Learning Notes Week of Sept 14
Lucy with a sunflower
Lucy with a sunflower


Managed to actually read Mass readings and discuss them before Mass. A really good discussion too about the cross and justice and mercy.

Anthony looking over Dom’s shoulder saw the still shot for the Shakespeare Original Pronunciation video and exclaimed, Is that the Globe? So the little ones are getting into it too.

Bella with the eyes
Bella with the eyes


It was a rough start to the morning. No one wanted to settle to school work. But eventually, after some yelling and tears, Bella and Sophie both got through math, copywork, and reading.

One of the reasons we had such a hard time getting started was because Sophie, Ben, and Anthony were playing Mass and I was reluctant to interrupt them, but more and more anxious because time was ticking past. At first they seemed to be playing members of the choir, holding books open and singing. Sophie was extemporizing hymns. I wish I’d recorded some of the lyrics she was making up, some really good theological vocabulary in them. I was impressed.

When that part of the game was over, probably because the boys got bored, Sophie constructed a church out of blocks on top of the coffee table. With a big cross made of blocks hung in purple. Sophie informed me that it was Lent. I loved that she included pews with kneelers.

When the church was constructed there was more Mass play. More hymnody. I taught Anthony and Ben the word “vestments.” Discussed liturgical seasons and colors with Sophie and Bella.

The reading lesson was one that led to interesting conversations, defining words, talking about English place names. The letter combination “str” reminded Bella that Shakespeare was from Stratford. Then we talked about the meaning of the suffix “ford” and that led to talking about “bridge” as a suffix. And Cambridge being in England and Massachusetts. And the two great English universities, Oxford and Cambridge. And that brought us back to “ford.”

Oh yeah, I sang them the Stabat Mater at breakfast and Bella recognized it from the Stations of the cross. That was our sum total of discussion about the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.

We had a little science discussion with Ben, Sophie, and Anthony about living and non-living things. And determined that seeds are living things. Need to follow up on that.

I got the girls to both read new words off the white board and to read me a Bob book each. My goal is to have a short reading lesson and practice in a real book every day. We’ll see if they’re up for it.

I read the rest of our chapter in St Patrick’s Summer. Then Milly Molly Mandy and All the World’s a Stage. And I think that was that. Though I have a nagging feeling I’m missing something.

Bedtime stories. Sophie requested The Hat by Jan Brett (Dom asks why we keep reading the same books over and over when we have so many.) Bella requested the Usborne Shakespeare Twelfth Night. I read the first two “chapters.” I need to read her excerpts from the real play.

I feel like there were other conversations I wanted to record. This is what happens when I don’t make my notes in the middle of the day but wait till the kids are in bed.

Oh Dom showed them some videos about lobsters after he got home. Bella helped with dinner, cutting and trimming the Brussels sprouts. Using a big knife. I was impressed. Though the farmer’s market sprouts were tiny and were starting to turn since I’d left them too long. Half the leaves ended in the trash because they were too icky.

Oh yeah over dinner we talked about Jacob’s ladder. Anthony said something about a ladder up to heaven and that’s all it took to get us chatting about the Bible story. That led us to quizzing Bella about who Jacob was. We talked about the twelve tribes of Israel, tried to name them but none of us could.

Sophie' block church. The cross on the altar is draped in purple because it's Lent.
Sophie’ block church. The cross on the altar is draped in purple because it’s Lent.
Sophie's church.
Sophie’s church.
Sophie's church. You can see the pews with kneelers.
Sophie’s church. You can see the pews with kneelers.


Sophie had a hard time at first. She’d started playing a game and building with blocks and didn’t want to disengage. I wish I could convince them to just get up and do their schoolwork with no prompting from me. But then it would certainly help if I got up when they did so I could prompt them. We all need to work on morning habits.

But even so she still finished her copywork and math first, finished long before Bella.

Bella did her math with the carrot of getting to watch the Prologue to Henry V after she’d finished. This was inspired as she’d been distracted from her math and was asking me what the Prologue meant. I’ve recited it to her many times since it’s a passage I memorized long ago.

So after she’d done a page of Miquon math I fired up the iPad and we watched Branagh’s version with Derek Jacobi. Then the Olivier version, which was really a treat since (I had forgotten) it opens with a long pan over a model of Elizabethan London and then sets the scene at the Globe playhouse with the flag being run up, the audience members finding their seats and apple vendors and noblemen brushing elbows. That was cool. Then a Christopher Plummer reading that was a disappointment to the kids as it had no video, just a slideshow. And finally a video I didn’t actually watch with them, because I was getting ready to go, about a different way to interpret the Prologue (I’m not sure I agree with the portrait of Shakespeare as a writer desperate with the impossible task of making an epic play fit onto the stage. There were plenty of examples he could draw on and he’d already accomplished the Henry VI plays. But it seemed like a fun performance.)

