This is going to be terrible, so start with something easy. Let’s say: board games. Collect all the boxes from the playroom shelf and put them in the middle of the floor. Go through each box. Have an old Tupperware container handy; you’ll need something to hold the stray buttons and loose change you’re going to find rattling around each box. (Don’t worry that the Tupperware is missing its lid. You’ll get to Tupperware lids in Step 13, That Box of Miscellany in the Garage.)
Collectively, your board game boxes will contain seventeen dice, forty Pictionary drawings, six Mousetrap pieces, eleven paper squares from Caves and Claws, some D&D minifigures, and 1 1/2 actual game boards. Add the minifigures, dice, and Caves and Claws squares to your Tupperware container. Throw everything else away. I know, I know, the rest of Caves & Claws is long gone and saving random game pieces is pointless, but you’re just getting started here and your heart hasn’t hardened yet. Give it time.
Next up: art supplies. This step will be easier than you think, as long as you steadfastly refuse to let your brain access budget records.
Paint in tubes and bottles: If item was first opened more than six months ago, toss it.
Brushes: If they came from a Crayola or RoseArt paint set, toss them. If your toddler dipped them in glue, face the fact that you are never going to get around to soaking it out. Toss them. All other brushes go in an empty mason jar. Place this jar on a centrally located shelf. Consider artfully leaning your old tin of beeswax crayons behind it. This display will afford you feelings of satisfaction. You will need to summon those feelings in moments of despair as you work your way through subsequent steps.
Crayons: Gather all loose, blunted, and broken crayons from around the house. Place them in a clean five-gallon ice-cream tub. (You’ll find two of those under the kitchen sink and four more stacked on the dryer.) Dig your hand into this glorious collection of crayons. Bring up a fistful and gaze upon them, recalling to mind all the times you resolved to melt them into wonderful homemade crayon balls, blocks, and tapers. As you gaze, ask yourself the one crucial question: Does this spark guilt? Of course it does. Throw them all away. Ignore any lingering pangs of regret. Ten minutes from now you’ll remember it’s your turn to bring a snack to your child’s Little League practice. The ensuing waves of panic will obliterate any memory of the broken crayons.
Delete your Pinterest account.
Glance at your kitchen. Realize people are in there making snacks. This will never not be the case. You will never KonMari your kitchen. Move on.
If, however, you open a cupboard one day and find a refillable plastic cup from the local zoo—it will be giraffe-colored with an accordion-pleated straw—discard it immediately. You are never, never going to remember to take it with you for the 20¢ discount.
Toys. One does not KonMari toys. That way lies madness. You can’t pick up every single toy and ask a question about it. That process would spark many feelings, and none of them would be joy. Anyway, most of the time the question would be “Why is this sticky?”
Here is what you do with toys: gather assorted large cardboard boxes or, if you are one of those fancy types, Rubbermaid storage bins. Dump random armloads of toys in these boxes/bins. Label them Box 1, Box 2, and so on. Allow only one box into the house at a time. Three weeks from now when your children are bored, make them refill Box 1 with all the toys they’ve dumped out in the interim. Swap it out for Box 2. They’ll greet its contents like long-lost friends. Repeat this process, rotating through boxes, at monthly intervals or on the third day of a rainy streak. Store the other boxes in your garage or attic. Your children can deal with sorting and purging these items when they’re grown. I mean, you can’t possibly be expected to remember which My Little Pony is the one that must be kept for all eternity.
Eh, while you’re at it, stick the lidless Tupperware container from Step 1 into one of the toy boxes. There are probably at least three other Caves & Claws pieces in there somewhere.
Look, those nondescript rocks and pebbles are VERY IMPORTANT to someone in your home. If you do not understand what Marie Kondo means when she talks about things “sparking joy,” ask your seven-year-old if these are his rocks and observe the expression on his face. That’s the feeling you’re chasing here.
