Archive for June 2009

Reading List June 2009

June 30, 2009

1.  Math Doesn’t Suck by Danica McKellar:  “Winnie” from The Wonder Years is all grown up and sharing her love of math with teenage girls.  It’s a fun little tutorial for girls that are struggling with math-phobia with lots of encouragement to no longer fear being labeled “smart”.  Personally, this was kind of like a trip down memory lane.  Terms like “prime factorization”, “greatest common factor”, and “lowest common multiple” have had no relevance in my life in close to 15 years.  As I looked through this book, I became increasingly aware that one reason most people despise math is because it is taught in ways that have no relevance to students beyond its effect on their grade point average.  I use math every day in cooking, shopping, and budgeting, but I vary rarely think about the terminology or protocols involved.  Again this reinforces, the ways my children should be able to experience math in more real-world situations by being homeschooled than they would by studying it strictly in textbooks and on blackboards.  I guess I already wrote that post, though.  (See “Mathematician’s Lament”)

2.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling:   After re-reading Half-Blood Prince last month, it seemed natural to re-read book 7.  I spent one late night hyped up on caffeine pondering where they will split the book, what scenes will be omitted, and which concepts will be combined when they make it into two movies.  That might require its own Harry Potter Predictions post down the road.

3.  Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs by Molly Harper:  Harper is a fellow WKU graduate who apparently used to write for the  College Heights Herald, although a year or two after my time on the Hill.  Her debut novel is a cross between Meg Cabot and Anne Rice, which is a good thing in my opinion.  The book is slightly racier than my usual taste but was a fun read, and I plan to keep an eye out for the sequel coming out in a few months.  And who knew that there was actually a genre called “paranormal romance”?

4.  The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer:  Got its own post.

5.  Lentenlands by Douglas H. Gresham:  An interesting insight into the marriage of C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman through the eyes of Joy’s younger son.

6.  Darth Bane:  Path of Destruction by Drew Karpyshyn    :  I’ve never really been inspired to read the Star Wars prequel novels very much.  I much prefer to keep up with Han, Leia, Luke, and their kids.  This one caught my eye for some reason, and I look forward to reading its sequel soon.

7.  It’s All Too Much by Peter Walsh:  I scanned this book but it’s less about reorganizing your house and more about reorganizing your mindset.  He made a good point about how the cost of replacing something you “might need someday” is often less than the cost of keeping clutter around.

8.  Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready by  June R. Oberlander  :  I was not impressed with this book which lists activities to do each week with your child from birth to age 5.  I found some of the activities really unrealistic for the ages to which they were assigned.  This might be a good book for the first time parent at a loss for something to do or as a random book of ideas, but I don’t think much of it as designed.

9.  Everything You Know Is Wrong by Russ Kick (editor)  : This collection of essays makes one question the difference between a conspiracy theory and good detective journalism.  Of course, it’s easier to believe some of the ones that have actual documentation.

10.  Freedom’s Landing by Anne McCaffrey:  I love McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders of Pern series, and I really like the Rowan series, too.  I’ve been kind of hesitant to try some of her other series until now.  I really enjoyed this offering, and I look forward to reading the sequels.

11.  Weapons of Mass Instruction by John Taylor Gatto:  I have so many thoughts about this book swirly in my mind I don’t know where to start.  It definitely needs its own post…or two.

The Great Outdoors

June 22, 2009

We live in a townhome community, and our biggest regret is that we don’t really have our own yard.  As a result,  we do not get as much time in the great outdoors as we would like.  So, I got inspired to construct our own little outdoor play area on our front deck.  This is where I planned to upload a photo of our cozy little play,but my digital camera broke just as I went to take the picture.

You’ll just have to take a trip into pure imagination with me.  As you step out the front door, your bare feet hit the light brown carpet.  To your right are two deck chairs and a small table , with a black nylon barrier behind them to block off the stairs.  To the left is a small wood and metal bench against the wall of the house.  And at the far end of the deck sits our new sand and water table.

