October 30, 2006

Quiet Moments

We all need to have those quiet moments of reflection and quiet and as moms they are often hard to come by. I remember being in college and I always went to water and trees to quiet myself. I would sit on the river or ponds edge under some trees and just be still and quiet. I could sit for hours in silence in just my quiet reflections. After I had kids those hours would have to be replaced by mere snippets of a moment or a few seconds or minutes of quiet reflection.

Today I received a real treat. It was the perfect fall day and Ciaran suggested we go for a nature walk so we did. We went to a pond and walked slowly, stopping to examine moss, cattails, a family of ducks, a climbing tree, leaves falling from the trees and all the other little details we saw along the way. At one point Rhiannon decided to sketch something and Sirah was quietly sitting in her stroller drawing her own picture, Ciaran took this opportunity to go off trail and explore the nearby woods alone and as for me I sat still and silent.

I sat right down on the trail and looked out through the trees across the pond and to the trees on the other side. I watched the water move slowly, the wind blow through the trees, the leaves fall off, and the ducks swim slowly. I could hear natures sounds as well as those of my own family. Rhiannon finished drawing and came to sit on my lap. We sat quiet for a bit then quietly shared what we were feeling and seeing. We talked about God's creation and the beauty of all the colors. Ciaran came out from the woods and informed us he decided what he was going to sketch "All of this" and he made broad sweeps with his hands to take it all in.

He dropped down next to us and began sketching with a variety of colors his impression of what he saw around us. He would pause as if to decide what to do next or if he was done. When we completed it in his mind he had me write the name of the pond, his name and age and this "I hope whoever looks at this is happy when they do" - then the magical moment was over and everyone wanted to move on to the next thing.

For a moment though I was still, we all were and we shared a quiet reflective moment. Laying in the greens, blues and browns that were surrounding us with bursts of red, orange and yellow from time to time. I love the peace and the quiet of nature and I love sharing that with my kids. Though I must admit there is little quiet or peaceful when we are there :)

What a blessing of a retreat just a few hours before our weather dipped back down to the 30's where it will stay all week. Nothing like a 30 degree temperature drop in just a few hours. Still it is those quiet and warm moments we hold on to through the winter moments.


October 29, 2006

Serving Children

If you really want to understand how privileged you are - serve someone else who really needs to be served, then you see yourself and your life in a different light. The kids and I recently had an opportunity to serve at Feed My Starving Children which is an incredible organization that gets food to people who really need it.

Friends from our homeschool group spent just under two hours helping package nearly 7,000 meals or enough food to feed 19 children for a year! Everyone did their job well and we worked hard to get a lot done. Even little Sirah helped out - her and Ciaran helped pat down the bags after they were sealed and lined them up along the numbers on the table so that I could package them in a box. Rhiannon helped fill the bags with scoops of veggies and soy. They worked hard and helped clean up afterwards sweeping and drying dishes.

If you have an opportunity to serve with this organization or one like it I highly recommend it. The kids really enjoyed it and want to know if we can go back tomorrow. We have had many great conversations this evening about the work we did, the struggles that so many other children face and how blessed we are. The realization of how little money it takes to make a meal (15 cents per meal) and how much it is needed really gave us some perspective.

Serving with your children is special. It is a precious gift to pass on to them and to witness yourself as you see them put someone else above their own interests and really take it to heart. As I looked around the room I saw many families serving together and thought what a special thing that was. As I watched mothers, fathers and their kids working together for a great purpose it reminded me of how we are called to be the body of Christ to the world and to each other. What better way to show that to your children than to serve with them. There were young kids, teenagers, parents, infants and grandparents, all working together and serving together.

If you have ever performed much service whether it be through your church or your community or a local volunteer organization you have probably experienced that serving together draws you together. The people you serve with you share a special bond with. So who better to serve and share that bond with than your own children, their friends and their parents? Service opportunities abound, find one and branch out with your own children and serve someone or a purpose greater than yourselves. The results may surprise you in pleasant ways.


October 25, 2006

Beowulf Narration

We read a shortened version of the Beowulf poem for history today as we begin our move into the Middle Ages. We have spent nearly the whole beginning of this year in Ancient Rome and Greece up until the fall of Rome so it is nice to be slowly moving on to something else. We still are talking about the Celts and barbarians. I really enjoy sharing history as a chronological story - it just makes so much sense to do it this way.

Here is Rhiannon's narration after hearing Beowulf
Once there was a hall where men came and feasted and slept near the wall. But in the middle of the night a monster named Grendel came in and munched on a man and took 15 more and was gone. They were so scared that they called a great man named Beowulf and this is what Beowulf said when the king asked him if there was anything he needed. "I do not need sharper swords, I don't need anything. Because the beast has no weapons only claws and teeth. So I will fight with my bare hands otherwise I will be bored." So when Grendel came in in the night Beowulf took his arm and twisted it off. The great Grendel ran and fell in a pool and got himself drowned. Everyone else feasted in that great hall. They hung up his arm very high and stayed there until the evening was old.

October 24, 2006

American Girl Kirsten Lesson Plan

In our homeschool cooperative American Girl class we recently studied Kirsten. Several of the girls came in pioneer clothing, aprons and bonnets. They were much more interactive in this class because they knew more about the time period. I changed my teaching approach and basically threw out my lesson plan and simply asked leading questions to have them show they already knew the answers to many of the questions. We did spend some time talking about what it would be like to move so far during that time and how little they could really bring with them. How they would likely be only able to pick one special toy to bring with them. The girls shared what they would bring and we talked some about what life was like then. I also shared a poem in Swedish which I am sure I did not do accurately but I faked it okay. I have some Scandinavian blood in me so maybe that helped. Once again one of the girls had the doll we were discussing and brought her to share with us.

As class has gone on we have decreased the "talk time" so we have more activity and craft time. This seems to work well because they get more hands on experiences and we talk to them as they work about the craft or activity they are doing and how it would have been done and used during the time period. For our activities this time the girls made yarn dolls, painted wooden spoons and worked on sewing a patchwork pillow. We talked about how they wasted nothing and that is why they would use items like yarn and leftover material to make their toys.