Clothing. There is no point in attempting to KonMari your children’s drawers and closets. Those places are subject to particular laws of physics which cause any neatly folded or hung matter to expand and accumulate in untidy heaps. Nature abhors a vacuum and so does your child’s sock drawer. Who are you to alter the laws of space and time? Move on.
Craft supplies. (You can distinguish these from art supplies because they exist in a different room of your house and usually involve thread.) Outfit yourself for an archeological dig, because that’s what this stage will be: an expedition through the strata of your previous selves. A dozen fabulous iterations of you will be unearthed as you work your way through the layers. You, the erstwhile quilter. You, the maker of beaded jewelry. You, the needle-felter. You, the handstitcher of faceless cotton dolls. You, the…wait, what’s quilling?
Do not lament the incomplete manifestations of these past selves. Each of them was awesome for at least a week, maybe a whole second trimester. Also, each one of them undoubtedly sparked an enthusiastic blog post which inspired some other woman with more follow-through to actually become accomplished at said pursuit. I mean, that has to count for something, right? Right?
Anyway: here’s what you do with all these craft supplies. You say airily, “Oh, hey, [insert name of nearest child], any interest in [random craft]?” Rotate through children’s names until someone gasps with delight. One of them will, and you’ll look extremely cool for having all the materials on hand already.
You knew it had to come, sooner or later. The homeschooling materials. Brace yourself. This is just a warm-up for your books, which is where the real pain lies.
First, assemble all packaged curricula. If an item is intended for second grade or younger, box it and give it to that sweet-faced young mom at park day, the one with a kindergartener and two babies. She’ll be delighted and will leaf eagerly through the instructor guides, each item sparking joy. As a courtesy, strongly advise her not to use any of it, just as you wound up not using it. She’ll ignore you, and this coming September she’ll suffer through one impossible week in which she tries to “do school.” Then she’ll stuff it all on a shelf and avoid looking at it until her oldest is in college, at which time she’ll repeat this time-honored cycle. This is a necessary stage in the metamorphosis of a homeschooling mother. In inflicting these materials upon her, you’re simply participating in an inevitable, natural process. I mean, really, it’s the same thing as planting milkweed.
Survey your remaining materials. You will be surprised to find that’s it’s all good stuff that your family actually uses. That’s because you successfully emerged from the homeschooling-mother pupal stage about the time your fifth kid was born, and also you were too broke to order anything new.
Have someone sharpen all the stray pencils and put them in a jar next to the paintbrushes. Post a picture of this on Instagram. We’re sparking now!
Who put all these bird feathers in the linen closet??
You’re getting kind of bored with this and anyway, Lent is almost over. You know you have to deal with the books. It’s impossible, but there’s no avoiding it. Marie Kondo says to begin by assembling them all in one place. This is good advice. Gather every single book in the house into one place, preferably the living-room floor. You’ll be bombarded with emotions as you handle each book. Do not, repeat DO NOT, stop to flip through Brambly Hedge or Swallows and Amazons. It is acceptable to sing “Bed in Summer” while adding A Child’s Garden of Verses to the pile.
Complete the process by placing your copy of Home Comforts on the top of the heap. At this juncture, your floor will collapse under the collective weight of your family library, and your entire house will be swallowed into the abyss.
Congratulations! You’re now a minimalist!
Footnote: you’ll notice this guide, and your Kon Mari endeavor, ends before Step 13, the garage. You’re welcome.
A lot of the replies to my blog-topics post asked for more glimpses of our tidal homeschooling days, especially how I work with my teens and my elementary-aged kids at the same time. So here’s a peek at a fairly typical Tuesday morning. The broad strokes—the basic rhythms—of our days stay consistent, four days a week (with one morning given to group piano and [for Beanie] literature classes). The details (what exactly we read, do, discuss, sing) vary, but the shape is the same—sort of like a muffin pan. Yeah, that’s it. Our days are like muffins, alike in shape, but we vary the recipe quite a bit. Make sense?