Bella didn’t do any copywork. We ran out of time. I told her to do it after the grocery store, but never remembered to prompt her. Also neither girl did a reading lesson.

So on to the grocery store. I did get Bella and Sophie to read a few labels and signs. Practicing real world literacy. Also the kids helped with scanning the food, fetching from shelves. And Anthony and Ben and I discussed things you can make with various ingredients. What can you make with flour? etc.

While we were picking up dried fruit Bella announced that she thought she had memorized the Prologue to Henry V. Great, I replied, say it to me. And so she did. The whole bit I have memorized, including the wrong word that I realized this morning I was remembering wrong. So while we haven’t been doing any formal memory work of late, she’s absorbing and remembering an awful lot of stray lines and speeches from Shakespeare. Works for me.

At the checkout line Bella discovered a treasure. A TIME special edition about historical empires. “Look! Queen Elizabeth! Alexander the Great! Romans! That Russian building I can’t recall the name of!” I had to buy it for her. And in the car: “Peru! Incas! A longhouse! Muslims! Ottoman Empire! Hagia Sophia! Byzantine Empire!”

After lunch, paper dolls. Bella drew a king and some knights and servants for Anthony’s castle. (Anthony was sad because he didn’t have a king or knight figurines.) Sophie drew Oberon and Titania and some attendant fairies.

We read Milly Molly Mandy, a chapter of Little House by Boston Bay, and The Winter’s Tale from Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare.

They watched more videos with Dom, who came home a bit early. Lobsters and deep sea fishing.

Bedtime stories: I read a bit of The Wind and the Willows to Lucy. Then Ben wanted a book about ducks.

We really need to get in some science and history this week. But boy has our Shakespeare study put down roots. I’m thrilled that it’s become memory work too.

Bella's treasure, spotted in the grocery checkout line.
Bella’s treasure, spotted in the grocery checkout line.
Sophie made Oberon and Titania paper dolls. With plenty of attendant fairies.
Sophie made Oberon and Titania paper dolls. With plenty of attendant fairies.


First, Sophie wanted to organize all her papers in the bin where she keeps non-school art projects. She spent almost an hour going through all her old art projects and deciding what to keep, what to give away, what to hang up, what to toss. She refused to do any schoolwork until this task was done. Maddening.

Isabella kept getting distracted from her work by Anthony who wants her to play paper doll soldiers with him with the people she made for his block castle yesterday. He was insistent that he needed her to make more and to play with him. I think Ben wasn’t wanting to play.

But I did finally coax her to do a page of math and a page of copywork. And then I lost her to the battle game.

When Sophie had got her papers into piles I insisted that she stop and do her math and copywork before she did anything else with them. So she did both, getting through them pretty quickly. And then she wanted desperately to go join the noisy battle that was raging in the living room. I made her read first. She came to the bedroom with me while I changed Lucy’s diaper and then we sat together on my bed while she read. She got through most of Owl Babies.

After that we tidied up the living room a bit and rounded up the library books. And we headed out to the library. We were there about half an hour. I let the kids pick two books each and I picked a couple and we had some more Bruce Coville Shakespeare adaptations waiting for us on hold. The kids enjoyed the outing.

Home for lunch and outdoor play time. Plus, of course, kids plopping down on the floor, couch, chair to dive into the new books.

After I put Lucy down for her nap we read some books outside until it got too chilly with clouds covering the sun and I moved back indoors. We read Bruce Coville’s Twelfth Night, which everyone enjoyed thoroughly. Then a bunch of the twaddly books the kids picked up. A chapter of the David and Charlotte Yue book Igloo. And a book about the history of measuring. Math lesson!

Bedtime stories: Bella wanted Twelfth Night again and Dom had fun reading it to her. He wasn’t familiar with the play and was really struck by how funny it is and how contemporary sitcom-like the love triangle is.

I read Sophie Coville’s Romeo and Juliet. She was enrapt.