It takes me about five minutes to set up and take down our complete play area.  It takes about  ten minutes longer when I have to clean out the table every other day.  I roll up the carpet when we are finished and keep it in the foyer.  If I could go back and change one thing, though, I would have bought just a sand table or just a water table.  It’s really hard to get the kids to keep them separate , so we tend to have muddy sand most of the time.  But they’ve really been enjoying it.

Our barrier is just a roll of cheap plastic fencing.  I cut it down to size.  One end is attached to the deck rails with nailed in hooks.  I use some plastic ties of sorts on the other end that can be detached to open up access to the porch when we’re not out there.  If she was determined, the baby could probably work her way under it, but it acts as a good visual deterrent and I keep the deck chairs in front of it as an extra obstacle.  I can sit out there and read or work on paperwork without worrying about the baby trying to make her escape every five minutes.

All in all it cost about $120–Sand and Water Table:                   $75

12′ by 5 1/2′ Carpet Remnant:     $36

Fencing and a Play Sand:             $  9

Have a nice outdoor area where I can set the baby down to crawl and cruise or play with her big sisters:       Priceless!

The Well-Trained Mind

June 16, 2009

I finally got around to reading this Bible of Classical homeschooling by Jessie Wise and her daughter Susan Wise Bauer.  If you are looking for a step-by-step, hour-by-hour, day-by-day,  year-by-year blueprint for highly structured homeschooling, this is the book for you.  I must admit, though,  that this method has never appealed to me.  From the first time I read about it, I thought it sounded kind of pretentious.  I could just imagine that this is the method that Rick Moranis’ character in Parenthood would be using to make his daughter a super genius.

I did not walk away from the book empty-handed, though.  Being a truly eclectic homeschooler (my method of choice), I made two or three pages of notes on the Grammar years (grades 1-4) that I am considering how I want to apply.  For instance, I am considering implementing the suggested list of historical biographies for each year.  However, I do not plan to have my daughter make all of the extensive note binders that they recommend.  I also found some interesting suggestions of resources to use for memorizing math facts and history/geography reference, too.  I do not plan to start teaching Latin in the third grade; my kids will just have to settle for working with Latin/Greek Root flashcards every once in a while.  I may start foreign language earlier than I originally intended, in fifth grade instead of ninth.  I am considering purchasing my own copy of the book just for the resource lists.  Besides instructional resources, it has great reading lists for every grade level and subject.  (And I have a slight addiction to reading lists.)

My issues with the Classical Method are three-fold.  First, there is an underlying assumption that you can and should try to teach your child everything in the world whether it will be of use to him or not (thus making Super Genius).  Secondly, in order to teach your child everything you better plan on two hours of intensive study starting in the first grade and moving up to almost six hours of study by fifth grade.  I think the studies show that kids in regular schools only receive like 40 minutes of actual instruction in a six-hour school day by the time you cut out all of the standing in line and administrative stuff.  Obviously schools are the minimum standard, but to me the classical method seems to take things to the other extreme.  Third, the authors are very clear that they do not believe in the validity of child-led learning, except in limited doses within the framework provided.  This just seems like a recipe for turning some kids off of the joys of learning.

Now realistically, most homeschooling parents are not going to  be doing every little thing they suggest how they suggest it.  Every family has to adjust any homeschooling method to their particular circumstances, and I am not sure that this method really lends itself to large families without lots of tweaking.  Most new homeschoolers, though, tend to get a little over-zealous in their initial excitement (as I know from experience), and  I can totally see the first-time parent who just discovered classical homeschooling going whole hog, risking burn-out for child and parent.

This method is probably a really good fit for some parents and children whose temperament lends itself to lots of structure.  I probably would have thrived if I had been homeschooled using the classical method.  I am a visual learner that loves organization and writing and outlines and all of that stuff.  I would have enjoyed memorization and Latin and ten tons of notebooks to fill in.  I probably would not have thought anything of the five to six hours of intensive study  at home every day as opposed to six hours of boredom at school (Ok, I probably would have loved any method of homeschooling as opposed to six hours of boredom at school).  I don’t think this method is very forgiving of those who do not fit the mold, though.  In some ways, it is a very “one-size-fits-all” educational form.  That’s another reason that I am unsure about it.

