Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Does It Draw YOU In?

Recently I've been inspired by several mamas I know to read more about and learn from the writings of Charlotte Mason - a pioneer in educational thinking, especially as it relates to the role of the mother in the development of her children.  One of the ideas I've been exploring is the concept of Living Books.  The Living Books Library wrote about What's in a "Living Book" or Why We Collect the Books that We Do and another post, complete with examples and illustrations, called Is New Always Better?.

Leah Boden, host of "The Charlotte Mason Show" on Periscope and blogger at "Living Soul Deep" wrote Can You Tell your Truth from Your Twaddle? Shedding the Light on Living Books  and What is a Living Book?.  Boden points out that, though tastes and interests vary between families and children, there are certain characteristics that can help one identify a "living book" when reading the first two pages:

Here are a few questions to ask during your two page test:
  1. Does it draw you in?
  2. Does it engage the emotions?
  3. Do you want to read on?
  4. Could you narrate from the section you’ve read?
  5. Is the writer passionate about what they are writing about?
I came across this same line of thought as it relates to teaching children how to write.  Julie Bogart, owner of and and author of The Writer's Jungle: A Survivor's Guide to Writing with Kids talks about the story behind the development of this material in her blog post In Defense of the Writing Process.  She says that as she examined other writing curricula available,

The manuals I read showed “sample paragraphs” that weren’t even well written (organized, yes; but dull, lifeless).

In her Periscope The Secret to Breakthroughs in Writing with Your Kids, Bogart says,

So many writing programs had really crummy model paragraphs to go with their assignments.  I was looking at them and it’s like “I didn’t even enjoy reading that paragraph.  How in the world can that be a good model for my child?”  If you don’t like the model paragraphs in your curriculum, don’t use that curriculum!  It means that they haven’t actually understood that writing is for readers.

All of this reading (and listening) has been very informative, refreshing and delightful.  I feel inspired to seek out excellent and enriching reading material for our family enjoyment.  But it occurred to me that we do our children a great service when we teach them to seek out and identify the beautiful and the excellent in any field of study ... or even a field of entertainment!

Our family is an avid board game family.  This isn't simply because we like to play board games (though we do!).  It stems largely from the fact that my husband is a board game enthusiast, perhaps even (if I may be so bold) a board game connoisseur!    He not only enjoys buying and playing board games; he enjoys following the board game industry, game designers, game publishers and reviewers and the history of board gaming.

We have had many a conversation about the excellent, high quality and engaging board games that are available to those who know where to look for them, as compared to the sort one typically finds on the shelves of department stores.  I cannot tell you how many times I have heard or read comments from parents talking about consenting to play a board or card game with their children, and then putting up with it as long as they can stand it for the sake of quality family time.

Although I can't claim that enjoying and investing time in family board games rises to the level of importance of embracing excellent reading material or developing your own voice in the writing process, there are some parallels!  If you are struggling to make it to the end of the board game, if you dread being asked to play it and if you think that board games in general are something one must endure in order to make kids happy, you might not have experienced a really excellent family board game!  Why not set before your children board games that are well-designed enough to engage you?

As I began to mull over these thoughts, an idea took shape in my mind.  I shared  my musings with my husband and I asked him to brainstorm with me about the concept of "living" board games.  How would one go about describing or defining beauty and excellence in a family board game experience?  What he said delighted and surprised me; it was an inspiring encapsulation of what it looks like to enjoy a true masterpiece of a board game.  In the next few days I will be putting up a new page on the blog entitled "Living" Board Games!  I'll include Matt's description of how to recognize an excellent family board game.  And in that space, we will collect posts about wonderful family board games, including tips on how to use them with a wide range of kiddos.  Who knows - I might even be able to convince my husband to 'Scope with me!

"Wrong Chemistry" with Mr. Right.

Peace is an Uphill Climb

Above anything else, I want my home to be a safe place for our family.  I don't just mean a physically safe place (though I definitely do want that).  I want home to be the place where it is safe to retreat after a colossal failure and to receive the encouragement necessary to go back out and try again.  I want home to be the place where it is safe to share your crazy dreams and secret aspirations.  I want home to be a place where it is safe to cry or laugh, ask questions or sit quietly, all within the framework of knowing that you will always belong here and will always be embraced.

But this kind of environment, this attitude and atmosphere is a tall order!  Peace in the household requires more than simply "live and let live" or "do no harm".  It is not enough to avoid actively hurting or offending others.  Rather, peace takes purposeful, intentional (and often strenuous, self-sacrificing) effort!  Listen to how God's Word talks about peace ...

Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. Psalms 34:14

Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but those who plan peace have joy.
Proverbs 12:20

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Romans 12:18

So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
Romans 14:19

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14

And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
James 3:18

... be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.
2 Peter 3:14

[emphases mine]

Even as I read this, I am struck by how little of my day is spent intentionally seeking the peace of the household.  And, of course, none of us can do this consistently or perfectly.  So why make a case out of it?

I have found that this concept has been a foundational discussion in getting to the bottom of some of the trickiest struggles amongst the members of our household.  Yes, there are certainly times when someone actually meant to hurt someone, damage their property or say unkind things.  But at least as many times there are things said or done that weren't intentionally wounding and yet everyone nearby can sense that the result was upsetting. 

Rather than asking my children "Were you being unkind?" or "Why did you hurt her?" I realized that it often makes more sense to ask "Were you seeking the peace of the household?" or "Were you living peaceably, as far as it depends on you?"  This isn't meant to "pin" them with blame or to create a "gotcha" moment.  And I don't intend to convey that a failure to seek peace is an equally grievous offense as an intentional desire to wound.  Rather I simply want to reframe the attitudes and goals of interactions in the household.  Our goal as a family isn't to proceed on following our own desires and hoping to avoid conflict, but to actively plan for peace.

