Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Mondays, Julia Child, and a Lesson in Joy

Monday was a very Monday-ish sort of day. Exhausted from an intense weekend, I woke up, and realized that I had failed to plan anything for my homeschooling week. Most of the morning was eaten up by catching up on chores while my daughter pestered me to kick off her  first baking class by making a pear custard tarte out of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. We finally settled on reading a picture book set in France. Then it was lunch time, and there was nothing to eat for lunch.

That is how we ended up eating fish sticks in front of the television,while watching The French Chef with Julia Child, instead of making a pear and custard tart. Let's call it research.

I love watching these older episodes of Julia Child, the ones shot live while she was literally making up a cooking show as she went along. While discussing the baking qualities of various types of apples, she knocks over a canister of utensils. She fumbles with her mixer, drops pieces of aluminum foil on the floor, and forgets what she was going to say.

It is so much like the day-to-day life of a homeschooler. I work so hard to find the perfect recipe, then spend my days knocking over glasses of paint water, and fumbling with failed science experiments. I, too, am literally making it all up in front of a live audience, and sometimes (often) it flops.

My first few years of homeschooling were one long course in getting over my own perfectionism. In my head were these beautiful Martha-Stewart perfect photo montages of what if meant to be a homeschooler. While Martha's houses are endlessly creative, beautiful, (and full of busy staff), my house is flour on the counters, spotted apples that we pick for free, and watching The French Chef over lunch.

I put up these pictures on my blog of everything that went well, while behind the scenes,  the discussions in our house are more like this, "You won't believe how funny it was, when Mom slipped in her sock feet last night, and slid across the bathroom, trying to get the trash can to me so I could throw up in it." It is days floating rafts on rivers, and sobbing messes in the library; old-fashioned family projects and another lecture on how to be a civilized human being, again. It's homemade bread that comes out perfectly, and my daughter's enthusiasm over the splatter shield Julia attaches to her stand mixer, "That's just what we need so the powdered sugar doesn't fly everywhere when we make frosting!"

That is why I want to learn to live more like Julia Child. When the moment comes to finally unmold her tarte tatin from the skillet, it plops out, apples sliding one way and crust the other. She declares, "Well that unmolded...really rather badly." Instead of being upset by her mistake or feeling like a failure, she says that this is perfect because it gives her the opportunity to show us that "If everything doesn't happen exactly the way you like, you can always fix it" and "This is the kind of thing you have to expect even if you have guests peering at you in the kitchen, because you'll be able to fix it up with some powdered sugar." She sprinkles some powdered sugar on it, puts it under the broiler, and declares it "perfectly alright."

The really interesting part is when she takes out a tarte she had made earlier, that had baked up and unmolded from the pan just right. Instead of leaving her first sloppy pie in the kitchen, and carrying the perfect pie to the table. She grabs a platter in each hand and carries them into the dining room. "Now everybody can get one of each tarte, one of the juicy and one of the more tatin." With a dollop of creme fraiche, she announces that "That actually makes a more interesting dessert."

The reason we love Julia is not because she is perfect. Though I have to say she has one of the best recipes for pie crust out there. We love her because she taught us that cooking is not about perfectionism, but about joy and learning from our mistakes.

I think that is true of homeschooling too. I hope that when my best-laid plans end up in a sloppy mess, I will have the grace to scoop it up, sprinkle it with some powdered sugar, and present it as proudly as I do my perfect projects. Together they really do make a much more interesting dessert.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Dad-schooling: Foraging

For the last month or so, our family has been embracing frugality. We have been trying to cut our food budget, while still feeding our kids local, organic foods. Fortunately, we made this decision in Fall, right at the beginning of our CSA farm share, so we have been busy picking and freezing green beans, peppers, and ground cherries. Brent has also been canning beets, salsa, tomato sauce, pickles, and so much apple sauce. The most surprising thing we've discovered in this journey is that there is a wealth of free food out there in the world, once you start looking. A local museum that is built on an old orchard, invited its guests to come pick apples, so we did. They have a few spots, but they are beautiful, tasty apples, that were just falling on the ground otherwise. They are turning into applesauce, dehydrated apples, apple crisps, and apple muffins. Brent has turned the kids into expert foragers, always with an eye to abandoned fruit.

