…Rilla is ten years old today.
The posts from the week following her birth gave me a lot of smiles. And then I just sat here quietly freaking out for a while because that was TEN YEARS AGO.
…Rilla is ten years old today.
The posts from the week following her birth gave me a lot of smiles. And then I just sat here quietly freaking out for a while because that was TEN YEARS AGO.
Well, I tried. Sat down at the start of my work time today, fully intending to transition with a blog post just like the old days, but a pressing email caught my attention…and here I am eight hours later.
It has rained on and off all day. Rose is in heaven—that girl was made for the Pacific Northwest, I swear—but I’m off kilter. Happy for the moisture, of course. My poor garden needs it. My freesia had just started to bloom, though—they’ll be a bit battered after the downpour.
Assorted things to chronicle:
Last Friday I was one of six guest authors at the Greater San Diego Reading Association‘s annual Authors Fair. This year we visited Bonsall West Elementary School in Oceanside. I had three classes of 4th-graders (in two groups) whose teachers are reading them The Prairie Thief. I love this event. The kids are already deep into my book and are excited to ask questions. I always start out by reading a chapter, picking up wherever the teacher left off. This time, I got to read the first encounter between Louisa and the brownie—a super fun for me because it’s a mini-reveal. Of course, that means I have to do a Scottish accent but that’s part of the fun. The kids don’t mind if I fumble it. 🙂
The other night I was in here working while Scott watched a movie with the kids. He pinged me with a question from our friend Devin (our brilliant writer friend Devin, I should say). She was working on a scene for her current book and needed help with a tree identification. Here’s a screen cap of the Google Street View close-up Scott sent me:
I couldn’t zoom in any tighter than that. Too fuzzy to make out the leaf shapes. But I figured someone out there would have compiled a list of common Manhattan street trees and I turned to my best friend Google. Turns out Someone did way better than that:
All those colored dots are trees. Specific trees. I zoomed in on the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal and found our friend the Callery Pear. Man, I love the internet. Major props to Jill Hubley, who created that rather astounding map. And Devin’s dedication to detail is one of the many reasons I love her. Nitty-gritty lovers of the world, unite.
Rilla has learned several speeches from A Midsummers Night’s Dream this year. And of course this means Huck is picking them up, too. Hearing them recite Puck’s monologues tickles me no end. “I go, I go, look how I go!” —or a world-weary yet amused “Lord what fools these mortals be…”
Here’s another thing Rilla and I have been doing with our free time. Color charts. Mmm, I could happily mix paints all day for the rest of my life if you let me.
How’s your week going?
Scott: “What’s with all the hand gestures?”
Huck: “I’m silent-beatboxing.”
Rilla, standing in front of the coat closet: “I’m looking for Jane’s old coat with flowers on it.”
My mother, pulling out the flowered coat directly in front of Rilla’s face: “You mean this one?”
Rilla: “No, Mom said it was an aqua background. That’s seafoam.”
Huck (returning home from a playdate): Can I add something to my wish list? Two shields, a sword and a cotton ball.
Me: …A cotton ball?
Huck: You know, the little white round puffy kind?
Me: Okay, so a regular cotton ball. I’m just curious, what’s it for?
Huck: Well, it could be two shields and TWO swords. But Parker only has one sword, so he let me use it, and he had a cotton ball that he threw at me and I deflected it with my shield EVERY TIME.
I was going to make this a Monday thing, but the week ran away from me. So let’s try Thursday. I’ve enjoyed having a regular day for posting my weekly booklists—it helps keep me on track, knowing I’ve slotted the roundup for Sundays. I thought it might be nice to set aside time to answer questions from the comments on another dedicated day. Maybe not every week—every other, perhaps? When I answer questions in the comment box, I’m never sure if the original poster sees the answer (since sometimes it takes me a while to reply). So I’m going to start pulling questions into these Q&A posts. You can leave more questions (or discussion topics in general) in the comments here and I’ll tackle them in the next Q&A.