Anthony's castle
Anthony’s castle
Paper doll king by Bella, for Anthony.
Paper doll king by Bella, for Anthony.
Paper doll knight by Bella, for Anthony.
Paper doll knight by Bella, for Anthony.
Paper doll knight by Bella, for Anthony.
Paper doll knight by Bella, for Anthony.
Paper doll knights by Bella
Paper doll knights by Bella


All day long the kids were slightly manic. I have no idea what that was about. It began before breakfast even. I woke to the sound of slamming doors and wailing, children chasing each other around the house waving belts. Breakfast is usually everyone gets whatever they want. The boys mostly have toast or bagels and frozen blueberries or other fruit. Sometimes Ben has yogurt or they all join me for oatmeal or eggs. The girls prefer eggs and toast or bagels and cream cheese. Lucy gets gluten free, dairy free bagels or bread and frozen blueberries. Since they’re all eating different things and their food is ready at different times, we just let them wander until their food is done and then they are supposed to get dressed after they eat. Today Dom made them all sit at the table because they were driving us mad. Maybe we need a better routine, but breaking them of the buffet breakfast habit would involve a lot of hard work first thing in the morning. And I am so not a morning person.

Anyway, I got the girls to sit down to table work relatively easily after breakfast. They each did a page of Miquon. Sophie’s copywork was from the handwriting workbook. Bella copied out a line from Shakespeare. What was it? Oh yes Twelfth Night: “Do not be afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, some have greatness thrust upon ’em.”

Sophie read me Sheep in a Jeep. Bella read a few pages of an Amanda pig story, we read alternate pages for about half of it and then I read the rest of the story and then the rest of the book.

The boys had outside time while the girls did school work. Sophie joined them while Bella did her reading. Then Bella ran outside for a bit. After that Bella begged me to let them watch a bit of The Merry Wives of Windsor dvd that came in yesterday’s mail. (I know, I know, no one would choose that play as the first theatrical production to show kids. It’s not even in any of the children’s Shakespeare anthologies. But Bella saw bits of it in one of the Globe Theater documentaries and just had to see it because it seemed like such a funny play.)

So all five kids sitting in a row watching Shakespeare. Totally spellbound though I doubt any of them but Bella had much idea of what was going on and even Bella seemed a bit lost. But they loved it anyway. The production is excellent quality. The acting and sets and costumes are wonderful and it’s lovely to see the play staged at the Globe. A real theatrical production but shot by someone who really knows how to make a watchable film. I’ve never read or seen this play, so I’m enjoying it too. We watched about half an hour and then the DVD player died and it was about time for lunch anyway.

At lunch things really went crazy with half the kids eating outside and Ben and Anthony deciding it would be fun to fling poor Lucy’s lunch all over the place. Most of a bowl of pasta sauce flung into the grass using her spoon. And the banana chips crumbled and tossed. And then I got conflicting stories about who did what. So no more film this afternoon as punishment till I got everyone’s account to agree.

But we had a delicious read aloud time. First a chapter of history. And a bit of science: Botany for Gardeners, dry and written for adults, but I used it more as an outline to talk about living things and plants. Then more Amanda Pig Schoolgirl and another couple of library books. There was one I really liked called One Boy by Laura Vaccario Seeger, a counting book that had windows so that when you turned the page parts of the words on the previous page show through and become parts or wholes of new words. Fun for my beginning readers. Then Igloo with a long discourse on climate and weather and ecosystems of the Arctic which led to getting out the globe to understand what the temperate zone is and the tropics and the polar regions. So we got geography and science in with that one. Also the first very short lesson in Latin for Beginners. Learning the word nauta, which was perfect since Amanda Pig had had her dressing as an astronaut. I was able to talk about the root words and we all repeated nauta a few times. I’m liking these micro lessons. Just a snippet now to whet the appetite for more later. Also, Bella asked why we need to learn Latin, so we had a nice discussion about that.

Anthony brought me a board book I hate to read aloud because, while I love the art and the concept, the writing itself limps with too many adjectives and adverbs, awkward word choice, and awkward rhythm and forced rhymes. It can’t decide whether it want to be poetry or prose and it is simply agony to read. Bella asked, “Why don’t you like that book, Mama?” So I explained a bit and then read her a line and pointed out the specifics of what I would change about it. And we went through the whole book line by line talking about the word choice, rhyme, rhythm and tried to revise as we read to what sounded better. It turned into a great exercise in revision.

Bedtime stories: the book about measurements. And another library book about kids coming over and eating cookies that actually had a nice little math– how many cookies does each kid get if you share the dozen with 2, 4, 6, and 12 people? And what happens when even more knock at the door?

Watching The merry Wives of Windsor.
Watching The merry Wives of Windsor.
Three kids playing together so nicely. I love the elaborate block structures.
Three kids playing together so nicely. I love the elaborate block structures.


How is it Friday already?

Over breakfast Bella asked me about the staging of Merry Wives of Windsor, which has an extension from the stage looping out into the audience (I’m sure there’s a technical word for it, but I can’t think of it.) So I talked to her about Shakespeare’s lack of stage directions and staging decisions and the role of the director and how the plays can be staged and performed in many ways even on the same stage space.

