Learning Notes Week of Sept 8
Lucy in a cowboy hat
Lucy in a cowboy hat


For copywork I copied out one of the antiphons from today’s Morning Prayer for the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary: “When the most holy Virgin was born, the whole world was made radiant.” Which was really only the first half of the antiphon. The second half is “blessed is the branch and blessed is the stem which bore such holy fruit.” That seemed like more than the girls could handle, though.

Both girls did a page of Miquon Math. Bella did some multiplication, Sophie did some work with a number line.

Sophie read me a few pages of Shark vs. Train while Bella played outside.

Then we headed out to church for the rosary. Our parish is praying a rosary novena for the intention of our future pastor (we are currently pastorless, with just an interim administrator). We were pleasantly surprised to arrive and find that the rosary was accompanied by adoration and benediction. Oh what a lovely way to spend the morning! After benediction we stayed to talk to the priest, who is one of our favorites. The little kids ran around and shrieked out all their pent-up energy. Bella and Sophie politely answered questions and Bella kept up her end of the conversation tolerably well. Fr. Matt blessed my hurt foot and asked after my sister. Oh I do wish he were our pastor instead of just a temporary seat warmer.

After that Bella wanted to go make a visit to the grotto outside. And while the kids were running around playing and finding wildflowers and autumn leaves to lay at Mary’s feet, we spied some friends: the family who always sit behind us on Sundays. I had a very nice chat while the kids played– an impromptu playdate. So fortuitous. We also exchanged words with the groundskeeper who was watering the flowers and admired the flowers to her, thanking her for her work and praising their beauty. It really felt like Mary saying that her birthday gift to me was this lovely community and parish that I get to belong to. After six years, it’s finally feeling like home. I don’t think I’m a stranger anymore. Not really.

So home to make a cake. Bella cut some flowers from the garden and arranged them in a most attractive bouquet. Then she arranged a bunch of holy cards on a blue silk scarf, making the top of the kneeler into a little Marian shrine. While I ate my lunch and did the dishes, Bella read me from Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. Then she got to listen to the ipod.

Oh and somehow we had lunch and Lucy took a nap. Oh yeah, I slapped some grilled cheese on the sandwich press and told Bella to take them off when the timer went off. Then I put Lucy down. And had my own lunch after she was asleep. Then I made Anthony a pb&j since he didn’t want grilled cheese. And I let Ben make peanut butter and graham crackers. I doubt any of them had any fruit. Oh well.

Then after Lucy’s nap the big kids and I read a bit. I read Milly Molly Mandy to Bella and Ben. Then Ben left and Sophie joined us for St Patrick’s Summer. We read half a chapter but that was punctuated with so many good discussions that it really took much longer than just reading. We talked about heaven and the resurrection of the body and the sacraments and had a nice chat about confession. And then the girls confessed to me a little sin they’d been keeping hidden. So that was quite fruitful too.

Then it was time to make frosting, put it on the cake, and then throw together burritos and quesadillas for dinner.

Today’s educational theme was definitely catechetical.

I can’t shake the feeling that a page of Miquon Math isn’t really enough to do in a day. But then I also don’t want to put them off math by making them do too much in a day and making it a chore. One page is about all they seem to be able to handle right now. Am I being a sensitive mother or coddling them? Are they going to slowly work up to being able to do more, or am I failing to challenge them such that they will never really realize what they are capable of?

Still haven’t figured out what to do about science.

Sophie's antiphon copywork
Sophie’s antiphon copywork
Birthday cake for Holy Mary
Birthday cake for Holy Mary
Making a cake with Julia
Making a cake with Julia
Bella's Marian oratory
Bella’s Marian oratory
Bella's feast day bouquet
Bella’s feast day bouquet
Lucy with rosary
Lucy with rosary
Sophie and Ben with Mary statue
Sophie and Ben with Mary statue
Sophie and Ben giving flowers to Mary
Sophie and Ben giving flowers to Mary


Bella did her copywork before I got out of bed! A triumph. I still had to nag her about getting dressed and math was like pulling teeth, but she did something independently. (I prompted her at bedtime last night, but still.) It was the rest of the Fairy’s speech in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She did a page of addition in Miquon and read me a Bob book. But she also found the phonics flashcards I’d printed out and went over them with me, so we practiced a bit of what sounds various letter combinations make. Very helpful.

