Learning Notes: Week of June 23

Lucy in carrier


I woke up at 7 and said Morning Prayer in my bed while nursing Lucy. Bella joined me for the last bit.

After that Bella asked me to read the readings for the day and so I did as well as a reflection on the Gospel. We briefly discussed whether our good deeds can earn us a place in heaven.

While I made breakfast (bagels with cream cheese) I read the saint of the day.

After breakfast I settled the boys doing a math game. I’d made up a bunch of cards with four dots on them and gave them a bucket of coins, bears, and square tiles and they had to place one counter on each dot and count them: one, two, three, four. Anthony could do it, but lost count a few times. Ben had no trouble and so moved on the the next activity, turning the cards over and placing four objects on each blank card. Tomorrow I’ll give Ben the five cards.

While the boys worked on that, Sophie did some pages in her handwriting workbook. Bella read some words and sentences off the whiteboard and then ran around outside for a bit. Then she read me two Bob books. Then she sat and did her copywork (sitting on a chair in the kitchen, listening to Beethoven) while I did a math activity with Sophie, counting a pile of dimes, nickels, and pennies and using tally marks and then tally sticks grouped in bundles of ten to add them all up. After that she made patterns with the coins.

Then while I nursed Lucy down for her nap I read Bella a chapter of Here in the Bonny Glen and then inspired by that I read Tam O’Shanter. I tried to get Bella to practice math facts with flashcards, but she was not able to focus. Then I read Anthony Little Rabbit’s Loose Tooth. And then I entertained everyone by reading several pages backwards. Then Sophie read me the sentences from the whiteboards and sat down to read an Elephant and Piggie book. I read Piggie’s lines and she read Gerald’s and the whale’s.

Then Anthony asked me to draw him a monkey and I did and then Sophie finished drawing the picture adding embellishments at Anthony’s request while Ben looked on. There was a banana tree, a coupe of airplanes, some flowers and a baby turtle named Lucy, a butterfly. Sophie said the rest of the monkey family were on the two airplanes.

Somewhere in there Sophie drew a picture of a family of mermaids on the white board, Ben and Anthony built things out of various manipulatives. Ben and Anthony built musical instruments out of linking cubes and marched around with them. Lucy tried to destroy the school supplies and scatter the flashcards. Sophie and Bella built a block palace.

Afternoon stories. Pueblo with Bella. Francie on the Run. A chapter from a library book called Who Was First about the exploration of America. Picture books: Take It to the Queen, Little Rabbit’s Loose Tooth, A Big Guy Took My Ball, Night of the Moonjellies.

Bedtime story: Seabird with Bella. Sophie asked for a library book.



Today was going to be a beach day. A friend invited us to join her at the beach (her aunt has a house right off the beach) and it sounded like a great plan. Dom just started his new job yesterday and for the next two weeks he’s only working Monday/Wednesday/Friday and so we have Tuesdays and Thursdays to play. But alas, last night a different friend posts a story to Facebook, seems there was some sort of sewage leak at the beach we were going to go to. So instead we went to the Museum of Science.

First, we did get in some table time. Bella and Sophie did copywork and read me some sentences from the whiteboard and played a phonics game (matching -ang, -ing, -ong, -ung endings with initial letters to form words). Ben and Anthony did more number matching cards. So that was actually a small triumph.

Note: On the way to the museum Bella was very excited when she spied (from the moving car) some flowers that she said must be in the pea family because they have a banner and wings and a keel. (Thank you, Shanleya’s Quest.)

At the museum we didn’t have an agenda today so we wandered.

We looked at a gigantic aerial photo of Boston and surrounding areas and placed some of our favorite locales on the map. Some places had handy push the button and an LED lights up and others we just sussed out on our own.

The New England habitat dioramas were a big hit. We spent quite a bit of time looking at the animals and plants (and smelling the smell boxes and pushing the light up buttons that highlight various animals).

I was pleased to to note Bella’s geography savvy when she looked at the big globe and said that we were looking at Africa and look, there’s India. Phew, we are learning geography!

Bella was excited to see the whale migration exhibit. (I should note that going to museums with little ones is frustrating because they actually listen to maybe a tenth to a third of the written text as I read it. I’m learning to deal with it.) We learned a bit more about humpbacks and their habits and habitat.

We were not so impressed at two of the special exhibits we visited: Grossology, a science of the human body focusing on smells and impolite noises and the like. It was too loud, too flashy, we couldn’t concentrate or make ourselves heard by the little folk. I had a hard time believing any learning was happening even by the older teens we saw who were more engaged. Sensory overload seems a poor methodology for museum curation. The same was true about a hall that looked at math and sports: too noisy, too cluttered, too hard to focus. A video about robots students had built for competition was too choppy, you couldn’t even get an idea of what it was the robots did. A kiosk about musical instruments had potential, but had too much noise and flashing lights, too many variables so that it was hard to focus on the specific sound concepts each station was supposed to teach. The hall of human life was too old for our crew too. Too many screens and not enough hands-on.