On labor day, our friend called us early in the morning with a special offer. Members of her family had just  purchased an old house and on the property was a well-established grape vine, which was loaded with ripe grapes. Did we want to come and pick them and do something with them? Yes we did. We threw on some clothes, loaded in our car, and set out.What did we find?
 An arbor loaded with Concord grapes
We set to picking. Soon we had three giant pails full.
When we got home, Brent scoured the Internet for ways to can grapes. He started out with grape jam, which required squeezing the grapes out of the skin. Kinda fun, kinda gross all in one. Then pureeing the skins and cooking it all down with lots of sugar until it made jam. After two batches of jam, one with pectin and one without, we still had pails of grapes. So then we made Grape Shrub, an old-fashioned 19th drink Brent learned to make at his Preserving the Harvest class at Old Sturbridge Village. It involves cooking fruit, sugar and vinegar together to make a concentrate, which you can then later add to water to make a drink. After the shrub, we still had grapes, so we made canned Concord Grape juice.
It wasn't exactly how we planned to spend our day off. But we were all so proud that when it comes to free food, we are ready to spring into action. Our PB & J's are secure for the winter.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Five in a Row: Warm as Wool

I bought this beautiful book, Warm as Wool by Scott Russell Sanders, last year as part of our Five in a Row curriculum, but for whatever reason, we never got around to "rowing" it. Well, as it turns out, the timing was perfect. The story is about a pioneering family in 1804 who travel to Ohio to try and start a farm. The mother brings with her a spinning wheel, loom, and a stocking full of money to buy sheep, and eventually, through many trials, is able to start her own herd of sheep and clothe her family in warm, wool clothing.

Old Sturbridge Village was hosting a Homeschool Day in mid-September. They offered a series of inexpensive, hour-long classes, and one was in Carding, Spinning, and Weaving. The teacher gave a talk and slide show about how clothing was made from wool in the 1800s and my older girls got to try their hand at carding and weaving on the looms in their educational center. She really did all my work for me this week. I love Serendipity Homeschooling.
Carding wool with carding paddles while learning a fun alphabet game.
Watching the big loom in action

Trying out the seated looms with foot pedals. These were the girls' favorites
Trying a smaller table loom.

 We even met a friendly sheep there who let us pet her.
 We extended learning with lessons on western expansion. We read a book about Sacagawea and Lewis and Clark, and did a math activity to see how many goods we could pack into our covered wagon. We learned facts about sheep and read the 23rd Psalm at our tea time.

When we got back from OSV, the girls were eager to do more with wool. Since I have been trying to learn to needle-felt for a few years, I introduced the girls to the craft. We used a Sheep Finger Puppet craft from Martha Stewart Crafts for Kids book as an inspiration. We wet-felted the white part around our finger. Then we needle-felted the faces. Needle Felting needles are extremely sharp and barbed, but I found a safe way to let the kids try it, by using a cookie cutter. We used an acorn shaped mini-cookie-cutter for the head, filled it with black roving and carefully poked it with the needles. I helped them shape the wool for the eyes. Then we needle-felted the face to the white wool. We also had to make some needle-felted hedgehogs by the kids' request.  For these we used a large egg-shaped cookie cutter like below, and kept the wool we were shaping inside the cookie cutter and our other fingers on the outside to protect from pokes. Overall, it was a success, and we hope to try some more cookie-cutter felting for Christmas ornaments in the future.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Chapter Books That Pair Well With Five in a Row Volume 4

We are diving into Five in a Row Volume 4 this year, so I have put together a list of chapter books I hope to read aloud with my kids to go along with our Five in a Row studies. Volume 4 is geared toward slightly older kids (grades 2-4). Since each book is rowed for two weeks, these might be slightly longer than the books suggested in my other Five in a Row lists. As a bonus, I've also included suggestions for chapter books to pair with the other Digital Units available on the Five in a Row website.

I am recently updated all of my other Five in a Row book lists as well. You can check those out here:
Chapter Books That Pair Well with Five in a Row Volume 1
Chapter Books That Pair Well with Five in a Row Volume 2
Chapter Books That Pair Well with Five in a Row Volume 3

**I have not actually read every book on this list, but I did read the reviews for age-appropriateness and I was helped immensely by recommendations people have shared on the Five in a Row forums.I will probably be tweaking this list as we go through our year so check back often. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to comment!

