Life as Classroom

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On Saturday Dom started a cascade of housecleaning. He began with a couple little projects he’s been meaning to do: fixing the leaking kitchen sink, unstopping the clogged drain in the bathroom sink (and while he was at it, cleaning off the bathroom counter which was cluttered and dirty), fixing the stuck deadbolt on the front door, taking a bunch of books to the library for the book sale, throwing away various broken things.

And just like that the fire caught and I found myself in the girls’ room, which I hadn’t touched in at least a month, maybe two. I threw away one trash bag of scraps of paper, broken toys, torn dress up outfits and the like. Then I collected another trash bag of stuffed animals the girls were willing to part with. And finally I tidied everything away and vacuumed. The girls were so impressed Bella spent half of Monday patrolling their room to keep Sophie, Ben, and Anthony from leaving anything on the floor.

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On Monday I just couldn’t get into school work. I vacuumed the office and the laundry room. I did a bunch of laundry. I cleaned the kitchen floor. Oh we did a brief phonics lesson and read a handful of picture books and a couple of chapters of The Last Battle; but that was it.

And I’ve just remembered that the girls were playing Mass and religion class, Bella as teacher, usingA Is for Altar, B Is for Bible. I overheard Sophie asking why there was a pearl and so I got down the Bible and read them the parable of the merchant in search of fine pearls. And while we were at it we read about the treasure buried in the field and then talked about the parable of the yeast and then looked at mustard seeds.

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So on Tuesday I was resolved to sit down and do math and reading lessons. But the girls had started a massive game that they were loathe to interrupt. They made a palace out of board books on the living room floor and though I eventually made them move the palace to their bedroom, the game lasted until after dinner and even then was only tidied away under protest. I didn’t get much schoolish work out of them, though we did do a little project. They are both having trouble telling their lower case b from the lower case d. A normal problem at this age, but it’s really keeping them from making any real progress in the reading lessons they’ve been working on. So I thought maybe if they did some hands-on crafts it might help them remember. They were quite shocked when I suggested we were going to glue beans and dirt to papers, but once they realized I was serious, they quite got into it.

But after that there was no way I could keep them from going back to the palace game. I gave up on math, because Sophie who is usually quite willing was just not into it today and Bella’s new math book should be here later this week. Instead, I baked bread, changed and washed all the sheets and did some other laundry too, and vacuumed the boys’ room. We did get in two chapters of The Last Battle and a couple of picture books, but under protest from Sophie, who refused to leave the palace complex.

Well so it goes. Kids should have room to create and Bella and Sophie don’t always create such elaborate games. Too often their games have been ending in tears recently. I just let them go.

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Wednesday. First, reading practice. I brought out some of the word cards I’ve made from words we’ve learned in The Ordinary Parent’s Guide. I’ve also added cards with everyone’s name on them. I made sentences and the girls read them. It was fun to find cards to spell out “Lucy has a big red car.” Fun because Lucy did have a big red car she was playing with at our feet. I also made sentences like “Sophie hit the big pig.” Both girls are growing more proficient. Slowly, slowly, we’re inching toward reading. At least with this kind of lesson there’s plenty of laughter and no tears.

For math we did Sophie’s calendar. All the Saxon lessons for September have been completed so we’re just doing the calendar and then playing games for math time. Today was dominoes. She’d never played before. Sophie and I played a game and then she and Bella and I played a couple more. Then Sophie decided to work on writing her numbers, tracing them on the dry erase tablet. Then she drew houses and an airplane and princesses. Ben grabbed the white board when she switched to making paper dolls. He made some castles too. Bella wrote out her numbers from 1 to 20 and was very proud at making them smaller than usually. (A sore point with the Saxon 1 worksheet pages is that the blanks in which she is supposed to write are too small.) She got the the seven backward and had her digits reversed in 12 to 19, but the numbers were all well shaped and she has much more control over the pencil. I’m finding daily handwriting practice assigned be me is a flop and yet when I just leave it to them to work on at will they do tackle the numbers and letters they know they struggle with. They make progress. In their own sure time. I’m learning to trust that they will seek to master these difficult skills on their own once they’ve realized they want to.

I went to nurse Lucy and Sophie and Bella played a dice game called “Bugs” that I’d found the rules for somewhere online. Each number from one to six is assigned a bug body part: head for one, body for two, legs for three, wings for four, eyes for five, antennae for six. Each player takes a turn rolling a die and then they get to draw the body part corresponding to the number they roll. It’s fun and teaches pattern recognition and gets Sophie to connect the written number with the dot pattern on the dice.

Then as each grew tired of their tasks, the kids scattered outside and to various games. I made a batch of whole wheat currant scones. I’ve found they mix up really fast when I use the food processor to both mix the dry ingredients and to cut the butter into the flour. Then I just pour it into a bowl, add the currants and add the milk and yogurt. I make drop scones rather than rolling and cutting them. They were light and fluffy and yummy. And they only have a quarter cup of brown sugar, so really they’re a pretty healthy treat.

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This morning the palace game continued though they hadn’t reconstructed the palace. Instead there was an open air market with a variety of vendors (each animal or person was stationed at a block for a table. One was selling knit goods, another maps, there were fish vendors, bread vendors, and oh I don’t know what all. I was amused that the customer appeared to be Bella’s trio of warriors: a Spartan with sword and shield, am Egyptian pharaoh armed with a bow, an English yeoman archer. Sophie gave me the guided tour as I was on my way to breakfast.

After I put Anthony and Lucy down for naps, reading Blueberries for Sal at his request (she seems to be moving toward one longer nap in the afternoon instead of morning, afternoon and early evening) I took a blanket outside and sat in the sun to read The Last Battle to Bella. I did not remember the scene of Tash flying over the forest.

Then Ben requested The Harp and Laurel Wreath. Sophie wanted Frog and Toad. Then my choice of poems from The Harp and Laurel Wreath. Some old friends they recognized, some new ones. They all loved Chesterton’s Christmas Carol. Ben especially wanted to linger over the imagery of the stars looking down while the flowers looked up.

While we were basking in the sun I also brushed and braided the girls’ hair, which hadn’t been touched since Sunday. It’s not unusual for me to miss a day here and there, but since lacerating my finger doing their hair has become much more tricky and I’ve been more prone to let it go for two or three days between brushings.

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Lucy is officially mobile now. Crawling from room to room. Though she mostly stays in one place, she has done a little exploring. Last night while I was making dinner she went from the living room into the dining room and crawled about under the table.

Anthony surprised me this afternoon while I was changing his diaper he recited the Hail Mary. He’s suddenly memorizing all sorts of things and reciting and singing. Jingle Bells and “We are his people, the flock he shepherds” and “What are little boys made of.”

Sophie and Ben, on the other hand, were going round the house chanting, “Ooten gumden stah.” Oh yeah. It took me a minute and then I wondered what Dom had been showing them. It has been driving Bella mad. Poor thing. She cries and begs them to stop. But I don’t think they can.

Ben and Anthony have made the back garden bed into a construction site. They are avoiding the sandbox after the cat got in it and I can’t blame them. And they need something for the bulldozers to push around. But why did they have to kill the marigolds?

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