Sunday, September 18, 2011

Breaking News: Our First Live Sighting!

One of the things we were excited about when we moved to Oklahoma was that it is armadillo country. Bean particularly loves armadillos (in fact, he wishes I would call him Armadillo on this blog) and I am extremely fond of them myself. They are really really fascinating creatures.

Anyway, we've been here over a year and we had yet to see a live armadillo (they are really common roadkill because they jump straight up when surprised, which doesn't give them a chance against a car.)

Until tonight!

We were outside looking at the watermelons growing in Bean's garden when Fish suddenly says "Look! An armadillo!"

And there it was!!!!!

We approached slowly, not knowing when it would bolt (or dig!) but it seemed unperturbed. We got a lot closer to it than I thought we would.

The cats contemplated it, but in the end decided not to pounce. It didn't seem at all ruffled by their attack stance.

I don't think I would like it if it took up residence in my garden, but we were so thrilled that it stopped by Toad Hall for an evening visit!

Did you know that armadillos always give birth to identical quadruplets? And did you know that they can hold their breath, sink to the bottom of a river, and then run across the bottom to the other side? Armadillos are awesome!
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Saturday, September 17, 2011

This Week's Science Project

This week we put white flowers in food coloring. We were studying plant anatomy in our Biology book. The kids loved it. I find it amazing how such simple things get my kids so excited. It makes homeschooling really fun.

On a different topic, looking at this picture and realizing that Fish is still in his pajamas made me laugh as I thought of a cafepress website I saw just a couple days ago where you can buy a pair of pajamas that say "Homeschool Uniform" on them.... so perfect!
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Toadally Adorable

Hooray for cute organic cotton pajamas on clearance at Walmart!
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Dancing With Daddy

(He's singing "She Danced With Me" from The Slipper and the Rose.)

Lively Latin

I used to think that Latin was so dead that only really strange people like my sister the Humanities professor ever studied it at all.

Five or six years ago, when I was researching educational options for young Bean, I learned that all the really top-notch private schools and quite a few of the charter schools were starting to teach Latin again. They enumerated all these reasons why studying Latin made you better, smarter, and more talented with nunchucks and floral arranging, etc. I was pretty impressed.

I wasn't surprised when I found the Latin revival among the homeschoolers as well. And I thought, "well, maybe eventually..." but it seemed extremely intimidating. Latin doesn't have the best reputation for being easy or enjoyable.

Enter my friend Andrea. At one of my first visits to her house, when I was goggle-eyed and drooling over her homeschool library, I asked her what subject she and her children enjoyed most.

"Oh, definitely Latin," she responded.

I was rather floored. "Latin????? Latin is your favorite?"

"Yes, we all love studying it. It's the highlight of our homeschool day."

She then showed incredulous me their extremely wonderful Latin curriculum: Lively Latin.

Okay, all it really took was for me to see the cartoon centurion with the big cheesy grin on the front of the binder and I was sold.

Then I had to sell it to Bean.

It wasn't hard. I just used the principle of inspired relevancy. "Did you know that Latin is our new friends' favorite subject? Did you know that your cousin Toad studies Latin at his school and he loves it? Do you want to study Latin?"

"Yes, yes, yes!" Bean replied. "What's Latin?"

Well, by now he has a pretty good idea of what Latin is. We're having a lot of fun with it together. I love it that I can go at his pace and that the lessons are broken up into bite-sized pieces. I love it that there's a audio CD with pronunciation on it because I am having to learn Latin along with him. Both of us agree that our favorite vocab word so far is "agricola." It's just so fun to say (a-GREE-co-la). (And, by the way, it means "farmer.")

I'm already seeing how it is expanding his mind and awareness of so many things. I'm really glad we're studying Lively Latin!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Me and Us

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The Influence of a Good Friend

Last spring I was at the library one day with my kiddos when I bumped into a boy from Fish's soccer team. "Aren't you supposed to be in school?" I asked. Turns out he homeschools. Fish had played soccer with him for months and I had no idea until then. I was pretty excited! He took me over to meet his mom (who I hadn't met before because his dad always took him to soccer) and we arranged to get together sometime. We actually did, and it wasn't very long before I figured out that she is a kindred spirit.

My new friend Andrea is amazing. She has been such a blessing to me. She has a homeschool room in her house that is every homeschooling mom's dream, including a to-die-for homeschool library. And she lets me borrow stuff!!! I am so lucky!

Andrea is absolutely brilliant (she has a Ph.D. in math, if that tells you anything) and she has done a lot of research on curriculum. We have been drawn to many of the same books, so many of the things I've been wanting to look at she already has. Her homeschool style is the classical education style-- Susan Wise Bauer's The Well-Trained Mind-- and she is doing an phenomenal job with her 3 boys. Her boys are much more calm-mannered and academically-oriented than my boys, so the classical education works well for them. I love having my boys play with her boys because they rub off on my boys in a good way. Truth is, I would ideally like my homeschool to be a little more academically rigorous, so if my kids are hanging out with kids who have high academic standards they will see the possibilities and it will get them interested in taking things to a higher level.

