Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Making Homeschooling Work

Things have gotten a lot more difficult for us on the homeschooling front since I began to get sick with the joint pain and related issues, but even more so once I was pregnant again and had to stop taking my ADHD medication. This medication had made homeschooling possible for us! Trying to get along without it has been a real challenge. I'm confronting an issue that every homeschooler, and probably every parent, has to deal with: how to reconcile ideals with reality. I was pretty happy with the Mother of Divine Grace syllabi that we had chosen and were using, and I was very happy with their overall methodology and "plan" for school from kindergarten through highschool. We'd made some adaptations, but for the most part I did think that many of their ideas were "right" in terms of being a thorough and insightful education. However, most of these practices were highly teacher intensive, and required set aside one on one quiet time with each child. That was very difficult managing with a four year old and a toddler constantly getting in the way. Math was one of our best subjects, precisely because I could introduce the work, make sure they seemed to "get" it, but then simply be near and monitor their work in the workbook without having to be constantly, directly teaching them. This made it much easier to respond to the needs of the nonschooling little ones.

So, we replaced much of our other work with workbooks. I don't feel like this is an "ideal" solution but it is at least making homeschool work doable at this time. The main benefit to me is that it is easier for me to switch my attention away to the littles or to other things that need doing, because I don't need to be spending a large chunk of uninterrupted time working with each kid. I can be in the kitchen washing dishes or simply hanging out and still be able to help which ever of the boys may need help, and can still make sure that they're staying on task. Really, I don't think that this is as thought-provoking and education as reading lots of things aloud, and having the kids dictate "retellings" of what they've read for me to write down, or other more reflective things that the MODG curriculum had us do, but it is much easier to fit workbooks into life with constantly interrupting littles, especially when everyone in the family has a short attention span and is easily distracted.

Although, now this has me thinking about what we'll be doing next year. (Isn't it always more fun plan next year's curriculum than to implement this years?) I'm looking again at lesson plans that use more workbooks and textbooks, as that just seems to be much easier for me. I do really like having lesson plans as a spine to work from, though I'm almost certainly going to make changes of one kind or another. And I haven't found curriculum that I love in any subject except math, where Math Mammoth is still working out very well for us. We've got things that will work for this year, but I'm looking to try new ideas for next, when I'll be juggling a newborn along with a toddler and three school age kids.

Saturday, November 06, 2010


With changes in our life we're having to make some changes in our schooling plans. Over the last few months I've been experiencing joint pain that is progressively getting worse, and it was discovered that I have some autoimmune issues going one. Moreover, we have absolutely impeccable timing and now we are expecting our fifth child. Due to this I had to stop taking my ADHD medication, and due to the autoimmune issues I'm high risk and will probably require extra monitoring. We'll have to see how that works out, I guess. In any case, staying on top of school as well as managing the kids and doing housework has gotten much more difficult than it had been. We're going to try changing and simplifying our curriculum so that the kids can work more independently. Right now I'm looking for workbook options for phonics, spelling and general language arts/grammar for the boys, as what we're using currently is quite teacher intensive. If anyone has any suggestions I'd be glad to take them!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New Luvs

Luvs diapers recently announced a recent redesign -- they're replacing the Blue Clues with a cute purple monkey. The diapers themselves will remain unchanged except for the print. The blog And Twins Make Five is having a giveaway contest for a free pack of the diapers here.

A message to me?

Here was Pauly's spelling quiz/practice from this morning. He was told to write two sentences after the quiz.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

1st Quarter Progress Report

This isn't so much a report on the kids' progress as a report on our home school's progress. We're roughly through week 8 of our planned curriculum, and as it only has 32 scheduled weeks that's a quarter of our way through our year.

I'm fairly pleased with how we've been able to stay on track, although perhaps that's because I've been somewhat free with our definition of "on track." The last two weeks I've been not feeling well and often at least one of the kids has been sick as well, and we've definitely been missing more things than we had previously. We are doing an exceptionally bad job of completing Pauly's assignments in the Primary Language Lessons book, and we're now behind on memorizing their poetry, although only by a week or so. I've meant to schedule a time for them to recite it for their dad, but we've been so busy that we haven't managed to do so.

