE: "But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve...But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD ." Joshua 24:15

1. Be a light for Christ
2. Increase Family Relationships
marriage, siblings, parent-child, family to family
3. Promote Health of Family
exercise, nutrition, decrease stress
4. Financial Responsibility
get out of debt, prepare for future, 30 day purchase test
5. Promote Homeschooling
lifetime learning and love of learning for all family members
6. Advance Writing Goals
carving time for both writers, prioritizing over other hobbies and interests

I am sure that your family's goals will not look at all the same, but the important thing is to think about them, write them down and then start living by them. When you have done this you have a clear purpose to focus on and deciding what should and should not be included becomes very obvious and easy to see. Then the job of follow through is the challenge. I agree with Jim Collins that one of the biggest stumbling blocks to becoming great is being good. When we are good at something we often allow ourselves to stay there and stop working towards being great. Remember the old adage from Mother Goose many of teach our children: "Good, better, best: never rest till “good” be “better” and “better” best. Let us remember that ourselves and live it out in our personal, family, home, work and homeschooling lives.

Good luck in your purposeful life and thanks for being a part of ours!


December 16, 2004

Stone Soup Lesson Plan

Today we hosted a "stone soup" party at our house for our hs group. We had a great time. We began the lesson with everyone on my couches and to my amazement 9 children sat in complete silence while I read "Stone Soup" by Marcia Brown.

For those unfamiliar with the tale, three soldiers go to a town looking for food and lodging and the town hides their food and lies to them, claiming to have none. Then the soldiers decide to make stone soup with water and three stones, they start stirring it up and mention different ingredients that would make it better. One by one people bring one ingredient at a time until they make a complete meal and share it. So each child brought an ingredient to share. We did not follow the exact recipe of the book as we have vegetarians (our family) and a dairy allergy. So we modified it as needed.

After reading and talking about the story, we washed hands and then we sat them all at the table. I called the ingredients out one by one and the person who brought it would come forward and add it to the pot (complete process: washing, peeling, cutting, adding to pot). Meanwhile the other kids were sitting at the table working on a book I made them with blank sheets and they had markers. On each page of the book they wrote an ingredient name and drew a picture of it and noted any observations they had. I made traceable letter printouts for the youngest in our group. We had our easel upstairs and the older kids took turns writing the ingredient name on the board so everyone could see how to write and spell it for their books. The children passed around each ingredient as it was prepared so they could see what it looked, felt, smelled and tasted like before it was added to the soup. Periodically we would show them the soup pot so they could see how it progressed. This system seemed to work well and we often had several ingredients going at one time. The older kids and moms helped with cleanup and then we waited.

While it cooked we sat the kids on the couches again and one mother had brought musical instruments for the kids. While I finished the dishes and got things ready for the meal the other moms lead the kids in learning several Christmas carols we are going to sing next week at a nursing home we are visiting for the holidays. The kids practiced Jingle Bells, Rudolph, We Wish You a Merry Christmas and played various instruments. Then it was free playtime until the meal.

We shared our stone soup (noone got the stone) and each child had to atleast smell and taste it even if they did not eat it. We also had rolls, a variety of fruit and apple juice. The kids finished and went off to play. The moms had our turn eating our meal and chatting while the kids played downstairs. We started at 10:30 and ended around 2:30. We headed downstairs to see the messes the kids had created after an hour of unattended play and to our sheer amazement they had cleaned up their mess, pretty well actually! We had seen it throughout the course of the day and it was very messy - I have quite a few toys down there and they are usually dumped all over the floor and they were but this time they were all picked up and put away.

I was so proud of the kids today. I mean we have a good group of kids but they really were outstanding today, well behaved, they listened attentively, cooperated, did jobs like dishes and sweeping without complaining, took turns, and even cleaned up well without being asked to! The age range was 3-12 with a median of 6. It was a great day and a lot of fun. I would recommend this activity to any group of people or even just to do with your own family.