"Not thinking" about what you are doing or saying is not an excuse that renders you blameless in the offending of others.  "Not thinking," rather, is an admission that you were not seeking, striving, pursuing and planning for peace.  It may be true that you "didn't intend" to hurt.  But did you "intend" to bless, encourage and build up?

Dear Mama, as you lead your children in considering their hearts, consider your own as well (or perhaps first per Matthew 7:4).  How many times a day do we all fall short in this way?  We have our own agenda in mind and we fail to ...

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:3-4

Are you seeking peace ... or just wanting to get the stupid laundry and school work accomplished?  Are you planning for peace ... or planning to avoid inconvenience and discomfort?  Does this seem unbelievably challenging?  Humanly impossible?  Well, it should!  This is a divine task to which we have been called.  Peace doesn't come cheaply.  Think of what it cost Christ:

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Colossians 1:19-20

He shed his blood to gain peace with us.  And he shed his blood to give us the freedom to purposefully, diligently and actively pursue peace with others.  When you fail to seek peace, go to the cross in front of your children.  And when they fail to seek peace, lead them to the cross with you.  Pray with me as I pray for our household and yours!
May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
2 Peter 1:2-4
The LORD bless you from Zion! May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life! May you see your children's children! Peace be upon Israel!
Psalms 128:5-6
This post is a part of the Mama Marriage Counselor series.  The next few posts in this series will expand on and flesh out the concept of seeking peace in the details of life at home.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Phonics Investigation Challenge #2: -s and -ed

Welcome to this week's Phonics Investigation Challenge!  If you explore this challenge with your kiddos this week, be sure to leave a comment below so that we can include you in the shout-out next week!  You can watch the Scope below or read the text that follows.

Last week we explored the difference between voiced and unvoiced sounds.  This week we are going to expand on that concept by looking at two endings we sometimes add to words: -s and -ed.  We add an -s to nouns (naming words) so that they can name more than one (one cat, two cats).  We add an -s to verbs (action words) so that they can match with the subject of the sentence (We see.  Bill sees.)  We add an -ed to the end of action verbs so that they can tell about something that happened in the past.

But have you ever noticed that these sounds aren't always pronounced the same?  Say these two words out loud and think about the sound of the -s at the end.


Sometimes the -s says /s/ and sometimes it says /z/!  Now try these three words and think about the sound of the -ed at the end.  (Hint: You might want to try saying the word without the -ed and then adding on the -ed to see how it changes the word.)


If you have studied the -ed sound much, I am sure that you have already learned that sometimes the -ed adds a syllable; it says /ed/.  But sometimes instead of adding a new syllable, it only adds the sound /d/ or /t/ to the end of the word.  Look around at words you see with -s and -ed endings.  Do you notice the different sounds those endings can make?  That leads us to our challenge for the week!

  1. Can you figure out what the relationship between the /s/ and /z/ sounds of the -s or the /t/ and /d/ sounds of the -ed is?
  2. Can you notice any patterns in the base word (the word that you add endings to) that will give you an idea about whether the -s will say /s/ or /z/ or whether the -ed will say /ed/, /t/ or /d/?
  3. Bonus: One of these endings is more complicated to pronounce today than it was a hundred or two hundred years ago.  Do you know which one and how it has changed?
Happy exploring!  As usual, be sure to share what you found in the comment so I can mention you in next week's shout-out!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Voiced and Unvoiced - Answers!

Our first Phonics Investigation Challenge has come to an end.  Time for answers and shout-outs!

Here were the three challenge questions:

  1. When you read, keep an eye out for the "th" sounds.  Which one do you hear more often - the voiced or the unvoiced "th"?
  2. There are several other pairs of sounds just like this: your mouth, lips, teeth and tongue stay in the same position and only the presence or absence of the "buzzing" of the vocal chords makes the difference between sounds.  Some of these pairs can be found among the basic sounds of letters of the alphabet, so start there.  But there are some more complicated versions as well!
  3. As you experiment with the sounds of the letters of the alphabet, you may notice that there is one type of letter that is always voiced.  Can you discover what that category might be?

  1. This answer may vary depending on what you were reading.  The unvoiced "th" occurs in more English words, but the words which use a voiced "th" (like "the", "this", "that", "these" and "those") appear much more frequently in English!
  2. Here are some other pairs of voiced and unvoiced sounds.
    /b/ like the b in book and /p/ like the p in pet
    /g/ like the g in gum and /k/ like the k in king or the c in cat
    /d/  like the d in dog and /t/ like the t in ten
    /j/ like the j in jump and /ch/ like the ch in church
    /v/ like the v in van and /f/ like the f in fun
    /z/ like the z in zoo and /s/ like the s in sip or the c in city
    /zh/ like the g in genre or the si in vision and /sh/ like the sh in ship or the ti nation
  3. While consonants and consonant "team" sounds can be voiced or unvoiced, vowels (all of the different sounds that they each make) are always voiced!
Congratulations to Doug W. for answering the third part of the challenge correctly!

If you are on Periscope, you can catch our next Challenge live tomorrow afternoon (details at the bottom of this page)!  If not, be sure to check the website tomorrow evening and I'll put a link to the Scope on Katch.  Happy Investigating!

Monday, March 21, 2016

It Happened without Me

Sometimes I think that it would be so encouraging if I could trace all of the wonderful moments in homeschooling and parenting back to the great things I've done, taught or prepared.  But then all the pressure would be on me to keep them happening, wouldn't it?  And so, today, I am rejoicing in what happens without me and how God brings beauty apart from any doing on my part.

I shared here about our very simple schedule.  There are so many things I wish I could include.  But knowing my own personal limitations is the name of the game right now.  So we do what we can and we leave the rest to the Lord.  And this is what He does with it.