Language Arts: We're still learning the routine and tweaking things, but I'm overall fairly happy with this for our spelling, phonics and handwriting instruction. I've tried doing the work with the boys together, tried separating them for a few weeks, and have decided to put them back together, although that means that Pauly will be reviewing words that he's already done. Our biggest problem with this curriculum right now is review. It is designed as a complete language arts curriculum, and when used as such you would be reviewing spelling rules and words during the "writing lesson" each day in addition to the work done in the "spelling lesson." As we had intended to use this only for phonics and spelling, I'm trying to figure out how to add in the necessary review. I'm considering adding in the WRTR "writing lesson" and possibly dropping Pauly's Language Lessons book. I do think the Language Lessons book could be good and helpful, but Pauly really does not like it and it tends to fall by the wayside. Just because he doesn't like it doesn't mean that it isn't good for him, though. So I'm still trying to work out exactly what I'd like to handle this whole area.

Math: We are still using Math Mammoth and I am still pretty happy with it. Math tends to be very frustrating for Roger and we often have lots of tears, but I think that much of this would occur with any math program. He doesn't like being told what he ought to do, and this can sometimes also become an issue with spelling as well, and I think that he easily gets overwhelmed even when he knows something. I like the Math Mammoth books and as I don't think that switching is likely to help, we just keep plugging away at it. Pauly is doing well in it, for the most part, and seems to enjoy it.

Other subjects: Science and History are going fine for Pauly, as far as it goes. I'm not very inspiring and we don't always get to the science experiments. I need to exercise some self discipline there and get better at making sure those get done, to keep things interesting. I feel that there is not really enough for history, even with the supplemental reading he breezes right through it, but he does seem to be learning. Religion is fine. We had a bad week in terms of the Faith and Life books: the activity book pages all seemed to be busy work without adding anything to the lessons whatsoever, unlike most of the earlier pages. So many of those went undone just because I thought they were unnecessary. I'm not sure what I think of the series overall, at the moment.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Rosie is starting to write

although I'm not sure that I'm pleased with her subject matter. She says that this reads "PIWP," but I'm not so sure. It is supposed to be Obi Wan from Episode I.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

More on Math Mammoth

I have just switched to Math Mammoth, after having been sold on Math U See and using that for three years, then dabbling in Miquon. I am now a big fan of Math Mammoth and wanted to share more about it. The first part of this was from a comment I submitted to the Math Mammoth website.

 After watching the demo DVD, I had been completely sold on Math U See. Both of my children did very well with their Primer (kindergarten) level, and I still really like much of that presentation, such as how they teach place value along with teaching counting, and very clearly identify that you never count higher than nine in each "type" of number (units, tens, hundreds, etc). I also liked how they presented addition and subtraction in such a clear way. The problem I discovered (and I've only used through Beta) is that while they present things in a very clear understandable way, they only seem to present things in one way, using the blocks, then drill it. My children were bored and frustrated with the curriculum starting with Alpha, because it was nearly all drilling of the addition facts. Now, some drill is necessary, but my children were totally bored, and the couple of easy and obvious word problems in each lesson didn't alleviate the unrelenting sameness of each day. Moreover, they didn't want to use the blocks on a regular basis and seemed to find them distracting rather than helpful. The curriculum seemed to help to help kids understand, but it didn't seem to encourage creative mathematical thinking. We switched to Miquon and a more investigational and discovery oriented approach. Our problem was that this was not structured enough for us, moreover the student sheets don't really have directions and so I had to look up and explain each page in the book. We again ran into the problem that the boys didn't want to use the manipulatives all the time, and also found they prefer to have more guidance than Miquon was designed to give. They don't like things to be so open ended.

I really think that Math Mammoth is a nice, balanced curriculum. I love that the instructions and teaching are contained within the student workbook, so that I don't have to do anything to prepare other than read over the instructions with the child and explain them as necessary. It tends to use clear visual examples, when we need hands on examples I pull out the base 10 blocks or cuisenaire rods (which are far less expensive than the MUS blocks). While it contains plenty of practice for each concept, each lesson isn't filled with the exact same kind of problem, and the same concept is approached in several different ways, instead of only one way, like Math U See seemed to do. Each book also contains website and game suggestions, if your child needs extra help or just more fun.

Math Mammoth is also flexible. You can purchase grade level complete curricula for first grade through sixth, the Light Blue series, or you can purchase workbooks arranged around individual topics, the Blue series. There are also collections of worksheets available that aren't designed to teach concepts, but simply practice these. All of these are available as affordable eBooks that can be downloaded and printed as many times as you like, or you can purchase printed copies from There is a large sample package available for download for free if you'd like to get a look at the curriculum.

