Learning Notes: Green Eggs and Gore Place

Learning Notes: Green Eggs and Gore Place

table time
table time


I have decided to try a new approach to our morning school, focusing on establishing the habit of table time instead of accomplishing a checklist for both big girls that seldom gets met. When I vented my frustration at not being able to get through the basics of our table work, Erin of bearing blog suggested I should try to think in long term instead of short term: where do we want to be in a couple of years when I have four kids doing schoolwork? Obviously, I’ll want everyone in the habit of sitting down and doing work quietly every day. So she suggested I should think in terms of creating a box and then filling it instead of approaching it as a series of discrete tasks. So my new goal is 20 minutes of everyone sitting at the table and working quietly– today I got about 40, which is what I was rather hoping for. The girls each did a page of copy work and then read to me. We did no math, but I have decided to make that lower priority for the summer while I really concentrate on getting them to a level of fluency in reading.

While the girls did copywork and I made some copywork pages for the next couple of days, the boys filled out coloring books and workbooks. Lucy napped, she went down before Dom even left for work, which is probably why it worked so well.

Ben was doing some little Leap Frog preschool workbooks and was quite frustrated at trying to count twelve and then fifteen objects. He’d try to count the things on each page and then ask me if his tally matched the number on the page. He really wants to be able to count like his sisters and really he is getting pretty good at it. Yesterday he identified all the numbers on an analog clock face and was able to tell me that five and one more was six and that six and one more is seven. Later Bella flipped through the book Ben had been using and identified all the numbers as prime or not-prime. Well, she wasn’t using that term, but the one she learned in Life of Fred: boxable numbers. I hadn’t thought of it before, but non-prime numbers you can arrange a bunch of dots into a box of evenly spaced rows and columns. With primes they don’t fit that way. So maybe I could say she did a bit of math after all.

Then I read the first part of a chapter of the Tipi book. Then lunch. Then the rest of the Tipi chapter. All about construction, which poles are put up in what order, the fine points of tying the poles and arranging the flaps and pinning the cover on. Fascinating stuff. After that a chapter of Down to the Bonny Glen, which this time did lose the boys’ interest as it was about the wedding. And then several pages of Paddle to the Sea, which the tipi book reminded me of and I thought Bella would appreciate. Also a few pages of a book I found while hunting for Paddle to the See: Looking inside a Castle.

in the barnyard at Gore Place
in the barnyard at Gore Place
Sophie climbs a weeping beech at Gore Place
Sophie climbs a weeping beech at Gore Place
Bella climbs the weeping beech at Gore Place
Bella climbs the weeping beech at Gore Place


Field Trip day. We did start out with table time. We got about half an hour. Bella traced a few numbers while I read about the saint of the day, St Margaret of Scotland. For copywork Sophie traced over an antiphon from Sunday’s Liturgy of the Hours. Sophie has stated that she likes doing “holy things” best so I guess she’ll stick with antiphons for now.

Bella read me a Bob book. Ben colored and so did Anthony. I had to shoo the boys away while Bella was reading. She hates having them look over her shoulder.

All this occurred while Dom was still here and eating breakfast. He was able to help distract Lucia a bit. An advantage to getting started early.

Our field trip was to Gore Place in Waltham, a beautiful house and grounds, what used to be a working farm and still keeps a variety of animals. We met some friends, another homeschooling family. First we stopped by the barns to see the animals. Then we started up the hill to the house but got sidetracked–inevitably!– by the two weeping beech trees. They are irresistible to little children, who see them as magical houses. Bella was up the tree like a monkey with her friend. The other kids climbed on the lower branches, like swings.

Finally we made it up to the house– spurred by the need for a bathroom. So I got to see a bit of the house as we all trooped in to use the facilities. There was a tour of the house at 1 and as it was already 12:30, we decided to have a quick lunch and then split our forces. My friend took the big kids on the tour and I stayed outside with the little ones who I didn’t think would appreciate it. Instead I downloaded the app and did part of the guided audio tour of the grounds. We had a lovely walk and saw rabbits and chipmunks and squirrels and birds.

The guide evidently was impressed by Bella’s book learning. Bella was full of information: “The drawing room was originally called the withdrawing room,” she told me. Sophie said it was very nice.

When we got home no one was all that interested in having story time, especially me. So we skipped it. I made dinner, the kids played.

Bedtime story was the See inside the Castle book.

Lucy at Gore Place
Lucy at Gore Place
pigs at Gore Place
pigs at Gore Place


I woke up really late this morning because I left my phone/alarm clock in the laundry room last night. I thought I’d left it in the bed when putting Lucy down to sleep, but I guess not.

So we got started really late, but still managed about 40 minutes of table time. Bella protested at the end that she hates sitting still for so long and I reminded her how much longer she’d be sitting still were she having to go to school all day.