Last night at dinner, we each received a ticket ...

Preparations were under wraps.

A crowd gathered, anticipating the grand opening.

There was artwork, as at any gallery opening ...

But how many gallery openings have you visited that included an art history read aloud by the artist?

A generous supporter of the arts even made a purchase.

She was on cloud nine.  I  must admit that I was, too.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Mama Marriage Counselor

I'm starting a new series on the blog today and along with it a new page to collect the related posts.  You can find the text below on the Mama Marriage Counselor page (also a new tab at the top of the blog) and look there to see new posts as they are added.

Who had it first?  Who does it belong to?  Where did she find it?  What did she do to you after that?

Do you decide for the plaintiff or the defendant?  And which one is which anyway?

I used to view my role in sibling disputes more like that of a judge: hear the facts, render a verdict and hand down a sentence.

And then one day, everything began to change When God Turned the Tables on Me.

And now, I am learning, slowly, that being a mama in the midst of little people is more like the role of a marriage counselor than the role of a judge.  Sure, I can make a ruling on who gets the ball, who gets to sit there, or whose turn is next.  That is much simpler and quicker.  And it is of value to my children ... for about the next 35 seconds until another dispute erupts.  Or, I can walk alongside them and teach them how to understand what is going on in their own hearts.  I can view each "episode" as a learning opportunity for understanding people, their needs, our needs and our own tendencies.  And that is of eternally lasting value.

There are, however, two problems with this second approach.  First, it takes a lot longer.  It is a lot more challenging mentally, physically and emotionally to really invest into people's lives, to sit with them in their struggle and to be a safe place for them to turn their hearts inside out and dump everything onto the table for you to peruse.

Secondly, it will inevitably lead to your own journey of self-discovery.  You will never be that safe place unless your heart is inside out on the table, too.  But hold onto your hat, sister.  Once you start this journey, side by side with those little people who live in your home and breathe the same air you breathe, you will never be the same again.  It is like drinking from a fire hydrant.  So much testing by fire (or by water?) that sometimes you will wish you could go back to being the impartial judge and sentence-declarer.

And this is why we need to, we must take this journey in community.  Will you join us here?  Think of this as the counselors' meeting room.  Let us stir one another up to love and good works!

When God Turned the Tables on Me

Note: Even though I am new to blogging, I have been writing for years because it really helps me to process my thoughts.  Most of the things I write have just hibernated on my hard drive.  But I have shared a few things over the years, and this is one of them.  So if you know me in real life, this may be a re-run.

It was a fairly routine morning.  We had slogged through breakfast and clean-up and we were somewhere in the middle of making it through the morning.  I don’t even remember if this was one of the days when we attempted to accomplish some school work or not.  What I do remember was that the children were at each other with bickering and arguing.  I also remember that I was tired of dealing with it and just wanted it all to stop.  So, I did what (I thought) any good Christian mother would do.  I marched them all into the living room and sat them all on the sofa so that I could beat them over the head with some Bible verses (figuratively, not literally).

Although I knew better, I tended to treat Scripture as a handy list of how-to’s which, if I could conform my children closely enough to, would lead to a smoothly-run and peaceful household.  This particular day, I wanted to persuade my children of the importance of dealing with inter-personal problems according to the simple and straightforward method laid out in Matthew 18.  Follow this recipe, I wanted to convey, and we will all be a lot happier.

I opened up to Matthew 18 and scanned down through the verses until I came to the part about your neighbor trespassing against you.  I was reading to them from the King James Version and in that version, verse 15 begins in this way …

Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee …

I’ve listened to enough sermons in my lifetime to know that if a verse begins with something like “Moreover” or “Therefore” it means that the current statements are based on the context of what came before it.  So, in an attempt to be a good Bible scholar, I decided to back up to the beginning of the passage to put the pertinent verses in their context.  But an amazing thing happened as I read and explained.  I realized that God had turned the tables on me.  It was I who was being “beaten over the head” (although with far more tenderness and compassion than I had myself managed to muster) with these verses.

In Matthew 18, Christ begins by talking about little children.  In order to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must become like a little child.  In fact, God’s love for his little children is so deep and so fierce that he has stern warnings for those who cause one of his little ones to stray.  He compares himself to a shepherd who will do whatever it takes to seek after lost sheep.  And it is in this context, directly on the heels of the sheep-seeking illustration that the “Moreover” of verse 15 arrives.

Suddenly, it hit me.  Verses 15 and following are not intended primarily as a neat and orderly protocol for mediating human disputes and achieving justice (though in God’s providence, that may result).  Instead, these verses are a quick-reference guide on the active practice of participating with Christ in the sheep-seeking mandate.

So, what does someone sinning against you have to do with seeking lost sheep?  Well, presumably, if the sin was committed against you, then you were the first one to know that one of Christ’s sheep strayed off the path.  You were watching when he wandered out of the pasture, so, naturally, the first responsibility falls to you to run after him.  And, if you can’t manage the rescue on your own, you need to get help!

Even in the moment, I felt the difficulty of these words.  Wait a minute, someone sins against me, wounds me, disrespects me, treats me wrongly … and God is expecting me to joyfully jump up and go cheerfully after him, coaxing him to come back and hang out with us?  In a word, Yes.

Thankfully, the Lord anticipated my incredulity, and apparently Peter could relate to it, too.  You can hear the tension in his voice when he asks the Lord how many times one is expected to do this.  Doesn’t there come a point when we are released from the seemingly-impossible task of running after someone who has just hurt us?  Isn’t there some kind of limit or breaking point?  As was often his way, the Lord responded to Peter (and to me) with a parable.