So what are the negatives? First, it is only available in color as an ebook. The printed versions available from are in black and white. While I've heard that this is typically fine, I do feel that the color adds to the instruction. Moreover, in purchasing a bound rather than an electronic copy, you lose the benefit of being able to use it over multiple years for multiple children. I printed off all the pages for the first workbook for each grade (there are two workbooks to cover one year) and three hole punched them and put them in a portfolio with prongs. This isn't the best format, but it would have been quite expensive to have the books printed and bound at Office Max, for instance. If you're fine just printing a few pages at a time you could do that, but I wanted the books ready to go. I'm drooling over a home binding system, but this would negate much of the cost savings. I'm undecided about whether I'll purchase the bound black and white copies or the ebooks in the future.

Also, some of the pages seem a bit crowded or cluttered. I think that it would be more developmentally appropriate to have fewer problems on each page with more white space, particularly in the first grade book.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Three Weeks Into the New School Year

I think that we're finally getting into a groove. I had decided that I needed to be more structured, and that I needed more help planning, so we decided to go with the Mother of Divine Grace plans for this year. I will say that I haven't followed them nearly as closely as I had originally thought I would. I substituted a few subjects, and I'm wondering for future grades how much of the plans I'd need to follow for it to be worth it to purchase the syllabi. I am following much of their methodology, though. Here's what  I think so far about what we're using:

Math Mammoth -- this is new for us this year, it is what we are using for both boys, and I'm very happy to have found it. It is a lot more varied than Math-U-See, and is very good at presenting from different angles. It seems to hold the boys' attention better and I think it requires a lot more creative mathematical thinking than MUS. We are using Cuisenaire rods and base 10 blocks as manipulatives, as needed. It is also inexpensive compared to many other math curricula.

Religion -- we are using the Faith and Life series from Ignatius Press instead of the Baltimore Catechism. I went back and forth on having the kids memorize the questions and answers, and finally decided not to do so. I agree with MODG that memorization is good, but I disagree that memorization needs to take place in every subject area at this level.

Phonics, Spelling, Reading & Handwriting -- we are using the book The Writing Road to Reading. This book has given me fits. It is a very intensive phonics approach that begins with having the kids memorize phonograms, or letters and combinations of letters which work together to make specific sounds. Then it uses these phonograms to teach spelling and reading, and the spelling includes marking the words in specific ways to indicate the sounds being used. I'm not totally sold on such a rigid approach -- I feel like there may be too many exceptions in English to make such a rules based system worthwhile, and I also feel that teaching onsets and rimes (also known as word families) might be a better approach. Moreover, this book isn't straight forward, I disagree with some of the sounds taught (it seems to be based on how things were pronounced in New England 50 years ago), and I found the guide book suggested by MODG to be more annoying than helpful. I ditched the guide and simply reread the book itself a few times, looked at a couple other programs for ideas, changed some of the phonograms, decided to use a different marking system, and we're going to try to make it work. I still feel a bit like chucking it and ordering some spelling workbooks. I will say that no matter how the phonics and spelling book works this year, using this for the past three weeks has been totally worth it because of the improvement in the boys' handwriting. We have used Handwriting Without Tears for three or four years, since Pauly was in K or just before, but it never actually translated into good handwriting outside of the workbook. WRTR teaches handwriting, with very specific verbal directions to form each lower case letter, while the phonograms are introduced. We followed those instructions fairly closely and I am very pleased to see how much improvement there has been in their handwriting. I think part of the success of the WRTR is that the child is not taught to copy the letter and often doesn't even have an example in front of him at all, but is expected to memorize the movements.

Language Arts -- First Language Lessons, the Hillside Education edition. I like this just fine, although some of the language seems old fashioned. It is a reprint and update of a book from the early 1900s. We are using this for Pauly, both the boys are also doing poetry memorization.

Latin & Greek roots -- we're using English From the Roots Up and just memorizing roots. Pauly was looking forward to "learning Latin" and I was afraid he'd be disappointed, but he seems to enjoy learning the roots and talking about the words derived from them. He wants to move ahead faster than the syllabus, which is fine with me. I'd like to come up with some ways to make this more interesting.

History -- one of the reason I wanted to go with MODG long term was their history plans, which are have scheduled literature around the reading of a history text for a spine. Pauly like the books alright, and actually read many of them this summer, since he couldn't resist a shelf full of new books. I would love to be able to sit down and read the books with him, but that hasn't really happened. He has been reading them and then we discuss them, if I can. I have been thinking of reading the literature books aloud to everyone when they're schedule, but still have Pauly read them himself, as well. Pauly also has a map skills book.