Sophie and Bella both accomplished some copy work. After Sophie had traced over her antiphon she grabbed a piece of construction paper and copied out the full alphabet in capital letters. So she got in some extra practice.

After that Bella and I moved to the couch. I read her the first couple of chapters of Holling C. Holling’s Seabird. Then she read me three Bob books. Then I read another chapter of Tipis. Then I sang Anthony a song from the Go in and out the Window songbook: Pop Goes the Weasel. Then a Brambley Hedge story for Ben: Winter Story, which is a favorite. Then Sophie read me a picture book, which is the library favorite that everyone calls “Trucks, Trucks, Trucks on the Long, Long Road” even though the real title is something more boring and less memorable. Then I read Bella the first chapter of the Yue’s Pueblo.

After that everyone migrated back to the table. Ben and Anthony asked for puzzles. Sophie and Anthony played with pattern blocks. Sophie did a page of Miquon math so that she could listen to a bit of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe on her iPod. Then Bella did a page of Miquon math. I wrote out a few pages of copywork so they will be ready to go the next few days.

Then we all had lunch and then Lucy went down for a nap. Over lunch I read them the daily mass readings and the life of St Barnabas, since it’s his feast. Once Lucy was asleep, we moved outside for afternoon story time: Down to the Bonny Glen, Francie on the Run, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, Everyone munched on pistachios while I read. Bella got a bit worried during Francie on the Run, so I let her run away inside for a bit, but she came back and finished out the chapter. Ben asked me to read Make Way for Ducklings. And then we were done with story time.

We pulled out the flower press and loaded it with buttercups, clover, wild roses, and creeping charley. And one rhododendron. We checked the progress of our garden, marveling at the height of our sunflowers. Then Bella decided to write a letter to grandma. I wrote out the text on the white board and she copied it out onto a paper and then decorated it. Sophie cut out flowers from a gardening catalogue and pasted them onto a paper to make a garden. Ben and Anthony each drew a picture for the other. Then everyone ran back outside for more play except for Bella who was really focused on her letter, going back and forth between writing and cutting out flowers to decorate it.

I guess today was really a high tide day. Lots of reading and writing going on. I also did some laundry and housework in there between bouts of educating kids. This is the kind of day I think every day should be. But of course it’s silly to set this kind of day as a benchmark.

Bedtime reading Mike Venezia’s Botticelli, which was a bit disappointing in it’s total dismissal of the Middle Ages as uninterested in art and culture and generlaly illiterate. We talked about evidence that points away from each of those misconceptions. It was at least a fruitful conversation. Bella is already shaping up to be a pretty critical reader.

Lucy watches Ben play
Lucy watches Ben play
Ben and Anthony playing
Ben and Anthony playing


We were up early. Bella had an orthodontist appointment– her very first but not, alas, her last. She’s going to have to have three more teeth pulled and then back to the dentist. The poor, poor thing has a very crowded mouth and her adult teeth keep erupting behind her baby teeth. This is not going to be fun at all. Poor kids, genetics is against them. I fear they are all going to be seeing way more of the orthodontist than I like.

Anyway, Dom took Bella and I stayed with the other kids. We still had table time and, honestly, it was much smoother when we were down a man. Sophie did her copy work and a math page. Then I had to nurse Lucy and while I was doing that they all drifted away from the table and started playing some game.

Lucy didn’t actually nap and after her little break Sophie read me Little Blue Truck Leads the Way. Dom and Bella came home when she was in the middle of that and then I tried to get Bella to do a little copywork. That was all she did and then they were all running about outside. So I puttered around not actually accomplishing much. I couldn’t figure out what chores I wanted to do and so did nothing.

Well, not nothing. I went out to the yard and gathered a bouquet of flowers and put them in a vase: some irises, daisies, wild roses. And put the vase on the prayer shelf. This in lieu of cleaning off said shelf and organizing it, which I’ve been putting off for weeks.

Afternoon read alouds were Seabird by Holling C. Holling. Bella is suddenly enamored of this book and really of Holling in general. It really is just her cup of tea. She loves learning about the world through story. This one has all sorts of delicious facts stuffed in to a great adventure. Sophie wanted to keep reading on Paddle to the Sea so we did several chapters of that as well. Bella was less keen. A chapter of Down to the Bonny Glen– such a surprise when Miss Norrie was dismissed! And relief that the incident with the embroidery thread didn’t turn out too badly after all. Bella really can’t handle the dramatic tension when children don’t follow the rules. It’s why we gave up on Betsy Tacy and why Francie on the Run isn’t her favorite. Ben’s request was for an Inch and Roly book, I think it was The Very Small Hiding Place. Then Bella demanded more See Inside a Castle.