So—during high tide, we do lessons from 9 to noon, more or less. Noon to 1 is lunch and (often) a read-aloud. From 1-3 the younger kids get gaming time (iPad, Wii) and then they play outside most of the rest of the day. The older girls spend their afternoons reading, writing, gaming, walking, and whatever else they have on tap. I work (write) in the afternoons, and sometimes pop out to teach weekly classes to other homeschoolers. For example, I wrapped up a six-week poetry workshop yesterday with a lively group of boys who always keep me laughing. Love those kids.
Anyway, here’s our Tuesday morning.
9 a.m. Beanie is outlining her Tempest paper for the weekly literature class I teach to her and a few friends.
Huck is playing with refrigerator magnets.
Rilla has drawn a scene from the story of Elissa of Carthage, and is now writing a description under the drawing, complete with Phoenician letters for the names.
Now Huck is noodling around on the piano.
Read Stone Soup to Huck. Rose stopped unloading the dishwasher to come listen—she says it’s one of her favorite stories from childhood.
While I read, Rilla finished her Elissa of Carthage passage. Beanie moved to another room for better concentration.
Rose finished the dishes and began making pretzel rolls for our teatime. Huck, Rilla, and I did our morning stretches and recitations. That word sounds so formal! What we do is quite casual. About four mornings a week, we gather in the living room for some singing, memory work, and movement games. It goes something like this:
—We move through a series of stretches (this is mostly for me) which include two planks. During the first plank, we skip-count by sixes; during the second, by sevens.
—Practice the Shakespeare speech or poem we are currently memorizing. Huck, Rilla, and I learn these all together, and usually the older girls wind up knowing them too, because they’re hearing us recite them all the time. This year, I’ve been using Ken Ludwig’s Midsummer Night’s Dream passages from How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare. I had already had Pucks “merry wanderer” speech in mind for Huck and Rilla to learn this year—I earned a small scholarship for performing that one during college, so I’m extra fond of it—when I read the Ludwig book (last summer) and decided his approach meshes perfectly with mine. So: this year they’ve learned “I know a bank where the wild thyme grows,” the merry wanderer monologue, the “Lord what fools these mortals be” speech, and now we’re working on Puck’s final speech (“If we shadows have offended”).
—Then we sing an assortment of memory songs and folk songs. Today it was: U.S. Presidents song; United States song; Horrible Histories English Monarchs song. Yesterday was the same lineup plus Skye Boat Song—a family favorite. This is an informal (meaning not planned-in-advance) part of our day, and basically I just starting singing things and the kids join in. Our Presidents and States songs come from an old Singin’ Smart cassette (cassette!!) I bought back when Jane was little, circa 1999. I wish I could find the booklet—there were some other useful tunes in there. I remember the melody for the U.S. Capitals song and have been meaning to print up a list so my littles can learn to sing along. I’m a big fan of music for anything requiring rote memory. We lean heavily on Schoolhouse Rock around here. Last year our mornings were dominated by French songs, as you may recall.
—This week I started Huck and Rilla on the Latin vocabulary chants from Latin for Children Primer A. We are not doing the workbook—just the rhythmic vocab chants: amo, amare, amavi, amatum and so on. Again, this was something that worked really well with my older set and is a solid, painless way to implant a bunch of Latin roots. We also enjoy my friend Edith Hope Fine’s Cryptomaniacs workbook (Greek and Latin roots)—Rilla will be using that steadily next year.
Rose’s rolls are in the oven. She’s playing piano. Beanie is doing German on Duolingo. I send the littles outside with a snack.
Rose heads to her room to maybe do some math? She’s taking business math this year. Yesterday we slogged through the compound interest chapter together. I know you’re jealous. Beanie’s studying geometry, which I find much more entertaining.