December 15, 2004

Modern Day Garage Sale

Okay I admit I am a flunky when it comes to garage sales, either having one or attending one. It is too much work. The same with ebay - shipping is a hassle for me. In recent years I have found the solution for our family - freecycling. It really is wonderful and it is expanding throughout the country. To see if you have one in your area visit FreeCycle.

For those who have never heard of it. Freecycling is a grassroots movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. Instead of selling and buying things from garage sales we give them away and receive them for free. It was started to reduce waste going to the landfill and exemplifies the concept of "Your trash is someone else's treasure"

We have benefited from this site over the years and we have helped many people as well. One of the nice things when you are on the giving end is someone comes to pick it up from your house for you and generally things move pretty quickly. When you are on the receiving end it is free.

Some things we have received over the years: fridge, stove, computer desk, double stroller, entertainment center, bunk beds, school desks, montesorri tables, outside play equipment, moving boxes, and many other items.

Some things we have given away: clothes, toys, books, crib, stroller, jogging stroller, changing table, desk, grill, sewing machine, bed linens, towels, videos, dvd player, stereo, and so on.

It is a fantastic program especially for homeschoolers as we can often find treasures that other people do not want or see value in - like our montessori tables, classic old readers used years ago, complete collections of national geographic and so on. Many homeschoolers also have a tendency to hold on to clutter more than we should and this helps us release it. It also helps to know that you are helping someone who truly wants or needs what you have.

Check it out and make good use of it. As an added bonus now is a great time to help families in need for the holidays.


Another New Blog

Welcome to A'ilina of Portrait in Linen who I found from comments here! As she describes herself on her blog:

" A'i-li-na (ah ee-lee-nuh)
n., 1. 30-year-old Christian homeschooling mother of five; 2. Writer, artist, poet, Polynesian dancer; 3. hapa "

Check her out!

December 14, 2004

Want Inspiration?

Visit this blog I recently found Belle on Her Toes this wonderful woman has 11 children, homeschools, is a cellist and still finds time for yoga! Bless her heart and check out her site.


Forest Lesson Plan and Resources

This is a GREAT free kit about the life of the forest. It includes some great posters that we hang up on our walls and some smaller ones and a lesson guide. It is wonderful and I recommend it. Visit Life of the Forest.


Holiday Shopping

If you are not already finished - these are some of my favorite websites to shop for kids at:

Magic Cabin
PlayStore Toys
Lakeshore Learning
Creative KidStuff


Mars Update

News from a CNN article demonstrates more evidence for past water on Mars. From the article:

"NASA's Mars rovers have returned new evidence for past water, pictures of Earth-like clouds seen for the first time from the planet's surface, and a rock that doesn't look like anything scientists have ever seen."


Free George Washington Poster and Lesson Plan

This is a wonderful free kit available to homeschoolers. You get a nice poster that we have framed in our schoolroom and a lesson guide. Please visit:
George Washington: A National Treasure.


December 13, 2004

Mandatory Mental Health Screening Update

I received this update from EdAction on one of my lists and thought it significant enough to republish the entirity here. It provides a nice summary of the recent legislation regarding mandatory mental health screening for children. This is an important issue for us all to keep up with and it will affect homeschoolers in all likelihood.


Children’s Mental Health in the 108th Congress: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
Karen R. Effrem, MD
EdWatch Board of Directors

Both universal mental health screening and the coercive drugging of children were hot topics in the after-election “lame duck” session of Congress, completed just before Thanksgiving. These issues were prominent in the consideration of both the omnibus budget bill and the reauthorization of the special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The following is our analysis of these issues along with implications for the next session of Congress.

