Learning Notes: Strawberry Picking, Banana Toes, Hedgehog houses

Learning Notes: Strawberry Picking, Banana Toes, Hedgehog houses

The sunflowers are taller than Bella.
The sunflowers are taller than Bella.


Table time started late as I did wake up till after 8:30. Sophie whizzed through her copywork but got stuck on the math from the beginning so I decided to take a break from that. So we played a game of Mancala and then I used the little fruit pieces to do essentially the same math lesson she’d been balking at: grouping numbers to find the sums that add up to seven. It was much more fun with little grapes and bananas and apples and oranges. Not only did we do the sevens but the sixes, fives, eights, and tens. She was having a blast and didn’t want to stop.

Meanwhile Bella slogged through her copywork. She sat and daydreamed then finally did a few words then sat and daydreamed some more, then wrote a few more words, then ran about outside, then came back in when I reminded her she wasn’t done, did a bit more copywork. It took most of an hour for her to get through it all. I decided to skip a formal math lesson and did a refresher of some mental math, just throwing easy sums at her and letting her answer them.

Ben and Anthony worked on some handwriting lessons in some workbooks I picked up at the grocery store. Tracing lines and circle. I was rather impressed by both of them. Much neater than I’d have thought. 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?

After that we moved to the couch for some couch time. Sophie read me Inch and Roly and the Very Small Hiding Place with lots and lots and lots of interruptions. Lucy needed to nurse. Ben and Anthony had questions and demands. Bella wanted to know the names of animals and plants in her favorite book– she was trying to read them and I wanted to encourage that, but how to help both girls read at the same time? By the time Sophie was done with hers, Bella had given up and wandered away. But if I’d paid attention to Bella instead, letting her go first, Sophie would have given up and wandered off. Some days you just can’t win. I probably should have done Bella first, but Sophie was so on top of it.

That carried us through to lunch. I made sandwiches, prepped a loaf of bread that had been rising overnight for its second rise, ate lunch, then put Lucy down for her nap. Then popped the bread in the oven and time for more stories. Sophie wanted The Barefoot Book of Children’s Poems, so I read a whole bunch of selections from that. Then I read Paddle to the Sea and then Hedgie’s Surprise and Mike Venezia’s Mary Cassatt. Then a chapter of Down to the Bonny Glen. We looked up the definitions of moor, heather, and peat and satisfied our mind’s eyes with a bunch of pictures. Thanks, Google. Then Pueblo. Afternoon stories were punctuated by a potty accident that required bath and change of clothes. And a request for snacks. And all sorts of other incidents. And Ben fell asleep, poor guy.

Also, I should not that yesterday, Sunday Bella and Sophie asked me to define “attend.” So I pulled out my dear friend, the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary volume 1. And read them all the definitions and then asked what use prompted their question so Bella quoted me from Prince Caspian: “If you do not attend, Gwendolyn…” My girls are already recognizing that the dictionary is a great resource. I’ve started pulling it out frequently as they ask me to define words.

Lucy laughing.
Lucy laughing.
Lucy finds her toes.
Lucy finds her toes.
Lucy feeds a banana to her toes.
Lucy feeds a banana to her toes.


Today felt like a jumble, disorganized, chaotic. I got up in good time, but Lucy had a terrible night, crying all night long, so I had a bit of a headache and felt out of sorts. Bella had a hard time settling to work and kept flying out the door during table time. I had to recall her several times and then she was hungry and sat down to eat some bread and jam. I don’t think she ever did more than trace a couple of letters.

But Sophie did several practice pages in a new handwriting workbook I bought for her at the grocery store and was very well pleased with herself. For math I had her do the worksheet page that she’d done the work for yesterday with the fruits. She was a bit reluctant at first but I walked her through each problem and she was able to see the connection.

Ben and Anthony did a bit more in their handwriting workbooks, but also had a hard time settling down. They came to the table late and left early. The backyard was calling. I wasn’t surprised since Ben was up at ten last night wanting to go out and play in the yard. (He’d had a long nap and so wasn’t sleepy.)

Then Ben cut his toe and it bled profusely and I had to doctor it up with Sophie still trying to do her math. We finished her math with me sitting on the floor and Ben in my lap. Sophie brought her workbook down the the floor and sat next to me after a long cuddle.