The first time we went to Andrea's house Bean heard her eight-year-old son play a song on the piano that was half a lesson book above where Bean is currently. When we got home that day Bean HAD to learn that song right away. He did, and he's been driving us nuts with it ever since. But I'm so glad!

I love to go to Andrea's house. While the kids are romping around in the family room being a good influence on each other, she and I talk about one of our many shared interests. It's eerie how much we have in common, especially considering some of the big differences in our backgrounds. Andrea sews. Andrea gardens. Andrea bakes bread from scratch. Andrea uses cloth diapers. And everything Andrea does she does exceptionally well, so there's a lot I can learn from her.

It seems like Andrea is always introducing me to some wonderful thing that I am really glad to know about. Like Ottobre Design, a magazine that makes me want to sew all my kids' clothes myself. And it's Andrea that got us going on our Latin curriculum (which gets its own post soon, I promise!)

Homeschooling moms need a lot of support. I've learned to trust in the Lord to supply my homeschool support needs. I'm so grateful He put Andrea in my path.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Peanut Pets the Cat

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Random Legumes

Here are two more pictures from this series that were just too cute to leave off the blog.

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Just Bean

Awhile back I posted pictures of all the kids except Bean. I had so many good ones of him they needed their own separate post and I'm finally getting around to putting it together. Here's my handsome oldest:

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I Remember

We were asleep in bed in our apartment in Boise, Idaho when the phone rang that morning, interrupting our luxurious chance to sleep in on one of the Badger's rare days off.

It was my father-in-law. He asked if the Badger was home or if he was stranded in an airport somewhere. "What do you mean?" we asked. He told us that all planes had been grounded, and then he told us why.

We didn't have a television or a good internet connection, so later that day we went over to someone else's house to watch the news coverage. I remember sitting there watching the unbelievable visual images while holding my tiny son, who was not yet two months old. I was thinking about what kind of a world my son would grow up in. I knew bad things were going to happen in the last days because I'd been reading my scriptures my whole life, but I guess I didn't expect it quite so soon.

Ten years later, and I have five kids. With the exception of Bean, none of them really have a clue about 9/11 and their childhoods have been more peaceful than what I imagined they might be that September morning when the future looked so black. Thank goodness for that. They don't know what was taken away from them that day, but that means they don't miss it.

Bean and I talked about 9/11 this week and I was surprised at how hard it was to tell him about it. I can't hide it from him, but it was more painful for him than I thought it would be. I was old enough when it happened that it was not my initiation into evil (a la Joseph Campbell) but Bean now has a wound in his heart that was not there before.

I am grateful that I could then take the opportunity to share with Bean my testimony of Him who has the power to heal all wounds of the heart. It is my Savior Jesus Christ who carried me through the darkness of 9/11 and brought me healing and peace, just as He has done for every other trial and difficulty I have faced. And I know that there will be more, and I know that He will bring me safely through them as well.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Record I'd Rather Not Be a Part Of!

You may have seen the headline that says that Texas set the record this summer for the hottest summer on record in the US ever. If you read the article you will see that Oklahoma this summer came in just behind Texas, with both of them beating the previous record set by Oklahoma in 1934.

When you drive around you can really see the effects of the heat and drought. So many trees look like they're just barely alive and many of them look like they've lost at least half their leaves. It is particularly noticeable on the beautiful ornamental flowering pear trees, which are a very common landscaping tree around here. Landscaping plantings have definitely been the hardest hit-- you see a lot of dead bushes and shrubs in plantings around common areas and businesses. I should take some pictures.

Living through this epically hot summer is not something I ever imagined myself experiencing in my life, but we made it!

For now, anyway. They're saying La Nina is coming back and this weather pattern is going to continue for another year....

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Happy Tenting

We've been sleeping in a tent in the yard this week. We have such a great yard for "camping" in. The kids are so thrilled they've been begging to do school in the tent too, so we have for a couple of mornings. The first morning they got their daily work done in half an hour. I now know that they are capable of that, when properly motivated. This is useful knowledge!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cool Mornings

I just had to get out some long sleeved rompers for Peanut, then I had to take some pictures.

The End and the Beginning

Many people consider Labor Day to be the marker for the end of the summer. Time to put the boats away, put a cover on the pool, and think about things like school. I remember when I was growing up in Minnesota school always started the day after Labor Day and on Labor Day we always had a big church picnic. I have lots of fond memories of those picnics.

For us at Toad Hall this year, Labor Day seems to be marking a completely opposite change: the time when we can now think about enjoying outdoor activities. Now that temperatures are back under 100 we can think about things like camping and going to the playground and taking nature walks. We've got several weeks of outdoor living ahead of us. I am so excited about all the possibilities!

This cool air has really recharged our whole family. The sheer delight we all feel going outside now has spilled over into several episodes of family frolic and laughter.

The kids have been outside constantly. Bean now requests that we do spelling outside under the elm tree. And Fish wants to do reading out there too. So we do. And it's wonderful.