The yarn dolls were very easy to make with simple materials, especially since I am knitter and crocheter my yarn stash is happy to release some yarn. We followed a pattern out of Kirsten's craft book but here is another version slightly different from the one we followed. I had a variety of colors for the girls to choose from and we did it all without glue. They tied hair and bows into the hair - some tied faces on as well - others opted to wait until they could glue theirs on at home. Somehow we forgot to have glue with us. While we worked on the dolls I talked to the girls about how and why girls during that time would make yarn dolls.

For the spoons, my co-teacher had pre-painted them a solid color ahead of time, so the spoons had time to dry. The girls then were able to paint different Swedish designs onto their personal spoon and left them to dry before bringing them home. This activity showed some of the traditional items that came from Sweden.

For the final station they had the opportunity to start a patchwork pillow though there was no way we had enough time for them to finish this activity - they were able to take it home with them if they wanted to keep working on it but at least they started it. We talked about why things were made of patches (not wasting anything) and how young children started sewing (around 4) and the girls realized how much hard work it was. We also talked about "bees" and how over time the work would be easy and mindless and the women and girls could visit and talk while they got their work done.

I am really enjoying this class and watching history come alive for the girls. Having the girls interact with history and relate to girls their age across time as they learn about some of what has come before and brought us to where we are. Rhiannon and I often have discussions about what she likes during a time period and what she dislikes and whether she is glad to live now or wishes there was another time she lived in? So far every time there may be a few things she really liked (usually related to how they dress) but overall she is very glad she lives now and realizes how blessed she is to live in this time and how easy things have gotten for us.

For history lately we have been studying Rome and Greece. She has been very interested in the ancient Greeks and ancient Romans so we have just let her run with it and read as she wants to in non-fiction books. Some of the hardness and toughness of the age and times really affects her. She struggled when she read about how they treated imperfect babies and how different boys and girls and men and women were treated. She really struggled today when she read that some girls were married around the age of 12 and she looked at me and said that is in just 5 years for me mom. I assured her that she would not be marrying at age 12 and we talked some about the differences from then and now.

It is amazing to me to watch her interact with history and watch her brain and heart work as she discovers not only history but some of herself, who she is, who she could become and how choices affect who and what she is to be. To see this in these girls is one of the reasons I love teaching this class!


October 23, 2006

Childhood Experiences

I have come to accept and realize that Serona and I parent in a way to encourage our children to have a lot of varying experiences. It is important to us and it is either a result of or a basis for some of the choices and decisions we make for our family. I don't think we ever really sat down and said "We want our kids to have a wide range of experiences" I think we just naturally lived it out and made conscious choices to accomplish that - so that is more a result of our choices than the basis for them.

First I want to set the record straight that I believe majority of parents give their kids lots of varying experiences. We just all tend to choose different types of things to do with our kids. It is just that we tend to do a variety of things all the time and tend do things people don't think of doing with really small children. It is more a rule than an exception for us. This comes at other expenses to be sure. We have less time to dedicate to our home and yard and wish we spent more time improving those, we spend a lot of time in the car, we don't watch much TV, the kids only get to be in one activity at a time (one child per season, not one activity for each child), and we are on the move a lot.

As a family we do many activities that most families with small children do. We go to parks, playgrounds, beaches, swimming pools, play organized sports (only one at a time though), play ball in the yard and fly kites. We do a lot of things that many families with small children do, we take hikes, we walk through nature preserves, we take roadtrips and vacations, we bike together, go to the zoo, go apple picking and we go to the gym together.

We also do many things that other people maybe do once in awhile but we tend to do them all the time. We go to museums a lot, several times a month, we frequent historical sites (we wear time period clothing when we go), we visit the arboretum several times a month (often weekly in the summer), we hike up mountains (and yes the kids walk), the kids go rock climbing, we take several hour long drives just to sightsee or do random things like drive to the next state just because, they hold tarantulas and wear snakes around their neck (both were very tame and we were at a nature preserve), have opportunities to feed and learn to care for all sorts of animals, ride camels and horses, take trolley rides, walk to our downtown area (about a mile) often enough that it is not unusual, we go on frog hunts, look for random places to stop and enjoy, camp in a tent, go to Scottish and Irish festivals, and we visit farms (historical, working, elk, dairy, and others).

We also do a few things that people don't think little children can or should do but our kids enjoy or atleast do just fine at. We work on political campaigns as a family, they have gone to caucuses and to see politicians speak, they have shaken hands with Norm Coleman (our senator), Tim Pawlenty (our governor), our congressman, Ralph Nader and Laura Bush. They have been at picnics with our local state representatives. We have taken them to the capitol several times including visits to their representatives. We've gone door knocking, lawn sign distributing, worked in campaign headquarters, to political rallies, marched in parades and done sign waving in a cold Minnesota November. They come with us when we vote and they've heard about the whole process since they were infants. They have seen President Bush speak in person twice and been right up front for one of them and for when Laura Bush spoke here as well. They have been to hear Ralph Nader speak (Rhiannon twice) as well as other politicians and they were well behaved.

We have taken the kids to Star Wars conventions and midnight movie openers in full costume. We've taken them to plays and concerts and book signings (that were not specifically for kids). We have spent countless hours in locations on field trips geared for "older kids" that our children really enjoyed, we drove to South Dakota to visit Laura Ingalls Wilder home while they were still young. The list goes on and on.

This summer we were extremely fortunate and blessed and took two family vacations. One to Walt Disney World and another to Southern California. In addition Rhia and I took a trip to NYC. This is not normal nor will it likely ever happen again in the same summer but it was an exceptional and a wonderful summer! At first I was hesitant to take the kids to Walt Disney World wanting to wait until they were all older and could remember it but it was worth it and I am glad we went now. They still talk about it in detail (even Sirah) and it has become a part of them that I believe they will remember atleast in fragments and positive ways. When in NYC Rhia even got to go to her first Broadway show and dinner at the View (thanks to her grandparents).

