Learning Notes

Lucy stands on the table.

Lucy stands on the table.


Stay at home day as the car was in the shop. Also a rainy, stir-crazy day.

We got off to a pretty good start. Bella did math and reading. (Never did get to her copywork. Oh well.) Then I tried to put Lucy down for a nap– she dozed but never went down– and then had to get snacks for everyone before Sophie could work. Then Sophie did her math and reading.

The boys seem to have hit a threshold and have both been increasingly interested in the toilet the past few days. Today I tried the Jennifer Fitz method and after a successful round of toilet sitting, I handed every child a chocolate covered cranberry. There was much rejoicing and that seemed more than anything else to date to be the bribe that motivated Ben– not a treat for himself but one shared with everyone else. Maybe he felt too self conscious getting a treat when no one else did? For whatever reason, it worked. And then Anthony decided he wanted to wear underwear and Ben did too. Only one accident and that not a terrible one. And several successes. I think perhaps after many false starts, this time we’re really on our way. We let the boys play on the ipad while they are sitting on the toilet (it sits on a tray table in front of the toilet, not on their laps). So the girls naturally wanted turns too. Lots of iPad learning then. Sophie is especially in love with a phonics game whose name escapes me. Also the Princess Learn French app.

This afternoon’s reading was The Far Side of the Loch, St Louis, and a chapter of history. History being about the Renaissance, I then got out my Story of Art and let Bella look at the art we’d just read about. And then she decided to flip through the whole book. And then Ben and Sophie did too and even Anthony pointed at a few pictures. So I guess we knocked out art appreciation too.

Bedtime story: The Gingerbread Man.

Lucy does her pirate laugh at Wahlburgers.

Lucy does her pirate laugh at Wahlburgers.

Eating French fries.

Eating French fries.

Laughing Lucy.

Laughing Lucy.


Since in Boston we are blessed to celebrate the Ascension on Thursday, we began the day with Mass. Sadly we’ve been trending toward a later bedtime and later rising and so I decided last night there was no way we were making it out the door by 7:30 to get to 8:15 Mass at the Pastoral Center (aka “Daddy’s work”). So we opted for the 9:00 at our parish. And as soon as we walked in the door we began to regret it. We’d forgotten that our parish has a school and that on feast days the morning Mass is the school Mass. And for some reason they had their May crowning today. In the middle of Mass. (And I’m going to stop my complaining right now or I could go on all night.)

Anyway, it was an hour long Mass at least. Phew.

So then we were meeting some other homeschoolers– and one prospective homeschooling mom– at the playground. So we dashed home, packed a quick lunch, did a run through the bathroom for everyone since the playground does not have public toilets. (Especially important as both my boys have spontaneously decided to potty train this week and were wearing underwear out of the house for the first time!!!)

Our meeting was lovely and the kids had fun on the playground.

Home and we finished out lunch. The kids played in the yard. More time on the potty with time spent on the iPad as a carrot.

Afternoon stories: The Far Side of the Loch, Frog and Toad, The Striped Ships (we came back to it after a break, skipping ahead a couple of chapters to where Juliana is actually working on the Bayeaux Tapestry, which was why we were reading the book to begin with. Some really good stuff there.

Sadly potty training, which was amazingly successful all day, hit a snag with the sudden onset of a tummy bug. Diarrhea hit one of the training boys at the same time it hit one of the big girls. I’m hoping the knowledge that his big sister also had an accident will mitigate the sense of failure and that as soon as the upset passes we’ll be right back on the horse.

No schoolwork really, though Sophie did read me some flashcards with sentences from the Bob Books set.

Smirking Sophie.

Smirking Sophie.

Happy Ben.

Happy Ben.

Bella and Anthony at Wahlburgers.

Bella and Anthony at Wahlburgers.


Grocery day. We got a late start, mainly because Lucy slept really late. Also because trying to get two boys to just double check on the toilet.

Ben and Sophie were trying to play Mass before breakfast and a squabble broke out over the use of the coffee table and so I promised we’d get out the Mass kit and use it after lunch. Which we did. It took up our whole afternoon and made me late at getting dinner on the table. Ben was frustrated because I insisted on them doing everything right and learning the names and where everything goes. But I thought it was important that they do it right. However, I departed from the CGS script which said we were supposed to put the materials away unless they wanted to do the lesson. So after we’d done a painstaking lesson on the objects and how to set up the altar. I let them play Mass with them with me holding on to the Missal and reading the prayers while Sophie was priest and Bella was lector and Ben, Bella, and Anthony took turns as altar servers and acolytes and deacons and cantor and congregation. I tried to keep things reverent and make sure they were careful and precise with the materials, but we aren’t a CGS atrium and my kids would have rebelled had they not had the chance to do the full Mass. As it was, there was too much talking for Ben who just wanted to skip to communion.

I’m still trying to figure out the “rules” for doing this at home. It can’t be as rigid as an atrium and I want them to be able to follow their own desires to some extent. On the other hand, it seems to me that using the Mass kit does require some reverence. It’s meant to be a teaching tool.

Sophie learns about the Mass.

Sophie learns about the Mass.

Bella acts as acolyte.

Bella acts as acolyte.

Incensing the Gospels.

Incensing the Gospels.

Putting the incense in the thurible.

Putting the incense in the thurible.

More incense. (It wasn't actually lit.)

More incense. (It wasn’t actually lit.)


