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Showing posts from September, 2014

Feeding the imagination

I've been thinking a lot about things that fire a child's imagination lately, due in large part to having finished reading Winter Holiday, which I wrote about yesterday. In the Swallows and Amazons series, the thing that strikes me over and over is the spectacular imaginary world the children create together, often based on the things they have read and learned. They play out themes and stories from Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, geography lessons as they explore Kanchenjunga (the third tallest mountain in the world), and even poetry they had heard. (Titty names an outcropping near the farm where they are living the Peak in Darien. It is from a line in a poem, "On first looking into Chapman's Homer", by Keats.) They have rich imaginations because their minds have been filled with rich ideas.

These ideas have been communicated to them through words either read by themselves or heard as they were read to them. This listening and reading required many things from…

Have you ever heard of Fridtjof Nansen and his ship Fram?

Don't feel badly, neither had TM, D. or I. That is, we didn't until we read Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome. It is the third book (if you don't count Peter Duck, which is technically the third, but not really part of the sequential story) in the Swallows and Amazons series. While I love the first two books, I had never read this one. I think I may love this book even more than the first two which is not always the case with a series.

As you can guess from the title, this book is set in winter and has the children who comprise the Swallows and Amazons turning from playing pirate and sailor to being arctic explorers. The lake they sail on in the summer has frozen over in a very unusual cold snap and the North Pole begs to be discovered. As an added bonus, the houseboat of an uncle is ice bound and quickly becomes the explorer's headquarters nicknamed the Fram. By about halfway through the book the names Nansen and the Fram have been mentioned more than a few times. The …

The day of the overly ambitious craft

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It happens. I pick a craft to do that I think will be manageable for everyone with a little help and it becomes completely overwhelming. Such was the story of the Viking long boat.

We have been learning about the Vikings and their forays into France and North America. The Vikings have been a saga all fall homeschooling-wise. Pardon the pun. First there was our attempt at a lunchtime read aloud book, Viking Adventure by Clyde Robert Bulla. I hadn't heard of the book before, but it was published by Sonlight and received some really glowing reviews on Amazon. It seemed like a pretty good bet. Then I began reading it out loud. It was not what I expected. The book had short sentences. The book did not use a lot of pronouns. The book had a very simple sentence style. The book was not fun to read. The book was not fun to listen to. If you read the book for very long, you started to talk in very simple sentences. The children did not like it. Well, you get the idea. We lasted exactly two …

Knowing when to engage

There was some comment on the post I wrote about our trip to the Chicago Historical Society and what I thought was my amusing account of being called a chaperone. I guess it wasn't quite amusing enough, since I didn't seem to communicate that I found the whole thing a little hilarious and wasn't really upset by it. Tone is hard to read.

When we are all out and about, we tend to receive comments. I can't blame people for this... there is so much scope for comment. Family size, twins, multi-ethnicity, facial differences, homeschooling. I sometimes wonder how anyone ever narrows down all their choices. You get used to it, though it is a relief when a trip is comment-free. I would say, that while do occasionally get the rude or ugly comment, the vast majority are positive, or if not out-right positive, more incredulous than anything. I think anyone who deals with a lot of public comment gets used to filtering what is worth expenditure of energy and what is not.

There are t…

Volume

I may have mentioned once or twice that my household is loud. While there are occasions (particularly with the little girls) where the loudness is due to unpleasantness, mostly it's because we have a household of very verbal people who all want to share their opinions all the time. (Well, except when we encounter any human being outside our home. Then it is absolute silence and not necessarily a silence I appreciate.) In order for all these people to be heard when they share their opinions or whatever happens to be flitting through their head at any given time, it is necessary to speak loudly. This is because everyone else is already speaking. When the background noise is already loud, one must speak even louder to be heard.

Yes, I have tried to have them all practice the rule of one person speaking at a time that most of civilized and polite society observes. We practice... a lot... especially during dinner. We need more practice. Dinner is still exceptionally loud. It is also fr…

Stay with your chaperones

This morning we headed down to the Chicago Historical Society for a quick field trip. It was just three families who met initially... and one of them was not the P. family, so our numbers were quite low for us. (The P. family joined us a little later, which is probably just as well, as you will see.) The museum is free this month and since the H-S family has been studying Chicago, they invited us to join them.