The parable he tells is about the wicked servant who is forgiven an impossible debt by the king and then refuses to forgive a small debt to a friend.  Essentially, Christ was saying, “Well, Peter, I’m only asking you to do a small fraction of what I did for you.”  How can Christ expect us to run lovingly after someone who has just spit in our faces or slapped us or mocked us?  Because that’s exactly what he did for us.  Except our sins against him are sins against the infinite God and Creator of the universe, whereas the sins of others against us are simply sins against finite, created human beings.

When someone sins against us, we should be concerned about the offense that was committed.  But we should be concerned about it more fully as it serves to hamper that person’s relationship with the almighty God than in whatever sense it damaged that person’s relationship with us.  David recognized the much weightier sense of sin as an obstacle to his relationship with God when he said, in Psalm 51, “Against thee, thee only have I sinned …”  Certainly it was true that he had sinned against Uriah, Bathsheba, Joab, his soldiers and even the people of Israel as a whole.  But in the ultimate sense, the greatest weight of his offense was found in sinning against God.

So, here I was facing my children with a Bible in hand that I had planned to use like a wrecking ball to smack them around a little bit and whip them into shape for my own personal pleasure and convenience.  And instead, the Lord used Matthew 18 to say to me, “Are you running after these little sheep like I would run after them, to coax them back tenderly?  Or are you doing a better job of chasing them further away with your arrogant, self-centered attitude?  Watch out.  I don’t take kindly to those who cause my little ones to stumble.”

I considered myself warned.  Instead of lecturing, I confessed my sin to my children and I asked their forgiveness.  Thus began my journey into understanding that, while there is something truly unique and special about the privilege I have been given to be the mother of these dear children, there are also many ways in which my relationship with them is very like my relationship with my other brothers and sisters in Christ.  And because of this, there is no shortage of wisdom in all of Scripture, and in Matthew 18 about how to be a good mother to the little portion of the flock over which my Father has given me particular care and jurisdiction.

This post is a part of the Mama Marriage Counselor series.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Phonics Investigation Challenge #1: Voiced and Unvoiced

Welcome to the very first Phonics Investigation Challenge!  If you explore this concept with your kiddos, be sure to comment below and share what you've found.  Next week I'll add a shout-out to those who participated!  (Feel free to use the family name, initials or some other abbreviation for your kiddos for the sake of Internet privacy if you prefer.)

Note: If you learn better by watching and listening, you can Katch the Periscope broadcast here.

One of the things our family has enjoyed recently has been exploring and investigating our English language, pronunciation and phonics.  We've discovered that of all the sounds we make in order to speak English, they can be divided into "voiced" sounds and "unvoiced" sounds.  Have you ever played a kazoo?  (If not, you can click here for instructions on how to make your own kazoo with just a comb and a piece of wax paper!)  If you simply blow on a kazoo, you hear only the sound of air passing through your lips and the instrument.  But if you add a humming sound, you will vibrate the material of the kazoo (like the wax paper) and make a buzzing sound.

The same idea happens with the sounds of the alphabet.  Sounds are partly determined by how you shape your mouth and lips and where you place your tongue with relationship to your teeth and lips.  But sounds are also determined by whether you simply blow air through your mouth or whether you also make a humming or buzzing sound along with blowing air.

To try this out, put your hand on your vocal chords (the front of your neck) and say the word "think".  Stretch out the "th" sound at the beginning of the word.  Do you feel your vocal chords vibrating?  If you aren't sure, try this comparison.  Now say the word "this" and again stretch out the "th" sound.  Can you feel the difference?  For both pronunciations of "th" your mouth, lips, teeth and tongue are in the same position.  The only difference in the sound is the vibration of the vocal chords!

Pretty cool, huh?  Want to investigate more?  Here are some challenges for you this week:

  1. When you read, keep an eye out for the "th" sounds.  Which one do you hear more often - the voiced or the unvoiced "th"?
  2. There are several other pairs of sounds just like this: your mouth, lips, teeth and tongue stay in the same position and only the presence or absence of the "buzzing" of the vocal chords makes the difference between sounds.  Some of these pairs can be found among the basic sounds of letters of the alphabet, so start there.  But there are some more complicated versions as well!
  3. As you experiment with the sounds of the letters of the alphabet, you may notice that there is one type of letter that is always voiced.  Can you discover what that category might be?
Happy exploring, guys!  And please share your discoveries in the comments below!  We can wait to see what you find!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Phonics as an Observation of Beauty - Resources

I want to start off this post by making one thing very clear: this is not a required reading list for homeschool moms or parents of pre-school or elementary aged kiddos.  This is a nerd list for those of us who get a bug for finding out more and want to read further.  As Julie Bogart/BraveWriter would say, this is a list for #awesomeadulting.  If you'd rather work on hand-lettering or become a nature guide, please, please, move on past this list without the tiniest shred of guilt.  But if you are cracking your knuckles and getting your Amazon wish list ready - enjoy, my friends!

I studied elementary education in college.  Sadly, the class I took on teaching the language arts was poorly taught.  But the textbook was phenomenal.  Though we didn't even crack it as a part of the class, even then, I had the inkling of an idea that it was a gem and so I saved it.  After college I taught second and third grade.  I still didn't open the book because, as it turned out, teaching children the mechanics of reading wasn't part of my job.  The kindergarten and first grade teachers were all about doing that.  But if kids hadn't mastered it by the time they reached the second/third grade loop (I taught kids for two-year loops) then they were considered behind and needed remediation.  The reading specialist, speech therapist or special education teacher handled those needs.

So it wasn't until I became a homeschool mom that I ever pulled out Phonics for the Teacher of Reading by Marion A. Hull.  It was this book and others like it that opened my eyes to everything that was going on "under the hood" of our language.  As with operating a motor vehicle, it is possible to drive without really understanding how the engine works (ahem) but for some folks, getting in there and figuring it all out is a real thrill.  That's me with phonics.