So what is the push for all these experiences? And what is the cost? We have managed much of these experiences financially through memberships to locations (some purchased others given as gifts) which we pay once and then use over and over again. We are a family that memberships really pay for as we generally pay them off after two or three visits and then use them many times over after that. The other costs are an occasional tired child, or a missed nap and sometimes a squabble or two. But the costs pale in comparison to the benefits our kids are experiencing.

What is the driving force behind all this? There are a few things we want our children to grow up with: a deep appreciation for God's creation and all it's beauty, a commitment to good stewardship of our earth (which first requires an appreciation for it), a solid understanding of where they have come from and where others have come from (an appreciation for history), a love of the arts and all that is beautiful (music, art, poetry, etc), a commitment to and an ability to be good citizens (thus all the politics). I suppose since those are the end goals (among others) we are trying to give them experiences to help along that process.

However, it is not all us, much of it comes from our past childhood experiences. Both of us had parents that were committed to giving us a variety of experiences whether or not we appreciated them at the time. Recently I received an email from my FIL in reference to some pictures I sent them last night. He writes:

"...Where was the camel--California? I see you are abusing the kids again
making them go to a stupid apple farm--I think Serona needs therapy--he is
reenacting his childhood's most dreaded memories..."

To put it in context he is referring to Serona in his tween and early teens when mom and dad kept taking them to hopelessly uncool places (like arboretums and apple farms) and he would use unkind words to express his feelings (like stupid and abuse and boring and so on). Serona's dad is getting a kick out of how we are "dragging" our kids to all these same places that were so unfair and unkind to him as a child. They also mentioned it on their summer visit when we all went to the arboretum together. It is a rather fun inside joke that I am sharing because it demonstrates that this is not just our desire for our kids but has been passed down generationally. We both had parents committed to getting us to experience a wide variety of things even if they were not popular childhood destinations.

I remember growing up and frequently visiting New York City with my mother. My father often came with us but not always, sometimes just mom would do it. She would pack all of us from the time we were little and still in strollers and take us on the bus and train and subways into the city so we could experience it. Christmas in Manhattan is still a very fond memory for me and I miss it. I remember going to Macy's and waiting on line for Santa, visiting the Cabbage Patch when it opened, being awed by FAO Schwartz, ice skating in Rockfeller Center under the tree, all the amazing windows, St. Patrick's cathedral, climbing up into the Statue of Liberty, the top of the empire state building, Broadway shows, the rockettes, and how beautiful NYC looks in the snow. My mother took four young kids into the city and she even took my friends with us. Her willingness to do this helped me not grow up scared but rather smart of the city. She also drove us for what felt like forever (about an hour) to the Hamptons so we could spend time on "real" beaches where she grew up and see the little tourist towns and fall in love with the ocean where it was less crowded and we really could boogie board better. She took us to Sagamore Hill and other historical sites and I know Serona's parents did the same for him.

I share all this because as you grow up and try to figure out what you want to share with your children you realize how much of it is your own childhood experiences and memories. Serona and I were blessed with parents who wanted us to experience so much and gave us so many opportunities. The opportunities were driven by what was available to us where we were living at the time but the underlying philosophy is the same and has passed on generation to generation.

So is it really any big surprise that I am a field trip coordinator for our homeschool support group or that I write posts like "Why Do Field Trips"? In a way it was simply meant to be. I hope my children and their children are able to pass on so many wonderful and new experiences to their children and grandchildren. I am thankful for the opportunity that we have to do so ourselves and we try to make the most of it.

Go out, explore and enjoy the world with your kids,

September Reading List

Ok so I am slow moving this year but I have decided to post our reading lists again since I have been asked by many to do so. Formatting may not be the best but it will have to do.

10 Cool Things About Being a Ring Bearer Penelope Colville Paine
10 Neat Things About Being a Flower Girl Penelope Colville Paine
A Baby's First Bible
A Dragon in a Wagon (Magic Castle Readers Language Arts) Jane Belk Moncure
A Picture Book of Abraham Lincoln (Picture Book Biography) David A. Adler
A Sip of Aesop Jane Yolen; Aesop
ABC (The Anne Geddes Collection) Anne Geddes
Abraham Lincoln (Let Freedom Ring: Civil War Biographies) Lora Polack Oberle
Abraham Lincoln (Welcome Books: Real People (Sagebrush)) Pamela Walker;
Abraham Lincoln: Our Sixteenth President (Our Presidents) Sarah Bowler

Abuela (English Edition with Spanish Phrases) Arthur Dorros
Alaska (Welcome to the U.S.a.) Ann Heinrichs
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day Judith Viorst
Allergies (Rookie Read-About Health) Sharon Gordon
Ambulances (Pebble Books) Marcia S. Freeman
An Anteater Named Arthur Bernard Waber
Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti (An Owlet Book) Gerald McDermott
Animal Babies in Ponds and Rivers Jennifer Schofield
Animal Noises (Copy Cats Spinner Board Books) Richard Powell
Antelope (True Books: Animals) Melissa Stewart

Apples (True Books-Food & Nutrition) Elaine Landau; Children's Press
Are You a Frog? (Touch and Learn) noeline cassettari
Argentina (Countries) Kate A. Conley
Around and Around (Rookie Read-About Science) Patricia J. Murphy
Australia (Rookie Read-About Geography) Allan Fowler
Baby Alligator (All Aboard Reading) Ginjer L. Clarke;
Baby's Boat Jeanne Titherington
Bedtime for Frances Russell Hoban
Bible ABC Eric Metaxas
Big red barn Margaret Wise, 1910- Brown

Bless the Lord: The 103rd Psalm (Illustrated Psalms) Johannah Bluedorn
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Bill Martin Jr.
Bunny's Bedtime Helen Rossendale
Calico Cow Learns How (Read-to-Me Puppet Buddies) Lois Keffer
Come Aboard Noah's Ark Floor Puzzle julie downing
How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? Jane Yolen; Mark Teague
Curious George and the Dinosaur Margret Rey
Curious George and the Hot Air Balloon H. A. Rey;
Curious George Goes to the Beach H. A. Rey;
Digging Up Dinosaurs Aliki