Then couch time. I did get Bella to read me several Bob books. This time when she stumbled over a word I asked her to tell me what it was she was seeing on the page as she struggled to read it. She said “pink” for “big” and told me the p wandered in and took the place of the b and then went away again. Then it was “race” for “ran” except I think she was seeing “ras” she said the same thing about the s, that it came and then went away again. Then “Did” seemed to be waving all over the page, she said, like something in waving grass or a leaf blowing. She also said something about flashing colors. She wants to read. She gets the idea of phonics and knows all of the letters and the sounds they make and she’s got a great memory and is very smart. So I’m thinking there’s something going on in the visual/processing/perception that’s making this whole reading thing a chore and a trial for her. She seems a bit relieved to be talking about it. So that’s good. Now we have to see where to go from here.

After that we read a slew of books. Milo and the Magic Stones, Madeline’s Rescue. I forget what else.

Then Lucy slipped and fell and hit her head. And for the second time today copious blood on the dining room floor. But she was ok and I stopped the bleeding and slapped on a bandaid and it was all good.

After lunch I had to make phone calls for appointments and such. After that we read Down to the Bonny Glen and The Pueblo. And that was it. I fell asleep after that. Late night with Lucy and all.

Hedgehog house by Sophie.
Hedgehog house by Sophie.


I clawed my way to consciousness sometime before six, thinking it was later and I needed to be up. Maybe it’s because Lucy arrived in our bed around two (causing Dom to vacate to the office after Anthony came in and demanded water and Lucy took over his spot while he was in the kitchen. I had to pull Lucy away from the edge of the bed, then I slept a while longer, waking fully around 6:15. So we got a nice early start to the day. I prayed Morning Prayer while nursing Lucy and then played the podcast while making breakfast, which is my favorite way to do it. I tend to be nodding while I read it the first time and distracted while I listen, so between the two I sort of feel like I really prayed.

Bella asked me about the saint of the day and so I read those biographies to her while she ate breakfast and I hulled strawberries.

Table time was much more successful today because after much whining and wandering on her part, I decided to put Bella on the couch with a makeshift lap desk made out of a cushion and the back of a puzzle. She finished her copywork in record time and it was neater too! She really hates sitting in hard chairs and said that getting to sit on the couch was like being freed from prison. So I guess we’re going to try this for a while and see how it works. Sophie, on the other hand, flourishes at the table. Trying to do math on the couch was dismal and I sent her back to the table.

Sophie did handwriting in her workbook and then two pages of Miquon math and read me Each Peach Pear Plum. Bella practiced math facts with flashcards, pretending to teach Ben some of them, which she thought really fun. Bella also found some word cards I’d made and made sentences with them.

Ben and Anthony did a bit more handwriting practice and drew pictures. Lucy made messes, unpeeling crayons, biting them, scattering the math manipulatives, ripping Sophie’s copywork and writing on Bella’s.

Afternoon storytime was short so we could get to the library. I read Blueberries for Sal, a chapter of Down to the Bonny Glen, a chapter of Puelbo, and a couple pages of Seabird.

Lucy Daddy bonding
Lucy Daddy bonding. This was Lucy’s first time requesting that one of us read her a book.
Lucy reads bedtime story with Daddy
Lucy reads her own bedtime story with Daddy
Lucy reads book with Dom
Lucy and Daddy time.


Field trip day.

We went strawberry picking and were out most of the day. The girls did copywork before we left and that’s it. We even skipped afternoon stories in favor of Bella making a strawberry tart with my supervision.

Ben at strawberry picking
Ben at strawberry picking
Lucy goes strawberry picking
Lucy goes strawberry picking
Sophie with strawberries
Sophie with strawberries
meticulous Bella makes a tart
meticulous Bella makes a tart


Grocery day.

No table time this morning. I took the temperature of the room– Bella complaining of a sore throat. I think she has a bit of a cold– and decided it would be an uphill battle. Instead we listened to a bunch of Beethoven, which soothed the soul and set a nice tone for the day. I was pleased with Bella for recognizing that it was Beethoven without being told. She’s got a good ear and a good memory for what she’s heard.

