Archive for May, 2006

Suggestions, Please

May 29, 2006 @ 3:03 am | Filed under:

People around town are putting together their summer reading lists. I don’t dare commit to anything so definite as an actual X Number of Books in X Number of Weeks plan, but I have been doing a little list-making (heh, at first I typed “listing,” which is maybe more accurate) of my own lately. There are several new or newish or not really all that new middle-grade and YA novels I’ve been meaning to read but haven’t gotten around to for one reason or another.

Here’s the list so far. (And the reason it’s not a Summer Reading list is that I am putting no timetable on it—none, do you hear me? None! I might have five more babies before I get to the bottom of this list, for all I know.)

(That sound in the background is Scott going Wha-huh??)

Anyway, the list:

Gregor The Overlander and sequels, by Suzanne Collins
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale (Jane loved this)
The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference! by Lynne Truss
Rules by Cynthia Lord

Got any new favorites I should add to this list?

Weekend Roundup

May 28, 2006 @ 11:29 pm | Filed under:

UPDATED to add: Semicolon’s List of 100 Things to Do This Summer. Not only has she come up with a terrific list, she includes links. It’s both supercalifraglistic and semicolonic.

George Mason University is going to waive the SAT requirement for some applicants—but not homeschoolers. Spunky is covering this and other testing issues.

Farm School’s Becky blogs about fun grammar books.

My hubby’s broken toe didn’t slow down the 4th Carnival of Children’s Literature!

This week’s Carnival of Homeschooling at Principled Discovery sparked a good discussion at BlogHer.

The nation’s education report card is out. Elementary school science scores are up; high school scores are down. The Education Wonks have the story.

Oz and Ends has some paper-saving advice for the publishers of Harry Potter—and some tips on avoiding those pesky pronoun problems as well. (HT: Fuse#8 Productions.)

Karen Edmisten keeps things in perspective.

My pal Mrs. Child gets Mary Ellen thinking about kids doing work.

Willa of Every Waking Hour gathers some posts about classical unschooling.

SquaremelonAnd hello! Square watermelons! (HT: Boing Boing.)

Comments are off

All Roads Lead to Rome (Even for Bunnies)

May 27, 2006 @ 9:07 am | Filed under: , , , ,

The Sabine Women, Jacques-Louis David, 1796-99

Over at Bonny Glen I’ve been talking about the connections my kids are making during our read-aloud of Famous Men of Rome. This is for me one of the best things about homeschooling: watching the light bulbs go off, seeing pieces of the big puzzle of Life, the Universe, and Everything fit together in the kids’ minds.

We just started reading this book last week. Today Romulus finished building his city and then had to do a little creative marketing to find inhabitants. On the lam? Facing criminal charges? Australia doesn’t exist yet, so give Rome a try! It’s got a wall and everything! River views available. The world has never had a shortage of scruffy, disenfranchised males, it seems, for a paragraph later Romulus’s town is bustling with happy outlaws. Oops, not so happy after all: it seems no women answered the cattle call.

I get this far in the reading and Rose gasps. "It’s like the rabbits!" she shouts. For some reason, connections must always be shouted around here. "It’s like Watership Down!"

Scott is reading them Watership Down at bedtime. Last night they reached the part where Hazel & Co. have just gotten nicely settled into their digs on the down, and they suddenly realize their new warren has no future if they don’t find some nice lady rabbits to join them. Rose is right: it’s the founding of Rome all over again.

The bunnies, however, are a little more gentlemenly with the ladies, as my girls will discover a few nights hence. When I continue the early Romans’ tale, the kids are outraged by the abduction of the Sabine women. Then Beanie says, "Hey, this remembers me of a movie," and Jane shouts, "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers!" That charts our course for the rest of the morning: we hunt for the DVD and eventually remember where we left it. A short bike ride to the neighbors’ house later, Jane is brandishing the movie in triumph and we eat lunch to the tune of "And the women were sobbin’, sobbin’, sobbin’…"

The last week of May might seem like a strange time to start a history read-aloud. We don’t keep a traditional school-year schedule; we tend to follow a seasonal rhythm with our studies. For the new readers who are just getting to know me here at ClubMom, I thought it might be helpful if I gave a bit of background on our homeschooling style. Here’s how I have explained it before:

People often ask me what kind of homeschoolers we are: Classical? Charlotte Mason? Eclectic? Delight-Directed? Unschoolers? How, they want to know, does learning happen in our home? Am I in charge, or do I let the kids lead the way? And what about math?