I call Huck and Rilla back inside for some history. I read them the Elizabethan Era chapter from A Child’s History of the World—Walter Raleigh, Roanoke, Shakespeare. Long side-discussion of tobacco was sparked by a mention in the chapter. Also a lot of discussion about Roanoke because who isn’t fascinated by that story? I mention to Rose (who is back, checking on her rolls) that Gwenda Bond has a YA novel about Roanoke she might enjoy. This reminds us we need to return some books to the library.
Rilla has done a little Math-U-See, and Huck and I had an impromptu chat about the short E sound. He is reading incredibly well these days, devouring Boxcar Children books with ease. I picked up an easy spelling workbook a couple of weeks ago and pull it out occasionally to talk about sounds with him. Rilla is the first of my kids to need some deliberate, steady spelling instruction (she’s using a Spelling You See book this year and really enjoying it because it came with a set of erasable colored pencils, which (art supply) is the key to her heart. With Huck, age 7, I’m now casually pulling out some light spelling games to help him start making those phonics-y connections.
Okay, so that was going on but only for a few minutes, and now Rose’s pretzel rolls are ready. We hurry to the table to enjoy them while they’re warm. Tuesday mornings are our Poetry Teatime—which for us generally means Something Rose Baked and a glass of milk. I usually grab our battered Favorite Poems Old and New and read six or seven poems. Not a week goes by that they don’t beg for their favorite, “My Son, Aged Three Years and Five Months”…some days I have it in me, and other weeks I’m not up to the performance. When you do that poem, you gotta DO that poem. 🙂
Huck and Rilla have gone off to play together. This usually means I will find my bed turned into a fort later. Last week, it became some kind of Monkey Kingdom and I had stuffed primates hanging from the miniblind cords all week.
I go grab a sweater from my room. Sure enough, every pillow in the house is piled high. I send Huck and Rilla to get their shoes on. Rose and Beanie are at the piano again, working out a duet—Beanie began taking violin lessons a few months ago and likes to try to work out simple accompaniment to the pieces Rose is working on for piano class.
Everyone piles into the minivan for a quick library run. We have a million things to return. Rilla found a new graphic novel, Jellaby: The Lost Monster, that looks fun. Rose recommended Sarah Zettel’s Palace of Spies for Beanie—a YA historical novel I read for the 2014 CYBILs and passed along to Rose when I finished.
Home for a late lunch. I forgot to read our chapter of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler! I’ll have to try to squeeze it in after dinner. This is because—in an unprecedented development—I went into Scott’s office (aka our boys’ bedroom) to give him a package that had arrived, and I stretched out on the bed just for a second and fell asleep. I never nap.
I guess I napped. Scott is amused. I’m totally discombobulated. Wonderboy is just arriving home from school and the littles are already deep into Terraria. Jane is pinging me from college. My afternoon has begun.
I joined Postcrossing a couple of months ago and now it’s taking over our kitchen wall—in the best way. This is a site for exchanging postcards with people around the world. Hmm, “exchange” isn’t the right word because these aren’t reciprocal swaps where you send a card to someone and get one back from the same person. Instead, you create a profile and then you’re given the name and address of another user. You send a postcard to that person. When he receives it, he registers the card, which prompts the system to send your address to someone different. In the beginning, you’re allowed to send up to five cards at once. As people begin to receive and register your cards, your maximum increases. Not that you have to send out five, six, seven cards all at once. You can do it one at a time if you like.
So far we have sent out ten cards and received eight—from Russia, Ukraine, Slovakia, Taiwan, India, Switzerland, Germany, and Finland! As you can see, we’re taping them to the wall above our world map. So much fun. This is a pretty delightful way to combine the joys of snail mail with a whizbang dose of world geography.
Our past few weeks have been a swirl of doctor appointments and deadlines. I had to skip a few of my weekly Books We’ve Read roundups because usually I put them together on weekends, and my last three weekends were quite full! Three weeks’ worth of books is too many for one post, but I’ll share a few particular standouts…and next Sunday I’ll be back on track with my regular “this week in books.”