So we took a lunch break and then went on to other things. A big hit was an old diorama of a Hopi village circa 1900. Bella was thrilled because we’ve been reading about pueblo dwellers. We spent a lot of time looking at that and at the African watering hole diorama. I know they aren’t cool and modern and exciting, but they are a favorite for the littles who get overwhelmed by the flashier things and all the screens. We went to an exhibit about the physics of the playground. Most of the science was lost on our crew, but they still had fun playing with swings, a seesaw, a huge lever with a 500 pound weight, and other fun, interactive exhibits.

Also fun were some kitchen science exhibits. One was a microwave with videos of all the stuff you aren’t supposed to do at home. What happens when you microwave soap, a lightbulb, a CD, a DVD, aluminum foil, peeps? An exhibit that let you measure the changing temperatures of hot and cold beverages and which cup insulates better. A model of an internal combustion engine. Magnets. An exhibit about light with mirrors and lasers and all sorts of fun interactive stations.

We ended the day looking at an outdoor exhibit which Bella has wanted to stop and look at the last few times we’ve gone but which we’ve never been able to do: rocks and minerals and fossils. Each one was a gigantic boulder-sized chunk. There were various sedimentary and igneous and metamorphic samples as well as a few minerals– rose quartz and something else. And a piece of petrified wood. Bella listened as I read the full descriptive plaque for each sample and we examined them to see what was being described. She was totally absorbed and so was I. I liked that it included a bunch of local samples as well as samples from famous places all over the globe: granite from a quarry in Egypt that supplied the pyramid at Giza, stones from the Giants Causeway in Ireland, etc.

The Museum of Science is great if we really slow down and look at a few things with which the kids are able to make meaningful connections. Sorting through the noise is hard, though. We were all a little overstimulated by the end of the day.

I was so very grateful that Dom not only drove there and back in heavy traffic but he even made dinner for us so that I could have a little break. And he has a head cold and just started a new job, both of which would have been a great excuse not to do hard things.

I took the opportunity to do some read alouds. We read a chapter of Down to the Bonny Glen. And a few pages of Seabird. We also had a video chat with my sister.

Bedtime reading was a truck book for Anthony, with Lucy chiming in at every line. Dom and I noted today that she’s seemed to have one of those language explosions this week. Suddenly she’s echoing everything we say and doing it very clearly and with clear understanding and intent. Ben’s was The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems, which I adore so much I can’t even tell you how much I love the pictures in this book and the selection of poems. I am delighted when they bring it to me. Ben’s first choice was “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee Jr. I love this poem. I think I’m going to make a project to memorize it and have the kids memorize it too:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings

We also read Sigfried Sassoon’s The General and Poe’s Annabel Lee.

Ben reading at library

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music at library

Bella and sophie dance


No table time today. I stayed up too late last night, slept in, and then had to get the kids ready to leave the house. But that’s ok because we had an awesome day.

We drove to Cambridge and met my friend Zina and her kids at the Cambridge public library. First we had a nice picnic while Bella climbed trees with Zina’s older boys. Then we played on the playground for a little bit, but it was hot so we soon retreated inside. The library is new and beautiful. The entire top floor is the children’s “tree house” and it was a lovely retreat. A bright sunny space with lots of nooks for reading in, a big plush carpet for the babies to play on, and books galore. And there were even tables where it was ok to eat. Very family friendly. We read books and chatted and played and then there was a concert and the kids danced. Well, Bella and Sophie danced. And Lucy’s little friend Emma danced. But Ben found the music too loud and escaped back to the other end of the library where he busied himself with a pile of books.

We did have time to read a couple of books when we got home. A chapter of Down to the Bonny Glen and a few pages of Seabird.

Bedtime stories were Sophie’s choice of an Elephant and Piggie book and Bella’s choice of Paddle to the Sea. The way Bella studies that book, I know she’s memorizing the Great Lakes and waterways. Geography win!

Also, Bella asked me what a general is. So she was paying attention to the Siegfried Sassoon last night.

Block castle
Block castle

Block palace


So Dom was home today but we went grocery shopping. It was one of those very late sleep in mornings and we didn’t even get to table time till almost 10. Bella and Sophie did copywork and colored in coloring books. I prayed morning prayer with them. That was all we accomplished before leaving for the store.

Afternoon story time: Seabird two pages, Down to the Bonny Glen, Francie on the Run. Picture books: Dahlia, Walter the Baker (with a discussion about why I don’t like the book, hinging on the definition of the word “plausible.”) Also a chapter in the Who Discovered It First? book about Chinese age of sail. It spent a long time going into what seemed a pretty crackpot theory which the book repeatedly said there was no good evidence to support. But it led to a nice discussion about evidence. And it does seem that there is fairly good evidence that some Chinese sailors must have made it to the Americas at some point or points in history, which is pretty interesting to think about.

Did I mention how impressed I am with Bella’s geographical knowledge? She pores over maps and memorizes them. I don’t think geography is a subject she’s going to struggle with. Really, nothing so far is except reading and math and I think math is related to reading.

I really need to figure out how to streamline math so I can squeeze it in on a day when we have a short table time. It’s easier to just assign copywork, that requires much less input from me. I need something easy and quick as a go to math assignment for when we are rushed so I don’t have to think about it.

