School Notes

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The first few days of our “back to school” week have gone swimmingly. By which I mean they have been chaotic and full of interruptions and missed opportunities. And yet we also accomplished more than I dared hope.

Yes things are crazy. But when have they ever not been crazy? This year we have another baby, a needy whiny two-year-old, a needy four year old who isn’t all that interested in doing busy work and two girls who don’t want to share my attention.

Now I’m thinking: maybe I have an advantage because I’ve never had the opportunity to try to do this without the chaos? I’ve been reading everyone’s Facebook posts about how their first days never go as expected and I kept thinking: I never have had an “expected”. I’ve always flown by the seat of my pants and dealt with the interruptions and the chaos and never had the idea that it was going to be smooth sailing. It’s a rare day when a lesson isn’t interrupted a dozen times with requests for food, toys, diaper changes, nursing babies, all sorts of things. Somehow we muddle through, though.

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Here’s a brief run down of Wednesday. Just because.


So far Sophie is very happy with Saxon math. She loves filling out the calendar. I have a feeling that for her it will not begin to feel like drudgery the way it did for Bella. Sophie loves worksheets and filling things in. She does them for fun. The first few lessons are supposed to be just getting used to the manipulatives, but Sophie has been playing with them for a year as Bella has done math, so I just made up things to do with the pattern blocks on Monday and Tuesday, making patterns for her to copy, copying her patterns. Today I had her sort the bears by color and count how many of each color she had and then lay them out on the hundreds board to count the total number. She counted each group of 12 with no problems and counted the total to 48 with only one or two snags.

I haven’t got Bella’s math book yet, but I’ve been improvising mathy stuff for her to do. Today I jumped off of Sophie’s stuff and had Bella figuring out how to write the number of teddy bear counters we had using Egyptian numbers. And then figuring out how much money was in the coin bowl by laying out the coins on the hundreds chart. Plus she played with pattern blocks and tangram pieces and did a worksheet from the Saxon 1 book.

Reading and Writing

I’m focusing on reading and writing with Sophie and not worrying too much about Bella. Sometimes Bella sticks around for the lesson, sometimes she wanders off. Sometimes she answers, sometimes she’s not paying attention. She does know quite a bit more than Sophie and I know it’s boring for her. But Sophie loves it.

Today we did a review from The Ordinary Parent’s Guide and one new sentence. Then she decided to try to write N and G. Then I pulled out the Progressive Phonics and they read the first Alphabet book with me, Ben and Anthony joining in too because it was on the iPad and all things iPad are cool. After the story, which everyone thought very funny, Sophie did the worksheets that went with it and Bella asked for her own set. Both girls traced a page of lower case d, a page of o and a page of g. Then Sophie went on to do a page of dog. Sophie worked on it on and off all day, playing a school game with Ben, pretending to take recess and lunch breaks and then coming back to work. I was very impressed by Bella’s diligence and the care with which she worked. I wonder how long until this kind of work becomes boring to both of them.

I glanced at the science book. Realized Bella knows more about classification of plants and animals than the next chapter demanded and so skipped ahead to the discussion of what a species is. We also glanced at the new botany book that arrived today. And checked on our garden. And she caught a fly. Again. And let him go outside.

They played archaeologist in the back yard. They broke up a rock, dug in the dirt. Weeded my garden bed.

Afternoon storytime

We are reading two chapters a day in The Horse and His Boy. One more chapter to go and we’ll be through. Bella loves it so. Sophie complains but she often gets sucked in to listening too. Though she asks several times: “What is the boy’s name?” She does not have the attention Bella has. But she loves a good story.

Bella and I read a chapter about Ancient China in one of the library books. Yesterday she looked at National Geographic photos of the terracotta warriors after she asked if the excavation was ongoing and I looked up an article about the dig that began in 2009. And we read a chapter in the book about them as well.

Sophie requested the picture book about Vivaldi (I, Vivaldi?) and we listened to The Four Seasons while I read that and afterward too.

Sophie requested a chapter in Anno’s Math Games. Ben asked for Comet’s Nine Lives.

Anthony is still into nursery rhymes though today he wanted Mouse Count.

Bella’s bedtime request was a retelling of the story of the Minotaur. Sophie’s was a story out of the Japanese fairy tale book. Ben wanted Little Blue Truck.


We looked up cuckoo clocks and peanuts. Learned that peanuts flowers look like pea flowers. And that after they are pollinated they shoot out long stalks that bury themselves in the ground and there the nuts form.

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Today, Thursday, we met some friends at the Blue Hills Trailside Museum for some nature study and socializing. And some unplanned mountaineering. The kids all took off up the trail before I’d even realized what had happened. Within two minutes they were out of sight and earshot. So the best I could do was follow with Anthony and Ben (and Lucia in the Ergo). We climbed and climbed and climbed. The trail was pretty steep and rather slick since it had been raining earlier. Eventually my friend came back with Sophie, who had become alarmed at being out of sight of me. But the big kids were still far ahead so on we went. We didn’t make it quite all the way to the observation tower, but we were probably not far either when we finally caught up with them. We walked over to the ski run where the grass made a nice meadow and we could see the view back over the hills. Stunning. I wish I’d had my camera.