THE GOOD: The good news on these issues comes from the reauthorization of IDEA. Several hundred of you contacted Congress via the e-action alert about these special education issues and we thank you. Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner and the Committee staff also deserve kudos and thanks for the following:

* The Senate language to fund grants to screen children “at risk for emotional and behavioral difficulties” was struck from the final bill. Given all of the other places that mental health screening is rearing its ugly head and being funded by the federal government, this is truly good news.
* The House language stating that academic screening does not constitute a special education evaluation survived in the final bill. Perhaps now the epidemic of reading problems that constitute 90% of special education referrals will be dealt with by teaching systematic phonics before children are mislabeled with a specific learning disability and unnecessarily placed in the special education system.
* Parents and special education students are protected against coercion by the schools to take some of the psychiatric medications – those on the Controlled Substances list, meaning drugs like Ritalin, Adderall, and Dexedrine, the potent and dangerous stimulant drugs used with frightening frequency to treat children labeled with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The language, authored by Congressman Max Burns and passed by the House as an amendment to IDEA, also survived the conference committee. This is an important precedent and a very good step in the right direction. Contrary to reports by other groups, however, this amendment to IDEA does NOT cover any of the antidepressant medications that have been the subject of FDA and congressional hearings, and which are now required to carry the most serious black box warnings due to their tendency to cause suicidal thoughts and actions. The amendment also does NOT cover the antipsychotic medications used to treat the growing epidemic of children labeled bipolar. Side effects of those drugs include obesity, diabetes and neurological problems.

THE BAD - Sadly, despite media coverage by Dr. Laura, G. Gordon Liddy, World Net Daily, News Max, many talk radio interviews across the country, and thousands of calls and emails to Congress, grants to fund the New Freedom Commission (NFC) recommendations, which include universal mental health screening and treatment with ineffective and dangerous medications, were not stopped. $20 million was appropriated for state grants to implement the NFC recommendations. Physician and Congressman Paul’s excellent language that required parental consent for screening before these programs were funded was not included. Dr. Paul wrote a letter signed by more than twenty Members urging the parental consent language. House leadership, including Speaker Hastert, Majority Leader DeLay, and Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Regula accepted the Paul language. All of these House Members and those that voted for the original amendment in September deserve our thanks. (See our update.) Sadly, that language protecting the basic right of parental consent was dropped in the Senate.

Despite great disappointment at this setback, there were a few silver linings that this issue has brought. First, the amount funded ($20 million) was less than half of what was requested ($44 million) by the Senate and the administration. Thanks to the excellent work of Congressman and physician Ron Paul and his staff, and his Liberty Committee directed by Kent Snyder and their excellent alerts, media coverage, many other groups and your dedication and response to our e-alert, at least 19,000 people contacted Congress to oppose universal mental health screening, the dangers, and the loss of parental rights that these programs entail. Thank you.

Finally, please know that your actions are still having an impact. Congressional staff in the offices of Members who support these freedom-robbing programs are complaining bitterly about Congressman Paul and the groups that are standing for liberty to protect their children from labels and drugs, saying that their national screening programs are put in jeopardy by our work. We must continue the fight to destroy this program before it takes full root.

In addition to the $20 million for the New Freedom Commission grants, the omnibus appropriations bill also provides via HHS “$2 million for grants to local educational systems or non-profit entities to identify and test evidence-based practices to treat teenagers suffering from mental, emotional or behavioral disorders,” which will result in more psychiatric drugging. It also provides $7 million for “grants and cooperative agreements to develop early intervention and prevention strategies to address the growing problem of youth suicide” via the Garrett Lee Smith suicide prevention law, which will also result in more screening and drugging of children and adolescents. (See our July 26th update)

The Department of Education is spending $5 million on “Mental Health Integration in Schools” that we are still investigating, as well as $1 million for Senator Kennedy’s disastrous early childhood mental health program called Foundations for Learning. (See our update.)

THE UGLY - The ugliest parts of this situation are:

* The apparent complete capitulation of the administration and the Senate leadership to the pharmaceutical industry and mental health bureaucracy to the point that they cannot even support the basic right of parental consent. These screening programs will subjectively label a child with a vague and dubious mental diagnoses based on political and/ or religious beliefs that will follow them for the rest of their lives. They will lead to increased drugging with ineffective and dangerous medications that can cause suicide, violence, cognitive toxicity, and diabetes.
* That the White House would even consider former Food and Drug Administration chief Mark McClellan as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS will administer the grants to implement the New Freedom Commission recommendations of universal screening and drugging. The FDA has completely failed in its mission to protect the public from ineffective and dangerous medications. The two most recent disasters are the antidepressants in children and Vioxx in adults. Physicians and the public are completely unable to make informed decisions about pharmaceuticals, because for years, the FDA has allowed the industry to cover up evidence of dangerous side effects. Only positive studies of drug effectiveness have been published. There is no evidence that the cozy relationship with the pharmaceutical industry will end with someone from the FDA in charge at HHS, especially since the pharmaceutical industry is already profiting enormously from the New Freedom treatment recommendations. McClellan, and anyone else from the FDA, should be sent packing in disgrace, not considered for a promotion.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? – Protecting children from arbitrary labeling and drugging while maintaining the right of parental consent and the protection of parents from coercion to drug their children will require action on three levels – federal, state, and family.

* In Washington DC, EdWatch will work with other groups to educate Congress and other groups about the dangers of mental health screening. EdAction will work to pass Dr. Paul’s “Let Parents Raise their Kids Act” which requires parental consent for these screening programs. EdWatch will also work to educate Congress and other groups on the limitations of the Child Medication Safety Act amendment passed in IDEA. EdAction will, at the same time, work to expand the stand-alone bill. This stand-alone bill contains the same language as the IDEA amendment to prevent coercion of parents to drug their children with medications on the controlled substances list. The stand-alone bill passed the US House 425-1, but was stalled in the Senate by Senator Edward Kennedy. The goals for this legislation in the new Congress are to protect all children in school, not just those in special education. It would also protect their parents from coercion by schools to take any psychiatric medication, not just those covered by the Controlled Substances Act. Finally, we will work to decrease or eliminate funding for the other mental health screening and labeling programs in federal law. These screening programs are based on vague and dubious diagnoses and criteria, they do not prevent suicide, and they can be based on the student’s worldview.
* In the states, educating state legislators about the mental health screening programs will be very important. States must oppose changes in their laws that would accept the federal New Freedom Commission grants that Illinois accepted. States would also be wise to consider a law similar to New Jersey’s for personal student surveys. The New Jersey law strengthens the federal Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) that applies to mental health screening. Finally, strengthening the state special education laws would be very helpful, so that parental refusal of a special education evaluation that includes mental health screening, for instance, cannot be overridden by the schools.
* States may already have some protections for parental consent in mental health screening in schools, but it is unclear how these protections will apply to screening programs funded by HHS grants. IDEA requires parental consent before any evaluation or re-evaluation, including those done for mental health in special education. According to the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), active parental consent is required and “no student shall be required, as part of any applicable program, to submit to a survey, analysis, or evaluation that reveals information concerning…mental or psychological problems of the student or the student's family.” PPRA applies to surveys done under Department of Education funds. What is not clear is whether PPRA will also apply to the screening New Freedom Commission grants under the Department of Health and Human Services. That is why we strongly supported and continue to support Congressman Paul’s attempts to protect parental consent in the appropriations process as well as in stand-alone legislation, The Let Parents Raise their Kids Act. While this is being sorted out, we recommend that parents use this letter drafted by the Law Project for Psychiatric Rights or this one from the National Education Consortium to put your child’s school on notice that you will not accept any mental health screening.

Best of Blog Awards 2004

I did not even know about this until recently. For those of you who may be interested there is a category this year for Best Homeschooling/Education blog of 2004. You can find more about it here.

I nominated Dy because she is always so inspiring to me!


Sidebar Update

I updated my fellow bloggers section. I am sure I missed a few of you. If you are not there and want to be please drop me a comment or email.


December 12, 2004


The Geminid meteor shower is unerway with a peak on Monday night. Be sure to check it out! The following is a summary from

"The Geminid meteor shower is underway. Observers who watched the skies on Saturday night (Dec. 11th) and Sunday morning (Dec 12th) report seeing plenty of faint Geminids and a few bright ones every hour. This bodes well for the Geminid peak on Monday, Dec. 13th.