Fun with the Flock

Whenever the Badger goes out into the pasture, the goats follow him around. It's really sweet. They love it when he feeds them tree branches:

At the moment, we have seven goats. A friend of the Badger's dropped off three goats the other day. I'm not sure how long they will be here or what we are going to do with them. But at the moment it sure seems like we have a lot of goats!!!!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


It's so fun to have Peanut eating finger foods now. One of the first finger foods I give my babies is plain boiled pinto beans. Peanut, like all the others, loves them!

Beans are one of my favorite soap boxes to get on. Here I go: beans make the perfect baby food which will easily lead to your child liking beans when they get older. Then you have something that is cheap and healthy and nutritious to feed your family. You can buy them in bulk and store them for a long time. You can serve them so many yummy ways. Beans are keen!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Kid Pile

As you can see, they were having a lot of fun with this, especially after I put Peanut in the mix. When I was sorting through the photos, I found this little gem. I laughed so hard! Look at Fish's face and look at Peanut's face! Isn't she pleased that she's found a nose!

The Plan

Last year I set up a system for homeschool in which we did the core subjects of reading, writing, and math every day and then had a day each week for other subjects like science, history, art, etc. I was asked whether or not this worked and if I was going to do it again this year.

The only problem I had with it last year was that my kids would take so long to get through the daily work that we wouldn't have time for the "enrichment" stuff. In general I felt during the last year like school was hijacked a little too frequently by outside forces or by kids' tantrums. So I thought a lot over the summer about how to keep us on schedule and I decided that for the first time ever we really needed to have a paper in everyone's hand that said "This is What You Have to Get Done This Week."

One of the marvelous things about homeschool is its adaptability: you can mold it to the individual needs of everyone involved as well as the family unit as a whole. I have read a lot of books on homeschooling (though I still have many more to read!) and while I have been inspired by a lot of different philosophies my methods mostly revolve around what's best for my son Bean, because he is the one who... (I keep trying to figure out how to say this positively without making it into a non-issue) ... let's just say if he were in public school he would have been given a lot of labels by the teachers and we would be having a lot of conferences with the administration. Which is why he is not in public school. It has been a slow but rewarding process watching Bean blossom academically. He is doing well. But he needs a lot of structure. He needs to know exactly what to expect on a given day or he comes unglued. He also takes time to learn new things. You can't rush him through stuff and you can't expect him to rush through stuff either. You also can't expect him to sit for hours and hours. But if you provide the right balance of workload and difficulty level, you can expect him to learn very well.

This simple, predictable schedule is what is working for our specific needs at this time:

Every Monday I print out a paper that lists each subject they will do during the week and put it in their folder. Then there are little boxes to check off when they get things done. If it's a daily subject, there will be five boxes. A weekly subject will have one box.

There is also a paper in their folder that tells an approximate daily schedule. We get started with school about nine. The new rule is that if they are not done with daily work by about 10:30 then they have the rest as "homework." That way we can still move on to enrichment even if they aren't done. But they are motivated because they don't want "homework." I am finding though that there is usually some homework from someone, and that requires me to take time out of my late afternoons to do more school. This is a newer level of commitment for me but with my children getting older I can only expect that school is going to take more of my time.

My plan is that if we commit to this schedule it will eliminate a lot of the things that sometimes derail school, but there is enough flexibility in it that if something comes up we can just move things around a little bit. We just have to get through everything by the end of the week. If that means we have to do some "homework" on Saturday, well, public school kids have to do that sometimes too.

Our enrichment subjects are as follows:

Monday is library day alternating with art day
Tuesday we work on Cub Scout stuff
Wednesday is history day
Thursday is science
Friday the plan is to spend a few minutes reviewing our goals, then incorporate some kind of a service project, then hopefully have time for a game or something fun-- but there is a lot of flexibility in Friday (on purpose!)

Bean is also doing Latin, but since that is something only he and I do and it is difficult to do it with the little ones buzzing around we have determined that twice a week he and I will do Latin lessons upstairs in my room in the late afternoon. More on Latin later.

There are a lot more subjects we could be doing, I know, but these are the ones that I feel are most important. Much of the other stuff can be assimilated through the books and stories we read or in other informal ways. I would like to do more with Geography, but I have not yet found a Geography curriculum that I like and since I have a degree in Geography I am always talking about it anyway. I really think they're doing fine with Geography for now.

One more thing to add: I had the boys set goals so that this wasn't all coming from me. They both said they didn't want to get behind other kids their age. I showed them each a complete curriculum (that I liked) for their grade and said "This is what kids your age are doing. Which of these things will you agree to do?" They wanted to do it all. So I got the books (or comparable ones) and then broke them down into how much needs to be done in a week to get done by next spring. That way when they see their weekly sheet they know that this is what they have to do to reach their goal.

This is only Monday of Week Two, but so far so good. And if you'll excuse me now, I have to go give Bean a spelling lesson we didn't get to this morning.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Cold Front's Coming

Sometime during the night tonight a cold front is going to pass over Toad Hall. It may or may not rain, but the point is that the high tomorrow is going to be 80, and that pattern is going to hold for the next several days!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Bliss!!!!!!!!!!