Phonics for the Teacher of Reading is written like a self-teach manual.  You read and fill in the blanks to test what you've learned.  In and of itself, it is a pretty neat phonics investigation!  The edition I own is pictured above.  But because I was in college over 15 years ago, it doesn't appear to be in print any longer, though copies can be purchased used.  A new edition is available, however, called Phonics and Word Study for the Teacher of Reading.  I can't vouch for it personally, but if I didn't already own the above title, I'd be tempted to get the newer edition (actually ... I think I'm tempted to get the newer edition anyway!).

Also on my phonics shelf are Word Journeys: Assessment-Guided Phonics, Spelling, and Vocabulary Instruction by Kathy Ganske [I have the first edition but a newer one is now in print] and Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction by Bear et. al. [I own the second edition, but the one currently in print is the sixth edition].  I used both of these to develop spelling lists and word studies when I taught in the elementary school classroom and now use them as a resource.  These books are great for understanding how a child develops as a reader and speller and for assessing where your child is in his developmental journey.  These were actually textbooks for continuing education classes offered in my school district, but they can be purchased and read by anyone!

Teaching Phonics & Word Study in the Intermediate Grades: A Complete Sourcebook by Wiley Blevins is a resource I wish I had had as a public school teacher.  It does a great job of explaining and giving helpful advice for teaching on syllabication - how to see words in "chunks" and what those chunks might be.  All of my children developed this ability naturally without much help and instruction, except my oldest son who has needed a lot of explicit instruction and practice.  However, it is through working with him on this material that I re-discovered my enthusiasm for knowing what makes our language "tick"!

Finally, another (free) resource I have enjoyed is Mommy Speech Therapy.  My third daughter had speech delays, which prompted me to do a little research on how I could help her at home.  This site was hugely helpful.  And, though I no longer need to use it for the original purpose I found it, I have really enjoyed learning more about how speech and language work and how our mouths form the shapes needed to make the sounds we say!  Click on the "Worksheets" link at the top of the homepage for a list of all of the phonemes she addresses.  Want to geek-out on language coolness?  Check out this free printable to whet your appetite.

This is by no means an exhaustive list; it is really only a peek at my bookshelf.  Please share in the comments if you have other resources you love or have found helpful!

Phonics as an Observation of Beauty

I do not intend to make any sort of statement here about the "right" way to teach reading or phonics.  I'm not taking pot shots at sight words or a whole language approach.  I'm not advocating any particular scope and sequence, any methodology or curriculum.  What I'm doing, instead, is just sharing those "That's so cool!" moments that happen as I work and read with my kiddos.  In fact, instead of just sharing our moments with you, what I'd really love is to give you some jumping off points to help you to have some of those moments in your own home - with your own children or all by yourself as you enjoy a good book or just ponder our crazy, fantastic English language!

I've created a page called Phonics Investigations (see the tab at the top of the blog) with the basics of this post where I can add links as they are created so that you can access - all in one place - these fun phonics "experiments".  I'm also going to create a post on suggested resources and another one on how to implement the investigations.  I'm planning to post about one additional idea a week, but we'll see how that goes.

I'd love for this to be an interactive activity.  Perhaps you can share in the comments of each activity what your kids discovered!  Also, if you have questions, or (probably more likely) if your kids have questions, like "Why do we spell it that way?" or "Why is that a rule?" please let me know!  I'm not an expert.  But I am kind of a dork about this, and my kids have sort of latched on to that enthusiasm, so we would be thrilled to "product test" a new investigation and share it with you!

If you haven't already done so, please sign up to receive posts by e-mail (see the box on the right-side of the blog?) so that these investigations (and other ideas) can pop up right in your inbox!  Happy investigating!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

New Directions ...

I originally began this blog as a way to process out loud about our homeschool math experiment.  I will continue to blog about that as interesting things pop up.  But since I've laid out the basics, now I'd like to start a few new threads.  Here's what's been rattling around in my brain ...

Finding Beauty in Phonics

Recently, I listened to Sarah Mackenzie interviewing Andrew Kern.  Andrew Kern was encouraging moms/parents to be about the business of opening the eyes of their children to beauty, to be intentional about regularly putting beautiful things before their children.  Sarah Mackenzie asked "What would you say to a busy mom who says she doesn't have time to put beauty before her children because she has to teach math and phonics?"  Kern's response?  "I would say that math and phonics are beautiful!"

We've already been growing in our understanding of math as something beautiful to engage as a topic of conversation and to enjoy.  Recently, in my efforts to make more one-on-one time with my new reader and with my struggling reader, I've rediscovered the joy of uncovering new and curious things about this language that we read, write and speak.  I'm hoping to share little nuggets of interesting information and also ideas for phonics "investigations" with your kiddos.  I am hoping that this series will be of use to a wide range of folks - mamas of the littlest littles who want to prep for teaching pre-readers to older elementary kids who want the chance to dig deep into why English does what it does!

Math in Real Life: Board Gaming

Call me a snob if you like, but I'm not a super huge fan of "math board games".  In my experience (though I'd be happy to find a counterexample) most math board games put a higher priority on "educational" content and a lower priority on balanced mechanics, gameplay and replayability.  Plus, I'm not convinced that playing "educational board games" really counts as "living math" ... or perhaps it does, but only to the level that word problems count as "living math": something created to resemble real life for the purpose of teaching a math concept.

I'm not against word problems.  And I'm not against educational board games.  But what I really love to do is to play board games - real board games that were made primarily to be fun to play - and to engage with the children about how our understanding of mathematics facilitates our ability to play well and to make good choices in the game.  Our family is somewhat of a board gaming family so this is already a passion of ours and I want to help the children explore how math relates!  Want to join us in this exploration?