So, it's about 10 am on a weekday morning in September which means that the school field trips have yet to resume in overwhelming quantities. The museum is not busy with just a few other visitors. We enter the museum. I have 7 children with me, there are 4 H-S children, and 2 children belonging to our friend who made up the third family. (I told you we were a small group.) As we approach the desk to gain entrance to the museum, we are waylaid by a museum employee, "Excuse me, but what are you? Are you a school group?"

"Well, no, we are just three families. We …

They still wait

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And I continue to remind you about them. Who are 'they'? These two little girls...

Grace


And Tina.


Every single day they live without a mother and father to love them, kiss them, hug them, and let them know that they matter. Every single day they miss a part of their childhood that children in our part of the world take for granted.

Is one of these girls your daughter?

I won't promise you rainbow and happy trees every single day if you decide she is. I know first hand that this road can be hard, and sometimes I worry that I scare more people away with my honesty than I help. But even though it may be difficult at time, I can also think of nothing more rewarding that I could do with my life. I have had a front row seat in watching a life unfold before me. Of watching a child who had no self develop a sense of who she is. I have had a front row seat in watching the excruciatingly slow process in a child heal from unspeakable things. I can tell you, I don't take a genuine …

An apology to my mother

When I was growing up, every summer we would take long car trips to different parts of the country. Inevitably, we would pass through a town where lived an older family friend whom we would stop and visit. I can remember some of the visits vividly. I can remember silently staring as my parents tried valiantly to get me to say something, anything. I would sit there mutely, wondering when we would leave and wish people would stop talking... to me, to each other. I was hardly a sparkling personality during those visits, but as is true of most children, was far more concerned about myself not at all about the adults in the room.

Well, parenting has a way of paying one back for ones childhood. Yesterday good friends invited me and the children to come and visit and go to the store to pick ice cream. It was an exciting sounding outing and the small people spent much of the day very excited about it. Life was good while we walked to get ice cream, brought the ice cream back to our friends…

Thundercake

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Our success with reading picture books Five in a Row style last made me decide to continue it this year. This past week we read Thundercake by Patrica Polacco. Since this isn't a book that appears on any of the Five in a Row lists (I just liked it), I had to make everything up from scratch. Here's what we did in case you are interested in using this book as well.

On Monday we read the book and talked about the word brave and what it means. The book tells the story of a little girl who is afraid of thunder. Her grandmother encourages her to come out from under the bed so that they can make a thunder cake together. In the course of gathering the ingredients, the grandmother shows the little girl how brave she really is. In addition to building vocabulary, I wanted to make sure that everyone understood what the book was about.

On Tuesday, we looked at the pictures in the book. Ms. Polacco fills her pages with lush, multi-colored textiles. We talked about the different patterns a…

Glorious mess

The Hearts at Home link-up topic today is love your triumphs. I've thought all day about this and I realize that triumph means something a lot different to me today (AHC = after hard children) than it did before I started parenting children from hard places (BHC = before hard children.). BHC, I still had the illusion that I had control of my life and the lives of my children. I believed the false, but commonly held, assumption that if I did things the 'right' way, then my children would be like the ones in Lake Wobegon... smart, good-looking, and above-average. My competency, the triumph of my parenting, would be reflected by all my children were and became.

And then came our first child from a hard place and my entire belief system was slowly and irrevocably shattered into a thousand tiny bits. Because, you see, when a child has been hurt like my child had, the damage is extensive. "Good" parenting isn't enough. Actually, I learned that my good parenting was…

Studying the human body

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One of the things we're studying this fall is the human body. I thought everyone would enjoy it, but was unprepared for quite how big a hit it is. We are just at the beginnings of what we are doing, but I thought I would share some of our resources.

I'm using two different books for the basis of our learning. The first is The Body Book: Easy-to-Make Hands-On Models that Teach by Donald M. Silver and Patricia J. Wynne. I just happened to come across a copy at the homeschooling conference last spring and on a whim, picked it up. I'm so glad I did because everyone is loving it. Essentially, you photocopy the appropriate pages, cut out as directed, and then tape and glue them together. When you are done, you have a model of whatever part of the body you are studying. It is not 3-D, but the different parts are done in layers so you turn each page and see what's underneath.