Sophie also had to be prodded a bit, but then did a page of mixed addition and subtraction problems in Miquon. And the rest of her Fairy’s speech for copywork. And read me most of the Van Gogh board book.

While I was doing breakfast we listened to a brief bio of St Peter Claver, which Bella didn’t really pay attention to because she asked me about him afterward, but at least it prompted her to ask. Then we also listened to Morning Prayer. And after school work I read Bella the day’s Gospel and discussed it a bit. I really need to remember to try to include Sophie and Ben when I do that. It’s easy to just stick with Bella because she’s interested, where Sophie often complains about having to stop playing. But Sophie probably needs it more.

Lunchtime playdate at the playground. We met several homeschooling families and were there from 11:30 till almost 4. Exhausting for everyone, but we had fun. Socialization. We needed our socialization time. I’m that kind of introvert. Once you get me out of the house and into the social setting where I’m with friends I’m comfortable with, I want to keep talking and talking and talking till the cows come home.

Even though we came home late, I had planned leftovers for dinner, so I was able to sit and read for a bit. I read them a retelling of Twelfth Night. And then Heckedy Peg. And a bit of the St Kateri book.

Bedtime stories were Jan Brett’s The Hat and Rip Van Winkle, only a few pages of the latter which made Ben angry, but it was late and we were all nodding off. I had to promise to finish reading it tomorrow.

Really, I was impressed. We covered quite a bit of school work and managed to spend a lot of time socializing too. Having those habits of schooling is starting to pay off.

Laughing Sophie
Laughing Sophie


I was off to a slow start, after staying up too late. Again.

Sophie more or less breezed through a page of Midsummer Night’s Dream copywork– tolerably tidy, and then a page of Miquon math and we also spent some time playing with the Cuisinaire rods and looking at how ten orange rods really do equal a hundred whites, though our set only has fifty whites so we had to extrapolate and really we only had 49. (I suppose 49 out of 50 isn’t too bad. We’ve only lost one!). Then she read me the first half of a board book: We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. Then she wanted to draw and sew. She finished stitching up her bunny and was so pleased with herself. She’s named him Rabbitty.

Bella was having a hard time focusing. Before I could get her to start with the school work, she’d grabbed a bowl that had some blueberry juice in the bottom of it, remnants of someone’s frozen blueberry breakfast side. And a white paper and a paint brush. And she was busily sketching out a cross and the words “Love God” and then all sorts of other details. In blueberry juice. I know from experience that it’s better to let her come to a stopping point on her own than to try to derail the creative process, at least if I want to get any useful work out of her. I could be Big Bad Disciplinarian Mommy, but all I’d get would be tears and scrawls, nothing beautiful and no real learning. So I let her paint while I focused on Sophie.

And then when she was done painting she told me about what she’d been painting and her narration was revealing some pretty sophisticated theological insights so I asked her to pause while I got a pencil and paper and transcribed her narration.

Sophie drew a rather derivative picture with pencil and yet had some interesting original elements that indicated a thoughtfulness on her part too, and an observational quality to her mind. I wish I’d been able to get her to narrate her picture as well. At any rate, clearly their theology education is not deficient.

After the painting had been done, Bella did her copywork without too much resistance, no more than usual, I mean. She stood up a few times and had to be redirected, but she didn’t wander off completely. And it was tolerably neat. She did a page of math, just matching multiplication to equivalent addition problems. And she read me a few sentences off the white board. Good enough.

I read Bella the first three scenes of act 1 of Twelfth Night. Even though she can’t be understanding more than half of what I read, she still urges me to read more, read more. As Dom says, she doesn’t understand so she wants more information so that she can understand. When she sets her mind to learning about something she can be quite insatiable.

Afternoon stories were focused on the younger ones. I pulled the complete Pooh off the shelf and Anthony picked a story, the first one. Then Ben picked one: In Which Pooh Goes Visiting and Gets Stuck in a Tight Place. Bella picked the flood and Sophie picked the one where Pooh gets a present after the flood. I love Pooh and find reading Milne quite restful. It was fun to reminisce about when I read it to Bella every day for more than a year when she was a toddler and how Pooh and Piglet were her first imaginary friends. I wish I could have read so much Pooh to the others too. At least I can get it in now. Never too late. I didn’t read most of the Pooh stories until I read them with Bella.