Mama as "Marriage Counselor"

Sure, academics and thoughts about academics take up a big portion of a homeschool mom's brain.  But for anyone (homeschool mom or not!) who has more than one kid, sibling interaction is a big part of the day and guiding them is a big part of a mom's job.  Over the last couple of years the Lord has really been re-formatting my thinking on this and my role in helping siblings to navigate disputes has shifted from the role of a "judge" to that of a "marriage counselor" - helping each person to know how best to love another with whom they live side-by-side, share space and possessions, clean up after and to whom they have a life-long commitment!

I certainly don't claim to have any kind of "silver bullet" that will "fix" sibling problems.  In fact, that really isn't my goal in my own home.  Rather, my goal is to use the "sticky spots" that commonly arise to teach my kids lessons that will have broad application throughout the course of their lives - lessons on how to know and understand their own hearts and on how to love others, even when those others are acting like enemies.

And ... Scoping!!

In addition to blogging here, I'm also hoping to start "Scoping" on Periscope soon on each of these three topics.  If you have a smartphone, you can download the Periscope app and follow me @hswotrainingwls (if you're on your phone you can click the link to find my profile).  I'd love to see you there and to have your interaction and input.  (Of course, I'd love to have your interaction and input here, too!)

Friday, March 11, 2016

Family Math

I promised that I would give you a glimpse of what family math looks like around here.  I know folks are wondering "Is this method sustainable?  Will you really be able to cover all of the things you need to cover for a range of different ages and abilities of children in a whole-group setting?"  So here is the answer: "I don't know!"

I really haven't done this long enough to know if there are cases where this model will prove more challenging.  But I have definitely seen many beautiful aspects of this approach.  Let me share with you a few anecdotes and then a few observations.


  • We did a review of the concept of place value using play money - hundreds, tens and ones - over the course of a few days.  The children practiced exchanging between hundreds and tens and between tens and ones.  We experimented with what happens when you add, subtract or divide a three digit number, and which order (hundreds, tens, ones vs. ones, tens, hundreds) makes the most sense for each process.  My ten, nine, eight and six year olds were all in participation.  The older three have definitely mastered the concepts of regrouping and their application to the three operations we examined.  The six year old showed a clear understanding of place value, but not as great a fluency with "regrouping" and didn't apply it to the operations.  That's OK.  She's learned some and become familiar with the concept.  She'll have plenty more exposure to it in future.
  • I realized that, though my six-year-old can tell time fairly well, she was having trouble taking into consideration the movement of the hour hand as the minute hand makes its way around the entire clock face.  I planned to take a moment during math time to talk about this with her, but since the older children were sitting nearby, the conversation turned into a discussion of percentages and proportions with the older children when one of them said,  "So, if the minute hand has gone 25% of the way around the clock, then the hour hand should have also moved 25% of the way between two numbers ..."  This reminded us why it is that we refer to times as "a quarter past" or "a quarter til" and we also talked about the reason (historically) that the minute hand is larger than the hour hand.  We also discussed that situations like this illustrate the usefulness of percentages, because they allow us to make comparisons between the parts of two different-sized things.
  • We are now studying Geometry.  Sometimes we read one of the Sir Cumference books.  All of the children (except the baby who still takes a morning nap) sit and listen as I read.  We have also done some hands-on activities.  The oldest four participate and the younger two (ages 4 and 3) go back and forth between being engaged and doing their own thing nearby.  For example, as we explored perimeter and area, we used Blokus pieces to make rectangles of different sizes and to calculate the perimeter and area in the pretend units of a Blokus (B) and a square Blokus (B2).

  • In pretty much every other subject, my approach has been to teach the older kids and let the younger ones listen in and glean whatever they are able.  Why not math?  It can't hurt, right?
  • If math is a conversation, then each person can engage at the level to which he is able.  Older children can bring more complex ideas to the table and younger ones can pick up on the simpler aspects of what we're learning.  Math really isn't as compartmentalized as we tend to think - there is so much overlap and interconnectedness.  And making connections between previous learning and current learning is a huge piece of what education is all about.
  • Math as a conversation easily overflows to other times of the day (like lunchtime) because we've all been a part of the discussion, not just Mama and one kid.
  • When other children are getting a concept and one is not ... Do I stay on that topic and approach it from a different angle to see if I can make it clear?  Do I determine that that one child just isn't developmentally ready, and move on, figuring that she'll grasp it later on another pass when she is ready?  Do I find a chunk of time to work individually with her on that topic?  From where I sit right now, it seems like any of the above would be a viable option.  I know how to track what has been mastered and what hasn't.  So if not everyone is on top of a concept, it doesn't have to stop us from moving forward and doing the next thing as a group.
Have you ever explored math in a multi-age group?  What worked for you?  What did you like or dislike about that approach?  In reading over the descriptions above, what questions come to mind?  What is concerning about that approach?  What is attractive about it?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Buy All the Things

This is the last part in a series based on this cost/benefit analysis.  Here you can find Part 1:Scoping out the SequencePart 2: Making the GradePart 3: UnschedulingPart 4: Why DIY?Part 5: Race to the Finish Part 6: Do Over and Part 7: Finger on the Pulse.  The last "plus" isn't truly a "benefit" but it's one of the most fun ones to write about, so here we go:

  • I don't have to pay for textbooks.  But this almost doesn't count, because there is no doubt that I'll find other ways to spend the money on our homeschooling ... some of them probably made necessary by this approach.

So here are some of the things I've spent money on instead of math textbooks:

And here are some of the things I can imagine myself going overboard and using up the entire tax return purchasing in the future:

by Mrs. Pinkerton
From Homeschool Ryan Gosling

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Finger on the Pulse

This is the seventh part in a series based on this cost/benefit analysis.  Here you can find Part 1:Scoping out the SequencePart 2: Making the GradePart 3: UnschedulingPart 4: Why DIY?Part 5: Race to the Finish and Part 6: Do Over.  Next I want to talk about this "plus" for us in letting go of our math textbooks:

  • I have a better handle on the actual, individual progress of each child and I can individualize practice not only to the specific topics each child needs to review, but to the frequency with which each needs to review.