It's kind of difficult to explain, so here's a photo of the eye model we did yesterday. (This …

Adoption and education

(First my obligatory disclaimer... or two. 1. I am not a trained special education teacher nor I am a trained therapist, but I have a lot of experience with both these things and have done a ridiculous amount of research. I suppose this gives me just enough knowledge to be dangerous. Use your own judgement when following my advice. 2. This post is written for the homeschooler. I know many children who have been adopted go to public school and fare just fine. That's great (and you can read that sentence without any irony because I really mean it.) Just remember, when I write about homeschooling it does not automatically assume I am saying the negative about other types of school. There, that should head off any comments right off the bat, huh?)

Over the past several years, I have updated everyone on H.'s academic advancement. (If you missed them, here they are:  6 months home and 7 months home.) After those, in looking back through the hundreds of posts I've written in the …

Shoe shopping with G. and L.

With the cooler weather comes the need to wear warmer clothes. This also means that over the past week I have had multiple children coming to inform me that they have nothing to wear. Nothing. (Actually, in D.'s case this was actually quite true. No long pants, no pajamas, just t-shirts and shorts. It all comes of growing to fast.) One of the casualties we discovered was that G. and L. needed new shoes. L. in particular since I didn't think I could wedge her sneakers on her feet one more time. So A. and I loaded the little girls into the car and headed off to the shoe store.

In G. and L.'s life, it is very rare to have an outing with just Mommy or Mommy and a big sister. This was an event and it was very exciting. When G. and L. are excited they jabber. The entire ride to the shoe store was spent listening to two little girls talk and laugh and make funny noises. It was quite hilarious and A. had fun taking several videos of them. The little comedians were in rare form.

We…

One-point perspective

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Yesterday was our first art project day. I had planned in some actual art lessons this year and yesterday we learned about one-point perspective. I found a great exercise that involved painting and decided to copy it. This teacher was doing it with slightly older children than most of mine, so I wasn't sure how it would work. I also had them use acrylic paint (or Sharpies) instead of the watercolors. I think acrylics are slightly less frustrating for little people to use.

The little people (G., L., and K.) enjoyed the project and their sketches before the painting began were pretty good,but the paint makes it a little difficult to tell what's going on. The loved the painting part, though.

G.
L.  (Who, if you look in the upper right hand corner, has a tendency to draw out whatever is going on in her head. It's kind of like stream of consciousness drawing.)
K. (He was really interested in drawing cars and trucks. You can see the red firetruck right in the center of the road.…

Why my arms are sore

I swore to myself that I wouldn't blog about exercising, but sometimes in the search for blog fodder the opportunity is too good to pass up. The worst part about being 48 is the shocking change in metabolism. Change might be an understatement. The screeching sound of breaks from my metabolism coming to a sudden and very definite stop could probably be heard on the other side of the world. At least that what it felt like. If my body's decline was to continue in the way it had for the past year, then when the little girls were, oh, say, 13, I was a little frightened and horrified that I would actually be fulfilling the 'elderly' label which appears in my medical file. Thus, in utter desperation, I have been hauling myself out of bed every morning to exercise. While I do feel better and it's helpful with my overall stress level, I don't enjoy it and it is sheer will-power (and the not insignificant desire to fit back into some of my clothes) that gets me out of th…

Photos from P.'s birthday

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We celebrated P.'s birthday last night and I know at least my mother wants to see pictures, so here they are.

Her birthday dessert was chocolate-covered bananas, because I insisted she had to pick something. (She's not a big dessert person.) Without dessert, there would have been some very disappointed little people.


Of course, with chocolate-covered bananas, there is no place to put a candle, so once again, someone had to hold them. And when you hold burning candles, sometimes you get hot wax on your fingers... if you wanted an explanation as to what J.'s expression was about.


A glimpse into what the dinner table often looks like.


Then presents. P. had lots of 'help' opening her gifts.


A. and G.


TM


More presents.


I love G.'s expression in this one.


Horse bookends from Grammy.


Happy 14th Birthday, P.!

Today is P.'s 14th birthday. A fact that none of us can forget because we've had daily countdown notices for the past several weeks. It's even better that her horseback riding lesson is this afternoon, because for P., life just doesn't get any better than riding horses.

