Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Wednesday with Words: Thrift store find

“The small boys came early to the hanging”
The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett

Well, with an opening line like that, how could I resist?

Monday, October 7, 2013


That’s true for the routine difficulties we all live through because we’re human, but even though that’s the usual kind of hardship we face, it isn’t the only kind.

There are the calamitous ones. 

Like the death of a loved one that leaves you in a state of shock, where you’re just numbly going through the motions because things must be done and you are the one who must do them. 

Or a severe illness of the sort that allows your body to keep working, albeit in a badly reduced capacity, and you just keep muddling through because… well, because that’s just what you do.

In situations like those it’s actually the opposite of the routine kind of hardship.  When you’ve finally climbed out on the other side of that vale, you look back and think, “That was awful!  How was I even able to live like that?”

In both cases it’s the grace of God.  “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.  For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.”

Reality check

I always enjoy looking at people’s Typical School Day posts.  A few years ago I posted an ideal week using Ambleside Online but what happens for me is I have two different kinds of typical days:  (1) The kind where I get most of the school work and none of the housework done and I end the day happy but exhausted; and (2) The kind where I intend to get housework done but I spend too much time on the computer, so while I do get more done than on a school work day, it’s not enough to justify having done no school work at all, and I end the day unhappy and exhausted.

So when you’re reading my posts about typical or ideal school days you mustn’t imagine me getting all that done AND getting what you consider a decent amount of housework done.  It simply doesn’t work that way for me.

When I was in my 20s and 30s I got a lot more housework done during the day, even though back then I felt like I really wasn’t getting much done at all.  There are some things that improve with time and age, and I hope I’ve improved in some ways, but (and I hope it isn’t this way for you) housekeeping isn’t one of them.

I think it’s always like that, living through hard times.

You know how you’ll think about how fat you felt when you were in your late teens and early 20s and then you’ll see a picture of yourself and think, “I had no idea I looked that great!  What was wrong with me?” and wish you could look half as good now as you did then?  It’s sort of like that.

It’s always worse when you’re living through it than it will be when you’re remembering it.

Edited 7 October, 10:45 a.m.:  Be sure to read the addendum I posted just now.

Friday, October 4, 2013

“What do you DO with your kids if they don’t learn to read before age 10 or so?” Part 1

After reading my post from a few weeks ago, Different children learn to read at different ages, and that's okay, a friend asked the above question, which she kindly allowed me to use here.  My original answer to her was about what I’m doing now, but for this blog post I thought I’d begin with what I did with my older children, who are now 24, 22, and 20.  I’ll cover what we’re doing now next time.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Part I:  What I did with my older children

I asked #1 Son what he remembers doing in the days before he could read to himself, and his answer was, “We played outside.  All the time!

That’s funny, because what I remember was that I read aloud to them – all the time.

But, yes.  Playing outside was kind of the default thing for me.  From the time Eldest Daughter was a baby I made sure to let them be outside as much as possible, in all kinds of weather.  A frequent refrain around here is, “The Lord made the out-of-doors for children to play in.  Now go outside.”  So, ditto what Cindy said:  “I let them play outside a lot. I mean, a lot, a lot.” 

Playing outside wasn’t even a priority – it was just, as I said, the default.  As a child I loved being outside, and the whole reason I began homeschooling in the first place was so my own children would have plenty of time for a happy childhood.

And that means playing outside. 

A lot.

Without adult interference.

About the time my oldest was six or seven years old, I read Susan Schaeffer Macauley’s For the Children’s Sake, and I tried to incorporate some of her ideas.  First of all, this was when I learned that playing outside was part of the children’s education – Nature Study – so occasionally, as she suggested, I would ask my children to tell me something interesting they had seen while outside, and sometimes I would give them a specific task, like watching the ants on the sidewalk.  When they came in I’d ask them to tell me what the ants were doing and where they were going, and that sort of thing.

By “occasionally” and “sometimes” I mean, oh, once or twice a month.  When I’m really working at it. I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a pretty relaxed homeschooler.  Some people might call it dilatoriness, but I prefer to think of it as Homeschooling From a Place of Rest. ;-)

Also from Macauley, I learned the centrality of reading the Bible, history, and literature.  I had already been reading the Bible, picture books, and children’s literature to them every day, but I began to be more deliberate about choosing history books to read.

That fall, the first school book I read to Eldest Daughter, who was my only official student at that point, was Margaret Pumphrey’s Stories of the Pilgrims.  It was beyond her reading level, and anyway I wanted my younger ones to hear it, so I read it aloud to all of them.  That went so well that I decided it was best to include the younger ones in the school work I did with the oldest as much as possible.

As she got older and I began giving her Greenleaf Press’s books to read on her own, I also got library books for the younger kids that covered the same period she was studying.  A great resource for finding titles in the library is Christine Miller’s All Through the AgesWe had at least two story times during the day when I read “school” books to the younger kids – one in the morning and one after lunch.