I talked here a little bit about the spreadsheet that I use to track what the kids have learned and what we still need to cover and here about how I track what each kid needs to review and with what frequency.  (And, because I haven't mentioned it in a while, I want to reiterate that none of this was an original idea for me.  It is entirely based on the Math on the Level concept.)  So my intention here is not to re-explain the mechanics of the process, but just to share what I'm enjoying about it!

We already discussed here and here how having a separate system for keeping track of mastery and review enables me to un-link record keeping from the textbook scope and sequence.  And I wrote here about why I like being able to make up the problems myself.  All of that is facilitated and made possible by having a closer eye on individual progress.

In a textbook, topics are reviewed at some recurring schedule.  I haven't been observant enough to figure out what the schedule is.  Probably more complex things are review more frequently, because it seems like there are multi-digit addition, subtraction, multiplication and division problems on most every page.  But it was commonly the case that I'd skip over massive amounts of review material on each page in the textbook, either because I didn't think my child needed to do so many problems in one day, or because I didn't think they needed to review that topic again so soon.  The spreadsheets help me to make informed choices, not just hazy guestimates.

Also, at a certain point, I realized that we could make our review more efficient by thinking about all the processes that go into a problem.  For example, in completing a multi-digit long-division problem, you are:

  • dividing, obviously, but also ...
  • multiplying
  • subtracting
  • regrouping/borrowing/carrying or whatever you are supposed to call those strategies these days
  • using place value concepts
  • comparing numbers
  • rounding
  • estimating
  • possibly dealing with remainders, decimals, repeating decimals, fractions and/or dollars and cents
Add another layer by putting it in the context of a word problem and you could be ...
  • averaging
  • converting between units of measurement
  • dealing with percentages or rates
  • reducing large fractions
  • calculating measures of sides or angles in geometry
  • and probably lots more I haven't thought of!
So, give a long division (or other multi-process) problem and check off review of lots of concepts.  In the reverse, however, if a child continues to struggle with long division (or another complex-process problem) break it into pieces to determine where the difficulty may occur.

In a couple of cases, I've realized that I could add something to the review line-up that a child hadn't officially come across in her textbook because she grasped the concept.  In another case, I realized that even though a child had moved through a concept in her math book (and had completed problems accurately), she didn't grasp the concept well enough to be able to work confidently with it on her own.  I wanted to drop back and explore/experiment with it more before putting it back in the review rotation.

Another big "win" was in tracking (by color-coding) the difference between "needed to go back and correct this" (in yellow) and "needed help knowing how to do this" (in red).  In my mind, a student who can find and fix his own errors has a different place for growth than a student who needs help completing the problem.  The first one may need encouragement to work accurately, but he grasps the concept.  The second student may need that concept moved from review back to something we can investigate further.

Finally, I am hoping (though this is completely untested as my oldest is only ten) that this system will help us to know when a student is ready for algebra.  Between the beginnings of math discussion to the completion of pre-algebra, there are 146 concepts that need to be covered.  Of course, part of preparedness for algebra is a developmental maturity.  But seeing how we are progressing towards mastery of the concepts and how strong the understanding is retained through review should (I hope!) give us some clues in that direction.

Oh, and did I ever mention that I love spreadsheets?  Yea, that's just an added personality-match bonus for me.  A friend told me yesterday that she and her brother joke about spreadsheets being their "love language".  If that is a thing, then I think it might just be one of my things!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Do Over

This is the sixth part in a series based on this cost/benefit analysis.  Here you can find Part 1:Scoping out the SequencePart 2: Making the GradePart 3: UnschedulingPart 4: Why DIY? and Part 5: Race to the Finish.  Next I want to talk about this "plus" for us in letting go of our math textbooks:

  • A LOT less time spent explaining work and correcting (and re-correcting) work.

I want to say up front that what I'm comparing here isn't really, purely, textbooks vs. no textbooks.  What I'm comparing is the way we used to do math vs. the way we do math now.


"Math" every day was sitting with one kid at a time and explaining to him what to do on his math assignment.  It went something like this:

"See, they're showing you that in order to divide by a fraction, you just flip it upside down and then  multiply.  Does that make sense?  Here, try this one.  Exactly! Good!  Got the idea?  OK, so you are going to do these five problems about that.  And then how about if you do one of these ... and one of these ... one from each of these sections ... and a word problem and, sure you can do all the Roman numerals.  OK, go get your sister and tell her it's her turn."

So, basically, it was like math, minus all of the best parts of math.  There was no exploration.  No wonder.  No awe.  No lightbulb moments.  No connecting the concepts.  No conversation.  Like a Dementor had kissed our homeschool math.

Maybe we can get into all that some day, I'd tell myself.  Some day when I didn't have to spend 15-20 minutes x 4 kids just telling them what they had to do on their worksheet for the day.  Someday when I wasn't exhausted by all of the exertion of the "management" of six other people while I tried to spend an hour meeting with each of the least destructive ones individually.

And what about quiet work time in the afternoon?  It went something like this,

"Good, all of your Roman numerals are correct.  Oooh, sorry, your long division problem is wrong, so you'll have to do that over.  Stop grumbling; math is supposed to be challenging.  And, oh, wait.  Yikes!  You weren't supposed to flip BOTH of the fractions upside down.  Only the second one.  Oh dear.  I guess I didn't really explain that very well.  OK, maybe I can go over this with you tonight and you can do all these over tomorrow along with tomorrow's math."