There was also another reading of Shark vs Train somewhere in there for Anthony. Oh and Ben wanted me to read from the new Usborne book of Shakespeare retellings. He picked A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They’re all going to know at least the bare bones of that play so well by the time this Shakespeare kick is over. I hope I can find a performance to take them to. Wouldn’t that be grand?

Finally, I read them a chapter of Little House by Boston Bay. The one about the burning of Washington DC and the pounded cheese with too much cayenne. Fun how we’d learned something about the burning of Washington while we were in Fredricksburg this summer. And Bella was so taken with the inedible cheese that she had to narrate it to Dom as soon as he got home.

That was all the reading we did. Sophie made a doll’s house out of a cardboard box. Bella did a bit of crochet. Lucy continues to surprise me with her sophisticated vocabulary.

Bedtime stories: Bella had Dom read her something or other that I can’t recall. Sophie wanted the Bruce Coville Macbeth, which is a great retelling. I read through the death of Duncan and arrival of MacDuff. But then Bella was rather perturbed and afraid to go to sleep. Perhaps MacBeth at bedtime isn’t such a great idea. I had to say a modified Compline with her and a guardian angel prayer and a litany of the saints before she was calm enough to go to sleep.

We never did read Rip Van Winkle, despite my promise to Ben. When the time came he opted for Pooh and wasn’t interested at all. Oh well.

Also, all four of my bigger kids spontaneously put their clean laundry away without my asking. Seriously. What the heck? How did that happen? A few years ago I started sorting their clean laundry into little individual bins on wheels with the hopes that this would happen. For a while it did and then the novelty wore off and I eventually got tired of nagging them about it around the time Lucy showed up. I stopped caring. I just let them get dressed out of the bins in the laundry room. Then one day Sophie decided she preferred to have her clean clothes in her room in the mornings so she could get dressed there. And somehow the other kids have followed suit. So occasionally they cart their clean clothes to their rooms and put them away. Usually the baskets even make it back to the laundry room, though that might be Lucy’s doing. She likes to help with laundry. Only Bella regularly doesn’t care about where her clothes are. So I’m wondering if her clothes made it to the bedroom courtesy of the Lu.

Painting with blueberry juice
Painting with blueberry juice
The artist hard at work
The artist hard at work
Bella's blueberry cross
Bella’s blueberry cross
Bella's picture narration
Bella’s picture narration
Sophie's cross
Sophie’s cross


I’ve got to get to bed earlier. I was wiped today.

Bella was tired too. Hard to get her to focus.

I started with Sophie, she did copywork in her workbook, a page of Miquon Math for which we got out the Cuisinaire rods, and then she read me the first few pages of Goognight, Goodnight Construction Site. While we were fiddling with the rods, I showed the girls the first few square numbers.

Meanwhile Bella had done a line and a half of copywork and then wandered outside to play. I went out to sit with her and see if I couldn’t coax her to do some work. I told her to forget the rest of the copywork and asked her to please just do the math and reading. She agreed and asked it listen to the iPod afterward. So she brought her math book outside and I pushed Lucy on the swing while Bella dad a page of matching multiplication problems with corresponding addition problems. Then she read me How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight. Then she went to listen to some Narnia, I’m not sure which book she decided on.

Incidentally, I was blown away by Lucy’s ability to sit on a swing. I was reluctant to put her up at first, expecting her to just topple backwards, but she had an amazing sense of balance and sat right on it without wavering. Even let go of the swing with one hand to gesticulate. And still didn’t even wobble.

We watched a whole bunch of Doodling in Math Class videos. I think the math is beyond them, but they enjoyed the doodling part. Whatever, I enjoyed them. We also watched a couple of videos about bioluminesence. So I’ll call that science class and be done with it.

Read a chapter of Little House by Boston Bay and learned about the composition of the National Anthem. So had to listen to a few versions, naturally.

Dom and Bella had an after dinner conversation about atoms and subatomic particles and electricity and such. So we got in a bit more science after all.

Bedtime stories were How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight and Slowly, Slowly, Slowly Said the Sloth.

And that was today.