In addition to this I always had a bedtime story going.  In those early years we read through Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, E.B. White’s books, all the Chronicles of Narnia, most of Brian Jacques’s Redwall books, and a few G.A. Henty books.

When we were reading school books, I tried to get my children to narrate, or tell back in their own words what I had just read, but this never worked out well.  One of my children thought I meant for him to recite verbatim and he simply couldn’t do that!  I don’t remember now whether I ever thought to model narration for them, but after a while I just dropped it.

But we did talk about what we were reading.  Sometimes I’d ask them to tell Daddy what we’d read that day, or I’d ask them to tell me what their favorite story was.  As they got older this became so easy and natural that I can’t figure out why it was such a problem at the beginning.

For math with the three oldest, I used Math-U-See, which is fairly teacher intensive, but doesn’t require any reading on the student’s part, so it was no problem for the two who read later than is typical.  Also, I tried to have them count for me and do simple math problems orally as they came up during the week.  “How many spoons do you need to put on the table?” – that sort of thing.  I’m not very creative though, and didn’t do nearly as much of this as would have been good for them.

We also drilled them in math facts, but that doesn’t seem to have stuck, probably because we weren’t consistent about it.  Math is definitely my weak area.

I have always loved classical music and I began my collection of CDs about the time Eldest Daughter was born.  I don’t remember how often I played it – I’m guessing two or three times a week, because I rarely play it as background music.  I prefer to play it when we can really listen to it.

About the time baby #5 was born (the older ones were 9 ½, 8, 6, and almost 4) we started going to a church that encouraged families to teach the hymns to their children, so we bought four hymnals and began memorizing the ones that we sang in church fairly regularly.

So here’s a summary: 
  • Let them play outside a lot, and sometimes ask them to tell you what they’ve observed while outside
  • Read aloud a lot from well-written books covering a wide range of stories and topics, and talk about what you’ve read, especially when you’re not doing lessons
  • Demonstrate math concepts to them instead of having them read a textbook, and talk about math as it comes up in everyday life
  • Listen, really listen, to classical music a few times a week
  • Sing and memorize hymns together as a family

Bonus advice, especially for moms who spend a lot of time pregnant and nursing:
Combine as much of your children’s schoolwork as possible.  Combine subjects (for example literature and history), and combine ages, having all of your children learn together as much as possible.  This works for nearly everything except skills where each child needs individual tutoring and isn’t on the same level as any of the other children, like reading or handwriting.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Wednesday with Words: A word from the Father of History

Marble bust of Herodotus
photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen
Wikimedia Commons
Herodotus of Halicarnassus here displays his inquiry, so that human achievements may not become forgotten in time, and great and marvellous deeds  some displayed by Greeks, some by barbarians  may not be without their glory; and especially to show why the two peoples fought with each other.
[Herodotus, The Histories, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt, revised by John Marincola.]

Herodotus (c. 484–425 BC) was born at Halicarnassus, which is on the Aegean coast of modern day Turkey.  Cicero called him the Father of History because he is the first person we know of who systematically inquired into events of the past and tried to make sure that they had actually happened before creating his own narrative.

That seems obvious to us, but compare his book's opening lines with the usual way of telling of memorable deeds of the past:

Sing, O Goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. (The Illiad. tr. Butler)


Speak to me, Muse, of the adventurous man who wandered long after he sacked the sacred citadel of Troy.  (The Odyssey, tr. Palmer)

Homer appeals to the goddess for inspiration, and then tells how the gods' actions led to the events following.

But Herodotus begins by saying that he's going to tell about great things people have done and then gives a lengthy account of the Persian's version of what caused the war:  Io was kidnapped by a group of Phoenecian sailors and then in retaliation Europa was kidnapped by a group of Greeks followed by the abduction of Medea which inspired Paris to kidnap Helen.  Evidently the Persians thought all this kidnapping was no big deal, but "the Greeks, merely on account of a girl from Sparta, raised a big army, invaded Asia and destroyed the empire of Priam."

All of this caused the eternal enmity between the Greeks and the Persians.  No mention at all of gods, but simply the actions of men — things that can be verified by inquiry.

Just for fun, here's the original Greek text:

Ἡροδότου Ἁλικαρνησσέος ἱστορίης ἀπόδεξις ἥδε, ὡς μήτε τὰ γενόμενα ἐξ ἀνθρώπων τῷ χρόνῳ ἐξίτηλα γένηται, μήτε ἔργα μεγάλα τε καὶ θωμαστά, τὰ μὲν Ἕλλησι τὰ δὲ βαρβάροισι ἀποδεχθέντα, ἀκλεᾶ γένηται, τά τε ἄλλα καὶ δι᾽ ἣν αἰτίην ἐπολέμησαν ἀλλήλοισι.
[Source:  Sacred Texts]

Oh, and the "word" from Herodotus?  The third word in Greek is ἱστορίης, which means inquiry.  It is pronounced something like istoria, and gives us our word history.

And there you have the history of History.