Then back down the hill. I couldn’t believe what a trooper Anthony was. Often we were clambering over boulders, steps that were longer than his legs. He gamely took it all in stride. Only fell a couple of times and never complained even when he skinned his knee. Ben fell a few times going down when he opted to try to keep up with the big kids instead of hanging back with me.

Then we went to the museum, run by the Audubon Society. They have a small collection of native animals. Outside there are otters, turtles, vultures, deer, owls, hawks. Inside there is a skunk, some snakes, more owls, fish. And, best of all, a beehive with glass sides so you could see the bees on the honeycomb. The kids only lasted about half an hour in the museum and then demanded a picnic lunch.

I was really proud of myself for squeezing in a math lesson before we left for our field trip (but not reading) and then we listened to a cd about Beethoven, The Story of Beethoven in Words and Music, in the car.

Then we came home, the boys and Lucia all sound asleep, so I finished The Horse and His Boy, read Sophie the story of Queen Esther, and then finished our book on the terracotta warriors.

All in all not a bad day of homeschooling. I’m sure to be sore tomorrow, though.

I get my stitches out in the morning and then we have to do the weekly grocery run. Probably not going to do much school. Maybe a reading lesson in the afternoon and start The Magician’s Nephew. (I’m not sure what we’ll read when we finish Narnia.)

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  • Pentimento,

    The cd (actually we got the mp3, but same thing) has short biographical snippets interspersed with excerpts from various major works. It’s a nice introduction to Beethoven and works well with what we’ve already done.

    If you click on the link, Amazon actually has previews of the various tracks. The first one gives a good idea of what it’s like: a little musical intro, a voiceover narration, then a clip of music. Of course I’m pretty ignorant about Beethoven’s life so I’m not a good judge about how accurate the bio bits are, but I’m also not relying on it as a primary source.

    I was really please that when I started playing it Bella immediately asked if the music was Beethoven! It wouldn’t substitute either for a good children’s biography or for some full length recordings, but it’s a nice overview that I’m liking for reinforcing what we’ve learned.

    With the mp3 album only costing $5, I will definitely be buying more albums in this series.

  • For after Narnia, maybe some Burgess books? There are quite a few in the public domain on Project Gutenberg.

    Or maybe A Wrinkle In Time. My dad read that to us when I was about 7. Hounds of the Morrigan or the Mossflower books would be good too, but maybe a little too stressful for Bella. I’m trying to think of other good children’s books, but really we didn’t read a lot of children’s literature aloud since we were all strong readers early on. Instead my dad read a lot more adult books, things where the reading would tire us and distract us from the story. A fair amount of that was pulp science fiction ๐Ÿ™‚ but some of my favorites come from those reading sessions. They lasted till I was sixteen.

    Ohh! The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet. I remember loving that and I was really little, only about 4.

    • You know I got some Burgess books because everyone raves about them, but the bits I’ve read have not left me longing for more.

      We’re pondering The Hobbit. I’m wondering if James Herriot is too much for her.

      I don’t know about A Wrinkle in Time. I think it might be too intense.

      • Okay, I’ll confess I started rereading the Burgess books on the public domain and they couldn’t hold me anymore. But I remember being transfixed when I was fairly young, and loves had a strong hold on me so I would still occasionally rip through one when I was ten-ish. I suspect the same is true of my dad, while he raves about them as classics, he’d stopped reading them to us by the time I was 8, and my little sister was only 4 at that point.

        I’ll be honest, the Oz books are largely like that for me as well. Fond memories, but they can’t pull me in anymore.

        How did she handle the intensity of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? She may be rapidly reaching the point where the intensity of the good stories is unavoidable. You could try a Grimm’s one-shot story. Or I bet she’d like Roverandom. That is not intense at all.

        I just took a quick perusal of my shelves, how about Anne of Green Gables, or the Moomintroll books?

        I’m working my way through the Narnia with David. He seemed to enjoy the first one, but then we hit the big brick wall of Prince Caspian. I would have skipped it, but it sets the whole scene for Voyage which is my favorite of the bunch.

        • We almost didn’t get past the beginning of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Sophie’s insistence actually carried us past Bella’s point of resistance, which was the moment when Lucy went though the wardrobe and found another world and then again with the appearance of the witch. After that Sophie has been touch and go with it and Bella has been mostly hooked.

          Maybe The Wizard of Oz would work Sophie might enjoy the fantasy.

          Prince Caspian does have some really slow parts. Bella is much more tolerant of long exposition than Sophie is.

      • My girls have loved James Herriot. We started with his treasury for children and went from there. Madeline read A Wrinkle in Time a year or so ago and loved it, but she did pick up on the whole crush thing; I’ll hold off on it for Rachel. What about Anne of Green Gables? I read that aloud to Madeline and Rachel fairly recently, and they adored it.

        Your children are so blessed to have such an amazing teacher and rich, learning environment.

        And I’m sorry I missed about the stitches. I have to backtrack and see what happened to you, dear friend. I hope you’re on the mend – quite literally.