But I do recommend this book to homeschooling parents looking for fresh ideas.  It saves all of the “whys” of homeschooling for the back of the book, which is very refreshing.  And I have found that I can usually get something out of almost any homeschooling book even if I totally disagree with it.  Just the act of building up a case against it helps me solidify the reasons behind my own chosen methodology.  And sorry, if I’ve offended any Classical homeschoolers out there.  Let’s just say that Classical homeschooling is not a good fit for our homeschooling goals or my kids’ educational needs at this time.

Applying My Child’s Learning Style

June 9, 2009

Ever since reading Discover Your Child’s Learning Style, I’ve been brainstorming ways to practically apply what I have learned.  So, here is the list of ideas that I have come up with for my Tactile-Kinesthetic six-year-old who has a Performing (Moving/Doing) disposition.  Some are brand new, and some are things that I accidentally discovered would work in the past.  I am not saying that we will necessarily can or should do all of these things.  Once my Fall Semester plans are finalized, though, I will share how I plan to actually integrate some of these ideas.


  1. Foam Numbers
  2. Dice Addition/Subtraction:  Roll two dice and add or subtract the numbers.
  3. Skipping Rope while practicing math facts.
  4. Score-keeping:  Yahtzee, card games, sports
  5. Hop Scotch Mat:  Practice addition and subtraction  by moving forward or backward.
  6. Computer Games:  The Fun 4 The Brain website has lots of fun activities to practice math facts.
  7. Flash Cards
  8. Connecting Cubes and other math manipulatives
  9. Crossing out days on a Calendar


  1. Scavenger Hunt/Treasure Hunt
  2. Computer Games:  Star Fall, Spelling City
  3. Grocery List:  I just stumbled on this when I took my oldest with me to the grocery a few days ago.  She started reading what we needed off of my computer-generated list.  This real life application of reading really made an impression on her.
  4. Copy Work (in moderation)
  5. Mail Box: Leave written messages for her.
  6. Board Games:  Boggle/Boggle Jr, Scrabble/Scrabble Jr.
  7. Flash cards
  8. Spelling Bee/Test:  This is something we play sometimes at bedtime or while waiting somewhere.  Besides having her spell out loud, I’m considering having her write out the words on paper or sand.  Alphabet block stamps might be a possibility, too.
  9. Home-made Reading Worksheets:  She draws a picture for each word that she reads.



  1. Book of home Science Experiments
  2. Science Experiment kits
  3. Models
  4. Anatomy Coloring Books
  5. Microscope


  1. Maps/Atlases:  For the past three years we have kept a World Map and U.S. Map on our wall.  Our U.S. map has little logos taped to it for every professional baseball team.  We refer to these constantly.
  2. Puzzles:  Milton Bradley’s Map of the United States 84-piece puzzle is wonderful.
  3. Coloring Books
  4. Travel


  1. Games:  board, computer, card.
  2. Cut & Paste activities
  3. Scrapbooking/Notebooking
  4. Field Trips

Project Juggling

June 6, 2009

I am so tired.  I went to bed last night around eleven, but I could not get to sleep.  I had so many things rattling around in my head; my mind would not slow down.  Every so often I would get up, run downstairs, and add another idea or job to one of my different lists.  I felt like I was on speed, at least I am assuming that’s what it feels like to be on speed.  I was definitely wired.  It wasn’t until about 2:30 in the morning that I realized that I was probably having a reaction to the 32 oz sweet tea I had from White Castle with my dinner.  I don’t often drink caffeinated drinks anymore, but in recent months I have noticed a hard time getting to sleep if I consume caffeinated tea after about 4:00.  Soft drinks don’t effect me quiet as badly.  It was about 4:00 in the morning before I finally fell asleep.  I was awakened twice to nurse, and then DD#2 was awake at 8:00 as usual.  But just the dizzying array of projects I have going on would be enough to keep someone awake at night.

