Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Sword is Mightier Than the Pencil

Clem was not so interested in sorting these words with the "er" sound into columns according to the way the sound was spelled.
She was dragging her feet (pencil?) so I thought a snack might help.

I delivered a bowl of pomelo chunks with a plastic sword to eat them off, because, hey, everything tastes better on the point of a sword.

After a few minutes I realized that Clem was not eating the pomelo, though her hand kept moving back to the bowl. No, she was writing the words with the sword in pomelo juice.

When she was done she baked her paper in the oven.
"Sir" was the only legible word.

But I am pretty sure these words left a clearer mark in her brain than if she had slogged through them unhappily in pencil.

Friday, February 27, 2009

X Marks the Spot

Treasure hunts are a beloved tradition in our family. My mom did them for us when I was small.

I use them to inspire the kids to read.
Greta asked for one. Her clues are single consonant-vowel-consonant words.

Here she is looking for the clue by the bug.

She found it!

Sounding it out.

Finding the next clue in the nut bowl.

The prize at the end!

The real prize:
Getting, one day, to read about anything that interests you.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oh Coconut!

I have no doubt at all that one of these days I'll be telling Clem to put down the book for a while and go outside. But at almost nine she is not there yet.

When she was four we worked on letter sounds. I'd pick a sound and point it out as I read to her. After a while she would say the sound when I pointed to it.

When she was five we did Hooked on Phonics until she got the idea of blending sounds and could read Pop Fox and Rat Ran and had mastered 30 or so sight words like the, of, you. (I love the Hooked on Phonics books, though I don't love the program.)

When she was six we picked out easy readers at the library and she would read all the phonetically regular words. Or I'd pick a topic like ing or silent e, and have her read all the words that fit the description.

Each time we'd work for a few days or weeks to reach a milestone and then I'd back off and see what happened.

And her reading would improve a little. Now I find her reading while lying on "the warm" (the heater vent) from time to time.

She picked out the book Diary of a Monster's Son at the library and read it.

It has a lexile of 390, which corresponds to 2nd grade reading level. The lexile scale is a measure of text difficulty which takes into account sentence length and the difficulty of the vocabulary used.

I was surprised to find that books in a series can have widely varying lexile measures. Dinosaurs Before Dark in the Magic Tree House series has a lexile of 240 making it a 1st grade book. But Dragon of the Red Dawn, #37 in the series, has a lexile of 580, the expected reading level of a 3rd grader.

I find the lexile website useful in this way: I find the lexile of a book that Clem reads easily, and then I search for books in a 100 point range of that book that I think might interest her (keywords: dragon, magic, wizard). I leave the books lying around and cross my fingers.

I have always believed that spelling comes after reading. Read enough and spelling will come naturally. Clem writes very little and is not able to spell words that she reads easily. But what I wanted was spelling that would help her to read better. So I took out Reading Reflex: The Foolproof Phono-Graphix Method for Teaching Your Child to Read.

Reading Reflex is an excellent reading program with HORRIBLE stories and illustrations. I really wish the Reading Reflex people would get together with the Hooked On Phonics people and make, I know, crazy idea, a good program with good stories.

I used their tests to assess Clem's reading and found that she knew the basic code (consonant sounds and single vowel sounds) but that she was shaky on sounds represented by 2 or more letters. She could read these in context, often, but not in unfamiliar words. We started with the long o sound which can be written o (go, gold), oe (toe), o-e (note), oa (goal), ow (snow), ou (soul).

One day she sorted a list of words according to which way the o sound was spelled.

The next we did mad libs where all the words she wrote in the blanks had the long o sound. It was about a super hero who was a purple hoe who drove a car shaped like a gnome. Her sidekick was a bowl.

Finally she wanted to make Coconut Macaroons. I challenged her to find 10 items in our pantry with the long o sound and then we'd make macaroons.

Here she is pointing out and reading some of her finds:

And then making Coconut macaroons.

Consolidating her knowledge while they bake.
Oh, so good!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Studies in Yellow

After looking at lovley photos in yellow on Wonderfarm and House at Hill Road I thought I'd give it a try.

The kids were making Dark Chocolate Covered Candied Citrus Peels. Evelyn taste tested orange peels and declared the ones fresh from our tree to be superior.

From the top we have denuded grapefruit (the kids did not follow the directions about juicing the fruit). Then you see them dipping the candied peels in chocolate. On the bottom left are candied peels, and on the bottom right is candied Clementine.

I sent the girls out for an hour of fresh air. Clem was inspired by my yellow photos and asked for the camera. Here she captures evidence of men and nature at work. I like the saw hiding from the rain beneath the plastic. Evelyn took the one of the capped wires looking like electric daffodils.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

All Hail Hail!

A 10 minute hailstorm was cause for running around and screaming with glee. Pea-sized hail covered the ground. The girls heaped pie tins with hail and stuck them in the freezer.

I tried to get photos once the hail had turned to rain, but the tension between wanting photos and not wanting my camera to get wet left us with sadly blurry photos of the daffodils and the white plum blossoms on the tree and white hail on the ground.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Library is Fun Again

The year was 1998. It was July. I had a big belly. I had a hot mile-long walk. At the end was a library.

Heaven. It might as well be a spa.

Cool. Quiet. Welcoming. So much magic folded between enticingly dusty covers. Big soft chairs. Windows with a vista on a green hill.

And then, on August 4th, Evelyn was born. And libraries were no fun anymore.

Whether in sling or stroller, she did not like me to stop walking long enough to pick a book. The quiet was no longer peaceful and welcoming. It was demanding and judgmental. Flash forward a year and libraries were still no fun. For me.

