Friday, October 13, 2017

Healthy Brain Usage

In my ideal world, my younger children spend 3-4 hours a week watching movies and stuff.  However, in the real world, they spend 3-4 hours a day watching stuff, because whenever we need to keep them out of our hair while we're trying to get something else done the simplest way is to turn on a movie.  It's a safety thing, really, because those twins are so busy and so into everything that whenever we can't watch them really close they could get themselves hurt in a hurry, so if they're parked in front of a screen we know they're pretty safe.  Excuses, excuses.  I still think it's terrible.  So I'm writing this post to remind myself of all the hours in the day they spend engaged in active, imaginative play.  

The twins are just obsessed with the plastic farm animals.  I know I said that before, but this has become a Big Thing.  Every day they want them out.  They have so much fun with them.  

One of our favorite children's books is Roxaboxen, by Alice McLerran and Barbara Cooney.  It's about a group of neighborhood kids who live across the street from a vacant lot that has a lot of rocks and old crates in it, and they build up this whole imaginary world there.  Every time we check it out from the library, the kids get all fired up to play Roxaboxen in our backyard.  Here is Peanut's "house."

Raking leaves into piles and jumping in them is wonderful fun. 

What's driving me nuts is that our ash tree is dropping lots of leaves but it isn't turning much.  It's still mostly green.  Where's our beautiful red and yellow canopy for our annual fall poetry reading?  Blah.

Here's Roo reading in the yard.  Doesn't that look peaceful and idyllic?  Life with children... constant switching back and forth between screaming insanity and "awww... how sweet." 

Yesterday during homeschool break, the Rabbit got together an impromptu school orchestra.  It was a glorious cacophony.  I loved their creativity. 

I found this old Mighty Mind set in my closet... the first thinking skills toy I bought years and years ago for Bean and Fish.  Peanut and Frog had so much fun with it yesterday.  (A great toy, but beware: the magnets do not stay on the backs of the pieces.  It's still very functional without the magnets, just don't take it in the car.) 

Much good is happening around here, Birrd.  Don't forget. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A Bowl of Soup

I found a package of beef soup bones buried in our deep freeze the other day, and so, what with this colder weather and all, I decided to make beef and barley soup. 

I got out my mom's recipe and got busy chopping onions, celery, and carrots.  I was so gratified when my soup turned out tasting just like my mom's.  It's such a warm fuzzy feeling to bite into something that tastes just like your childhood. 

As a side note, I absolutely love to eat in the living room.  Curling up in an overstuffed chair with a bowl of yummy food is just so comforting and satisfying to me.  The only problem is, since the kids see me eating there frequently, they think they should eat there too.  I tell them and tell them and tell them that only adults can eat in the living room but it doesn't make a dent.  Yet another example of the maddening ineffectiveness of "do as I say, not as I do."  I could stop eating in the living room and solve that problem, but I don't want to stop, so I will have to deal with it. 

Gap-Toothed Peanut

Peanut wants you to know she lost her two front teeth!

Book Lists

I've spent a fair amount of time lately going over book lists.  Jenny Phillips's The Good and the Beautiful book list is really terrific.  There are tons of books on there, and what's even better, so many of them I haven't read or even heard of!  I have gone through them all up through grade 5 and checked to see if either of the libraries I use have them.  I finally figured out that the library websites let me make different lists and save them to my account.  Such an easy way to keep track!  Now when I go to the library I can just pull up the lists (books for Rabbit, books for the litttles, books for me, etc.) on my phone and I know what to go get off the shelves.  If the library doesn't have them, I pull them up on Amazon and save them to a special Amazon wishlist.  Maybe someday I will start buying some of the ones you can get cheap used, but for now the library has plenty to keep us busy!  

The other booklist I use a lot is a wonderful book I have called Read for the Heart.   It has all kinds of wonderful book suggestions, and I like to use it when I go to the library and look through the children's picture book section.  She has a great list of picture book authors/illustrators that she recommends as high quality, and I will just flip through the book as I go down the shelves and find the next author in her alphabetical list and see which of their books the library has.  A new favorite we just discovered through her list is Kim Lewis.  

I have been feeding the Rabbit a steady diet of wholesome literature and I'm so, so grateful I can do this for her.  She is the kind of kid that wholeheartedly soaks up anything put in front of her, so I have tried to be careful what I put in front of her.  I love it when I give her a good book and she reads it and says "I LOVED it!"  Lately we have both enjoyed several books by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock.  Her books have such good messages and are so well-written.  

I dream of being able to write books that are reminiscent of the styles of Natalie Kinsey-Warnock, Cynthia Rylant, Patricia MacLachlan, and Madeleine L'Engle...