On my High Tide for Huck and Rilla post, Jen asked,
I’ve just got to jump in and ask, do your kids read a lot in their free time? Your philosophy is very much like what I’ve done with my kids and I also have olders and youngers. It just doesn’t seem like mine are not like I once was and couldn’t wait to have some free time to read. I wonder if it is all of the technology available (which I greatly limited with the older kids and have, admittedly, given too much slack with the younger ones). I am comforted that there are still really great books going into their little ears and they have book jags every once in awhile, but…am I being idealistic in our present society or simply expecting too much of a picture book image in our homeschool?
With this many kids, my answer’s going to be all over the place. 🙂 Some of them read constantly, incessantly. One of my teens was an obsessive reader when she was younger, but now she goes in spurts—she’ll be up late many nights in a row, devouring a stack of books, and then weeks will pass where she feels sort of meh about reading and pretty much only reads things necessary for her studies. I think she gets more sleep during the meh times, so it’s probably a healthy balance.
My younger children are less book-obsessed than my older three, and I do think that has something to do with the presence of gaming devices in their world—increased options, perhaps? We have limits on game time (two hours a day), so my younger kids’ day divides roughly into morning lesson time, after-lunch gaming time, and the rest of the day is free time until evening chores. There’s a good chunk of free time in the mornings, too, most days. Whereas Jane, Rose, and Beanie were apt to spend a large portion of their free time buried in a book, my younger trio choose other activities more often—drawing, crafting, Snap Circuits, outdoor play, etc. A lot of hands-on activities. If I find them sprawled on the sofa with a book, it is probably a graphic novel or picture book. Rilla hasn’t sparked to a prose fiction series yet the way her older sisters did with Redwall, the Warriors books, Boxcar Children, and other series. She is more drawn to art books and nonfiction—specifically books about bugs, birds, and animals. 🙂
So my younger kids aren’t as bookwormish, but I don’t worry about it. I figure they are getting plenty of reading in their day through readalouds and audiobooks—as you say, “really great books going into their little ears and book jags every once in a while.” That’s a dead-on depiction of what I’m seeing here these days! Since our homeschooling style is literature-centric, I feel confident they are absorbing a wide range of excellent books, stories, and poems.
One more thought: I do make a habit of combing the shelves for good picture books every couple of weeks. I’ll swap out a batch in an easily accessible basket—or leave a pile on my dresser, which seems even more effective at catching their eye. For some reason everyone likes reading on my bed best. I display books face out so the covers jump out at the kids. Huck is especially attracted to these casual displays and I will often him lolling on my bed, surrounded by these little curated collections. They also jump on any library or review copy that comes through the door—it seems the novelty makes a book extra attractive. I’ve known them to check out library copies of books they’ve walked past on our own shelves a thousand times. And the review copies—oh boy. Anything that arrives in a box is a hot commodity. The magic of the brown truck?
Whew! We moved Jane back up to college over the weekend and then, back here at home, got to spend an extra day visiting with my parents, who had come to stay with the rest of the gang while we were away. And then it was hustle-like-crazy to catch up from being gone. Which is to say, business as usual.
It’s too late in the day for a nice coherent post, but I wanted to toss down some stories I’ll otherwise forget. Huckisms, mostly…he’s been on a roll. Tonight he wanted me to take dictation for his Christmas list—no moss growing on this kid. I dutifully wrote down his three longed-for items and he leaned over the page, frowning anxiously at my cursive. “What if Santa doesn’t know this fancy writing?”
This morning I read aloud from Child’s History of the World—our tried-and-true first history book for the younger set. Today’s chapter was about Sparta and Athens (mainly Sparta, with a thorough description of what a young Spartan boy’s life might have been like). Huck listened intently to the plight of Spartan seven-year-olds—an age only months around the corner from him—and had lots of interjections to make along the way.
After the chapter, I asked him to narrate in the casual way I generally begin with around age six or seven. Not casual enough. He instantly froze up. My kids have been about half and half with narration: three of them taking to it like ducks to water, and three feeling shy and put on the spot. Huck is one of the latter. He actually ran out of the room and had to be coaxed back by a big sister. I cuddled him into my lap and told him not to worry, it wasn’t a test, I was just curious to know if anything in the story jumped out at him.