I love this girl so much and have had the privilege of watching her blossom into a lovey and competent young woman over the past year. She has developed interests that she is, in true Curry form, pursuing with diligence bordering on obsession (and I can say this because I and many of my other children do the exact same thing) and it is a joy to watch. I now know more about Japan than I ever thought I would and it is just from hanging out alongside my daughter.

P. has also really stepped into the oldest child at home role with grace and good humor. With M. and B. back at school and A. there for a significant amount of time during the week, that leaves P. as the one in charge when I'm unavailable. She…

Preparing children for college

I was asked to write something about how we prepare our children for college for a different venue and decided to double dip and get a blog post out of it as well.

Yet, having now written and deleted three different attempts at writing this, I find it is a little bit difficult to say exactly what we do/have done. Perhaps this is because we never made the focus of our children's learning in high school to be about getting into college. Sure, I kept an eye on the transcript to be sure we had the bases covered as to what was expected, but that was a more of a book keeping issue rather than a learning one. What my children learned or are learning in high school was a combination of what we felt a well-rounded person ought to know and what they were interested in. We never made the end goal of high school to 'get into a good college,' but made it more about the learning itself. We don't test... we don't grade... but we read and discuss and develop broad and varied inter…

A little escapist reading... to the black death

One reason for my slightly compulsive reading habit is that some people in my house continue to be challenging. It's nice to sit down at the end of the day and read myself, if briefly, into a different life. Between that and a good night's sleep, I'm usually refreshed enough to face the day again. I thought perhaps that my stress level was higher than I realized when I chose a book about time travelling to the year 1348, which, as I'm sure you know, was the year the plague arrived in England, subsequently killing half the population.

The book was The Domesday Book by Connie Willis. (This is the same author who wrote Black Out and All Clear, which I've written about before.) This book also takes place in the same future universe as the other two books, but occurs earlier. It also has the same characters and it was very satisfying to discover some of their back story which was alluded to in the other books and tied up a few loose ends. The premise is the same. Time t…

Do we know how to do the first week or school, or what?

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We have rather successfully survived the first week of school. There were only two days where we did actual book work, which seemed just about right for starting into our regular routine. One of the things we are studying this year is the Middle Ages, and the first things we are is Britain in the years before 1000 AD. That means Beowulf and illuminated manuscripts. We have had a couple of long listening sessions and are now nearly through with Stories of Beowulf Told to Children which is a Beowulf retelling by H. E. Marshall. It was published in 1908, so the language is a bit archaic, but it works with the sags style of the story. None of the children (including G. and L.) have had difficult understanding the story and they have loved the long story. One of the things I had them do during one of our reading sessions was to color their initial letter like an illuminated manuscript.
First we learned about illuminated manuscripts and looked at various pictures of the real thing. I had p…

Children need families

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My friend wrote a beautiful post about her son and their part in the miracle of his life. Before you continue, go and read it.

Seriously Blessed: Why Orphans Need Families

Did you read it? Good. Now take a look (again) at these two faces.

Grace
Tina
These two little girls need families, too. They need someone to love them and hold them and tell them it's OK, that they're not alone anymore. At least one of them is on the shared list. Do you know what that means? Her file is not with an agency. No one is actively showing her file to families. She sits on a list that is thousands of names long, defined by her birth date and her special need. Do you have any idea how difficult it is for a child to make it off the list and into a family? And so I advocate. Could one of these girls be your daughter? 
I will be the first to tell you that choosing adoption can be a difficult road, but the difficult roads often contain the most miracles. If you have an easy, comfortable life, miracles are…

First day of school

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As is our tradition, we started school by not starting school. The area museums are blissfully empty the first week after Labor Day, so we choose one and head out. Yesterday's pick was The Museum of Science and Industry, one of our favorites. And to make it a festive occasion we invited the P Family and H-S Family to join us.

We spent the morning in the body section. There were endless turns at the human hamster wheel (at least that's what we call it, I don't know what the official name is) and then when everyone had overdone it on that, they moved onto mind ball. Would it surprise you that some of my children are not good at relaxing their brains? The readout of their brainwaves shot straight up and off the display. The attendant at the game was a little astonished. I wasn't. At all. I decided I really needed one (or two) of these at home. First, they all played with it for nearly an hour. Just the entertainment value alone would be worth it, but think of the possibil…