Over the years I have written with enthusiasm about the Charlotte Mason method (which is highly structured) and unschooling (which is not). These educational philosophies seem to have intertwined themselves in my home, so that the what we do—read great books, study nature, dive deeply into history, immerse ourselves in picture study and composer study—is highly influenced by Charlotte’s writings and their modern counterparts; and the how we do it—through strewing and conversation and leisurely, child-led exploration—is influenced by the writings of John Holt, Sandra Dodd, and other advocates of unschooling. But I couldn’t say we’re "real CMers" because I don’t carry out Miss Mason’s recommendations in anything like the structured manner she prescribed; and I probably do too much behind-the-scenes nudging for us to be considered "real unschoolers."

The truth is, I couldn’t find any label that completely fit my family, so I made up my own. I call us "Tidal Learners" because the ways in which we approach education here change with the tide. Now, this doesn’t mean that we’re flighty or inconsistent, changing direction haphazardly. We aren’t Fiddler Crab Homeschoolers. What I mean is that there is a rhythm to the way learning happens here; there are upbeats and downbeats; there is an ebb and flow.

Lately I have been reading a lot about Latin-centered classical education, and I am increasingly convinced of the merits of steady and intensive Latin studies. Because we have such a relaxed approach to the rest of our learning, it is no burden to make Latin lessons a regular part of our day. When planning our family routine—whether it’s the summer routine revolving around the neighborhood swimming pool or the winter routine which must allow for abrupt changes of plan in the event of good sledding weather—I keep a loose "rule of six" in the back of my mind. There are six things I try to make a part of every day:

• meaningful work (this includes household chores, which are "meaningful" because they make our own and others’ lives more pleasant; it also includes pursuits requiring daily practice, such as piano and, yes, Latin; and of course for Scott and me, writing is meaningful work)
• good books 
• beauty (art, music, nature)
• big ideas (discussions about what we’re reading or encountering in the world)
• play (including time spent with friends)
• prayer

Honesty compels me to admit that for myself I privately add a seventh component to my daily Rule of Six:

• a footrub from my incredibly sweet husband

Oh, and also:

• chocolate.

But for the family as a whole, the top six items are what shape our days. So this summer, Romans and Sabines and Latin and bunnies will be waiting for us whenever we come home from the pool.

Mrs. Child on Poverty

May 27, 2006 @ 3:36 am | Filed under:

That a thorough, religious, useful education is the best security against misfortune, disgrace and poverty, is universally believed and acknowledged; and to this we add the firm conviction, that, when poverty comes (as it sometimes will) upon the prudent, the industrious, and the well-informed, a judicious education is all-powerful in enabling them to endure the evils it cannot always prevent. A mind full of piety and knowledge is always rich; it is a bank that never fails; it yields a perpetual dividend of happiness.

The American Frugal Housewife
by Lydia Maria Child

Establishing Shot

May 26, 2006 @ 5:41 am | Filed under:

I figure the first thing to do is to introduce you to the gang, because otherwise you’ll never keep them all straight.

Jane is close enough to eleven that I may as well just go ahead and call her eleven, which will please her immensely. She is passionate about butterflies, math, and Redwall. What are there, like two dozen Redwall books now? And I have promised to read them all. Oh help. For every holiday, including this Mother’s Day just past which was also my 12th wedding anniversary, she makes me a coupon offering her toddler-entertainment services for X amount of time while I read a Redwall book. I keep waiting for the “while you read A. S. Byatt” coupon but I guess I have forty-seven Redwall books to get through first. By which point I will probably be out of toddlers and won’t NEED to redeem any coupons in order to read.

Next is Rose, who will turn eight this summer. Rose is not her real name; all these names are aliases; but Rose is delicate and beautiful and she has thorns. Wicked scary thorns, so watch out. And yet: she is the gentlest of my bunch, when she wishes. She has an amazing way with animals such as dogs and babies. Her ambition in life is to ride horses and/or dolphins. Also to go to Mt. Olympus. Possibly she will travel to Greece via dolphin and go up the mountain on horseback. Big Greek myth fan, is Rose. She made me—I am not making this up—start teaching her ancient Greek. I don’t know ancient Greek but that’s what the internet is for.