Mordant’s Wish by Valerie Coursen: a family favorite, now sadly out of print (but available used). This is a sweet story with a chain-reaction theme. Mordant the mole sees a cloud shaped like a turtle and wishes on a dandelion for a real turtle friend. The windblown seeds remind a passing cyclist of snow, prompting him to stop for a snow cone—which drips on the ground in the shape of a hat, reminding a passing bird that his dear Aunt Nat (who wears interesting hats) is due for a visit…and so on. All my children have felt deeply affectionate about this book. The domino events are quirky and unpredictable, and the wonderful art provides lots of clues to be delighted in during subsequent reads. If your library has it, put it on your list for sure.
Sloth Slept On by Frann Preston-Gannon. Review copy provided by publisher. A strange, snoozing beast shows up in the backyard, and the kids don’t know what it is. They ask around but the adults are busy, so they hit the books in search of answers. All the while, the sloth sleeps on. The fun of the book lies in the bold, appealing art, and in the humor of the kids’ earnest search unfolding against a backdrop of clues as to the mysterious creature’s identity. Huck enjoyed the punchline of the ending.
Possum Magic by Mem Fox, illustrated by Julie Vivas. I’ve had this book since before I had children to read it to: it was one of the picture books I fell in love with during my grad-school part-time job at a children’s bookstore. Fox and Vivas are an incomparable team—it was they who gave us Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, which I described in 2011 as perhaps my favorite picture book of all time, an assertion I’ll stand by today. Possum Magic is the tale of a young Aussie possum whose granny works some bush magic to make her invisible, for protection from predators. Eventually young Hush would like to be visible again, but Grandma Poss can’t quite remember the recipe for the spell. There’s a lot of people food involved (much of it unfamiliar to American readers, which I think is what my kids like best about the book).
Rilla and I finished Dancing Shoes, our last Saturday-night-art-date audiobook. Now we’re a couple of chapters into Swallows and Amazons. She’s a little lukewarm on it so far—so many nautical terms—but I suspect that once the kids get to the island, she’ll be hooked. The Ransome books were particular favorites of Jane’s and I’m happy to see them get another go with my younger set.
After Charlotte’s Web, I chose Natalie Babbitt’s The Search for Delicious as our next dinnertime readaloud (for Huck, Rilla, and Wonderboy). We’re nearing the climax now and oh, this book is every bit as gripping as I remember from childhood. The kingdom is about to erupt in war over the question of what food should define “delicious” in the Royal Dictionary. The queen’s brother is galloping across the kingdom spreading lies and fomenting dissent, and young Gaylen, the messenger charged with polling every citizen for their delicious opinion (a thankless and sometimes dangerous task), has begun to discover the secret history of his land—a secret involving dwarves, woldwellers, a lost whistle, and a mermaid’s doll. So good, you guys.
My literature class (Beanie and some other ninth-grade girls) continues to read short stories; this month we’re discussing Poe’s “The Purloined Letter” and Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” In November we’re doing Around the World in Eighty Days, so I’ve begun pre-re-reading that one in preparation. But I also found myself picking up a book I read, and didn’t get a chance to write about, earlier this year: Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher. The fact that I’ve read it twice in one year is probably all the endorsement I need give: with a TBR pile is taller than the Tower of Babel, I really shouldn’t be spending any time on rereads at all. 🙂 But there I was stuck in a waiting room, and there it was on my Kindle, calling me. It’s an epistolary novel—you know I love those—consisting of letters (recommendations and other academic correspondence) by a beleaguered, argumentative university writing professor. His letters of recommendation are more candid and conversation than is typical. He’s a seriously flawed individual, and he knows it. But his insights are shrewd, especially when it comes to the challenges besetting the English Department. I thoroughly enjoyed this book on both reads.