Huck, scowling: No.
Me: Do you wish you were a Spartan boy?
Huck, galvanized: No! Because they had to leave their moms when they turned seven, and—
—and he was off, chattering away for a good five or six minutes about all the details in the chapter. This is the way it normally works with my reluctant narrators, and I smiled secretly into the top of his sweaty little head.
Suddenly, mid-sentence, he broke off and reared back to look at me, laughing. “Hey! You tricked me! I just told you all about it!”
We all melted with giggles. He was so honestly amused. All the rest of the day I was cracking up over the shocked, almost admiring tone of his “HEY!”
The other thing that happened this week is that Rilla invented a board game. It’s called “Elemental Escape” and involves players representing Fire, Water, and Electricity (twist!) racing to the finish on a track filled with monsters. She drew a game board and mounted it on cardboard, and the game pieces are all Legos. Pretty fantastic.
The other day I mentioned that I was putting together some shelves of books to use for Huck and Rilla this year. Huck is 6 1/2 and Rilla is 9, and according to the boxes I will have to check on the form I file in October, they are in the 1st and 4th grades respectively.
(Of course you know we have more of an Understood Betsy approach to grades around here.)
‘What’s the matter?’ asked the teacher, seeing her bewildered face.
‘Why–why,’ said Elizabeth Ann, ‘I don’t know what I am at all. If I’m second-grade arithmetic and seventh-grade reading and third-grade spelling, what grade am I?’
The teacher laughed. ‘You aren’t any grade at all, no matter where you are in school. You’re just yourself, aren’t you? What difference does it make what grade you’re in? And what’s the use of your reading little baby things too easy for you just because you don’t know your multiplication table?’
‘Well, for goodness’ sakes!’ ejaculated Elizabeth Ann, feeling very much as though somebody had stood her suddenly on her head.
I don’t think Rilla has any idea what grade she would be in if she went to school…my kids don’t usually pay attention to grade level until they reach an age—usually around 12 or 13—when they want an answer to the question that comes from just about every new adult they encounter.
But back to my booklists. I compiled these selections according to my patented, highly scientific method of Walking Around the House Grabbing Things Off Shelves™. These are books we already own, favorite tomes I have read with the older kids in the past but which my younger set haven’t yet heard or read—due in large part to the abundant inflow of new treasures that have come our way for review. (Oh you guys, I have so many good new books to share.)
I imagine there will be a lot of crossover: Huck will listen in on Rillabook readalouds and vice versa. Both collections also include a good many read-alone possibilities. If you’ve been reading Bonny Glen for a while, then you know that read-alouds are the core of my homeschooling method, especially in the younger years. (But continuing on, you know, into high school. We still read aloud together lots of history, science, and poetry.)
I know a lot of you are as addicted to booklists as I am, so my project this weekend is to type up these collections to share here on the blog. I hope to post them on Sunday or Monday. When they’re ready, I’ll update this post with links.
In no particular order:
• Lots and lots of art, especially watercolor painting and Sculpey fun.
I keep watercolors handy on a shelf by the kitchen table for easy access. These days, the kids are also doing a lot with acrylic paints—I caught a sale at Michael’s when those little Folk Art bottles were three for a dollar. I grabbed a set of small plastic palettes (six for $2) and filled a jar with our older, more battered brushes. (We reserve the nicer brushes for watercolors.)
I’ve written about this before*, but for watercolor paper I use large sheets I bought in bulk a good many years ago, folded and torn into smaller sizes. And then cheap recycled paper for drawing. Plus everyone has a sketchbook to do whatever they want with.
About 15 years ago (!) I bought half a dozen scratch-and-dent whiteboard seconds from a discount site. We use these as painting boards. Not only do they protect the kitchen table from spatters, but they are large enough that I can stack them on toy blocks to save space while paintings dry.