Disney Winnie the Pooh Learning Shapes Disney
DK Readers: Wild Baby Animals (Level 1: Beginning to Read) Karen Wallace
Follow that flea! Stephen Mooser
Fun and Games in Colonial America (Colonial America) Mark Thomas
Giggle, giggle, quack Doreen Cronin
God is Bigger than the Boogie Man Cindy Kenney; Bryan Ballinger; Inc. Big Idea
God Made You Special Eric Metaxas; Bryan Ballinger; Inc. Big Idea
Going to Sleep on the Farm Wendy Cheyette Lewison
Good Morning, Good Night!: ATouch & Feel Bedtime Book Melanie Mitchell

There's a Wocket in My Pocket! Dr. Suess
HOME FOR A BUNNY Margaret Wise Brown
Homes in Colonial America (Welcome Books) Mark Thomas
I am playing Mercer Mayer
I'd Be Your Princess: A Royal Tale of Godly Character Kathryn O'Brien
If You Give a Pig a Pancake (If You Give...) Laura Numeroff
I'm Kaitlyn!: I Have Important Jobs to Do Crystal Bowman
Look What Came from Australia (Look What Came from) Kevin Davis
Lucky Pup's Christmas ken brown
Lucy's Winter Tale Amy Ehrlich

Mama Do You Love Me BB 03 (Cust) Barbara M. Joosse
Mama's Wild Child/papa's Wild Child Dianna Hutts Aston
Miss Spider's Tea Party: The Counting Book (Miss Spider) david kirk
My "E" Book (My First Steps to Reading) Jane Belk Moncure
My A Book Jane Belk Moncure
My Angel and Me Tom McGrew; Hugh Penton; David Meade
My Ears (Furgang, Kathy. My Body.) Kathy Furgang
My Mom's Great (Great Relatives)
Oh, Say Can You Say? (Beginner Books(R)) Dr. Seuss; Dr Seuss; Seuss
One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish Dr. Seuss;

Ours Brun, Dis-Moi / Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Eric Carle
Owl Babies Martin Waddell; Patrick Benson
Put me in the zoo Robert Lopshire
Radio Rescue Lynne Barasch
Richard Scarry's Longest Counting Parade Ever! Richard Scarry
Sailor Moo: Cow at Sea (Golden Kite Honors (Awards)) Lisa Wheeler; Ponder Goembel
Tell Me What We Did Today Rick Kupchella; Warren Hanson
Ten Apples up on Top dr suess
Ten Little Ladybugs Melanie Gerth; Laura Huliska-Beith
Ten Little Monkeys (Spanish Edition) Danny Brooks Dalby

The American Wei Marion Hess Pomeranc; Pomeranc
The Lamb and the Butterfly (Blue Ribbon Book) Arnold Sundgaard
The Life and Times of the Apple Charles Micucci
The Runaway Bunny Margaret Wise Brown
The Story of Jonah (Dorling Kindersley) nadine wickenden
The Trow-Wife's Treasure Olivier Dunrea
The Water Hole Graeme Base
The Wheels on the Bus Paul Zelinsky; Paul O. Zelinsky; Paul O Zelinsky
The Wretched Stone Chris Van Allsburg
Today I Feel Silly: And Other Moods That Make My Day Jamie Lee Curtis

Touch And Feel Bible Stories (Touch and Feel (Readers Digest)) Beverly Larson
Touch and Feel: Kitten (Touch and Feel) DK Publishing; Kindersley Dorling
Uncover the Human Body: An Uncover It Book Luann Colombo
What Is An Artist? (Single Titles) Barbara Lehn; Lehn Barbara
What Is An Athlete? (Single Titles) Barbara Lehn; Lehn Barbara
When I Was Little: A Four-Year-Old's Memoir of Her Youth Jamie Lee Curtis
Where do balloons go? Jamie Lee Curtis
Where Lincoln walked Raymond Bial
Who Do You Love?: A Touch And Feel Book Margaret Wang; Melanie Mitchell
You're All My Favorites Sam Mcbratney; Anita Jeram

October 22, 2006

Rhiannon's Second Grade Reading List

Here I am keeping track of the books Rhiannon reads both for school and pleasure. I am not keeping track of picture/story books but chapter books and non-fiction books she reads. I will update it throughout the year. While she is in second grade her reading level is much higher so some of these books would not work as independent reading for a typical second grader, though many will. All versions are unabridged unless noted.


Hans Brinker Great Illustrated Classics abridged version
Ginger Pye - Eleanor Estes
Matilda - Roald Dahl
Ella Enchanted - Gail Carson Levine
Peter Pan - J.M. Barrie

Little House in Big Woods - Laura Ingalls Wilder
On the Banks of Plum Creek - Laura Ingalls Wilder
Farmer Boy - Laura Ingalls Wilder
Vin Fiz - Clive Cusler (family read aloud)
The Charm Bracelet - Emily Rodda

The The Flower Fairies - Emily Rodda
The Third Wish - Emily Rodda
Felicity's Story Collection - Valerie Tripp

Life and Times of Cleopatra and the Egyptians - Andrew Langley
Ancient Roman Children - Richard Tames
Ancient Greek Children - Richard Tames
Roman Myths Retold - Geraldine McCaughreon
The Celts of Northern Europe - Kathyryn Hinds

History in Art Ancient Egypt - Andrew Langley
Samantha's Story Collection - Susan Adler, Maxine Schur and Valerie Tripp
Kaya's Story Collection - Janet Shaw
The Lost Fairy Apple Tree - Emily Rodda
The Magic Key - Emily Rodda

The Unicorn - Emily Rodda
THe Star Cloak - Emily Rodda
The Water Sprites - Emily Rodda
Kirsten's Story Collection - Janet Shaw

October 19, 2006

For Janey

October 18, 2006

Multitasking family

Some days we look back and wonder how we got so much accomplished in a single day and then other days we wonder where all the time went. Today was one of those good days where you get a lot done and then try to figure out how you did it. For us it is on days when we multitask that we seem to get the most done.

Multi-tasking is just part of my makeup - it is how I function and it is why I learned to knit and crochet. My hands just seem to always need to be doing something and I always have a desire to be productive in some way. Knitting provided a wonderful solution to that. This afternoon I realized that I have passed this on to my kids and I am not sure whether it is a good thing or a bad thing.