Beanie finished Betsy and the Great World and is now reading Betsy’s Wedding (Rose insisted, and I fanned the flames) and Rilla of Ingleside, as our 20th-century history studies take us into World War I. Don’t Know Much About History continues to work quite well for us as a history spine, a topics jumping-off place, especially given the way it is structured: each chapter begins with a question (“Who were the Wobblies?” “What was the Bull Moose Party?”) that serves as a narration hook for us later. Then we range into other texts that explore events in more depth or, as with the Betsy and Rilla books above, provide via narrative a sense of the period. I probably don’t have to tell you I’m pretty excited about getting to include Betsy and Rilla in this study. Rilla of Ingleside is one of my most beloved books. The fact that my youngest daughter’s blog name—which I use nearly as much as I use her real name—is Rilla is probably a good indication of how much this book (and Rainbow Valley) means to me.
My late-September busy-ness put me in a bit of a slump with my sketching progress—it’s really the first time I’ve dropped the ball on my practice since I began just over a year ago. This week I pulled out our Illustration School books (Beanie and Rilla found them under the tree last Christmas) and decided that whenever I feel slumpy, I’ll just pick a page in one of those, or in a 20 Ways to Draw a… book (we have Tree, Cat, and Tulip) and follow those models. It’s an easy way to get some practice in and there’s something satisfying in filling a page with feathers, mushrooms, or rabbits—even when I make mistakes. Which I do. A lot.
This roundup doesn’t include much of the teens’ reading, and nothing from Scott although he has racked up quite a few titles since my last post. I’ll get the older folks in next time. And I suppose it goes without saying that these posts also provide a bit of a window into our homeschooling life, since I try to chronicle all our reading—a large part of which is related to our studies. If you’re curious about what resources we’re using (especially the high-schoolers, about whom I get the most queries via email), you’ll find a lot of that information here.
Speaking of which: any favorite WWI-related historical fiction you’d like to recommend?
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We first read this absolute gem of a picture book last year during the CYBILs. Fell so utterly in love with it—the lot of us—that a library copy wouldn’t do; we had to have our own. Huck and Rilla were overjoyed when I pulled it out this morning. Sophie’s instant bond with a butternut squash is utterly believable, and not just because Huck formed a similar attachment once upon a time, long before we encountered this book! “Bernice” becomes Sophie’s best friend and closest confidant, all through a bright and beautiful autumn. But as winter approaches, Bernice begins to get a bit squishy about the edges. Sophie’s parents make gentle attempts to convince Sophie it’s time to let her friend go, but since their suggestions involve treating the squash like, you know, a squash, Sophie’s having none of it. Her own solution is sweet and heartwarming, and it makes my kids sigh that contented sigh that means everything has come out exactly right.
Well, I was sure I had posted a video of Huck reading this book last March. He was enchanted by the story from the first—a little step-by-step guide to enjoying a book with your best reading buddy, charmingly illustrated—and one day I caught him reading it out loud to himself, putting in all the voices. ::melt:
Another of the texts Beanie, Rose, and I are using for our 20th-century history studies. We continue to enjoy reading history texts aloud together, which allows us all to stay on the same page (literally) and—even more important—fosters discussion and fruitful rabbit trailing. We try to reserve two 45-minute blocks a week for this, supplementing with other books (including graphic novels, historical fiction, and biographies) and videos.
The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009. Review copy received from publisher. Read to: Huck.
Gorgeous art in this sweetly captivating tale of a boy who, wandering the sterile streets of a bleak city, finds a little outpost of thriving weeds and wildflowers on an abandoned elevated rail track. He begins quietly tending the green and growing things, and his found garden begins to spread, gradually transforming the city—and its people.
We’ve loved every Peter Brown book that has walked through our doors, and this was no exception. It’s the art that makes it magical, the wave of vibrant green creeping across the city. Makes a lovely companion to an older picture book that has long been a favorite here: This Is Your Garden by Maggie Smith (now out of print, alas, but available used).
Took: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn. Clarion Books, to be published Sept. 15, 2105. Advanced review copy received from publisher via Netgalley. Read by: me.