* In that 2009 post, I mentioned that for littles I use good paper and cheap paints. That was back when Rilla was three years old. ::sniff:: Nowadays we tend to experiment with artist-quality tube watercolors quite often, because that is what I myself am learning to paint with, and both Rilla and I are pretty addicted to color-mixing and the way certain pigments granulate on the paper. We still keep basic Crayola or Prang kids’ paint sets around, though, like the ones in the photo, because they’re quick and fun and easy and portable. They’re what the kids use for casual, everyday painting.
Kortney has been posting some wonderful resources for doing art projects with kids. And I have a list of my best suggestions in this post.
• Poetry every day
I pulled some of my favorite anthologies for this year’s Huck and Rilla shelves. They’re also in the room for a good bit of the poetry reading and discussion I do with the older kids. I work in lots of opportunities for low-pressure memorization (if you read the same poem out loud a few days or weeks in a row, before you know it, everyone has it down)—including my recent brainstorm to require Huck to learn a new poem by heart before he gets a new iPad app. 🙂
• Handwriting practice* with fun materials like dip pens, markerboards, or slates-and-chalk.
I asterisked practice because I need to qualify that term. I subscribe to the John Holt school of thought about the misleading way we often use the word practice. He argued that when you are doing what we call “practicing” piano, you are really playing piano and we ought to think of it like that. You are making music. When I am “practicing” drawing, I am actually drawing. Huck is learning to write. When he sits down with a marker or crayon and makes some letters, he is writing—not some separate intermediate activity that leads up to writing. I think that word “practice” can set up a feeling that what I’m doing right now isn’t real, it doesn’t count. But it all “counts.” If you’re doing it, it’s real. Another way of putting it is that writing letters to friends is a form of handwriting “practice.”
• For Rilla, a third year of group piano class
And yes, despite the above paragraph, you will from time to time hear me ask her if she has practiced yet today. 🙂
• Nature study and narration.
My old Charlotte Mason standbys. Re narration: casually for Huck, more deliberately and regularly for Rilla. All oral, still. We add written narration at age ten.
Nature study isn’t something we have to work at. Both Rilla and I enjoy adding new plants and bugs to our sketchbooks. You’ll see a fair number of nature-themed nonfiction on both booklists.
• A little bit of foreign language.
Beanie is ramping up her German studies this year. My younger set pick up whatever the older ones are working on, sponge-style.
Via games, money, dice, and daily life for Huck; Math-U-See for Rilla. Works for us.
• Folk songs and other musical fun.
Including daddy’s guitar-playing. The recorders seem to have made a comeback around here, too, and Rose came home from her Colorado trip with a pair of ocarinas.
• Baking, sewing, Snap Circuits, and other hands-on pursuits.
Sometimes this is simply a part of daily life; in other cases we may undertake a special project, such as making clothes for a cloth doll with the Dress Up Bunch Club.
Beanie is venturing into candymaking this year and has already enlisted Huck, Rilla, and Wonderboy as helper-slash-tasters. Rose does quite a bit of baking—being one of those delightful people who love to bake but don’t much care to eat baked goods—and often includes younger sibs in the measuring, mixing, and bowl-licking stages.
• Games of all sorts.
Board games, word games, Wii games, iPad apps, you name it. Together or alone. And lots and lots of Minecraft.
• As much outdoor play as possible!
All the small fry on the block seem to congregate at my house in the afternoons: they know when my kids get their Wii time. 😉 Afterward, they troop outside to bike and scooter and make secret hideouts and chat with passing dogs and help Miss-Joanie-down-the-block rake leaves. (She’s a treasure. She keeps a stash of child-size yard tools in her garage! She saves all those little stickers and calendars and bookmarks that come in junk mail! She has cups labeled for all the kids on our street and sometimes mixes up fruit drinks to fill them with instead of water. Everyone should be so lucky as to grow up down the block from Miss Joanie.)
• What about history and science?
See above re: readalouds and narration. Lots of good stuff on our booklists. 🙂
And if I don’t stop gabbing and start compiling, these booklists are never going to get written. More later, my dears. Feel free to fire away with questions below, if you have any!