We had finished school and naps and even exercised all together but the day was winding down and we still had things we needed to do and wanted to do and they were all different things not related to each other. I decided a little multi-tasking chaotic approach might be the best solution.

We headed upstairs to our living room which is also right near our kitchen and our dining room table - we have an open floor plan which I love making all those rooms easy to work in at the same time. I brought up four baskets of clean laundry that needed to be folded (yes I know I should fold and put away as it comes out - but at least it is clean and laundry is NOT my strong suit). I started boiling water for dinner and got out the ingredients I needed. I stopped by the computer and turned on Mozart's Piano Concerto #20 which is the classical music piece we are studying now. I mentioned it to the kids and began folding laundry onto our couch - we have a big L shaped couch in our living room.

Meanwhile Rhiannon was working on her mending. I can't believe I am writing that sentence because I do not know how to mend or sew anything. She took matters into her own hands after waiting patiently for several months (blush) for me to fix one of her favorite skirts and a hole in her stuffed unicorn. She got out a needle and thread and decided it could not be that hard to sew. She was right of course - it is not perfect but atleast her unicorn is repaired and she can wear her skirt again (before it no longer fits) and truthfully it probably looks about as good as I could have managed. She sat on the couch and listened to the music and talked to me and asked for help as she worked on her sewing.

Ciaran was sitting at the dining room table working on drawing the American flag for his Awana work and listening to the music - you can hear him hum or tap to a beat as he works. He worked quietly and diligently and got his work done quickly.

Sirah kind of floated from thing to thing. She was in the kitchen playing with her phonics refrigerator magnets that sing the songs - which I must admit does detract from Mozart but we all sort of learn to tune it out and it was not that loud. At another point she brought out the little lapharp and was trying to strum along to the music she was listening to. She also sat on the floor with her Awana book in her lap just looking at the pictures and making up stories about it.

I spent my time divided between laundry, answering and helping with sewing questions, encouraging and praising Sirah and checking in on Ciaran. I stopped occasionally to do the next things necessary for dinner and to move laundry into the dryer again. By the time we were done in less than an hour we had 4 loads of laundry folded and put away, a mended stuffed unicorn and most of the seam of a dress sewn, an Awana jewel done, listened to a Mozart concerto, dinner was mostly made and four happy family members. Not a bad way to spend an hour right before dinner. Everyone got along and everyone got their work or the things they wanted to do done.

Now if I can just learn from this and apply these lessons with regularity than maybe moments like this won't be rare but regular and the 4pm hour can be pleasant instead of the chaotic and unhappy time it can easily slip into. Well here is to one good day atleast!

October 17, 2006

Ciaran is reading!

Today was exciting for me - Ciaran read well and he was actually excited to read! It was one of the light bulb days when you can see it start to click for him. Those light bulb moments are some of my favorite moments in life. I love seeing people really understand and "get" something for themselves. The moment when the knowledge becomes your own. The moment when you have something that can not be taken away from you and you really grasp it - these are the light bulb moments and they have always been precious to me. They were important to me (and still are) when they are my own, they were so enjoyable to see when I was teaching and coaching college debaters, and they are precious and cherished when I see them in my own children.

To me I think there are three really wonderful light bulb moments that I love seeing in people above all. When a person understands and accepts Christ as their savior and make that personal choice. I have witnessed this only a few times and it is awe inspiring.

The second is when a person truly understands and grasps how to construct a great argument and communicate their point well. I have seen this many times over and know the value of that skill and can easily see now when someone truly "gets" it and has made the skill their own. This is a skill that can not be taken away and has great value in life therefore it is an important light bulb moment in my book.

Then of course is the moment someone learns to read. Of course these are all processes and there is no one "moment" for most of them but there is the point where it all comes together and you can tell that the concept is understood even though it is not mastered. We all need to practice our skills (even our best) over and over again to make them strong but we all have a moment in time when it all comes together and the skill is "ours" to refine.

Today was when I first saw that understanding of reading in Ciaran. We were reading a Primary Phonics storybook reader (my favorite phonics readers by the way) and Ciaran was able to sound out every word that was not a sight word. He was determined and focused and clearly understood what he was doing. I helped him each time with "the" he can not seem to get his head around that word yet but he read everything else.

Halfway through the book I urged him to stop and we moved on to other things. He kept asking to go back and finish the book though. I went to do a subject with Rhiannon and he was just insistent that we finish his book so we stopped everything else so he could read his book to me. He read all 16 pages (each page with about 3 sentences) and he did it right. He is still sounding out each letter and then blending them together but he is doing it all on his own and he is realizing that he can read and is getting proud of it himself.

Today he took as his "own" that he can read and he was determined to show me and himself that he could do it. It did not seem to be a struggle for him, as it often has been in the very near past, rather he seemed to enjoy it and he just worked steady at it. He had a confidence that comes from knowing you can do something and a determination to see it through. It was an exciting moment for me and for him.

These light bulb moments are some of the special blessings we get as homeschool parents. To see your child understand and take ownership of something new is a moment to be treasured. To see them learn to read is so powerful to me because the skill of reading unlocks so many other things for us throughout our lives. We have a long way to go to pass on a love of reading and the skills needed to be a lifelong reader and learner but we are well on our way.

Thank you Ciaran for sharing that moment with me and for your determination and willingness to see it through even though it seemed difficult at first!

Campaigning with Kids

Well it is that time of year again. You have noticed the cropping up of lawn signs, door knockers, political mailings and phone calls. Only 21 days until the election and then it will all be over.

It is a midterm election so we can expect lower voter interest and turnout. Yet this election could change the control of Congress and therefore the direction of our country. No matter which side of the political spectrum you fall in this should be important to you.

I wanted to encourage everyone to get involved in this election. As a citizen it is your responsibility to vote. As a parent it is your responsibility to teach your children to be good citizens. As a person living in this country you should care about the outcome of this election. It is easy to get involved and help out the political party or candidates that you support in the next few weeks. You can do it individually or yes even with your whole family involved.