Farmer’s market. Wahlburgers for lunch. Home and then I went back out again with Ben and Bella to run to Target. Dom stayed with Anthony, Lucy, and Sophie to mow the lawn. When I came home I did a bit of yard work and then we made dinner: grilled steak and pork chops, turnips, and asparagus from the farmer’s market. And some home fries. No books except the bedtime stories. Somehow Saturday is always too full for story time.


Mass with donuts afterward. A little gardening, a family walk. Bella rode her bike with Sophie and Ben cheering her on. They are the best cheerleaders a big sister could want.

Chair train.

Chair train. The kids were very excited at the addition of the new red chairs. Now we have one for everyone in the family.

6 Responses to Learning Notes

  1. Ellie June 2, 2014 at 9:34 am #

    You’ve got a nice big backyard too, don’t you: it’s worth so much, isn’t it?! (Although the mowing is a bit of a bear).

    Yay on the toileting! For me, as a mother, I think that was my biggest thing: wean from the breast? Eh, whenever. Learn to read? Eh, on their own timeschedule. Learn to toilet reliably? Oh boy: asap! (Laughing at myself here).

    • Melanie Bettinelli June 3, 2014 at 12:14 am #

      Ellie, Oh yes. It is lovely. And in the summer totally makes up for the smallness of the house. In the winter, I wish I could just get them to go outside and stay there! Dom mows every week at this time of year. I think he can’t wait till the boys are old enough to help out with that chore.

      I’ve been fairly laid back on the toileting. I think I let some possible windows slip by because I was too preoccupied with pregnancy and babies. But I was starting to feel like it might never happen. Now… it’s almost done at least for Ben. Anthony seems to be a little less into the whole process.

  2. Suzanne June 2, 2014 at 10:39 am #

    I might have to try the bribery for my little girl. She can use the potty but chooses not to.
    I love hearing about your normal school days. I was homeschooled growing up,but was not satisfied with how my mom did it. I love the way your children get interested in something and want to learn as much as possible. My littles are almost 2 and 4. Is there anything you can suggest that I do or look into that would help with this style of education? ( If you have a quick minute between taking care of your kids. 😉 )

    • Melanie Bettinelli June 3, 2014 at 12:35 am #

      Suzanne, On the bribe thing… I discovered that it was a one-two punch. The treat each time something happens was very effective, but I also promised Ben a coveted toy when he successfully gave up diapers. It’s a toy he saw at a friend’s house that he’s been wanting for weeks. I didn’t think it really sank in since I only mentioned it once and he didn’t say anything. But after two days of no diaper he came and asked me when he was going to get it. So it turns out to have been a big factor too.

      As far as the education thing. At their ages it’s not about formal lessons but about cultivating curiosity. First, I ask questions myself, lead by example. I look at a plant or a bug and say: I wonder what this is, what it eats, where it lives? And then I go look it up to satisfy my own curiosity. I make sure they see me doing that a lot. They learn it’s ok to ask questions, it’s good to hunt for answers and that the world is an interesting place, worthy of being noticed. And take lots of walks to look at things and don’t rush them.

      And then I take their questions seriously. When they ask about something I make a note of it, even if I’m busy at the time. I try to hunt down the answer. I look it up in Google and maybe get a book from the library too– or half a dozen books. I also try to get nonfiction books from the library every time we go, looking for books which relate to things we’ve recently seen: construction equipment, animals, flowers, the grocery store even. The Smithsonian Backyard books are great because they tell an interesting story without anthropomorphizing the animals and include lots of details and facts.

      I stock the shelves with lots of books: art, history, poetry, music, science, literature, etc. Some of them are too old for the kids, but you never really know what will catch their eye and I’ve read them books that were way above their heads and not known what they were getting out of them. I don’t force it. If a book looses their interest, then it stays on the shelf or in the bag, but I might bring home a book that didn’t interest them in the library because it might catch their eye differently next week. (You don’t absolutely need a huge library as long as you go to your public library often.) My favorites for cultivating curiosity are some basic nature guides: A field guide to the plants and animals of North America, some bird guides and plant guides. I can use them to look things up, but now that Bella, Sophie and Ben are older, they are using them to look things up too. (Also, look at the tags on plants in the nursery or even the ones on sale at the grocery store so you can identify the ones in your neighbors’ gardens when you go for a walk.)

      Good books about this style of education are Elizabeth Foss’s Real Learning. Karen Andreola’s Charlotte Mason Companion. And I really like her Pocketful of Pinecones and Lessons at Blackberry Inn too.

  3. Suzanne June 4, 2014 at 9:42 am #

    Awesome. Thank you! I didn’t know Elizabeth Foss had a book, I’ll have to find it. I’ve read a little of Charlotte Mason before. I am reaIizing that I need to change my own mindset about education. For me, the interesting subjects were the ones I wasn’t forced to do. Everything can be interesting when the approach is changed.

    We go to the library weekly. We seem to be one of the few families that actually check out books. Most kids are brought there only for the story/play time. I love the library. I hope my kids do too.

    Potty training must be a form of purgatory for mothers. I am glad to hear there are shortcuts. It’s great that Ben chose to get out of diapers.

    • Melanie Bettinelli June 6, 2014 at 11:34 pm #

      I’m still working on changing my approach when it comes to math. I wish it came naturally to me and I could just do it without thinking as I do most other subjects, incorporating it naturally into life. But I can’t, so math books it must be, at least for now. I do wonder if by the time Lucy is in first grade I might find that it is coming more easily?

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