Five in a Row Volume 4
The Raft by Jim LaMarche
The Adventures of Grandfather Frog by Thorton Burgess 
The Adventures of Jerry Muskrat by Thorton Burgess
Paddle to the Sea by Holling C. Holling 
Minn of the Mississippi by Holling C. Holling

Grass Sandals by Dawnine Spivak
Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden 
The Big Wave by Pearl Buck 
The Master Puppeteer by Katherine Paterson

Cowboy Charlie by Jeanette Winter 
Little Britches by Ralph Moody 
The Book of Cowboys by Holling C. Holling 
Riders of the Pony Express by Ralph Moody

Roxaboxen by Barbara Cooney
Twig by Elizabeth Orton Jones 
The Borrowers by Mary Norton 
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Mailing May by Michael O. Tunnell 
Snowshoe Thompson by Nancy Smiler Levinson 
A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck 
Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace

Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin 
Anna, Grandpa and the Big Storm by Carla Stevens 
The Snow Walker by Margaret and Charles Wetterer 
The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Gullywasher by Joyce Rossi
American Girl: Josefina
Tales our Abuelitas Told: A Hispanic Folktale Collection by Alma Flor Ada 
American Tall Tales by Jim Weiss (audio cd) 

Arabella by Wendy Orr 
Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr 
Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham 
Seabird by Holling C. Holling

Higgens Bend Song and Dance by Jacqueline Briggs Martin 
American Tall Tales by Mary Pope Osborne 
Mountain Men: True Grit and Tall Tales by Andrew Glass 
McBroom’s Wonderful One Acre Farm by Sid Fleischman 
How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell 

Albert by Donna Jo Napoli 
Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White 
Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat 
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George 
Burgess Bird Book for Children by Thorton Burgess 

Hickory Chair by Lisa Rowe Fraustino 
Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey 
Out of Darkness: The Story of Louis Braille by Russell Freedman 
By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder 
Hannah by Gloria Whelan

Hanna’s Cold Winter by Trish Marx
The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy
The Chestry Oak by Kate Seredy
Snow Treasure by Marie McSwegan

The Hatmaker's Sign by Candace Fleming 
Ben and Me by Robert Lawson 
What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? by Jean Fritz 
Thomas Jefferson’s America by Jim Weiss (audio cd) 
Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham
The Pumpkin Runner by Marsha Diane Arnold 
The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay 
Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder 
Audrey of the Outback by Christine Harris

Angelo by David MacCauley
Rome Antics by David McCauley 
Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfield 
The Door in the Wall by Marguerite De Angeli 

Bonus: Digital Units 
Paper Lanterns by Stefan Czernecki 
Little Pear by Eleanor Frances Lattimore 
The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin 
Ruby Lu, Brave and True by Lenore Look

The Bravest of Us All by Marsha Diane Arnold 
Tornado by Betsy Byars 
On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder 
McBroom’s Zoo by Sid Fleischman

You’re on Your Way, Teddy Roosevelt by Judith St. George 
Bully for You, Teddy Roosevelt by Jean Fritz 
Teddy Roosevelt, Young Rough Rider by Edd Winfield Parks 

The Tree Lady by H. Joseph Hopkins
A Tree for Peter by Kate Seredy
Gooseberry Park by Cynthia Rylant 
Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Five in a Row: The Raft by Jim LaMarche

We spent two weeks in August studying The Raft by Jim LaMarche. By Day 2, my oldest daughter had declared it "the funnest book we've ever done a unit on." That was before most of the fun had even happened. This book tells the story of a little boy who reluctantly goes to spend the summer with his "River Rat" grandmother. He is convinced he will be completely bored. That is until he discovers a raft and begins to explore the river and get to know all the local flora and fauna, as well as spend some wonderful days with his grandmother. He also discovers that he loves to draw. The story is based on the real life of the writer and illustrator and the time he spent with his grandmother in the Wisconsin woods. He really did become a wonderful artist, as evidenced by the illustrations in this book.