Sophie did a page of copywork from Romeo and Juliet: “But soft! What light from yonder window breaks, it is the east and Juliet is the sun.”

Hard to get Bella to focus this morning. Math was a torture, redirecting her attention after every problem. It didn’t help that Lucy and Anthony both wanted her to draw them pictures and was going back and forth between Bella and Sophie. But they both did get through their math.

Sophie read me Sandra Boynton’s Doggies. She realized there was a pattern: the number of barks from each dog matching its ordinal number. After that she was much more careful reading only the written number of barks and not guessing.

Bella escaped outside after the chaos of math and I can’t say that I blame her.

I spent the rest of the morning scrubbing the kitchen floor, a task that hadn’t been done in at least a couple of months. The kids came in and saw me at work and joined in. everybody took at least a brief turn with a wet rag scrubbing the floor or the cabinets or refrigerator front. They got all excited and planned to clean the whole house. In character. Servants preparing for the arrival of the king. And then ten minutes later were back outside while I fought to keep Lucy from dumping water all over the floor. But it looks really nice now and it’s such a relief.

We had a late lunch and put Lucy down for her nap late. Afternoon stories: the last chapter of Little House by Boston Bay. A few library books. And Ben wants Katy, always Katy. We did another micro Latin lesson: sum nauta and I threw in pirata too since Dom had informed me that today was Talk Like a Pirate Day. i tried to read to them about the Apostles Creed from the Inos Biffi Catechism book, but we got sidetracked talking about the Creed and what Credo means in Latin and then Latin grammar. Oh it was a major detour. So we never actually read the book. Oh well.

Bedtime stories: the first part of Coville’s A Winter’s Tale.

Bella the warrior queen
Bella the warrior queen
Regal Bella
Regal Bella
Sophie the fairy queen with her "attendant." Gleaned from A Midsummer Night's Dream, that has become one of her favorite new words.
Sophie the fairy queen with her “attendant.” Gleaned from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, that has become one of her favorite new words.
Sophie the Queen with Anthony
Sophie the Queen with Anthony
Ben reading.
Ben reading.


I slept in late after too late a night writing about hoemschooling history. I woke to find that Bella had built a recreation of the Globe theater out of blocks in the middle of our living room floor. It had a stage with a balcony where the musicians were sitting, a big space for the groundlings (peopled mostly by cars and trucks), and galleries on each of three sides from which other cars, trucks, and planes were watching the show. I was informed that the play was Henry V. The actors were the apostles and the musicians were a princess Belle figurine and a plastic duck named Lucy. It was delightful. Ben and Sophie and Anthony all seemed to be in the thick of it, playing along under Bella’s direction.

Also, I printed off some Shakespeare coloring pages and Anthony spotted a Midsummer Night’s Dream one: “That’s Bottom!” he exclaimed. Even Anthony is getting into it, a bit.

Look! I made the Globe Theater!
Look! I made the Globe Theater!
Look! I made the Globe Theater!
Look! I made the Globe Theater!
Look! I made the Globe Theater!
Look! I made the Globe Theater!
Look! I made the Globe Theater!
Look! I made the Globe Theater!
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  • I am so impressed. There is a quite a discussion in England about Shakespeare being too difficult for children and leaving him out of the national curriculum. Because of your postings over the last few weeks I have put four dvds on my wish list of Shakespeare plays at the Globe. I have been there twice and it is an amazing all round experience. You are giving your children such a rounded education. May you be blessed.

  • I’m catching up on my blog reading…This is all so impressive. Especially the part where your children voluntarily helped you clean the floor?! For real? My kids would run the other direction for sure. Your family is really good at blending school time and free time – so much overlap. I want that to happen at my house, but I don’t seem to be very good at it.

    • Believe me, getting them to help with the floor was a major victory. The thing is they will often do chores when they want to, but not when I want them to. But slowly, slowly, they’re getting better. I’ve started tackling the problem in a slightly different way: asking in such a way that I don’t lose face if they say no, thereby making it optional instead of mandatory. So I might ask, “Can I find a helper who can do this job for me?” instead of putting one kid on the spot. Also I’ve become a little better at recognizing when it’s a lost cause because they are too tired or too hungry or too whatever. So I don’t force the issue when it’s going to become a battle of wills. Also I’ve taken to praising them highly when they do anything voluntarily. Both immediately and if they do it when Dom’s not home praising them again to him when he comes home. Gradually, they are becoming more willing to help. I wish it were more habitual, but I can see where we’re making some slow progress toward that goal.