Long time readers of this blog know that we are a politically active family. We get very involved with campaigns and have since before our children were born. Having children did not decrease this involvement, it just changed it. We have had to adapt our methods and approaches but not our commitment to being good and involved citizens.

There are many ways you can help out political campaigns with even very small children. We have knocked on too many doors to count, made phone calls from our home and phone banks, done literature drops, lawn sign drops, sign waving on election day and even worked at headquarters, all with small children in tow or helping out themselves. With older children this is even easier as they can often do all the same jobs as the adults and are often better received than some adults.

If you are interested in getting involved call your state or local party representatives and ask how you can help. You will most likely get recruited for Get out the Vote phone banking. These are typically three hour shifts at a site where you make phone calls and read directly from a script. Responsible teenagers can also do this along side you.

If phone calling is not your thing or you can not get to a phone bank because you have small children consider alternate ways to help out. The kids and I have gone to headquarters to put together and deliver lawn signs; we have cut flyers, stuffed envelopes and done photocopies for them. This upcoming weekend Serona will take our three year old to help out with a literature assembly day. As I tell the kids each job we take away from an adult frees them to do a responsibility you could not have such as phone calling. The kids have fun doing this and it becomes part of our schooling experience as we learn about citizenship and government and political issues.

Perhaps my two favorite things to do with small children are door knocking and sign waving. The kids actually enjoy these activities and look forward to them. I put the youngest in a stroller which can help carry all our supplies (which of course includes yummy snacks) and we walk the neighborhoods we are assigned. With three kids in tow even the fiercest political opponent is at least polite while we are standing at their door. Even if they really disagree with the candidate I may be supporting they are never rude in front of three little kids. Door knocking involves much less than you may think it does and it really is not confrontational at all. Truthfully most people are not home when you do it. Still research has shown that get out the vote contacts like phone calls and literature drops at their home are the most effective ways to get people to the polls to vote.

Our other favorite thing to do is to find a big bridge or highway overpass or great sign waving location and wave big signs and flags for the week or sometimes more before the election. The kid's enjoyment of this is directly linked to the weather in Minnesota at the time. If it is snowing or really cold it is not as fun for them and we only do it for short bursts. If it is a beautiful fall day they love it and we stay out there for long periods of time. The kids get excited when people honk and wave and enjoy waving signs. We bring flags and some years we have brought ribbon streamers so they can have some variety of what they wave and do to keep it interesting for them. We finish with hot chocolate and some treats for their hard work.

Campaigning with children is a lot of fun and a great hands on way to make a difference in your local area and spend time together as a family. There of course are challenges and it requires some extra patience from everyone involved but it is worth it. To be honest when you first show up at a headquarters or offer to door knock with a bunch of small children you may get some skeptical looks but once they see how well you can do it all you get is support and appreciation for your hard work. Remember to keep it fun for the kids and continue to give them practical experiences of all the things you are teaching them to do.

October 16, 2006

Fun Art Lesson

Today we did a fun art lesson. We were learning about lines and shapes. We started the lesson at our table where I had placed in front of each of them a pile that contained pieces of yarn, pipe cleaners, ribbon, strings of fake pearls, and some popsicle sticks. I asked them to look at all the items in front of them and figure out what they had in common. Ciaran and Rhiannon decided it was that they were all materials. They were right but it was not the answer I was looking for. Sirah said they were all straight and Ciaran said but some could be wiggly. We talked a little more until one of them said you can make lines with them all.

Next I had them get up and draw random shapes on our wall (relax - we have chalkboard paint)from the basic circle, square, triangle to wiggly strange ones. Sirah mostly drew lines but that worked well to teach them the difference between a shape and a line and how all the shapes are made up of lines. Everyone had a different colored piece of chalk so we could see who drew what and we could talk about how shapes were made up of lines and then how some things they drew were actually objects made up of several shapes.

Then I had them sit at the table and using the materials I set in front of them and some glue and construction paper they had to make shapes. First they had to make a basic simple shape. Rhiannon made a circle with the fake string of pearls, Ciaran a triangle with popsicle sticks and Sirah a square with popsicle sticks. Next they had to make any wiggly and unusual shape they wanted. Ciaran used ribbon and his string of pearls to make what looked like a hill. He stood his ribbon on its side giving his shape more texture and depth. Rhiannon made something that looked like a hat with her pieces of yarn and Sirah tried to use her pipe cleaner to make a heart like shape.

Next they had to make a shape with atleast 5 separate lines. Sirah and Rhiannon both made a barn with their popsicle sticks - though they looked slightly different. Ciaran made a foot shaped cloud he said using yarn and ribbon and his fake pearls. While they were doing this I talked about the definition of a line and shape and how we use lines to make shapes.

When they were done we set aside the projects to dry and they each received a piece of paper to draw three shapes in the room on their own. Ciaran picked an intricate frog to draw. He did a very good job but it took considerable time, so for his last two shapes he choose two different balls from the room which went much quicker. Rhiannon drew a tambourine, a book and a door jamb. Sirah decided she preferred the glue and made a cross with her gold ribbon and a sheet full of glue.

It was an easy and fun and informative lesson. It was one that I had been dreading doing because it involved glue and messy materials. How can I be a homeschooling mom who hates glue?!?!?!?!?! Anyway I am glad we did it. I realize the trick for us to doing art or music is to put it in the middle of the day instead of leaving it for last because then we never get to it and it is easy to let that slip off the radar and schedule more than math.

Also we all had fun doing it and they could do it all together even though they are in very different places artistically. Why do I not do it more? Oh yeah the whole glue and paint thing scares me off. Well I must get over it because life is messy and school is fun.

October 13, 2006

Walker Art Center Tour

We took a great tour of the Walker Art Museum. We were supposed to have an outdoor tour and then scavenger hunt of their sculpture garden. However, random Minnesota fall weather struck once again and due to the snow, blustery winds and freezing temperatures we were driven inside for our tour.

The tour was still very well done. We split up into two groups, K-2nd and 3rd and up. Once again my family was all together in the younger group. In the younger group we focused on colors, texture and feelings from a work of art. We also learned about the difference between a sculpture and a painting.