Today was a day with lots and lots of playing outside and intense playing of games. Compensation for so much book time yesterday? Well enough since tomorrow is supposed to be rainy and also will be a grocery day.

Bedtime reading. Bella wanted the Smithsonian backyard book about monarch butterflies. Sophie wanted the picture book about Jonah that they got for Easter.

garden in June
garden in June


Grocery day, but I got up early and was able to get in maybe 20 minutes of table time, so I call it a win. Sophie did a page of copywork. Bella did most of a page, but left off the last two words. Sophie did a math page, or part of one, I think. Neither did any reading practice. Bella was having a really hard morning. She couldn’t settle to her work at all. She said it was because she hadn’t had time to look at her favorite nature book (North American Plants and Wildlife). So I let her bring the book to the table and look through it. After a while she was going back and forth copying a word and then looking at her book. Just getting her to sit at the table and try to do her work was a triumph today. She had a headache by the end of it, she said.

Going to the grocery store drains me. The children are very well behaved, but I have to constantly remind them to move out of other peoples way, to not touch glass bottles, to leave things alone, to not push and shove each other. Bella is getting quite helpful and can be sent off on little errands. That’s nice. Some day perhaps she’ll be a real help in getting the shopping done more quickly. She’d very good at recognizing labels and remembers where things are, so not reading fluently doesn’t slow her down too much if I send her to get an item we buy regularly. And I’m a creature of habit so most of my cart is things I buy regularly.

Lucy fell asleep on the way to the store and didn’t wake up till we were almost at the checkout. Which meant, of course, no afternoon nap. Ugh. And she was cranky as could be and very demanding of attention.

Still, I managed to read part of Paddle to the Sea and See inside a Castle. A chapter of Down to the Bonny Glen. And we finished the Tipi book and read a bit of the Pueblo. But that was it because then Lucy was done and so was I.

We had dinner out because it was Anthony’s feast day and because I was suddenly too tired and cranky to cook.

Bedtime story was a bit of the newest Bink and Gollie (from the library) and something else. I forget.

Lucy eats pea tendrils
Lucy eats pea tendrils
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  • Firstly, yes table time! Makes a world of difference and i’m glad you’ve tumbled on a method that’s working thus far ๐Ÿ™‚ Nowadays, with a 12 and almost 15 yo our table time goes from 10am-3pm but i think what you all are doing sounds great! Back when i had just one (my eldest who is now 25) it was couch time as that’s where he prefered to “do lessons” as he put it — maths, reading, writing, history, all right there on the couch. Bless, that seems very long ago now.

    What else was I going to say — oh yes! — poor Bella and the sitting still! I empathize with you both ๐Ÿ™‚ With my kids, we *still* talk about what the reality of their days would look like, were they in public school (the necessity of receiving permission to use the bathroom, and being given a hall pass slays them every time).

    • We do couch time too. But that doesn’t work as well for us for handwriting practice and math manipulatives.

      Really we were always doing table time in a way, but giving it a name and formalizing it and making it for everyone instead of just the big kids, such a little shift and yet such a difference!

      I bought Ben and Anthony each a little workbook from the grocery store and today they did handwriting practice during table time. And both did pretty well, really. It seems to me that they’ve got remarkably good fine motor skills for their age. Not that I’m an expert, but remembering Sophie at the same age as Ben. He’s got remarkably more patience, too. Neither boy is nearly the perfectionist the girls are. They didn’t mind at all that their lines weren’t perfect. Why is that?

  • Probably just a personality difference — more mellow when it comes to perfectionism. My Joshua was so good at maths and wanting to do maths workbooks at four and five but he couldn’t write clearly to save his life and he used to get SO frustrated! His numbers would wobble and drift over sideways and I remember thinking they were so cute, but it drove him mad. (Thank goodness he got over it).

  • Because of this post, I explained to Nat that if he were in school he would have to sit still every day for hours. It came up in conversation somehow, and so I told him- get up early, sit still, be away from home for many hours a day. He thought about it and said, “I think I like it better that you and Daddy are my teachers. Let’s stay home.”

    I’m hoping to work on table time for everyone when we get into the fall. We had it for a bit, but now it’s almost always Nat drawing, little kids on the floor playing. I’m going to try to start having Nat and Thomas both do a little math/reading/drawing/writing at the table together when we get closer to the beginning of the school year.

  • I have a question that I don’t really know how to ask because I don’t want to seem defensive or produce defensiveness so I’ll just ask.

    I see a lot in homeschooling blogs that the standards of behavior at public schools are used as an incentive for a child to behave at home. It makes public school seem like a punishment. Have you thought about what inferences a child might draw about his public school friends and what it implies about their parents?

    I don’t know what exactly I’m trying to ask because the standards are what they are and a lot of them are absurd. Pointing out differences in approach doesn’t seem wrong. It just seems that linking the differences to the misbehaving antics of the homeschooled child implies that he should be grateful he is not one of *those* kids.