Beanie is five. If I combed her hair she would look like Shirley Temple, but since I seldom do (she does it herself) she usually sports a Barbra-Streisand-in-The-Way-We-Were ‘do. Sometimes she wears a hairband and she always puts it on wrong so that it goes around her head like an 80s’ sweatband, and then she looks like John McEnroe. Either way, she’s cute. And energetic. She named her bike Zap, because it’s zappy. She is her father’s little jukebox and can frequently be overheard humming Beatles songs to herself while zapping around on Zap. She also thinks “sum, esse, fui; I am, to be, I was” is one of the funniest lines in the history of Western civilization. (“Sum esse PHOOEY, get it, Mommy, PHOOEY!”)

Then comes Wonderboy, who turned two last winter. We call him Wonderboy because that Tenacious D video cracks us up. Oh, right, and also because he has shown incredible strength through trial after trial. He was the baby I DIDN’T have an ultrasound for, and surprise! He was born with a little bit of intestine hanging out in his umbilical cord. This, in case you’re wondering, is Not Good. A scarily efficient transport team packed him into a van and drove him off to another hospital practically before I delivered the placenta. He had surgery for that and then some other surgeries later, and various doctors kept finding more stuff wrong with him, including surprise! He is hard of hearing. He has the cutest little blue hearing aids, which means, yes, my two-year-old walks around with five thousand dollars worth of technology stuck on his head. Seven thousand if you include the FM system. And no, health insurance didn’t cover it. Yes, I am terrified of storm drains and slobbery dogs.

Bookstacked_1The baby was born right before Easter, which makes her six weeks old now. If you are an Anne of Green Gables fan then you will know why her blog name is Rilla. I have no stories about Rilla yet. So far she is pretty much an accessory. Babies are the new black, you know.

Poetry Friday: Fern Hill

May 25, 2006 @ 9:40 pm | Filed under:

As promised, the poem that inspired the title of my new ClubMom blog:

Fern Hill
by Dylan Thomas

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

The poem is still under copyright so you’ll have to click through to read the rest. It’s worth your time. Every line quivers like a plucked cello string; I think it resonates all the more now that childhood is so rarely as “green and carefree” as Thomas portrays it. Today’s overscheduled, overplugged children seldom have time to “run their heedless ways” amid the daisies and the barley.

“Fern Hill” is a poignant meditation on how fleeting are the golden, magical, carefree days of childhood. The poem ends with a reminder that time had a hold on that long-ago boy from the beginning, even as he ran around the farmyard, oblivious of his own mortality, under a sun that seemed brand new:

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

But to be chained like the sea is hardly a bondage! As the sea sings its rhythms in accord with the turning of the earth and the moon, so does the poet’s soul sing in celebration of the treasure of a carefree youth—even as he acknowledges that we are dying from the moment we are born. He savored his boyhood then and he savors it now, every bright detail: the “horses flashing into the dark,” the “new made clouds,” the calves singing to his horn while

the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

Other Poetry Friday contributors: founder Big A little a, Farm School, Chicken Spaghetti, Jen Robinson’s Book Page, The Simple and the Ordinary, Mungo’s Mathoms, bookshelves of doom, Book Buds, Bartography, Mother Reader, Slayground, Scholar’s Blog, A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy

We’re Up and Running!

May 25, 2006 @ 3:17 pm | Filed under:

My ClubMom blog just went live! I hope you’ll visit me often at The Lilting House (and here in the Bonny Glen too)!

And I really appreciate your feedback about what you like to see here and what might interest you over there. Your comments were extremely helpful (and gratifying and blushworthy). Thanks so much. (I’m getting weepy now.) As I mentioned the other day, Bonny Glen will continue to focus primarily on literature and the living-books lifestyle, and The Lilting House will focus on homeschooling, educational issues, and special needs children. Naturally there will be some crossover in content because all these things are so intertwined, but the quickie differentiation is Bonny Glen=books, Lilting House=home education.

The children, of course, will run rampant over both sites.

Thanks, all of you, for honoring me with your valuable time. I love to hear from you!

Comments are off

Sometimes Lilting, Sometimes Tilting

May 25, 2006 @ 12:20 pm | Filed under:

(This was the first post at The Lilting House, the ClubMom blog I published in 2006 and 2007, now archived here.)

“Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry…”

—from Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas

Eleven years ago, my husband Scott and I brought our first baby home to our cramped Queens apartment. I looked at her little face, so serene and new, and I knew that what I wanted was to give her a childhood as happy as the grass was green. The nights above our urban landscape were rather more neon-lit than starry, but still I had a conviction that a child could be young and easy under the city trees, and a second-floor walkup could be a lilting house. If retro is hip then I am the hippest of the it-doesn’t-get-hipper-than-this hip because the life I envisioned for this child was pulled right out of the pages of a hundred years ago: I wanted to give her Green Gables and Plumfield and the Secret Garden all in one. Okay, so technically all those places were make-believe, but I had a stubborn sense that what was good and beautiful about them was real and could be poured into any setting, even a city apartment with faulty heating and evil, shoe-sized cockroaches.

This conviction was put to the test when, a few months before her second birthday, this little golden child of mine was diagnosed with leukemia and we found ourselves transplanted to a Long Island hospital. We lived there, in-patient, for the better part of a year. During the first terrible week after she began chemotherapy, I remember praying over and over for one thing. It wasn’t, as you might expect, for her to be totally healed—that particular bone-deep yearning was such a given it hardly seemed necessary to articulate it. No, the words I found myself thinking incessantly were: Please let whatever time she has here be filled with joy. I had an awful fear that her carefree toddlerhood would be stolen by nausea and misery and pain, and I prayed desperately for the opposite. Let her be happy and lighthearted, let her have fun. What with the needles and the vomiting, “happy and lighthearted” seemed like a pretty tall order, but I figured that’s what miracles were for, and a mother can hope, right?

I quickly learned that if I wanted my little girl to be joyful despite her trials, it was up to me to supply the joy. No toddler can be happy if mama is sad and worried all the time. And so it happened that my prayer for her rebounded on me, on us. Scott and I discovered that happiness is a decision. The hospital nurses probably thought we were certifiable, the way we howled over supremely unfunny things. Like, say, being thrown up on four times in one night, and then being told there was a three-hour wait for the respite-room shower over at the Ronald McDonald House. Hey, my hair is crunchy! Hahahahaha…

I won’t be so disingenuous (or corny) as to say that laughter is the best medicine, because when it comes to cancer I’m a big fan of the heavy-duty chemo. But the laughter helped a lot. Sometimes, now, Jane will ask me to tell her “funny stories about when I had leukemia.” She doesn’t remember the bad stuff, just the ginchy band-aids and the little yellow car she used to tool around the halls in, with me (hugely pregnant with her sister Rose) panting along behind her with the I.V. pole.

After Jane got better, we left New York—Beanie had joined the party by that point, and the apartment was bursting at the seams—and moved to a place where the kids could be young and easy under the apple boughs, “under the new made clouds and happy as the heart is long.” Wonderboy came along two years ago, with his own set of challenges, from motor delay to hearing loss; and just six weeks ago we welcomed our little Rilla to the lilting house. Scott and I both work at home, writing: comic books (him) and children’s novels (me). Early on, we decided that homeschooling was one way to give our kids days as happy as the grass is green, which means the house may indeed be a lilting one but it is nearly always in a state of noisy disarray. My kitchen floors are a disgrace. My walls look like the training ground for a forensics lab. My furniture—well, let’s just say it would really class up an unfinished basement. I have no fashion sense whatsoever but fabulous taste in books.

And that, I suppose, is why ClubMom asked me to add my voice to their blogroll: to share the ups and downs of our homeschooling/freelancing/ rolling-with-the-punches journey. I’ll talk a lot about books because I can’t help it. I’ll talk a lot about Wonderboy’s challenges because ditto. I’ll talk about weaving (literally) and juggling (metaphorically) and sign language and writing and Latin and physical therapy and math and poetry and teatime and did I mention books? So welcome to our little house (I hope today is a lilting day). I hope you’ll drop by often. Just please don’t look at my floors.

Books Are Like Dominoes

May 25, 2006 @ 3:11 am | Filed under: ,

I have to make a concerted effort to read picture books to Beanie. We have entire bookcases full of good ones; I just don’t always remember to fit them into our day the way I did when her sisters were her age. Bean listens in on pretty much everything I’m reading to the older girls—I think it’s possible she is enjoying Great Expectations more than Jane is, at this point—but she deserves the chance to meet Frances the badger and Chrysanthemum the mouse every bit as much as Jane and Rose did. I just have to make a point of pulling out the books.