Sophie's sewing projects: pillow and bunny.
Sophie’s sewing projects: pillow and bunny.


I had to take Bella to have a tooth extracted (thankfully the last of the current bunch. Whether there will be more at some point in the future is still in the air.)

I did coax her to do math. We ran out of time for handwriting and reading. Sophie did her copywork and some of her math but without me there she evidently got frustrated and gave up. She didn’t read to Dom, though I had asked her to. I forgot to remind him before I left.

Bella and I did read one of her favorite books in the dentist’s waiting room, a book about fish that she loves. We also listened to Little House on the Prairie both going and returning.

When we got home I let Bella and the others watch a movie. I wrote a bit and read a bit and did nothing really very productive.

In fact I pretty much wrote off the rest of the day. We did rad two of the Usborne Shakespeare stories: Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. They aren’t great but they aren’t terrible. I’ve got the Coville versions on order at the library.

Over dinner we got to talking about the aurora Borealis and decided on the spur of the moment to take a drive to where we might catch a glimpse of the unusual southern extent of the phenomenon. WE drove down to Hull and had a hard time finding a beach that was really dark. And there was really too much ambient light so close to Boston. But Dom and I at least thought we might have seen a glimmer of it on the horizon. At least we’re pretty sure we did.

Got home very late and the kids were all asleep or got there quickly. All except Lucy who had slept in the car and now awake took more than an hour to get back to sleep. Oh well. No bedtime stories, of course. But a fun science adventure hopefully made up for it, even if we didn’t get to see anything spectacular. There’s a lesson in that too. As Jane Yolen says in Owl Moon: Sometimes you see an owl and sometimes you don’t.

Ben was pretty disappointed when he woke up this morning. But somewhat mollified by aurora pictures from the Mount Washington Observatory. Those were pretty cool. And perhaps more interesting because of our adventure?

Lucy and Anthony
Lucy and Anthony
Lucia in pigtails
Lucia in pigtails
Bella in Patriot's jersey
Bella in Patriot’s jersey
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  • When I was in elementary school, one of my teachers read the Pooh books to us. I was so taken with them that I soon acquired my own copies. They still are some of the most delightful of my childhood memories.

    • I had a few abridged pocket versions of some of the stories as a kid. Little tiny books. I acquired the complete set from friends when I was in college, but the first time I ever read them completely was when I started reading them to Bella when she was 2. She’d ask for a Pooh story every day at naptime. And sometimes another one at bedtime. Every day for almost two years I read her at least one, sometimes two or three. Pooh became her first imaginary friend, she loved him so. And I still haven’t grown tired of reading them. Milne is one of the most underrated writers in English. Brilliant.

  • That picture of Lucy in a cowboy hat is definitely a keeper. I love girls’ hair in plaits – not seen so much these days. When I was a child I loved reading about Milly Molly Mandy and can’t wait to read the stories to my granddaughter; she is only 7 months old so I will have to contain my impatience. I also liked Enid Blyton’s Noddy books – political correctness has removed these books from the library shelves – another favourite was Blyton’s The Wishing Tree series. These books aren’t great literature but I enjoyed them as a child and your children may also.

    • Yes, the cowboy hat picture is one of my favorites. Dom snapped it.

      I don’t see many girls in braids round here either. Everyone seems so impressed by the fact that I do it every day, but for the texture of my girls’ hair, it’s just easier than letting it get all tangled.

      I’ve never read any Blyton and never seen her books, but they’re on my radar to keep an eye out for since people keep mentioning her to me. Thanks for the recommendation.

  • Some of my most vivid childhood memories center on our parents keeping us up late — or waking us in the middle of the night — to see the aurora borealis and meteor showers and lunar eclipses. We lived in the country, however, so it truly was darkdarkdark. And cold usually! I remember being so stunned by the sheer enormity of the sky and the unfathomable deep of the experience. Well worth chasing after, even tho’ it leaves everyone sleepy!

    • I really wish we had easy access to darkdarkdark. Living so close to Boston means we’d have to drive quite a ways to really get that. But I agree that it’s worth chasing after the experience. When I was a teen we camped at Mesa Verde and it just so happened to be the night of a lunar eclipse. It was so very awesome. The dark, the stars, the moon, everything. That kind of experience stays with you, doesn’t it?