Since the book talked so much about drawing from nature, we made our own nature journals. We took a simple single-subject notebook and covered the front with wood-grain paper and decorated it with stamps. I "laminated" the front with packing tape to help it stand up to the wilderness.
The first place we explored was our own backyard. Even though it's tiny, it's full of flowers, plants, and bugs and the children found plenty to draw. I love the way their drawings came out.
 Untitled Untitled
The girls were really eager to build their own rafts. They would have built a full-size one if they could, but instead we settled for popsicle sticks and glue-guns.
Then we covered the bottom with aluminum foil because we weren't sure how well the glue-gun glue would hold up to water. We drew animals on the top with permanent marker just like Nikky in the book. Untitled
That afternoon we headed to a local park with a wonderful creek for wading. I pulled out a nature study I had purchased last year called NaturExplorers Incredible Creeks written by Cindy West and Melissa Leach. These are lovely little studies that include science, nature walks, scavenger hunts, as well as ideas for literature, music, and poetry go-alongs. One of the books they recommended was The Raft, so it worked perfectly. I printed out the Wading Water Scavenger Hunt and we had fun walking along and in the river looking for insects, animals, fish, plants, rocks, signs of erosion, and other interesting stuff.
We found a shell from a clam or molusk, saw a crayfish, and found a little island we claimed for our own.

We happened upon a little rock dam that looked like a perfect place to float our rafts. One of the sweetest moments was when Ella had already crossed the rocks and said, "I'm going to go back and help the tots." She helped her little sister and brother cross safely to the other side. I love those home-schooling moments like that!

Our rafts floated (for awhile at least).
20150818_145541 20150818_145524
After we had floated our rafts, we explored the river some more, and had fun swinging on a vine. 
Then we took a walk in the woods and discovered a little bridge with no railings, and pretended it was a raft. The path led to a cool set of stairs climbing to the top of the hill, where we sat down to draw in our nature journals. Ella wrote in hers "If I had a 100 days, I would explore every nook and cranny of these woods, every bridge and stream."
We had lots more fun at home too. The kids filled up their wading pool and made rafts for their playmobil figures out of pieces of wood.
We enjoyed reading The Adventures of Grandfather Frog by Thorton Burgess. I have heard lots of good things about Burgess's books, but this was the first one we had read. We really enjoyed the story, and it was filled with all kinds of little life lessons. I especially liked this line, " Grandfather Frog almost choked again, he was so angry. You see, old Mr. Toad's remarks were very personal, and nobody likes personal remarks, especially if they happen to be true."
We also made a special snack for teatime. Ella and Mabel baked Raft cookies. We used a homemade graham cracker recipe, which provided plenty of opportunities to learn about 1/4 and 1/2 cups. Ella had the idea to mark them with a butter knife to look like the planks on a raft. After they baked, we drew on them with some food-coloring markers I have. For poetry we read one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver. Her poem "Summer Day" was just perfect. Afterward, the kids were inspired to write some poetry of their own. We also learned about cave paintings and watched a clip from one of the kids' favorite shows Hands On Crafts for Kids about making cave paintings. Then we drew our own cave paintings with oil pastels and crayons on sand paper. We celebrated the final day of our study with a playdate at the same park. The kids were excited to show their friends the island and swing on the vine some more.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Dadschooling: Candles and Kielbasa

I wasn't the only one who was inspired by our recent trip to Redcoats and Rebels. My husband, Brent, loves learning old-fashioned skills. So he decided to learn something new with the kids: hand-dipping beeswax candles.Brent melted the beeswax chips, tied wicks on to small twigs, and we started dipping.
candle making Untitled UntitledUntitled
We did it! Beeswax candles.

Brent also introduced the older girls to one of his new hobbies, smoking sausages. Ella and Mabel helped him grind, season, and stuff the sausages, and smoke it on the grill. We had a lovely, candle-lit, old-fashioned meal to celebrate learning about the American Revolution with The Hatmaker's Sign. Untitled

Monday, August 24, 2015

Five in a Row: The Hatmaker's Sign

We're back to school! We started off our new homeschool year with two weeks learning about The American Revolution. We were excited to go to the Redcoats and Rebels event at Old Sturbridge Village with some friends. This is the largest American Revolution reenactment in New England. There was lots to explore from colonial toys to music to old-fashioned weaponry. The reenactors are always happy to share what they know with the kids.

Last year after the reenactment, we studied Paul Revere's Ride and learned about the revolutionary war battles and colonial America. This year, we focused on the Declaration of Independence and learned about Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin with The Hatmaker's Sign by Candace Fleming.
We got out our quill pens again for some art and handwriting practice.
Poetry teatime
We read this beautifully illustrated edition of The Declaration of Independence by Sam Fink. Talk about an introduction to vocabulary: usurpations, consanguinity, magnanimity.
Instilling a love of learning has been my number one goal in homeschooling. The surprising thing I have learned in this past year is that it doesn't start with a curriculum, it starts with you --the homeschooling parent and your own love of learning.