The shower's peak is broad, which means there might be two good displays: (1) during the dark hours before sunrise on Monday, Dec. 13th, and (2) later the same day during the hours after sunset. If forecasters are correct, Geminids will be most numerous around midnight Dec. 13th-14th."


December 11, 2004

G Box Contents

Each week we fill a box with items that start with the letter we are studying. We got this idea from the Sound Box series of books. This week we did the letter G. Some items that we put in our G book are:

Goodnight moon Game
ghilli (Irish step dance shoe)
Letter G
G book
grizzly bear
mother goose

After we read the sound box book for our letter by Jane Belk Moncure then we collect items in our own box. Throughout the week we review the items in the box by taking them out one at a time and saying the name and the sound they start with. Ciaran is a very hands on child and this activity seems to help him much better than books or worksheets or other ideas have so far. Plus it is much more fun!


The Polar Express Review

Okay Dy - here is my review for you!

We are big Chris Van Allsburg fans and read "The Polar Express" every year on Christmas Eve as a family. I love his illustrations and we own many of his books, several before we had children even. So we really looked forward to seeing the movie. It took discipline and patience to wait the few weeks we needed to so we could share it with Serona's parents. The kids kept asking to go see it as they were very familiar with the story.

We finally went this past week and thoroughly enjoyed the film. I know that the critics panned it and said it was creepy or scary, but that was not our impression at all. They did a nice job staying true to the illustrations within the book. There were moments where we turned to each other and said "That's from the book". I thought they did an excellent job with the animation and it felt like I hoped a Chris Van Allsburg book would feel. Perhaps if you have never read the book you may not appreciate it in the same light.

They did have to add to the story to make a full length film out of the short book. While I may not have been crazy about some of the things they added, they were not negative enough to detract from the movie for me. Personally I did not enjoy the specter/ghost character they added in as it gave me more to explain to my children but we also saw "A Christmas Carol" on stage this year so I was going to need to do that anyway.

I had heard it was too scary for children, we brought a five, three and one year old. I was fully anticipating having to leave the theater with Ciaran but he was not scared. There were a few moments when he held my hand tighter or said "He should not do that" or "I would never do that, it's dangerous" but he was not frightened. Rhiannon got very into the movie, seeming to feel what was going on at each moment. She was not scared but felt the anticipation and emotions of the characters in the film. She was having a hard time containing herself from saying what she was feeling at each moment. As she sat next to Serona's dad I can not report her comments. Sirah was oblivious to it, she nursed, slept and sat and watched at times. Overall I would say it was not scary but had moments of anticipation or potential fear for children. My kids handled them fine and we limit what they watch. Of course they also knew the story going in so they knew it would all be okay and both can grasp the difference between fantasy and reality pretty well already.

All in all I would give it a great review for families. We want to go see it again on IMAX as some of the special features would be really cool to see that way. This is a movie we will likely own when it comes out and I would not hesitate to recommend to friends. I would say that if you have sensitive children some of the moments may be intense for them and you would need to judge your own child's level of sensitivity. A place to get a more thorough explanation of the movie would be Kids-In-Mind. This is a great site I often use to review content of films. Also I would recommend reading the book before you go if you have not already.


Thanks for Your Patience - Blogging to Resume

We had an outstanding visit with Serona's parents. Much of schooling was put on hold for the week they were here. What better way to utilize the flexibility offered by homeschooling than to allow the kids to enjoy their week with their grandparents who they only see once a year or so.

We did try to keep up with some read alouds and Rhiannon's reading time. We also snuck in a few activities the kids enjoyed here and there when we could. We managed to do our "G box" and had fun reviewing it for the grandparents. Now we will be moving into Christmas activities, making presents and Christmas cards and the like. I figure if I involve the kids the likelihood of me getting cards and presents finished and out on time increases.

We are also planning a literature class for our support group. We are hosting a "Stone Soup" event next week at our house. Each child is bringing an ingredient and we will make the soup together and read the book, along with a few other activities I come up with.

Still going on our Classroom Care list sponsored by Scholastic Books. For every 100 books you read they donate 100 books. This is a nice and easy service project for our family as we are always reading together. We are over 300 books right now.