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Some Deep Thoughts

When I was a teenager, my older brother somehow got a pirated copy of one of those elaborate computer games where you build a civilization from scratch, fighting off invading armies and other problems as you turn your villages into fortresses and then into cities with libraries and universities.  The thing that was cool about this particular copy of the game was that it had been rigged so that your treasury was always full.  Whatever you wanted to build or do, there was always ample money. 

I spent hours playing the game.  Even with excessive riches it was still a challenge, and even though you always knew you were going to win, it was awesome to watch your world take shape. 

The scriptures teach us that in life, there must be "opposition in all things." (2 Nephi 2:11)  All things.  Life is difficult, and it isn't fair.  That's the test we came here to experience.  I know this in my mind, but sometimes it's hard to accept.  Sometimes I wish life didn't have to be quite so hard. 

But I wouldn't want all the struggle to go away.  I enjoy challenges.  If everything was easy, there would be no satisfaction in accomplishment.  It would be no fun to grow a garden if all you had to do was throw out the seeds and watch them grow effortlessly into gorgeous flowers and delicious food.  It would not be nearly so fulfilling to play a musical instrument if you could just pick it up and play anything you wanted without ever practicing.  And why run a marathon if you didn't have to work and work to be able to do it?

Sometimes I think about that computer game from long ago and I wish I could play the rigged version of life.  The version of life where you go to make a quilt and you are not at all limited by budget when you go to pick out the fabric, and then you have all the time in the world, without interruption, to sew.  You still have to go through the process, and I'd be fine with a few needle pricks and a sewing machine jam every now and then.  You'd still have the satisfaction of working hard to create the beautiful quilt, but it wouldn't be so impossibly difficult.  The version of life where you can eat anything you want and not put on excess weight.  The version of life where you still have to weed and water your garden, but there are no pests or diseases to destroy your hard work... or maybe there are, but they are really easy to get rid of with a little care and attention.  The version of life where your cute adorable small children don't constantly destroy your house and everything in it. 

Wouldn't it be nice, I have often thought, if we could just dial down the opposition a little bit? 

Of course, if we did ramp down the challenges, then whatever opposition was left would seem incredibly hard to us, since we would not have experienced the harder challenges.  Those pinpricks and machine jams while sewing would become crushingly tragic instead of mildly annoying.  We would cry, "how could a loving God allow this to happen to me?" about a hangnail. 

It occured to me recently that my life so far has been the rigged version.  For one thing, in all my 38 years, I have never had to worry about where my next meal was coming from, nor have I even had to work very hard to have ample amounts of a wide variety of food.  It's like playing the computer game with a bottomless treasury.  Most people throughout history and even on this earth today have spent so much of their time and energy just trying to procure something--anything--to eat, and often it was never enough. 

I have also always had living accomodations that were, by most standards, absolutely luxurious.  Electricity.  Running water.  Hot water on demand, for Pete's sake.  Air conditioning.  When I stop and think about all the things I don't have to deal with that most people have had to or do have to...

The rigged version of life, indeed. 

The fact that I even have leisure time at all, that I even have the luxury of being able to choose what I want to do with my time, that's unbelievable.  So I complain sometimes about how I don't get enough free time as a busy mom of eight children.  How I wish things could just back off and be a little bit easier.  How I wish I could just do a little bit more of what I want to do: travel, write a novel, sing in a choir... the fact that I have been able to do any of that at all, ever, is something to be incredibly grateful for. 

It is in our nature, as children of God, to always want to improve our circumstances.  God is a creator, an innovator, a developer, an enhancer.  So it is understandable that we are always wanting more out of life.  We take where we're at, however humble or exalted that situation is, and we want to make it better.  That is a godly trait that we all possess.  We must balance it, however, with acknowledgement and deep gratitude for what we already have. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Teaching Peanut and Frog

Here's a look at some of the books I'm using with Peanut and Frog.  

Horizons Math is a long-time favorite around here.  I just buy the student workbooks.  I have never bought the complete set, so I don't know what I'm missing out on there.  I like the workbooks because they're colorful and have plenty of open space.  They get the kids thinking about numbers in different ways, and introduce concepts gradually.  I have been told they tend to be rather advanced.  Peanut is working happily in the first Kindergarten book, which is challenging her but not too much, so if they are advanced, that would be a good thing.  

I have had this book since Bean was five and I was going to start homeschooling him and I had NO IDEA what to do or where to begin.  How do you teach a kid to read?   

I have just loved this book.  It tells me what to say: my lines are in pink.  The stories are funny, and I appreciate that.  It's thorough and it doesn't try to give the kid too much new stuff at once. 

It took me awhile to learn that just because it says "100 easy lessons" does NOT mean that if you sit down with your kid once a day for 20 minutes they will be reading fluently in 100 days.  Not every kid is ready to read that well at age 4 or 5 or 6 or even 7.  Sometimes I would need to put this book on the shelf for a few weeks because their brains weren't ready for more yet. 