So this year, I picked up a quill myself and started to write out some of those beautiful words from The Declaration of Independence.

I became so interested in hand-lettering and calligraphy. I started watching youtube videos and looking up tutorials. The kids and I watched this video about Jake Weidmann, the youngest master penman, and were so inspired. We ended up getting out our quills for a second day and doodling around. The next day, my oldest daughter, who has never been a fan of practicing handwriting, came to me and told me that she had "written out the Declaration of Independence in cursive." Sure enough, she had copied the same portion that I did in her best cursive.We started gathering all the books with really cool fonts on the covers and tracing them in our notebooks. Now Ella and I are trying something we call "Fancy Spelling," where we copy out words she would like to know how to spell in fancy lettering. A little mom inspiration goes a long way.
We also were really inspired by a book called Ben Franklin and the Magic Squares. We tried making our own Magic Squares game and I introduced Ella to Sudoku, which was a big hit. We also learned about many of his inventions and tried making our own battery out of a lemon.

The Hatmaker's Sign was also a wonderful gentle introduction to the concept of editing and revising your pieces of writing, which we are going to pursue more this year with our Bravewriter writing projects.

We are loving also adding in our Bravewriter Poetry Teatime each week. We read American poetry and rhymes and some old gems from this book of children's poetry called Silver Pennies, which I found in a free pile on the side of the road.  I love the beautiful cover and illustrations inside.

Poetry teatime 
We did not read aloud a chapter book to go with this "row," but we did enjoy listening to Thomas Jefferson's America: Stories of the Founding Fathers by Jim Weiss. I am looking forward to checking out more Greathall Productions cds this year.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Secret Garden

 Reading your favorite childhood book is always a delicate proposition. I was so eager to introduce my favorite book, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett to my kids, that I almost ruined the experience for them. A few years ago, we started reading the book as a bedtime read-aloud. I did not remember just how horrifying the first chapter is with a small girl abandoned in a household wiped out by a cholera plague. Halfway through the  chapter, my child looked up at me with scared eyes like, "Are you sure this is a good book, Mom?" We decided to put it away for a few years, and I am glad I did. This spring, we picked up the book again, and it was just the right time to read it. We were able to get through the tough chapters with some reassurance and embrace the beautiful healing redemption of the book. We all loved this version with exquisite illustrations by Inga Moore. There are full-color illustrations on almost every page and it really helped the younger kids stay engaged with a fairly long book. (My younger ones are not nearly as sensitive as their older siblings.)
The wonderful thing about rereading a classic book is that it always speaks to you in new ways. I have never read the book as a mother, and this time I found myself identifying so much with Martha and Dickon's mother, Mrs. Sowersby. "It's like she says: 'A woman as brings up twelve children learns something besides her ABC. Children's as good as 'rithmetic to set you finding out things."

The whole course of motherhood and homeschooling has been one long process of "setting me to find out things". Most often those things were not about my kids at all, but about my own identity and heart.

As we were winding down our homeschool year, Mrs. Sowersby advice for raising healthy children seemed sound as well. "Give her simple, healthy food. Let her run wild in the garden. Don't look after her too much. She needs liberty and fresh air and romping about."

So our lessons did involve a lot of fresh air and romping about from learning to skip rope to planting our own not-so-secret garden.
We had a lovely outdoors tea party with two recipes from Inside the Secret Garden: A Treasury of Crafts, Recipes, and Activities by Carolyn Strom Collins: currant buns and dough cakes. I mixed up our own Secret Garden tea blend of English Teatime and Bengal Spice.While we drank tea, the girls peppered me with questions like: who was your favorite character and what was your favorite scene? They were also full of questions about Frances Hodgson Burnett's life and houses, which we were also able to find answers for in Inside the Secret Garden. It was our first real literary discussion not driven by what they should know, but just by love for the characters and scenes that moved them. It gives me great hope for the future.
We tried our hand at some copywork from The Secret Garden. I printed out a few simple vintage graphics from The Graphics Fairy, and read them a list of quotes from goodreads. Then I wrote one out for them to copy. I was not expecting that it would become quite the art project it did.  Untitled 
 The girls even took one of the images of an old-fashioned key and decided to make it into jewelry. Their necklaces turned out beautifully.
I can't quite describe their disappointment when I told the kids that there was no sequel to The Secret Garden. They were not ready to leave Frances Hodgson Burnett's world yet, so we are following it up with A Little Princess.