December 7, 2004

Gingerbread Man -Alternate Ending

We did some followup activities after Rhiannon read the story of the gingerbread man to me. One of them was the draw and write an alternate ending to the story. Here is Rhiannon's alternate ending. Instead of meeting the fox, here is her ending:

"The gingerbread man ran and ran so fast that no one could catch him. He found a wood with thorns in he could not pass. Then he found a clearing just his size. He saw a bear and ran as fast as he could. Then a hunter saw him taking a snooze and ate him up. That was the end of the gingerbread man."

She drew a picture to illustrate it as well.


Grandparents Visit

Blogging has been very light lately as the grandparents from Maine bare in town for a visit and we are enjoying our time with them. Some of the things we have been doing include going to the Mall of America, eating sweets, going to see Serona's play twice, getting a Christmas tree, putting up the tree and having an early Christmas celebration (presents included), seeing the Polar Express in the theater, watching Supersize Me on video, enjoying meals, play and story times together. We also visited The Christmas House light display together, it really was spectacular. It has been busy but relaxing and an enjoyable few days. Regular blogging to resume next week.


December 1, 2004

Back Blogging

I love that blogger gives you the ability to back or forward blog for different dates. It makes it so nice for weekends like this when I have not had a chance to write for several days to be able to go back and cover ground. So you may want to scan back a few posts as I am back blogging today December 1st for about 6 days worth of items that I am dating back to the 25th and forward. This makes my record keeping easier later and prevents a huge psot. Of course my posts are already long enough so could you imagine if I had made it all one post? LOL.


Giraffes and Gorillas

Today we decided to focus on giraffes and somehow gorillas made themselves just as big of a part of the day. We began the day with one of our favorite websites Creature Feature by looking at video of giraffes, reading some interesting facts about them, seeing a map of where they live and then listening to sound clips. We also surfed around to find some other facts about them. Have I mentioned recently how much I love Google? A neat site with lots of information we found was Giraffe Central. We spent some time going through the links and especially enjoyed the Image Gallery.

Then we headed over to our local library and I taught the kids how to use the computer to find books on a particular subject. Up until this point we usually just flip through all the books or head to a general section (animals) and browse until we find something of interest. Today I wanted only giraffe books though so we went to the computer and then wrote the numbers down and I used it as an opportunity to show them how to locate books.

We found 4 books on giraffes and also grabbed the giraffe puppet and some board books and other puppets for Sirah to play with and headed off to a corner of the kids section where Sirah could roam, climb and be content while I led a mini lesson in giraffes. We started with the puppet and I asked what they thought was most interesting Rhiannon thought the hair along the back of the neck was most interesting and Ciaran thought their legs were most interesting and I thought their necks were most interesting.

Then we read the non fiction book and highlighted some interesting facts like a giraffe has the same number of neck bones as us - 7, and that they chew their food twice, and of course how tall they are. We talked about their predators which was especially interesting to Rhiannon and how they drink which Ciaran thought was funny. Then we read a storybook and checked the other two books out.

Off we headed to the zoo to see the giraffe. We arrived and headed straight there. We watched her for awhile and then each child took a turn drawing the giraffe in their nature notebook and then we watched her for awhile more. We walked around the rest of the zoo looking at the animals. It was quite empty and we had as much time at each place as we wanted. We were probably with the giraffe for over a half hour, the only people in the building.

We headed over to the primate building and had a really cool experience. The gorilla was sitting right up next to the glass so close you could see it's eyes moving and watching you we took turns sitting right in front of him and watching him and watching him watch us. The kids each drew a picture of him in their nature notebooks and Ciaran drew an extra one on a blank sheet of paper. While we were watching the gorilla so close (I have never been that close to a gorilla that I can remember) for a long time, a mother orangutan came up right next to the glass in the next display over. She sat down there put her hand up to the glass and then was kissing the glass. I pushed Sirah's stroller right over to where the mother was sitting and Sirah was trying to touch her hand and kiss her back it was very precious and amazing to me. This mother just stayed there, the other kids came over to her as well and she just sat there. Her own baby came over while we were all sitting on the floor in front of her taking turns putting our hands up to the glass and latched on. The kids thought this was great to watch the baby nurse and they started talking about it and when the baby walked away they were trying to encourage her to come back for more (using the language they describe nursing with). It really was an amazing encounter, one not soon forgotten. It was nice to have so much time to ourselves with the animals.