We had an excellent tour guide. She was really able to engage the children and ask great questions in ways that were easy for them to understand. They began by sitting on the floor in front of a painting and being asked about the colors they saw and how the painting made them feel. The tour guide was a bit taken aback that most of the group said it was a sad picture. It really was a bright colored happy picture. She took it in stride though and decided to not even make an issue of it.

When they arrived at the next picture, a dark picture filled with reds and blacks and representing the bomb dropping on Hiroshima the mood of the kids was much sadder and several immediately reconsidered their opinion of the other painting. Ciaran was among those - he was saddened by the painting I actually wondered if he would cry.

The tour guide was excellent at having them talk about how the color and style of the painting made them feel and why. She talked about texture with them and shared some history of each artist and art piece with them. We looked at several works of art, paintings, sculptures and some interactive pieces inclusing a dolphin oracle that all the kids enjoyed.

Ciaran's favorite piece is the one above. Only this is actually several pieces of art represented because it catches the reflection of other things in the room as it is a painting of three women brushed onto stainless steel that looks like a mirror.

Being with children at an art museum is like a breath of fresh air. They are so observant of little details that as adults we are quick to overlook. Sometimes they have a gift for seeing the obvious and even seeing things that may seem complicated to us but are really quite intuitive to them.

Ciaran picked out the smallest red dot in a mostly black and white painting that I had overlooked. He also immediately answered the question about what these women are looking at correctly (us the people looking at them because we are reflected) and he explained that he thought they were sad because they were poor because their clothes were dirty and not cared for.

I was impressed by his observations and his enjoyment of a tour that I was slightly afraid would bore him and test his 5 year old boy patience. I was pleasantly surprised and Rhia enjoyed the tour as well. Sirah fell asleep in her backpack about halfway through the tour. Another family continued on with an outdoor tour but Sirah was ready to just go home so we headed home.

If you live in the Twin Cities I highly recommend the tour. It was informative, engaging and interesting for the kids. The tour guides were excellent and the kids all seemed to enjoy themselves. Also not being a huge fan of modern art, it was nice to get some more perspective and appreciation for myself.


October 12, 2006

I should be here

You know when you have those days that are just too much. When you did not think through what you really took on yourself. That was my day today. I was really unwise. I started the morning with my prayer group at 6am.

During the day I squeezed in a full day of schoolwork, lots of reading time with the younger two, a field trip to the art museum, two play dates (including one who stayed for dinner) and parents night at our kids church group. Combine that with carpooling everyone where they needed to be and I realized I just took too much on myself.

At the end of the day I had one of those "What was I thinking?" moments when I realized I had just done too much. Of course it was all "good” things to do, it was just too much all at once. Just like when you eat too many sweets all at once

Reminder to self. Enjoy good things - but not all at once. A little at a time makes it sweeter.

October 11, 2006

Sad but True

Well the rumors are true. It is in fact SNOWING in Minnesota! Not sled down a hill kind of snow but my deck is a mix of fall leaves and a white covering. The kids actually made snowballs yesterday by pulling together all available snow and we nearly hit record lows in our area.

Guess I have to really get out the mittens, hats and boots. Still I am not yet convinced to put away the shorts - still holding out for one more warm burst. How is it by you?

October 9, 2006

Alpaca Farm

This weekend in Minnesota there was an open house program with local alpaca farms. All the farms opened their doors for the public to come meet the alpacas and learn a bit more about how they are raised and see their products all for free (if you can resist purchasing the wonderful products).

Serona sadly had to work on Saturday so the kids and I headed out to the nearest farm, about a 40 minute drive out into the country. The drive brought me back to Illinois where Serona and I lived for 5 years in a farming community. Corn fields, the smell of manure and wide open skies kind of have the same look and feel no matter where you are in the country. I was thankful that all three kids decided it was a perfect time for a nap and feel soundly asleep (which saved me from complaints of the smell especially) and I had over a half hour of listening to whatever music I wanted to (a rare opportunity for me).

We arrived at the farm and it was a very windy day. The kind of day where you second guess - did the wind really just rock my big car or am I imagining it? The kids were now thankful for the sweaters I made them bring - even though it was nearing 80 that day - it was breezy and therefore chilly out on the farm.

Neither the kids nor I had ever seen an alpaca before - so it was a neat opportunity. I of course have felt how soft alpaca wool is and now I know why after having the opportunity to pet them and feel the fur firsthand. I also thought they were very cute, rather skittish and frightened of us but cute. Sirah feel in love with them but was disappointed that they did not want to be pet much and would run away from the fence instead of towards it. We even got to pet a baby who was less than a month old and find out more about how they breed and are raised. While Sirah and I could have stayed for a long time, Ciaran's 5 year old boy patience was quickly wearing thin.

We headed inside the barn to see what else was interesting. To the kids sheer joy there were free cookies and hot cider. This bought us some time to look through and touch all the wonderful alpaca products. I was very good I did not buy any yarn at all. Though I did purchase a pair of gloves for both Sirah and Ciaran as they were only 4.00 (less than I would pay in a box store) and a really cute alpaca finger puppet that the kids fell in love with.

Rhiannon quickly gravitated towards the spinning wheel that was set up and being used in the back of the barn. She watched and asked questions and was thrilled when she was offered an opportunity to try it herself. Ciaran wandered over as well and was really paying attention to what was going on. The woman was very patient with the kids and let them take their time and really get a feel for it. At one point Ciaran just wanted to use the pedals so she took the wool off and let him just go to town on the pedals to get it out of his system. Then he asked if he could really try it and he did. While I would have loved an opportunity to try (it was offered to me) I knew better - Sirah could not handle that nor would Ciaran's patience last that long.

I knew we needed to leave on a high note so we headed out right after his turn was over and stopped back to see the alpacas one more time before heading to the car. I almost made it safely out without a breakdown but Sirah, being three, had a tantrum as we arrived at the car. I can not even recall what it was about but at least we were already to the car.

I settled in for what I figured would be a long car ride home as they realized how far we were, how much the farmland smelled and they would need the bathroom. Thankfully I had my ipod with me and the game of picking the next song and singing along seemed to keep them distracted for most of the ride home.