Ben counting

Anthony counting


Adoration for homeschoolers today. I almost decided not to go, but I really wanted to. So I risked it and all the tired children were fine and I was fine and the traffic was actually not too bad.

Anyway, I did squeeze in a little pseudo-table time. Sophie and Bella did coywork, but I didn’t try to round up the boys. No math or reading.

Adoration was lovely. The weather was perfect. Not too hot. So after adoration we adjourned to the playground. I enjoyed chatting with other moms and a couple of grandmothers too. One friend had just adopted a new daughter from China who has just been here two and half weeks. It was amazing to finally meet her and see how wonderfully she’s doing. She and Lucy had fun shoveling bark mulch into a bucket. I love to see how well Bella plays with other kids. She’s very comfortable with kids and adults of all ages. Ben was very sweet helping Anthony and playing with Sophie, putting his arm around their backs in the sweetest gesture of affection.

We got home fairly early– 3:30– and had time to read the last bit of Seabird and the last chapter of Pueblo. And the first chapter of Minn of the Mississippi.

Lucy smiles

with Anthony and Lucy


Farmer’s market.

Afternoon stories: Down to the Bonny Glen. Minn of the Mississippi


Minn of the Mississippi, Fox and Crow Are Not Friends,

We looked at pictures of St Peter in prison. Raphael and others.

how are agates made

how do we make a tipi?

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  • Oh melanie it gave me such a smile this morning to click on your blog and see that you had posted a learning notes post ๐Ÿ™‚ i do enjoy these so much and we’ve been so ill and miserable and it just made me happy to think, ‘oh yay, i have a nice long post to read.’ So thank you!

    I also wanted to say, I know i’ve mentioned before how your Bella minds me of of my calli, who is now almost 15, in many ways. Calli was 11 before the numbers and letters stopped turning themselves upsidedown and sidewise — or, she was 11 before her brain could reliably cope with the fact that they do that. And then the maths and the reading stopped being a nightmare, and it all clicked and settled down, and she began to utterly shine in maths, reading, latin …. So i am just saying, have faith. For these kids with these sorts of challenges, the brain can sort it out, in time, with help. Maybe younger than 11, maybe older. But it does come. So, i just wanted to offer a little encouragement.

    Now, at almost 15, nobody would ever know or be able to guess or suspect that she used to have such challenges: she reads enthusiastically at the high school / college level; she is solid in high school algebra; she happily studies latin, greek, hebrew.

    I think you’re doing wonderfully with your kids {{hugs}} just wanted to offer that this morning. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Oh thank you Elle. Truly it gives me great joy to see new comments on my posts: Oh goody a comment from Ellie!

      it is encouraging to think this might get easier for her. For now, we keep plugging away a little at a time and we do make progress. When I think about where she was at this time last year, I see that we’ve made a great deal of progress.

    • It does, doesn’t it? I hadn’t really thought of the phrase, just tossed it out there. But aside from teach teaching of the mechanics of reading and of maths, for me the rest really is just pointing them at the books and letting them have at it, as far as I’m concerned.

  • I always look forward to these posts! I have a question for you about Shanleya’s Quest. It looks like an excellent book for learning about botany, but did you have any problems with the evolution slant? The description about life beginning as bubbles in a puddle of soup gave me pause. Just curious to hear your thoughts before I officially check it out. Thanks!

    • Danae, yes I don’t really like the beginning pseudo-mystical bits about evolution. Not that I have a problem with evolution per se, but the author’s approach is troubling. I do get what the author is trying to do with story and symbolic language, but it smacks too much of neo-paganism to me. After reading that part once to set the scene, and editing a bit on the fly to make it a little less uncomfortable, I tend to just skip over it and go to the islands. I think for older children you could explain what the symbolic ocean of time represents, but it’s a bit abstract for children Bella’s age, I think.

  • Hi Melanie,

    I just wanted to tell you I love your learning notes! My oldest is 4.5, so homeschooling is not far over the horizon now! I like seeing how it works day to day for others, and of course I always love your book lists and recommendations.

    Do you have any suggestions for books to read about the American Revolution? We are reading the Little House books, and are up to On the Banks of Plum Creek now, so my 4 y.o. can handle some chapter books. He really loves George Washington, and I want to find some books about that era that are good but not too long…

    I’m guessing you aren’t getting much private reading time these days, but I always like your adult book reviews, too!


    • Thanks, Heather. We haven’t got to the American Revolution yet, so I haven’t really looked around. I’m not a great planner. At least not this go round of history. Right now my attitude is that the books I have at hand at our local library are probably good enough. I look at the recommended books in the Story of the World activity book and for American history I’ve been peeking at Bearing Blog’s posts on teaching history to middle schoolers and cherry picking a few titles to look at.

      Bearing recommends Foster, George Washington’s World: I, “When George Washington Was A Boy”
      Fritz, Can’t You Make Them Behave, King George?
      Schanzer, George vs. George

      Yes, these days not much time for my own reading. Reading to the kids really does satisfy that itch, which is kind of surprising. But in the past I have turned to children’s books when I’m tired or sick or stressed and couldn’t handle things that were to thinky. Although many of the books I’m reading with Bella are very thinky.