Good fun, right??  Can you tell why the kids and I all dreaded math?

Now, all of the exploration of new concepts happens together in a group.  There is still some "people management" - there always will be - but usually the oldest four are engaged (they are either hands-on or answering with their dry erase "slates") and the younger two are coloring, which is their version of "doing math".  And quiet work time?  Sure, they still get problems wrong.  And there are still corrections to be made.  But not as many because:
  1. They are only doing review work - not work on new concepts.
  2. There are only five problems.
  3. There is only one problem per topic, so no more discovering that they've done eight problems in a row wrong because they didn't understand one concept.
I've gotten some questions about what "family math" looks like these days.  I promise to write a post on that when I'm finished with this series (almost done!) but I have to say up front: we've been doing this less than two months!  I can tell you what it looks like so far, though, for what it's worth.

Pruning the Dead Branches

Thought about and searched for this tonight ...

Spurgeon's Morning and Evening: Morning for April 29th
"Thou art my hope in the day of evil." --Jeremiah 17:17 
The path of the Christian is not always bright with sunshine; he has his seasons of darkness and of storm. True, it is written in God's Word, "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace;" and it is a great truth, that religion is calculated to give a man happiness below as well as bliss above; but experience tells us that if the course of the just be "As the shining light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day," yet sometimes that light is eclipsed. At certain periods clouds cover the believer's sun, and he walks in darkness and sees no light. There are many who have rejoiced in the presence of God for a season; they have basked in the sunshine in the earlier stages of their Christian career; they have walked along the "green pastures" by the side of the "still waters," but suddenly they find the glorious sky is clouded; instead of the Land of Goshen they have to tread the sandy desert; in the place of sweet waters, they find troubled streams, bitter to their taste, and they say, "Surely, if I were a child of God, this would not happen." Oh! say not so, thou who art walking in darkness. The best of God's saints must drink the wormwood; the dearest of His children must bear the cross. No Christian has enjoyed perpetual prosperity; no believer can always keep his harp from the willows. Perhaps the Lord allotted you at first a smooth and unclouded path, because you were weak and timid. He tempered the wind to the shorn lamb, but now that you are stronger in the spiritual life, you must enter upon the riper and rougher experience of God's full-grown children. We need winds and tempests to exercise our faith, to prune away the dead branches of self-reliance, and to root us more firmly in Christ. The day of evil reveals to us the value of our glorious hope. [emphasis mine]
 Tonight I am giving thanks for pruning.  It's never fun.  It's never easy.  But looking back and seeing some of the things that have been dropped (or ripped away?) from our homeschool as of late, and how much healthier we are, how much more good fruit is coming from those few things we are left to focus on - even from the things in which I play no direct part except observation and delight - I am in awe at the beauty and sovereignty of my God.  Would I ever have made these choices and changes if we weren't under "duress"?  I don't know.  But I see where we are now and I am glad.  I am at peace.  At least tonight.  And so, tonight, I give thanks.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Singing in Sorrow

A friend mentioned that she's been taking great comfort in Psalm 13, so I've been reading over it today, too.
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. 
How long, O LORD?
Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;
Light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
Lest my enemy say, "I have prevailed over him,"
Lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
My heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
He truly has dealt bountifully with me.  Even when I "have sorrow in my heart all the day" that doesn't change his steadfast love.  It's still worth trusting.  Light up my eyes, Lord.  Help me to sing.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Little Points of Light

Sometimes when I read blog posts or look at pictures that show the amazing things other homeschool moms are doing with their kids, I hate those moms just a little bit.  I imagine that they are better than me and that they look down on me.  I want to argue and defend myself and explain what life is like here right now and beg them to be understanding and to know that I'm really doing the very best I can right now, here in this moment.  Foolish, right?

But what if that's not why moms share things on social media?  What if it isn't to prove they are better than everybody else?  What if they share things for, well, for the same reason that I do?  What if life is hard.  What if there are lots of scary, dark corners and lots of messy problems.  What if there are many moments of discouragement, frustration and sorrow.  What if there is a fight against bitterness, resentment and ingratitude.  And then, in the midst of that, a spot of light breaks through the darkness.  A little point of light like the tiny points of light I could see through the paper my son pierced over and over with the point of a compass.

And it is such a relief, such a moment of refreshment and feels like an oasis in the desert.  And you just want to share because you are overflowing with joy that, in the midst of this chaos, the baby has yummy, chubby legs.  And the four year old curled up and fell asleep in the fort his brother made for him.  And your daughter is teaching herself to knit.  And your first grader drew a picture about mixed fractions when you didn't even realize she was listening in to that discussion!

And so, on that very note, could I share?  Things are hard here.  Energy is at a premium.  Days are hit or miss.  Weeks ago my husband had asked for the day off yesterday so that we could go to Colonial Williamsburg during their "homeschool days".  We had to pay for the tickets in advance.  But energy is a limited commodity these days, so we really couldn't know until the morning of whether we would actually be able to go.  Yesterday it was freezing cold and wet.  But thankfully we were able to do our Saturday stuff yesterday and move our reservations to today.

And today, there was energy in abundance.  Like a rainbow after the rain.  A mercy I don't deserve, the Lord granted the perfect day for our little homeschool bunch.  So may I share it with you?  It isn't impressive.  But it just felt so good to be able to make this happen today with my kiddos, and I am tearfully rejoicing as I thank the Lord for his favor and blessing.

In the gift shop with my three costumed characters.
As you walk the foot path from the Visitors Center to the Revolutionary City, these little "notes"
in the sidewalk take you backwards in history.  Luke read this and then explained to his sisters,
"You didn't have to pay taxes!  And there were no police!"
Authentic Colonial Animal Cracker Snack
The Cobbler's Shop
Of course, Sutherlands have to try out the Colonial Board Games.

Standing Guard