High Tide for Huck and Rilla

August 8, 2015 @ 11:09 am | Filed under: , , ,


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.

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. 

dip pen

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.

• Math.

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!

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18 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. sarah says:

    I have always wished I could have been homeschooled by you. And your “practices” informed my own homeschool for many years, to its great benefit. The big difference though was having only one child compared with your wonderful brood. I can imagine all those children learning together (and a neighbourhood full of friends – what a treasure!) must make each day magical.

    • Melissa Wiley says:

      Sarah, what a lovely thing to say! I wish you & your daughter had lived down the block…imagine the fun we’d have had. Too bad for that teeny weeny little world’s biggest ocean between us. 😉

  2. Phoebe says:

    Ah, inspiring! I’m looking forward to this year too. I’ve got two teens and a whack of littles.

  3. Melanie says:

    You make it sound so simple! Your plans sound lovely.

  4. Karen Edmisten says:

    I feel transported back about eight or ten years, when we both blogged often about homeschooling and what it looked like, and what the delicious plans for the coming year would hold. What a lovely time you all will have!

    • Melissa Wiley says:

      Karen, I do miss those days! All the long back-and-forth chats about plans and books and theory!

      • Melanie Bettinelli says:

        I miss those days too, even though I wasn’t homeschooling. I was just the fly on the wall with the new baby who got so excited about the whole thing while reading all your discussions about plans and books and theory.

        • Melissa Wiley says:

          You know, that’s a big part of why I try to keep doing it! I know I’ve been sporadic lately, and sometimes I feel like over the course of ten years I’ve probably shared all I have to say about homeschooling (apart from talking about new book gems we come across—a never-ending topic); but I know how much I got out of our discussions in the early days, and I do want to keep on sharing the wealth. I was like you, Melanie! Reading the old AOL homeschooling boards with my first baby in my arms! Soaking it all in and piling up books in anticipation. 🙂

          • Melanie Bettinelli says:

            Lately as I chat with friends who are new homeschooling moms, I’ve been realizing how lucky I was to have those years with you and Karen and Willa and Alice and MacBeth and all my other virtual mentors. I have all this lovely theory sitting in the back of my head, this wealth of vicarious experience and anecdote and data and I think it makes me a much calmer and laid-back homeschooler. I could easily have been sucked into the mode of worried over achiever, but for all your posts about unschooling and tidal homeschooling and gentle learning. I’m much more willing to trust in the process because the trail had already been blazed. I’m not Lewis and Clark, you know. I’m following these well-laid wagon tracks across the prairie and setting up my log house within hailing distance of this great community of neighbors who are always willing to lend a hand when it comes time to put up the roof. You’re my Mr Edwards!

  5. maria says:

    Beautiful! And encouraging for so many reasons. Not least of which is your once again making me feel so normal.
    Thank you! Much!

  6. Melissa Wiley says:

    How strange–Wordpress won’t let me reply to Melanie’s last comment in that thread. I wanted to say that may be my favorite compliment ever. Mr. Edwards!! I can take Ole Dan Tucker as my theme song!

    • Melanie Bettinelli says:

      I sort of got swept away by the metaphor, but it works. We’re deep into Lewis and Clark now and listening to Little House in the car. Oh I think you’re Rilla Books post is like when Mr Edwards brings Santa’s presents.

  7. Jen says:

    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?