We finished at the zoo and headed home where we finished our lesson with some coloring and fact sheets from enchanted learning on giraffes, gorillas and orangutan. All in all it was a truly fabulous day. One made of memories and moments not easily forgotten. We did not have our camera, but the kids made their sketches and we all have snapshots without a camera in our mind.


Travel Tips

I recently was asked about traveling with kids and some of the strategies I use. Here is my response for some things our family enjoys when we travel. Please add your own ideas in the comments section!

We have done a good bit of airplane travel with small ones as well as
cross country driving. I typically pack a small backpack for each
child that they can carry with little light things in it. The best
way I have found to keep things organized is individual ziploc bags
for each activity. Some favorites of little ones:

pipe cleaners to make into shapes or to string fruit loops on as a
necklace or bracelet and then to eat.

magnetic paper dolls (we've printed out from free online sites onto
magnetic paper)

wooden lacing toys (they sell flat ones that pack nicely into a bag
just one or two)

stickers and small pieces of paper

crayons and paper

piece of felt and then cut out felt shapes of a favorite story

I've also printed out a favorite story's characters such as brown
bear and then laminated them and used them to play a game with on the

a small assignment pad and colored pencils for older kids add a few
small stencils

small portable puzzle - you could print out a picture of where you are
going cut it into puzzle shapes and then laminate it. As long as it
will be able to be put together on an airplane food tray and fit in a
ziploc bag

modeling clay with very small cutters or stampers and a folded up
piece of paper to work on.

colorful flash cards that can easily be made into a game.

Basically any flat small items that can fit into a ziploc bag and do
not have a lot of pieces. The KEY is to put each individual activity
into its own bag so you only need to take one bag out at a time. It
is easy to find things and keep them organized this way.

Then I have my own Mary Poppins bag of tricks for when their interest
runs out I pull something out. Some things I include in that bag

blow up beach ball - for use at the airport parks and our final
destination. - they pack flat but blow up)

punching balloons (same concept as beach ball)

lots of snacks - I wrap these in wrapping paper - somehow even a box
of raisins becomes exciting when it is wrapped in wrapping paper and
labeled a treat. Also having a wide variety of snacks is good

bubbles - no joke I have blown bubbles waiting on lines even on the
airplane to keep little ones happy

books - this is a weakness of mine so I try very hard to pack just a
few of their favorites and one longer book

file folder games - velcro is key as is having an attached envelope
for all the little pieces. I go back and forth because these have a
lot of pieces to manage but my kids do enjoy them.

puppets - a few finger puppets and even two bigger hand puppets -
these can be used at just the right moment to prevent a breakdown as
the puppet gives instructions or plays with the kids - we use these on
airplanes and car rides. They also make nice toys to have at your

matchbox cars - just a few that fit in a ziploc bag - they can drive
them around everything but I keep them in my bag so I have more
control over them.

I keep my bag as organized as possible and use ziploc bags. I always
bring some extra bags in case we pick up another activity or want to
collect something from our destination (which we can then label).

Two other things we do on long car rides are to stop at the welcome
centers for each state, often they have a lot of free give aways such
as magazines, maps, coloring sheets, fact sheets and the like.

The other activity is to have some big gallon size ziploc bags and a
marker for writing. When we stop at a rest stop with a park or
sometimes we just drive to a park in different areas. We write the
name of the child,l ocation, state and date on the outside of the bag
and then let the kids collect different leaves, acorns, etc from the
area. If we can use field guides to identify them we will otherwise
we can do that later. We even did this in downtown Indianapolis a few
months ago and got many interesting items. The kids really enjoy it.