Middle-grade horror story about a (formerly) wealthy Connecticut family who moves into an old West Virginia house near a haunted cabin in the woods. Every fifty years an evil, ancient ghost—known locally as Auntie—kidnaps and ensorcels a young girl. The main character is Daniel, a 13-year-0ld boy who doesn’t believe the wild tales he hears from kids at school—until his little sister goes missing. A suitably creepy tale which will appeal to readers of Vivian Vande Velde’s Stolen.
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. HarperTrophy. My copy: purchased with my employee discount at the children’s bookstore I worked at during grad school—with a dream in my heart of one day having children to read it to. Read to: Huck and Rilla (chapters 1-4).
After we finished Winnie-the-Pooh, my youngests picked this for their next read-aloud. Great joy is mine because they are the perfect ages (six and nine), just absolutely perfect.
Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes. Harcourt Young Classics. My copy purchased when Jane was about eight years old. Read to: Rilla.
This was Rilla’s first read-aloud pick from the Rillabook shelf. She was quite keen to have me read it just to her (no brothers involved). She giggled mightily over the meet-cute of Mr. and Mrs. Pye (with Jane popping in to shriek over the startling fact—which went over her head at age eight—that Mrs. Pye was just seventeen when she married. We began this book the day after Rose’s seventeenth birthday, which put it into stark perspective). Methinks Rilla and I will have fun with this. I’m not sure I’ve read it aloud since that first time (gulp) twelve years ago.
D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths. Read to: Huck and Rilla. Rose’s copy, purchased some years ago to replace her first copy, which was read to tatters. Read to: Huck and Rilla.
Monday and Friday are our Greek Myths days. This week’s selections were about Hera and Io, and Hephaestus and Aphrodite.
Tuesday and Thursday are folk and fairy tale days.* This week, they picked “Tortoise Brings Food: A Story from Africa.” A grumble with this otherwise charming book: that nonspecific from Africa. The other stories are “from Greece,” England, Finland, Puerto Rica, Australia, Wales, Japan, and so on. How about “from Kenya” or Ethiopia or Nigeria? Native American stories get a similarly vague treatment: “from North America.” I’d like a word with this book’s editor. But the stories themselves are amiably written and a good size for reading aloud.
*Any day is a great day for a fairy tale or Greek myth. I just assign them days in my head to ensure that I make the time. The kids don’t know about it.
Among the Dolls by William Sleator. Knopf Books for Young Readers. An old copy I brought home from work. Read by: Rilla.
Me: So how do you like it so far?
Rilla, emphatically: I DON’T.
Me: Too scary?
Rilla: It’s terrible! She’s trapped in the dollhouse and they’re being mean to her AND HER MOTHER WALKED RIGHT BY WITHOUT EVEN HEARING HER.
Me: Are you going to keep reading?
Rilla: ::doesn’t hear me, is already immersed again::
This is a digest-sized compilation of several Batman Adventures stories. The Batman Adventures and Gotham Adventures comics of the 90s were aimed at kids, unlike most Batman comics. It’s nice to see them a book-sized edition that can survive on a library shelf.
Huck enjoyed this collection too, and it only took him five times through to notice that his daddy was listed as an author.
Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang. First Second Books. Copies received from publisher. Read by: me. On deck for Rose this week. Bean has already read them.
Gene is a friend of ours whom we see far too seldom (mainly at SDCC). He is spectacularly talented, but no one on the internet needs me to tell them that. I’d been meaning to read Boxers & Saints, his graphic novel duo about the Boxer Rebellion—told from two different points of view, thus the two books—since the day they were announced. Reaching this time period in my teen’s history studies meant now was the perfect time. Deeply absorbing, unsettling, moving, and educational. I always appreciate Gene’s thoughtful exploration of people’s motivations, and the fearless way he unpacks his characters flaws along with their strengths. Beautiful, beautiful books. Highly recommended.
Dancing Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. Audiobook. Listened to by: Rilla and me.