Another thing I finally figured out is that it's okay if you don't do the whole lesson in one sitting.  It's okay if you repeat sections of a lesson, as often as needed.  A child who is an early developer academically can easily complete an entire lesson in one sitting and can move from lesson to lesson without repeating stuff, but a child who is struggling with reading should not be expected to do so.  If it's turning into a battle in any way, I close the book and move on to something else. 

I love the Handwriting Without Tears program for beginning writers.  The Rabbit is using The Good and the Beautiful handwriting books and they're great, but when a kid is just starting out I will still pick Handwriting Without Tears.  This was the first time I have bought the green "My First School Book."  I bought it for Frog.  It's been really good for him.  He loves the letters they call the "frog jump capitals."  Of course. 

Peanut's Kindergarten book is very similar.  

I bought this book on clearance last year at Walmart to give Frog something to do.  It's not great.  Many of the pages are poorly designed, and the level of difficulty for the pages varies too widely.  This has been my experience with most of the school workbooks you buy at the store: the quality is inferior, and a lot of the material is a waste of time and money. 

There were a few good pages in here and I did them with Frog, but now I am just pulling pages out and giving them to the twins to scribble on.  So I guess it's useful that way.  

I picked up this book this year because it came HIGHLY recommended by the Timberdoodle folks.  I thought it might help with Peanut.  I thought with the 100 lessons book that it was moving too fast for her and she needed more drill work on the basics.  Repeating lessons has been good, but I thought this might help too.  In any case, I was interested to see how it would approach teaching reading, since the 100 lessons method is the only one I was familiar with.  

It's been really helpful.  It started with teaching the five short vowel sounds by themselves, and now there is a page for each consonant where they just put that one sound with each of the vowel sounds.  Just two sounds is all they have to string together, and for a child that gets overwhelmed when asked to sound out a word, this has been very useful.  

Next up will be three letter words with each consonant, always with a short vowel sound.  No "funny words" like "was" or "to."  It will be awhile before they can read much that's interesting (stories or sentences) with this method, but for a child who's struggling, it's nice to keep things simple with the sounds and not overwhelm their brains.  Peanut and Frog have both been doing very well with this book.  I tend to reach for it first on the days where I can see that Peanut is having a hard time.  On days when she's more focused, we work out of the 100 Lessons book.  

Finally, the Kumon workbooks.  I have not yet seen a Kumon workbook that I didn't like, and these thinking skills workbooks are great.  I have always used and liked the Critical Thinking Company for thinking skills, but these might be even better.  I thought I had a picture of the cover, but I just have a picture of one of the inside pages.  You can see the animals are going around on an amusement park ride and the child has to figure out which one got off the ride in the second picture.  The illustrations are darling and engaging, the puzzles are age-appropriate, and they increase ever so gradually in difficulty so that the child starts with confidence and then is able to really stretch their brain without getting overwhelmed.  Love.  Also, you don't have to write in them, so I can save them and use them again with the next child in line.  

So, those are the workbooks I'm using with Peanut and Frog.  As I mentioned before, I limit the time we work in these books to about 20 minutes with Frog and about 30 minutes with Peanut each day, and we only do a little bit out of each one to keep things moving quickly. The rest of their school work is puzzles, games, educational building toys, being read aloud to, and lots of imaginative free play. 

They're so lucky.  They have no idea how good they have it!

Nurture, Time, and Effort

One day, in early 2000, I was walking across BYU campus and I passed by a booth run by the student honor association.  They said, "here!" and handed me a small piece of laminated paper with the following quote on it:  

"It is one thing to talk about the importance and sanctity of marriage, and another thing entirely to create such a marriage, day in and day out.  Marriage can be fragile.  It requires nurture and time and very much effort."  --Gordon B. Hinckley.  

I was newly married, so I took this quote home and hung it on my fridge.  It stayed there for years.  I read it often.  When my marriage felt fragile, I would remember "nurture, time, and very much effort."  Even after one of our many moves, when the little quote disappeared, I would still think of it regularly because it was so engrained in my brain.  I tried to look it up once, but I couldn't find it.  Still, I remembered it.  Nurture, time, and very much effort.  

The other day I was going through a box of old, old stuff, and I found this little friend.  Funny how of all the handouts I've been given over the years with little quotes on them this one has stuck around.  Maybe it was because Gordon and Marjorie Hinckley have been people I've looked up to since I was a youth, and when I would think that they had to work hard at their marriage, and that it was a fragile thing for even them, it was encouraging.  

Now, I'm still working on that whole "nurture and time and very much effort" thing.  Sometimes I'm not very good at it.  Sometimes it's so hard to see outside myself.  So I'm glad I had this instruction early on, and I'm glad these words pop into my head from time to time and remind me of what I am supposed to be doing.