Science -- we aren't following the lesson plans for Pauly's science, but are using Catholic Heritage Curricula's Behold and See 3. So far, so good. I think he already knows all of it from reading on his own.

Roger's favorite activity is listening to then retelling Aesop's Fables. I write his retelling down, he illustrates it, then we put it in a folder to make a book. He has been asking to do one every day. I figure when he finishes the fables I'll find something else to use for the same purpose.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


I've had a couple people ask me about my new ADHD diagnosis, so I thought I'd share a bit more about ADHD. The following is based on my understanding of talking to my doctors and my reading, but I'm not going to cite any sources. If you have anything to add or correct just chime in in the comments.

Currently, the official diagnosis is ADHD, which stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, whether or not you are hyperactive. ADHD is a bit of a misnomer. It is not that you have a deficit of attention but that you have reduced control over your attention. Everyone is constantly bombarded with varying stimuli -- sights, sounds, smells, thoughts -- all day long. In a normal brain, the frontal lobes perform a series of functions called executive functions which control and regulate the other actions of your brain. They help to determine which stimuli are important to attend and respond to, and also are involved in being able to monitor your behavior, and being able to make and execute plans, among many other things. In a brain with ADHD, the executive functions are impaired to one degree or another. This results in the classic ADHD "attention deficit." The individual can't easily screen out extraneous stimuli and so tend to get distracted. However, they can also become "hyperfocused" and become so focused on one stimulus, such as the computer or a video game, that they can't easily switch their attention to other stimuli in the environment that they do need to attend to, such as the toddler over there dumping out the contents of the pantry.

One of my doctor's described the executive functions as the conductor of the orchestra of the brain, they coordinate all of the other brain functions so that things work smoothly. Without an effective conductor, the other elements of the orchestra don't come together to function as a whole, and the result is chaos. Stimulant medications work for ADHD because they "wake up" the conductor, and the individual then becomes better to direct their attention, to plan (short and long term), to control impulsivity, and much more.

In my case, I really hadn't expected to find out I had ADHD. I had recurring bouts of depression, and once I had children that become bouts of depression and struggles with anger management. My therapist initially though that perhaps I was bipolar, but we did extensive testing and the results were quite clear that I had ADHD, inattentive type. I started medication for this, and the change has been drastic. Before the medication, I spent much of the day flustered, frustrated and overwhelmed. Once I was so flustered, the smallest thing, such as simple noises from the children or the pets, could set me off and I would explode. Housework was usually undone, and instead of working on it, I'd look at what needed to be done, feel completely overwhelmed, and go read a book or surf the 'net. On the medication, I get overwhelmed and flustered much less often. I can look at a busy, overwhelming or difficult situation and figure out how to handle it, instead of getting emotional. I am better able to switch my attention away from things I'm engaged in, even absorbing things like the computer, to take care of other things, without getting angry or frustrated. I can interrupt a task and then remember to come back to it. The difference the medication has made has be phenomenal. I still have done a lot of work in building good habits of thought and behavior, and I still have plenty of more work to do, but I feel like I'm able to do it now.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pizza Joes

I made these for the first time last night, and they were a big hit with the family and were super easy. The recipe is originally from the Saving Dinner Summer Frugal e-book, but I made some changes.

1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, pressed
Salt and pepper to taste
1 (6-oz.) can tomato paste
1 (8-oz.) can tomato sauce
1 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (the recipe called for 1/2 teaspoon)
6 whole wheat hamburger buns
12 slices Mozzarella cheese

In a large skillet or Dutch oven, brown ground beef, onion and garlic. Drain off any excess
fat. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add tomato paste, tomato sauce, oregano, and crushed red pepper flakes. Stir, then simmer for about 6 or 7 minutes. While meat is simmering split burger buns in half and place open side up on large cooking sheet or baking tray. Place under hot broiler for just  a moment, just until the buns are barely toasted. Spoon some of the pizza filling onto buns-bottoms and tops. Put a slice of Mozzarella cheese immediately on each bun half. We had some extra sliced olives from our salad that we put on top of the cheese for a few of the halves at this step. Don't sandwich bun tops and bottoms back together. Briefly broil sandwiches, just until cheese is thoroughly melted (and slightly browned, if you like that).