Here’s a general list of projects I’m juggling, which I hope to expand upon over the next few months:

1.  New Household Rhythm–Now that the baby developed a regular nap time, I am trying to develop a solid feeding schedule in order to start weaning.  I’m also trying to find regular rhythms to the rest of the day.

2.  Summer Homeschooling–After an almost two-month break at the beginning of spring, we’ve been doing some make-up, and I want to continue to incorporate school time into our new daily rhythm.  Although, I want to keep the amount of work kind of light.

3.  Outdoor Play Area–I’m trying to put together something so that we can get some fresh air on a daily basis without straying too far from home.

4.  Fall Semester Homeschooling Planning–This next year is requiring a little more extensive work as I try to incorporate activities to fit DD#1’s learning style.  She has also requested some science.  We may be doing religion and sacrament preparation at home after all, so that’s adding an extra layer of planning.

5. Household Cleaning–In addition to the normal every -day cleaning (which I need to get a better handle on), I have several other areas that need attention such as the closets.  There’s baby stuff that needs to be put into storage, and lots of junk that can go in the garbage or to charity.   Oh, and that garage is getting out of control again, too.

6.  Summer Fun Activities–I’m looking for cheap or free fun and educational options to fill up our calendar through the summer, and I’m hoping to incorporate one or two of the pricier activities from our “Things We’d Like to Do in Chicago” list.  Of course, we hope to just have some play-dates with our friends, too.

7.  Memento Projects–I need to make sure that the girls’  baby books are updated, especially the baby’s.  There are tons of digital photos that need to be sorted and developed, and I’m still trying to put together our family photo album a little at a time.

8.  Miscellaneous Other Stuff–This includes a variety of things from important (like setting up doctor appointments) to the mundane (staying on top of our budget)  to the personally interesting (reading, blogging).

It really is a wonder that my head hasn’t exploded, even without the caffeine boost.  As each project is completed, I plan to share a bit about each one with you.  I know that you’ll all be waiting with bated breath.  In the mean-time if you don’t hear from me for a bit it’s either because I’m really busy, or I’ve been locked up for my own protection.

Discover Your Child’s Learning Style

June 4, 2009

I recently re-read Discover Your Child’s Learning Style by Mariaemma Willis and Victoria Kindle Hodson.  I first picked this book up about three years ago when DD#1 was only three-years-old.  I figured that she was overdue for a clearer assessment since a lot of development can happen in three years.  Plus, assessing learning styles at age three is a little tricky.  For instance, my husband and I separately went through the Preschool Assessment for DD#2 and came up with totally different answers.  So, I mainly focused on DD#1 since she is our school-aged child.

DD#1 and I spent about 30 to 45 minutes going through the different questionnaires to asses her Disposition, Talents, Modality, and Environment.  I was not too surprised to learn that her primary disposition is what they call “Performing”. She had two secondary dispositions that were “Thinking” and “Inventing”.  Her primary modality (which people often confuse with learning style) is Tactile-Kinesthetic, but I was not able to distinguish a specific sub-modality (hands-on, whole body, sketching, or writing).  Again, her environmental needs were not too big of surprise:  quiet, while working in an up-right position at table or desk.  I think the talents section was a bit of a bust, though.  There were so many things that DD#1 has not had the chance to experience to know if she is talented at them, and to be honest I’m not sure how self-aware she was about some of her talents.

I felt that the next thing that I needed to do was assess myself.  So, I went through the various questionnaires and was again not surprised to learn that I have a “Producing” disposition and a Visual modality.  That’s why I excelled so well at school without really trying…traditional schools are perfect for people like me:  schedules, step-by-step instruction, and lots of books and workbooks.  I also scored high on Spatial and Word-Language talents, explaining why I kick butt with maps and word games (especially word games that include spatial distortion like Boggle).