We listened to the Office of Readings on the way to and from the store and I always figure that’s good as me reading the Bible to them and discussing theology. I know Bella listens and ponders. Today was part of the story of Samson and a bit of a discourse about the Lord’s Prayer.

But we had a lovely afternoon story time. Down to the Bonny Glen. A hedgehog chapter, which had Sophie’s eyes sparkling. Bella thinks Martha is going to like her new governess. Then Paddle to the Sea. Then a couple of chapters of history about the age of exploration and Christopher Columbus. Then a book about the historical Hiawatha. Then naturally the first two cantos of Longfellow’s Hiawatha, which Bella quite liked. Then a Berenstein Bears book from the library and The Five Chinese Brothers.

Lucy at the front door
Lucy at the front door

On the whole we actually did fairly well this week. Not nearly as much math as I’d have liked or reading. We only managed table time three out of five days, but I suspect that’s going to be the norm for the summer, much as I wish it weren’t. This whole thing would be much easier if I were a morning person. Or even if I just went to bed on time.

Goals, not necessarily for next week but longer term. More math. More reading practice for both girls. Start reading the Bible daily and maybe a catechism lesson weekly. Try to do a science lesson of some sort once a week.

I’m realizing too that my academic goals are often in direct tension with my goals for field trips and socialization. I’d love to hang out with other families more often, but feel like we can’t be more social until I get the basic rhythm of school under control. Ditto going to daily Mass. I know some would argue that if I put Mass first then somehow everything else would fall into place, but I have my suspicions. Maybe that shows my lack of trust. But I don’t feel like I can do it so long as all we are getting is three days of table time a week.

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  • On two girls practicing reading (phonics level) at the same time: H had a trick when she was working with 2-5 kids on their reading at once. She would use dry erase strips — hers were long, just laminated paper, with handwriting guides on them, just one long line; but I guess you could use any dry erase board. She had more than one per kid, probably 2-3 per kid at least, a big stack of sentence strips. She would write sentences on them one at a time (she just made the sentences up on the fly) and hand them out. The kids would take turns reading their sentences, one sentence at a time. I don’t remember if she kept erasing and making more as she went or if she wrote all the sentences out on the strips in advance.

  • The problems you describe Bella having with reading are typical of a child with dyslexia. Sometimes children find it easier to read if they have glasses with coloured lenses. Is there anyway you can check this out for her. She must be so frustrated. Apart from that I think you are doing an amazing job. Your children are learning so much from the life and faith around them.

    • Yes. We’re looking into getting a psych eval for dyslexia. Unfortunately our insurance won’t cover it and it’s quite expensive. I’m trying to figure out how to get the school system to do it.

      • Bella’s description of what she sees when she reads reminded me of a couple of my students with minor sensory issues. They often use colored or tinted strips over the text to help them focus better on the words. They tried a few different colors to see what worked best. Just Google “colored reading strips” or some variation. You could probably make your own from something in the office supply section of target.

        I’m a long time reader (since before Anthony was born), but I think this is my first comment. I really enjoy the little peeks we get into your family and learning life. Come to think of it, I found your blog when I was thinking about becoming Catholic (which I did, in 2011). The way you incorporate faith into everyday life is inspiring.

        • I’ve had several people suggest tinted strips of some kind. I’m definitely going to give it a shot.

          Thanks so much for commenting. And yay for becoming Catholic! Sometimes I feel like I’m better at writing about my practice of my faith than actually doing it. But I sort of hope that by writing about it I’m encouraging myself too.

  • The school system probably won’t do it if because of special education evaluation rules and regs. You can, however, ask the psychology department at local colleges or universities in your area. If they won’t do it, they should have access to a list of free or low cost evaluators. All the best to you and your beautiful family!

    • I’m pretty sure it’s the IDEA that mandates that schools provide support for all kids with disabilities not just kids who attend public schools. Now I’ve had people say the schools don’t do as thorough testing, but I do know several people in MA who had evaluations done through the schools.

  • My mother, who is a school guidance counselor, says in TN that if it is a state recognized disability, the school has to provide testing services for it. I expect there is a similar standard in MA so you just need to find out if dyslexia is a state recognized disability in MA. I can’t imagine that it isn’t.