Strategic Strewing

January 24, 2005 @ 1:05 pm | Filed under: , ,

I consider my primary function as a homeschooling mom to be Strewing the Path. Coined by Sandra Dodd, “strewing” is a favorite term of homeschoolers, especially unschoolers, which describes the habit of leaving books, puzzles, games, curiosities, art supplies, and other cool objects lying on tables and counters and in the car where unsuspecting children will find them. (Check out Sandra’s extensive page on strewing here.)

I learned the benefits of strewing from my husband. He hates to be told what to read. In high school, his favorite books were the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He read and re-read them for pleasure year after year. In college, he took a class on Tolkien. A certain number of chapters of The Lord of the Rings was assigned for each class. And Scott found that he never wanted to read the material. It had become “material.” It was an assignment, chopped up into increments and parceled out over a semester. He procrastinated or completely blew off the daily reading assignments. At home the following summer, he lounged under the air conditioner and read the whole trilogy for pleasure.

He told me that story early in our relationship, and I’m glad, because it tipped me off to the fact that if I really want him to read something, I shouldn’t ask him to. Instead, if I have a book I’m dying to share with him, I leave it in the bathroom and take all other reading material out of there. That’s strategic strewing.

It works with my children, too. I know their interests. I know where they like to hang out in the house. So I choose books I think will capture my 9-year-old’s imagination and leave them on the windowsill beside her chair at the lunch table, or on the sofa where she likes to sprawl. I leave baskets of books all over the house; I casually lay a picture book or two on my 4-year-old’s nightstand when I’m putting her down for a nap. I sneak into my sleeping daughters’ room and put books at the foot of their bed, because I know that when they wake up they’ll find them and look at them and maybe I’ll get to sleep ten minutes past dawn the next morning.

I have to be careful, because sometimes this gets me in trouble. Two summers ago I wanted to know what was growing in our unlandscaped side yard, so I checked a book on weeds out of the library. I glanced at it but decided this book was too dry to make it worth the effort and tossed it onto the kitchen table. The next day I returned it to the library. The next day, then-7-year-old Jane summoned me with an anguished wail. “Mommy, where’s that great book I was reading? The one about weeds? It was SO interesting!” She’d found it lying on the table and naturally assumed that it was meant for her. I admitted I’d returned it, and she was crushed. I had to promise to schedule a special trip to re-check it out. Apparently what is one person’s giant yawn is another person’s heart-pounder.

Scatter enough books in their paths, and they’ll find the heart-pounders for themselves.

Sneaking in Some Spelling

January 23, 2005 @ 10:36 am | Filed under: ,

Nine-year-old Jane and I have been playing iSketch together. What a hoot! It’s a kind of online Pictionary game. I log in first and create a private room (very important—the public rooms can be lewd) just for the two of us. Then she logs in on our other computer. In each round, one person draws a word and the other one guesses it. The words are randomly generated by the computer. You can choose categories like books, movies, food, or animals, or you can just choose a basic word list. The “phrases” category is especially fun—Scott’s illustration for “shattered dreams” had me in stitches the other night.

The artist has a set of drawing & painting tools to use. Drawing with a mouse is tricky at first but you quickly get the hang of it. The guesser types words into a box. If you’re on the right track, you get a little happy noise. Correct guesses earn points for both artist and guesser, but for us the thrill is in having the other person figure out what you’re supposed to be drawing.

We began playing this just for fun—I had no sneaky educational ulterior motive. But it has turned out to be quite a boost for Jane’s spelling. She has to spell her guesses correctly or they don’t count. Yesterday her correct guesses included the words “passenger,” “microscope,” “martyr,” and “manicure.” She passed a nice little spelling quiz, all unawares!

iSketch has word lists in over a dozen languages, so you can even practice your German, Spanish, or Dutch. Now if only they had a category for Latin…

Now, we won’t be tossing our beloved Pictionary game anytime soon…after all, it’s nice to actually be in the same room together sometimes. 🙂 But iSketch has an excitement all its own. And since you can invite numerous players to your private room, it’s possible to play a game with Grandpa in Colorado and your cousins in Australia. (Working out the time differences sneaks in a lesson in practical math, too.)

Note to parents: you’ll want to visit the iSketch website first and check it out, sans kids. Be sure to read the instructions for how to set up a private room. Whatever you do, DO NOT let your children scroll down the list of public room names at the bottom. The “user created” names at the end of the list are beyond nasty. A private room, however, is quite easy to set up and perfectly safe from unsavory intruders.