    • Jenny, I don’t see it at all as singling out “those kids” because for us the larger context is an ongoing discussion about how various children have learned at various times in history and in various settings. We’ve talked about how Greek and Roman and Egyptian children learned, how Laura and Mary went to school and later Laura taught school out on the prairie. We’ve read about children in the middle ages who learned from a tutor, about Martha Morse learning first from her mother and then from her governess in 18th century Scotland– and how she also learned from the old herbwoman who was illiterate but wise. In A Little Princess Sara Crewe went to a boarding school in19th century England far from her father in India. And we’ve looked at various early 20th century public schools via Betsy-Tacy and Understood Betsy.Oh and I’m sure I’m missing some. We’ve talked about what it was like. what we might like or dislike about various kinds of schooling. I think Bella and Sophie get the idea that most kids in history have found some aspects of school at least mildly unpleasant at times, but they like learning anyway.

      While I might point out some of the disadvantages of all-day school, and yes, when Bella doesn’t want to sit down for 20 minutes of writing practice, I have been known to point out that she’d have to sit down a lot more if she went to school, I’ve never tried to make it sound like a punishment, just a reminder that she’s got it pretty easy.

      So just now I asked my girls what they thought of going to school. Bella said she’d hate to have to get up early but it would be nice to have more friends. Sophie said recess sounded fun. They both like what they have, but their reaction isn’t totally negative, you know.

      • I think that is a good answer. (as if you need my approval. Ha! ๐Ÿ™‚ )

        It is hard to ask these kinds of questions without feeling accusatory or accused so I try to tread lightly. It doesn’t upset me except the pang I feel knowing my kids have to do all the things I hated about school: busywork, stupid procedures, collective punishment. The only reason I bring it up is because I’ve seen it more than once in more than one place so I wonder how those conversations actually go. Funny about Sophie liking recess. That was probably the worst part of my day, but Grace loves it. I think Olivia feels more like I do about it.

        Grace lobbies to be homeschooled semi-frequently because she knows it interests me. What is funny about it is that she really has no concept of how it would work. Her latest reason for wanting to homeschool is so she could get her homework done during the time period of what would normally be the bus ride home since she isn’t allowed to have a pencil out on the bus. Silly Grace!

        My husband has offered to homeschool them if I really wanted him to do it, but I know that he is not that interested in it himself and would just be doing it since I can’t. I don’t think that makes for a good decision so they are at school for now. Or until whenever. Or who knows.

  • I think it is a good question for you to ask and for me tho think about. Because you’re right, I don’t want my kids to have a bad attitude toward kids who go to school.

    I actually wish they had more friends who aren’t homeschoolers, but our schedule and my inclinations don’t lend themselves to that. I prefer to do social outings during the week and save the weekends for family time, but the moms I know whose kids are in school always want to do social things like going to the zoo on weekends. Go figure. So I find myself putting off getting together with them. I worry about coming across as snobby and standoffish. There’s a really nice family at church whose girls love Bella and Sophie and we’ve been to their house once. They’re always inviting me to do stuff at the worst times too.

    But Bella considers everyone her friend. I think she’s going to be like my little brother Tim. The first time he met a kid who just didn’t like him– he was in the fourth or fifth grade I think — he was devastated. He didn’t understand why someone wouldn’t like him. It had never occurred to him before. Maybe I’m remembering backwards from what were really junior high issues, but I feel like I was often excluded in elementary.

    Grace might not be that far off about reasons to homeschool. I’ve often seen friends with kids Bella’s age complaining about homework on Facebook. Seems like the amount of time they spend on homework is about what I spend on school time altogether. I bite my tongue and don’t point that out, though.

  • Oh I keep an eye on the homework thing. If we ever get to the point that we are spending as much time on homework as I think we would with doing it all ourselves, I think I would pull them no matter what my employment status was. We have been fortunate in the area of homework in that, aside from the always ill-timed projects, they have been able to complete their work in 10-20 minutes.

    Maybe I didn’t explain the funny thing that Grace said well enough. She seems to think that if she were homeschooled, she would be at the table doing work from 8-3 just like at school except instead of having to wait until she got home to do homework, she could do it immediately at 3 when she normally would be riding the bus. The concept that homeschool would have an entirely different approach and schedule completely eludes her.

  • And you know that inability to imagine life another way is I think partly why homeschoolers invoke traditional school when we feel our backs to the wall. Here is a child who is being asked to sit still for half an hour acting as if you were killing them. It’s natural to try to make them see that what you are asking is in fact less than what they might be required to do in another setting. I think in part we are trying to draw some of the authority of the school. Because one of the hard things about homeschooling is that kids often do find it easier to obey and buckle down in a school setting and with a teacher who is not mom.