Today we had an overdue library book we hadn’t read yet, and I knew Scott would be making a library run later on. So I hollered for Beanie: quick, let’s read it before Daddy has to leave! We only got halfway through. And she was loving it, LOVING it. Scott said he’d try to renew it (late though it was), and sure enough, our obliging librarians let him bring it back home. Hooray. We have since read it twice more (all the way through, this time). She claims it is now her favorite book “and we need to renew it a hundred more times, Mommy.”

006443044801_aa_scmzzzzzzz_The book in question is Crictor by Tomi Ungerer, the tale of an elderly French- woman who adopts a very large boa constrictor. She feeds him milk from a bottle, teaches him his ABCs, and takes him to the park to play jump rope with the children. (He serves as the rope, of course.) Her tender treatment of the enormous reptile sparks an affection and protectiveness that comes in quite handy when a burglar breaks into her apartment one night. Beanie was mesmerized by the marvel of a Giant! Snake! Who loves you! And can spell! She pored over the comical black-white-and-of-course-green illustrations, simple yet rich in detail. This is a book with charm, not complexity, which can be very appealing to a child Bean’s age.

And it reminded Beanie and Rose of a number of other books they like. We had to go hunt them up, as many as we could find. The wild-animal-houseguest-foils-robbery-attempt plotline naturally called to mind Thomas McKean’s quirky book, Hooray for Grandma Jo, in which a nearsighted old woman mistakes an escaped zoo lion for her young nephew, Lloyd. (That’s some fur coat the boy has got!) Grandma is none too impressed with “Lloyd’s” manners—he growls and snarls and devours all the ice cream—but her ebullient nature (and a little dance music) eventually soothe his savage breast, and lady and lion are thick as thieves by the time the REAL thief breaks in. Like Crictor, Lloyd repays an old woman’s kindness with heroism. (And Grandma Jo finds her glasses in the end.)

Rose went up to look for this old favorite, but she couldn’t find it. Instead, she came back with a book I hadn’t seen before. (I still don’t know where it came from. Kind Friend Who Gave It to Us, Whoever You Are, thank you, and forgive me.) The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr is as matter-of-fact about its improbable storyline as Crictor is. A girl and her mummy (this is a British book, originally published in 1968) are just sitting down to tea when there’s a knock at the door. It turns out to be a “big, furry, stripy tiger.” (Injerjects Rose: “What did you expect? Polka dots?”) Naturally, Sophie’s mother invites him to tea, and he goodnaturedly eats up everything in the house before departing with an amiable “I’d better go now.” Sophie and her parents are forced to go out to a cafe for supper, and the next day they wisely stock up on tiger food in case the beast ever returns. This is not a sophisticated book; it reads like a spur-of-the-moment bedtime story—exactly the kind of story a preschooler finds immensely reassuring and satisfying. It’s funny, farfetched, and tidy, all in one nice furry, stripy package: a stuffed-animal version of a picture book.

The drawing of Sophie’s mummy staring at the ransacked kitchen in the tiger’s aftermath reminded both my girls of—what else—If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. This is one of those books which has become so familiar and has inspired so many spinoffs that it is sometimes easy to forget what a perfect picture book it is. Felicia Bond is one of my favorite illustrators; her drawings are so crisp and sunny. And Laura Numeroff’s text hits every note just right. I always secretly enjoy the boy’s exhaustion at the end of the book. You just know he has run his mother through the same kind of wringer a thousand times.

Once we started looking for connections between Crictor and other books, the girls were finding them everywhere. Reptile moves into city apartment: Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile. Relative sends reptile as gift: Zack’s Alligator, an I Can Read by Shirley Mozelle, about a boy whose uncle (I think; I couldn’t find it on the shelf today) send him an alligator keychain which, when soaked in water, swells into a real live alligator with a toothy grin. That book brought to mind Anne Mazer’s lyrical The Salamander Room, a boy’s daydream of the home he’ll make for the salamander he brought home, if only mom will let him: it’s a sylvan bedroom makeover, with the sky for a roof and “moss like little green stars” for a carpet. “Is it just a dream?” Bean asked this afternoon, near the end of the book. She didn’t wait for an answer. “No, I think it’s real. Yes.” She nodded, her furrowed brow smoothing. “Yes. It’s really real.”

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