        Enjoy those sweet children. They learn in spite of us and in spite of all the chaos (or sometimes because of it!).

        • For some reason I want to hold off on Anne. I think perhaps because I didn’t read them until I was much older? And I know Bella will want to keep going, but I think Anne gets too old too quickly. Though we read Little house all the way through, somehow that still felt more right for little girls than the later Anne books do?

          I probably way overthink the books we read. I suppose it’s just that literature means so much to mean and I don’t want to ruin my favorite books for them by introducing them too early. Bella’s response to Little House and Narnia has been so gratifying, but there’s always a little fear.

          I’m definitely on the mend, but it was a pretty nasty cut and being on my finger it has taken more than it’s share of bumps and jostling. And Lucia loves to try to grab the bandage: What’s this on your finger, Mommy?

          Thank you so much for your kind words.

          • You’re probably right about Anne getting too old too quickly, now that I think more about it. Anne books get criticized as all sweetness and light, which does make me wonder if they’ve ever read them – there’s a lot of grim subtext in there.

            Don’t worry, I have the same qualms about introducing The Hobbit too early. I don’t mind the Narnia books so much, I think because I didn’t read them all until I was much older. But still, I’d finished the entire Lord of the Rings before I ever picked up a Narnia book.

            Talking animal books are probably right up her alley. The Redwall books are too intense, but there are two compilation volumes of TumTum and Nutmeg stories that I bet she would love, although David and I weren’t especially thrilled with them. Beatrice Potter may be too dark.

            What about Aesop’s Fables, or Just So Stories?

            • (Oops little glitch as i realized it was only set to allow five levels of comments. Now we have ten. Yippee!)

              Anne herself can come across as rather too sweet, but you have to realize all her fancy and stickiness is rather a compensation for being an orphan who spent years in a house where no one wanted her and she was only valued for her usefulness. In that context it’s a tribute to her parents who were able to form her soul to be open to love and beauty and to thrive even in adversity. but yeah, kind of dark subtexts in all of Montgomery’s work.

              We did enjoy Just So Stories, them more than me. Maybe we should try The Jungle Book?

              For some reason I don’t like Aesop, though I remember liking them well enough as a child. But then I think I encountered them in the context of school readers, where they were sprinkled in with other stories and poems. A whole book of Aesop just feels overwhelming to me, especially when there is more than one story per page. And I’ve found the kids never ask for them either though we’ve had the book on the shelf for years.

              We do love Beatrix Potter, some more than others. I had Squirrel Nutikin and Two Bad Mice and Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny when I was a child and so those are my favorites. We have most of them and read most of them. Pigling Bland is too long and so is The Tailor of Gloucester and a few others.

              Redwall is kind of neat, but I’m kind of bothered by the odd pantheism. The fact that it attempts to replicate medieval culture and monastic life but without Christian faith irritates me to the detriment of the story. And yes I think it might be too intense. Though maybe not after Narnia and The Children’s Homer. Bella is much more into playing battles these days.

              • +JMJ+

                I like Redwall heaps because I’m a sucker for talking animals and anything monastic sucks me in . . . but yeah, sucking out the Christian and medieval influences from something so obviously inspired by them doesn’t endear the series to me further.

                A couple of years ago, I read an interesting critique of Redwall from another writer of “Talking Animal books” for children. For him, the problem was that Brian Jacques’s animals weren’t really animals. They were basically people in animal suits. Contrast them to, say, the animals in Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, who cannot be other than what they are. (That’s probably an unfair comparison because the animals in the second story are also in a world full of people, but I trust the general idea has come across?)

                • E,

                  I’ll admit. I often have a problem with talking animals, though more in movies than in books. I think that critique is right on though. Beatrix Potter’s animals are really animals. Lewis’s animals are really animals– I love the bits where Bree agonizes over whether Narnian horses will mock him if he rolls. The Wind in the Willows– there’s that delightful scene where all the animals ignore the fact that otter has gone off to chase down a fish or something. But, yeah, Redwall has what are more like people in animal suits. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t a few Redwall books on my shelves, but I’ve never felt a need to track down every book in the series. If someone gets hooked, I’ll let that honor go to them.

              • The first four Redwall books I enjoyed very much, although the odd conglomeration of medieval monasticism translated to mice bothers me more now that it did as a kid. I think it was more something where unexpected success made him write himself into a bit of a corner. The image of monastic mice is a charming one, and as a setting it carried two books and a prequel pretty well. But you can see it starting to go off the rails in Mariel.

  • +JMJ+

    Is the Beethoven mp3, by any chance, narrated by a little boy who lives next door to “Mr. Beethoven”? Because if it is, I love that story! =D

    Your homeschooling day sounds wonderful–a lively mix of structure and freedom. =)

    • Enbrethiliel ,

      No. It isn’t. But I think that’s the book I just put on hold at the library.

      I often think I could probably use a bit more structure, but on the whole I think we’re doing ok for where we are now.

  • Maybe the Oz books? We are on book 3 right now with my 6 and 8 year old boys and they are enjoying them immensely. Or Cricket In Times Square.