The current pick for our Saturday night sketchbook date. After all the Roald Dahl we enjoyed all summer, this Streatfeild gem got off to a bit of a slow start for Rilla, but she’s well and truly hooked now. Hilary is about to perform her Dulcie-Pulsie dance in the talent competition. Pulses racing. Delicious.
Woolf is one of my gaps, which is odd when I think of it—she’s so right for me. I’m sure we did A Room of One’s Own in women’s lit, but somehow she never appeared on a syllabus after that. I’ve been determined to rectify this glaring omission and this summer I have finally found the time. And OH MY. She’s just…she…I want to quote everything. Her prose—I mean, I knew that about her. But only from the outside. Now I’m inside and I can barely speak. I’ve highlighted so many passages, it’s a bit ridiculous. I’ll pull some quotes into a commonplace book when I can.
Scott is rereading Sandman, and I couldn’t begin to tell you what my older girls are reading these days—I can only keep up with so much. Rose got a bunch of T.A. Barron’s Merlin novels for her birthday, I know that. (Since I wrapped them.) 😉 Beanie pops up with interesting tidbits gleaned from National Geographic (her favorite magazine). Jane was toiling through some Kant in preparation for a philosophy class she’ll take at school this year. I’ve also seen some Maggie Stiefvater in her library pile.
Do you know, I thought this would be a quick and easy post? I’d just dash off a list of things read around the house this past week. Turns out I am delusional. But it was fun!
These are the books I’ve collected in one place for Rilla to pull from this year. They may be read-alouds or read-alones, depending on what we’re in the mood for. I expect Huck will listen in on a lot of the read-alouds. (And probably the older kids too, sometimes, because we’re like that.)
No particular order here. This is how they landed on the shelf. Will we read them ALL? It’s a long list! Most likely we won’t, but the idea is to pull together a rich selection of books to choose from. The history, science, mythology, and poetry selections (second half of list) form a kind of homeschooling core library, and the fiction and picture book choices (up top) will provide read-aloud and solo reading options for months to come. I’ve listed those first because they’re what we’ll lead off with most mornings, to make sure life doesn’t crowd out the very best part of the day.
I’m quite sure other titles will join the list as we go. I can already think of a few I’ve left off, but which she may be ready for by the end of the year. (It doesn’t help that Jane keeps thrusting more books at me. “I loved this one at her age!” She’s my daughter, all right.) 😉
As I said, I don’t expect to read this entire list in a single year, especially the fiction selections at the top. And I’m sure Rilla will encounter other enticing titles along the way. Or maybe she’ll get hooked on Redwall or Warriors like her sisters did at this age, and read those obsessively to the exclusion of things on this list. The point is for us to have a rich bounty to draw from, a shelf she knows she can go to whenever she needs something new. I would hazard we’ll manage 1-2 read-aloud novels per month, depending on length. The rest will be options for her to read on her own. I’ll let you know which ones we pick for read-aloud time.
The lower chunk of the list will serve as the spine for our high-tide mornings. A typical day’s reading looks something like:
• Chapter of current read-aloud novel
• A poem or two, sometimes to memorize
• A chapter of Child’s History of the World or a passage from Handbook of Nature Studies (alternating days)
• A Greek myth, folk tale, or Shakespeare story (about twice a week, and this may include longer picture books)
• Something from the art, science, or history lists (perhaps we do an experiment from UsborneScience Activities, or maybe we spend some time poring over Brueghel’s paintings, for example)
• Whatever other books she is reading on her own
Some days have more reading aloud, some days less. Some days I focus more on the teens. Or a big sister might read to Huck and Rilla while I work with the other teen. Some days (or weeks) we’ll follow a rabbit trail that may involve a library trip or two. But we always circle back to the tried-and-true favorites above (plus one or two new treasures). I love this list so much. These books live in that wonderful late-elementary space I love so dearly—as a writer, a reader, and a mom.
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.
So what else does high tide look like in my house for ages 6 and 9?
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.
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.
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!