Then I started comparing my results with those of my daughter.  I noticed that our disposition scores were somewhat opposite.  And except for a sub-modality of “writing” that is somewhat placed under Tactile-Kinesthetic, that modality wasn’t even a blip on my radar.  This alone made me aware of what DD#1 was really missing from her educational experience and that I will have to push myself outside my comfort zone some in order to provide her with what she needs to learn.

So, what does all of this mean?  How do I, the homeschooling parent, apply this information?  Well, the book offers a lot of suggestions for general activities such as games, skits, adapting sports, and “real life” experiences as well as suggestions for various curriculum that support each disposition and modality.  The real challenge is to apply this information specifically.  I can see now why certain things have worked for her in the past.  For instance, the home-made reading worksheets where she has to draw a picture for the word she reads really appeals to her Creative secondary disposition as well as her T-K modality.  And she has really absorbed the concept of days, months, and dates by crossing each day that passes on a calendar in her room–the “real-life” application and the physical act of putting an “X” in each box fit her needs perfectly.  We’ve also used our hopscotch mat to discuss addition and subtraction involving her entire body.  Now I need to expand on that.

I recently bought Janice VanCleave’s 201 Awesome, Magical, Bizarre & Incredible Experiments.  Thankfully the experiments seem fairly simple and many of them use objects we already have around the house.  I’m starting to look into models and kits to recommend for my oldest daughter’s Christmas/Birthday list.  And while we have the van available this summer I am hoping to load everyone for a lot of field trips.    I’m really trying to think outside my box for ways to incorporate manipulatives that we already have or inexpensive ones that we can buy.

Two last things that keep crossing my mind:

  1. I shouldn’t give her any grief if she needs to use her fingers to do her math.  That’s just what she needs to do as part of her learning process.  Even if she has to use her fingers when she’s fifty, it really shouldn’t matter as long as she gets the right answer that she needs.
  2. I don’t want to get so overly absorbed with trying to come up with activities that fit her learning style that it begins to overwhelm us.  I need to find a balance between going outside my comfort zone in teaching method without compromising our family’s need for simplicity, free time, and money in the bank.

So, right now I am in research mode for ideas to start implementing this fall.

Harry Potter Predictions (book spoilers!!)

June 3, 2009

Erin, you were curious about my Harry Potter predictions…so I dug them up.  They were originally attached to letters to my former roommate Kelly.  This is cut and pasted straight out of my documents:

Harry Potter Predictions

As of July 18, 2005

Half-Blood Prince

  1. Harry will lose his confidence and be extra worried about putting his friends in danger.
  2. Harry will not tell his friends about the prophecy.
  3. Harry will study Occlumency/Leglimency with Dumbledore.
  4. Harry will continue his path toward being an Auror.
  5. I originally thought that Nicholas Flamel was the HBP, but Rowling confirmed that he is already dead.  You may well be right that it is Godric Gryffindor.  If so, Harry will encounter him through something like the Pensieve.
  6. Grawp will do something important.
  7. Luna’s crush on Ron will inspire Hermione’s jealousy.
  8. Harry will spend Christmas at Sirius’s house and encounter the other mirror.
  9. Harry’s relationship with the Dursley’s will improve.
  10. Snape’s story will come out.
  11. Percy will not reconcile with the rest of the Weasley’s.

Book 7

  1. Ron and Hermione will end up together.
  2. Harry and Ginny will end up together.
  3. Harry will kill Voldemort.
  4. Bill or Charlie Weasley will die.
  5. Dumbledore will be killed trying to save Harry from Voldemort.
  6. Snape will teach Defense Against the Dark Arts.
  7. Snape will make a sacrifice for Harry.
  8. Peter Pettigrew will repay his debt to Harry.
  9. Draco will be taken down by Voldemort.  (Voldemort is just as merciless with his followers as his enemies.)
  10. Harry will be Quidditch captain.
  11. Neville will play an important role in the last battle, possibly killing Bellatrix Lestrange.
  12. Viktor Krum will be part of the action.