Evelyn thought pulling the books off the shelves and climbing in and lying on the the empty shelf was great. Flash forward another year. Evelyn likes the library!

But Clementine, in the sling, does not want me to stop walking long enough to pick out books.

A year later Clem is pulling books off the shelf. Another year later she has honed her grab and run. Grab the book Evelyn is looking at and run! Oh the howling! At age 4 when Greta arrived Clem had just outgrown a love of running away and hiding.

But now we had a new baby.
Who didn't want me to stop walking long enough to pick out books.

Well, Greta is now four!

For 10 years I've been treating library trips as high-precision military strikes. Plan your targets: if possible reserve them so they are waiting for you on the hold shelf. Fly in, drop a few bombs in the form of overdue materials, take your hostages from the hold shelf, and get out of there.

And now, like magic, a trip to the library is a mini vacation. An oasis on a rainy day. A place to linger. And stop long enough to pick out books.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Building With Chessmen

I'm sure this picture is a metaphor for something. For a homeschooling ideal, maybe: we offer the materials and what the kids do with them is their own affair.

Whenever I see chess pieces I remember that I killed the kids' nascent interest in the game with a ridiculous excess of enthusiasm.

But this tower also evokes the primordial reasons why we homeschool. At age 4, my mom tells me, I told her that when I looked at my Montessori preschool teacher's eyes I could see that she didn't like me. My mom arranged a conference and turns out I was spot on.

What she didn't like was that I wouldn't use the materials as intended. I built with the cuisenaire rods. The horror!

And we were supposed to fold a paper into a grid of 20 little squares and then the teacher would tell us to draw simple things, a flower, the sun, a bug, and we were to fill in the boxes from left to right and from top to bottom to reinforce the pattern of reading.

Apparently I drew in whatever box I felt like. This vexed the teacher. So my mom pulled me out. (Thanks, mom!)

In the process of recording things that the kids choose to do and things I choose for them to do, I also recorded them using the available materials, sometimes as originally intended, sometimes in their own creative ways.

Intended Use

Lego houses

Intended Use

Yarn and embroidery floss.

Evelyn finished a scarf and a friendship bracelet Clem did finger knitting.

Creative Use

Greta weaved the living room. Ok, actually she festooned it with tangled yarn.

Intended Use:
Pattern blocks. Finding ways to make larger and larger triangles.

Creative Use

Building straws. You can build cubes and cubes upon cubes with these straws.

Here they are used to make what look like giant jacks tumbled together into a sculpture.
Intended Use

Sculpey clay. Turns out if you photocopy a picture or draw a picture on paper and then bake the picture pressed against the clay the ink will transfer. The face is done this way and then the accessories are added after.

Creative Use

For a rope:
Intended and Creative Use
Clem was making french toast, but she moved the pie dish with the "eyeballs" around to various backgrounds. Here they sit on a potholder.

Intended use
Clem at the sewing machine:
She cut out pieces to make a royal outfit for Greta. Remembering my resolve to facilitate I got out the sewing machine and showed her how to use it.

The royal results:

Creative Use

When she was done making her costume. Clem began sewing lined writing paper. At first she sewed words on it using the sewing machine's embroidery function, but when the thread came out she sewed all sorts of swirly patterns in the paper and held them up to the light to see the pinprick patterns.

Note: I apologize to all of you who tried to post comments only to not have them appear for a week! I had to turn on comment moderation because I was getting spam comments, and being new to it, I forgot to check for pending comments. Thank you for your persistence--I really appreciate all your comments.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

On the Fence

I've been thinking a lot about self-directed vs. mom-directed learning and trying to capture the kids doing what they chose to do and doing what I chose for them to do.

Barbara commented that she finds good things happen at lots of points along the continuum. When I read this I gave a giant sigh of relief. I've always felt I should get off the fence and choose! I can just keep sitting on the fence and embrace being an eclectic homeschooler. Aaah...

Speaking of choosing...

Yesterday after all day outside at Trackers class we went to the park...without snacks. Lucky for us friends shared, but by the time we left the kids were saying, "I'm hungry. I'm hungry. I'm hungry."

We passed by Berkeley Bowl. Berkeley Bowl was our favorite place to grocery shop before we had kids, but it had been years since I had been there because of The Parking Situation. Which is Always Bad. But this time I spied a parking spot. We hung a U and pulled in.

I have to mention that my favorite podcast is Radiolab. Radiolab's home station is WNYC. That is W New York City. So, they are based in America's largest city, which is--I just checked--twice as populous as #2 Los Angeles.

Why is this important, you ask? Because, when Radiolab did an episode on choice and on being overwhelmed by choices, did they go somewhere in vast New York?

Nope, they went all the way across the country to Berkeley Bowl in Berkeley, CA, a city which is nearly 100 times less populous than NY. My dad, who grew up in New York City likes to say, "They say New York has one of everything, well Berkeley has two."

Berkeley Bowl, at least when it comes to fruits and vegetables, has, well, enough to make you stop and goggle.

I let the kids run around and pick things they wanted to try like many small citrus fruits whose names I don't know, and a horned melon, and quail eggs and goat butter.

This morning the kids couldn't decide how they wanted them, so we had quail eggs over easy, sunny side up and soft boiled with pain levain and goat butter.

Evelyn got on the internet to see if we can raise quail in our backyard. Turns out you can get an incubator and 8 fertile eggs for $70.

Should I facilitate this interest? Do we want to be backyard farmers?

Think I'll stay on the fence for a while.