It was a fun way to spend an afternoon even if we spent as much, if not more, time in the car than at the farm. I figure you don't get to see alpacas and try your hand at spinning wool every day unless of course we decide to move to a farm and then alpacas might be one of the first things I would want to raise. Right next to the vineyard Serona will want to have.


October 6, 2006

American Girl Kaya Lesson Plan

We had our second class of our American Girl history class for our homeschool cooperative. It is going well and we enjoyed the day again. The class began with the girls sitting on the floor on a spread put blanket with a picture of a teepee. We originally thought we might be able to have a teepee but that did not work out so we showed pictures and talked some about them. One of my co-teachers talked a bit about Kaya and what her clothing was like and got the girls engaged.

I shared some information and pictures from the book Kaya's World - which is an outstanding resource. We talked about the time period, the importance of horses, teepees, longhouses, child responsibilities, toys, learning, weaving and their clothing.

Next a co-teacher and her daughter shared their recent experiences from this summer on a Native American reservation they served on. They showed us a drum and some jewelry they purchased there and the daughter played the drum for us. The girls took turns trying the drum and looking at the jewelry.

Today we had three stations again. The first was a station where they got to make dolls themselves. We had them make dolls out of cornhusks which they were all able to do and the dolls turned out very nice. Easy supplies, easy put together, cute results.

At the second station we had them beading bracelets with little beads. This ended up being a time consuming station but the girls all chatted and enjoyed visiting while they worked here.

The third station was a weaving station. One of the girls in the class let us use her tabletop weaving loom. While not authentic in style it got the point home about how time consuming weaving is and the basic principles behind it. Some of the girls really seemed to enjoy weaving and others were quickly bored by it. I asked each of them how they would feel about doing that all day long and only one said they thought it would be enjoyable if there was nothing else to do and they could talk to their friends.

We ran overtime this class period because I was not paying attention to the clock we went a little over our 55 minute time limit. We try to keep it around 50 minutes. I am enjoying being a part of a class that brings history alive for the kids.


October 5, 2006

Castles, Camping and Catch

Yes it is C week here at our household. Today we learned about castles. The kids dressed up as princesses and knights and we looked at pictures of a variety of castles, learned the different parts of the castle and what they were used for and a bit about the different people who lived and worked in the castle. The internet was our main resources for these lessons and there was so much available - from full tours of castles, to photos of castles in different countries, to detailed description of the time period, proper roles and lifestyles of the people who lived in them. This site was particularly helpful, as was this one. We found printable coloring sheets and even instructions on how to make our own cardboard castle. Tomorrow we will make a candy castle cake and yes we have the pan.

We also set up the tent in the backyard so the kids could go "camping" - they spent a good part of the afternoon in the tent and had a grand time doing it. While this may sound like a lot of work for me, it was worth the little time I invested in setting it up as they were content to play it for the rest of the day. They brought out sleeping bags, their sleeping mats and some toys. I spent some time in the tent with them as well but for the most part it became the big toy of the day.

We also had a baseball catch and as we threw the ball back and forth we said different words that began with the letter C. At this point Ciaran is not yet too strong at this game but he gets very excited when he gets one right. He is also content to listen to Rhia and I play this and he is learning as we do it.

They wanted to make candy today (melting down chocolate) but it was just too beautiful of a day to do much but be outside. We started our more formal school time at 9am and were finished before 11am today as everyone was motivated to get outside and spend the remainder of the day outside. We will not have too many of these wonderful days left.

Days like today when I reflect back on them I realize how much we got accomplished and I wonder how we did it. We did all our usual school (minus some read alouds that we had already finished for the week), these fun activities, cleaned most of the house and did nearly all the laundry in the house. Plus we spent a good part of the day outside and ate a homemade dinner. These days are rare by the way, most days I am struggling to make it all work, before you think this is what everyday in my home looks like. I did lose my temper at moments and I was struggling with the issues of being three for a good portion of the day and I still have some clothes to hang up and a lesson plan for our homeschool coop class tomorrow to finish now but all in all it was a great day!


October 4, 2006

Fall Leaves

I love fall. Nature provides the best toys in falling leaves. The kids spent a long time this afternoon with friends raking leaves and just jumping in them and I think we will do the same tommorrow. It is pretty and beautiful weather and what a great way to spend a day. Get out and enjoy these next few weeks because they pass far too quickly.


October 2, 2006

When Homeschoolers Play

My kids play with all kinds of kids, friends from church, sports, the neighborhood and our homeschool cooperative. They play similar things with all kinds of kids but I have noticed a certain tendancy with other homeschool kids to choose some unusual activities or games when they are together.

Today we had two lovely kids over from our homeschool support group, a boy and a girl slightly older than our kids and the five kids played very well together, mostly as a group with a very little breaking off into smaller pairs at times. It is beautiful outside and they have spent nearly the entire afternoon/early evening outside together enjoying the weather and each other.

They spent around two hours today inside our pine tree. Serona cut out some branches so they have a little fort and easy branches to climb inside it. They just camped out in there and were playing. Well I thought they were playing house or just climbing the tree. In reality what they were doing is picking pine sap off the tree for about two hours. Their hope was to make pine syrup.

After two hours of hard work they brought it inside to me and asked if I could boil it down into a snack. It was hard on my heart to explain to them it was not maple sap and it could not make what they thought it could. I googled pine sap to try tp find a use for it and promised them next spring we could tap sugar maples and boil down sap for real. They took it in good spirits but I could see they were disappointed. Serona came up with the idea that we could boil it in some water as an air freshner so their work was not all lost. This seemed to make them happy atleast.

They are now in the backyard filling socks with rocks and really enjoying themselves. Neither of these activities would have flown with some of their other friends but these kids are just peas in a pod today and it is nice to see them all enjoying themselves.

By the way if you need to remove pine sap from children's skin, Goo Gone works wonders. A good friend of mine suggested it and it worked really well. Just pour some on, scrub gently with a washcloth and wash it off quickly and it all comes immediately off.

I heard on the radio today that it is National Take a Walk After Dinner night - are you going to participate? I can't confirm it but it sounds fun and like a good idea if your weather is nice.