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Resources for Learning American Sign Language (ASL)

Our family favorite: the Signing Time DVDs and videos. My girls got these for Christmas and we’re all captivated! See All About Wonderboy to find out why we’re learning sign language. Signing Time creator Rachel Coleman, her daughter Leah (who is deaf), and Leah’s cousin Alex (who is hearing) have got my children signing and singing up a storm! We bought them because of the signs and fell in love with them because of the songs—Rachel is a gifted singer and songwriter. Highly recommended. Check them out at

Need practice reading fingerspelling? This site spells out words for you in the manual alphabet, and you type in your answer. It repeats the word over and over until you get it right. ASL Fingerspelling Quiz

Other websites I like:

Signing Online
ASL Browser
ASL University

Related posts:
Signing Time DVDs
More about Signing Time
Rilla Signs
Unsolicited Signing Time Commercial
Signing with Babies, My Favorite Topic

All About Wonderboy

January 20, 2005 @ 5:37 pm | Filed under: , , , ,

He is 13 months old and has had his hearing aids for two months. His hearing loss, diagnosed last fall, came as a surprise to us—we spent his first nine months focused on various and sundry other medical issues. First it was the omphalocele, discovered immediately after birth: a small section of intestine had herniated into his umbilical cord. He was rushed to the university hospital, where our favorite surgeon in the world tucked his bowels back where they belonged and custom-stitched him a belly button. (It’s a beauty, too.)

Then came the string of new and alarming discoveries: seemed like half the departments in the hospital had something to say about our boy. Cardiology, genetics, neurology, neo-natal…plus a couple of others who were able to cross him off their lists, thank goodness. The next six months were an adventure of appointment-juggling, full of surprises. In March, a second surgery. In April, he was diagnosed with hypertonia (high muscle tone) and developmental delay. Wonderboy’s physical therapy became our new family pastime. His sisters are a big help with the homework.

An MRI in June showed specific types of brain abnormality but offered little insight as to what to expect in terms of future mobility. PT has worked wonders, but there is a long way to go. He’s a tough little guy, and his physical therapist is a gem–a gentle, patient soul with a wonderfully warm manner. Wonderboy loves her even if he doesn’t always love what she makes him do.

Just about the time we were getting a handle on the PT, we began to be concerned about his hearing. More tests, a surgery to insert tubes, yet more tests—and finally confirmation of what we already knew: he is hard of hearing.

Now that he has the hearing aids, he can hear everything we say to him. We’re teaching him how to make sense of it. Sign language helps, so we’ve all immersed ourselves in the study of ASL (American Sign Language) and I’m not sure which one of us loves it more. My shy Rose blooms when her hands can do the talking—she loves being able to tell me something without opening her mouth. Beanie is learning to fingerspell before she can read. And Jane is burning with an insatiable need to know WHY each specific sign is what it is.

The first time Wonderboy signed “Mommy” I thought my heart would burst. Now he says “Maaaa” and that’s just as magical. He enchants friends and neighbors by studying their faces when they speak, those big eyes serious and fascinated, a little smile quirking the corner of his mouth. And I think there can be no audience in the world more satisfying to sing to than a hard-of-hearing baby. His spellbound gaze says I’m the wonder, as if I’ve somehow invented this marvelous thing called music all by myself.

I think the real wonder is how God works it out: the child with hearing loss teaches me how to listen; the one who can’t talk yet has the most profound things to say.

Related posts:
Signing Time DVDs
More about Signing Time
Rilla Signs
Unsolicited Signing Time Commercial
Signing with Babies, My Favorite Topic

Life Is a Mixed Metaphor

January 20, 2005 @ 1:36 pm | Filed under:

“You have so much on your plate!”

“I don’t know how you juggle it all.”

“You really have your hands full.”

This is what I’m always hearing from people, variations on the theme. Either I have too many balls in the air or too much food on my plate, or maybe it’s PLATES I’m supposed to be juggling instead of balls, and I guess in that case any amount of food would be too much. And it’s true, I’ve had plenty of days when it seems like the metaphorical spaghetti is raining down upon my head. Especially this past year, since the baby was born.

But I’m of the mind that a little pasta in the hair can be a good thing, metaphorically speaking.

Full hands are a blessing. Juggling can be exciting. A plate heaped with food is generally considered something to be thankful for.

And oh boy am I thankful. Sometimes I’m dizzy with thanks. Other times I’m just dizzy—life whirls by so quickly. What’s on the spinning plates is a blur. So I thought I’d write about what’s on each dish, the whole savory smorgasbord.

I wonder how my children will feel, later, about having been described as dinner. I won’t beat an already battered metaphor to death by attempting to compare them to specific foods. Enough already! The whole point is that real life resists being squeezed into cliche. I’ll scrap the whole thing and just say, yes, my hands are full (aren’t everyone’s? full of something or other?) and I’m so glad and here is what they’re holding:

The children. These days the girls are calling themselves Jane, Rose, and Beanie. Well actually it’s Jane and Rose calling the youngest one Beanie, but she answers to it. And then there’s the baby, whom we affectionately refer to as Wonderboy. Their ages are 9, 6, almost 4, and 13 months. They are homeschooled. So are we, Scott and I. (Are, present tense, not were. Education never ends…)

Scott. I’m tempted to annoy him by writing something mushy, but I’m supposed to be working right now so I think I won’t push my luck. Heh.

Work, oh yes, there’s that. I write. Scott writes. Both of us, here at home, in this messy office with my photocopies of 18th-century Edinburgh all over the wall and his comic-book-hero statues staring at us from atop the shelves. I’ve got a big deadline and I’m working doubletime right now. Scott’s got the kids outside running laps around the house to keep warm. I should shut up and get back to work right this minute.

Just wanted to stop juggling a minute and step back to admire the plates soaring through the air.