Of these early predictions I had eleven out of 23 predictions correct, although some of them that I had pegged for book 7 occurred in book 6 and vice-versa.  I had a handful that quasi-happened.  For instance, I suspected that the Ron/Hermione relationship would be pushed along by someone crushing on Ron; it was Lavendar instead of Luna, though.  Harry’s relationship with the Dursleys did improve in book 7, at least with Dudley.  Neville did play an important role in the last battle, just not by killing Bellatrix.

Deathly Hallows Predictions

Last Updated April 13, 2007

Previous Predictions Unfulfilled

  1. Grawp will do something important.
  2. Harry will kill Voldemort.
  3. Peter Pettigrew will repay his debt to Harry.
  4. Neville will kill Bellatrix Lestrange in the final battle.
  5. Viktor Krum will be part of the action.

New Predictions

  1. Harry will go to the Dursleys’ where he will learn about Dudley’s worst memory when the Dementors attacked, about Petunia’s correspondence with Dumbledore, and information about his parents.
  2. Next he will go to Bill and Fleur’s wedding.
  3. Next he will go to Godric’s Hollow and stumble upon more information about his parents.
  4. Harry will return to Hogwart’s for his seventh year.
  5. The new Dark Arts teacher will be an auror, possibly Shackelbolt, Dawlish, or Tonks, and will give Harry useful magical information.
  6. Harry will return to Grimmauld Place, learn that R.A.B. was Regulus, find the locket and the mirror, and learn that Kreacher helped Regulus get the locket.
  7. Harry will learn of Abelforth’s relation to Dumbledore and seek him out for information that Dumbledore may have left behind.
  8. Harry will find Hufflepuff’s cup in the Room of Requirement.
  9. Bill will help Harry learn how to destroy the horcruxes.
  10. The last horcrux destroyed will be Nagini.
  11. The Deathly Hallows refers to the burial place of the founders.
  12. The Death Eater’s base is either under Gringott’s or the Deathly Hallows.
  13. Snape really is on the good side.  His murder of Dumbledore was pre-arranged, and Dumbledore had a good reason for trusting Snape.
  14. Dumbledore’s portrait will assist Harry in some way, although it won’t exactly be like Dumbledore.
  15. Percy will be killed by Voldemort, either during an inane attempt to join him or an inane attempt to beat him.
  16. Ginny has valuable information about Voldemort locked in her memory from when Tom Riddle possessed her.
  17. Harry will face off with Draco, who will join forces to fight Voldemort, and possibly be killed.
  18. Voldemort will try to take over Hogwart’s, setting off the final battle.
  19. Ron and Hermione will snog.
  20. Dragon blood will have an important usage, possibly in destroying a Horcrux.
  21. Harry will use Decoy Detonators  (from the joke shop).
  22. Harry will use Sirius’s motorbike for much of his traveling, since he doesn’t like apparating.
  23. Harry will learn occlumency from someone.

Again, this is copied straight from my documents.  I got about another 11 (13 if you’re being generous) out of 23 predictions more or less correct.  Alas, Harry never did learn occlumency and I was wrong about what was found in the Room of Requirement, but I did know something important would be found there and that Ron and Hermione would snog (just didn’t realize that would happen in the Room of Requirement, too).  Sirius’s motorbike, Grawp, and Viktor Krum reappeared, too, just not in the way I anticipated.  I also had a predicted body count for Deathly Hallows:

  1. Voldemort
  2. Percy
  3. Bill, Tonks, or Lupin  (one of the “newlyweds”)
  4. Peter Pettigrew
  5. Mad Eye Moody
  6. Lucius Malfoy
  7. Bellatrix Lestrange
  8. Dedalus Diggle

Six out of the ten people listed above did kick the bucket.  And although he didn’t die, Dedalus Diggle did reappear in the book.  He was my obscure long-shot.

So, how do you think I did??