A serving is two halves.  Not many veggies here, so we served it with a big salad and some carrot sticks. Everyone actually ate dinner! That's a success in my book.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Good Friend

One of my good friends from high school, Jill Caputo, was killed in a motor vehicle accident earlier this week. That hurts even just to type it out. I want to post a proper memorial, and see if I can find some pictures from high school to scan and post, but I wanted to post some thoughts now since I don't want to forget them. I spoke to my therapist this morning, and he asked me about Jill, and these are some of the things that I remembered.

She was one of the strongest people I have ever known. She had to work hard for everything -- things that we simply take for granted could be an ordeal for her. Her disability, which resulted in partial paralysis and decreased mobility, affected much of her life, but she worked through everything. Those who went to high school with her might consider how much effort she had to put into simply going up the stairs at the school! She was not willing to let her disability hold her back from anything. She found a way to make things work.

She gave me so much. I tend to be shy, and left to myself I just spent time at home. Jill was the driving force behind most of my social activities my junior and senior year of high school, and I think that was a very good thing. She pulled our little group - which also included Ray, Laura and Shawn - together and was the one who made plans and made things happened. She helped to pull me out of the shell that I tended to retreat into. I really needed that at that time, sometimes I still need it.

There is so much more I could post, but I'm getting scatter brained. Jill, thank you. Thank you for your friendship, and for introducing me to so many other friends. Thank you for pushing me out of my comfort zone, and sometimes getting me to push back. Thank you for keeping me going, caring about me, and giving me a great example of strength, courage and indomitable spirit.

I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, God's dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them (as their God). He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, (for) the old order has passed away." The one who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new."
-Revelation 21:3-5

Monday, August 09, 2010

What I Did on my Summer Vacation

We actually did something this year! We just got back from a two week vacation. I had been dreading the trip, actually, as I thought that traveling with four kids would be torturous, and that we'd all be dying to be back home long before we were. As a matter of fact, we really enjoyed the trip even with a few traffic jams along the way, we had some good visits with family and friends and we saw a lot of the country that we'd never seen before. We visited/drove through/walked into fifteen states besides Kansas. PLUS when we got back home, our house was still standing and our pets were alive! (Thanks Mom, Dad and Stephen!)

The family standing on the New York/Massachusetts border

Bash Bish Falls

On the Way Home

Sunday, July 11, 2010


After years of on again, off again depression, problems with anger management and lots of frustration, I underwent a thorough psychological evaluation this spring and was diagnosed with ADHD, inattentive type, and apparently I have a fairly severe case. This actually came as a surprise to me; I knew that I had issues with forgetfulness and organization but tended to think that these were simply because I was busy, or were character flaws. If I tried harder to organize my home and get cleaning done, then I could do it, right? The evidence from the evaluation was pretty clear, though, so I began taking ADHD medication. I was at a point where I knew that I needed to do *something* in order to continue functioning as a stay-at-home homeschooling mom. I couldn't keep doing what we'd been doing.

I have been on a starter dose of Vyvanse for a little over two weeks, and I've been surprised at the difference that it has made. It is far from perfect and my dose isn't quite right, the medication is wearing off in the early afternoon instead of working through the evening, but it has made some significant differences in my day to day functioning at home with my kids. I am spending far, far less time feeling flustered and overwhelmed. I am better able to respond to my kids in a positive manner, even when they interrupt me when I'm in the middle of doing something. When I do get interrupted, it is much easier for me to get back on task. I haven't been spending as much time getting sucked into the computer, mostly because it is now easier for me to think "I need to stop this and get something done" and then actually stop and do that thing. My house is cleaner than it has been, ever. Let's see if I can keep it up.

In the past I've tended to think something along the lines of "ADHD is just a brain difference, and most people with ADHD would be able to function just fine if schools and workplaces could better accommodate those differences. Medicating isn't usually the answer." I don't think that any longer. I wasn't obviously impaired by the ADHD problems, but after taking the medication and finding out what "normal" is, I definitely feel impaired when the medication wears off. I wondered why everything seemed more difficult for me then it looked like it was for other people, and the reason was because it WAS more difficult. There are still many bad habits that I need to be rid of and healthy habits that I need to practice in order to be functioning really well, but I think the medication will allow me to work on those and make real progress.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Sound and Fury

but I think it signifies something.

Verity is in the midst of an explosion in her speech and language development, and I am thoroughly enjoying watching it occur. The language development of each of the kids has been unique, but still Verity has managed to impress me multiple times.

Pauly was a delayed talker, then at around age 3 it seemed like a switch flipped and he began talking, not only catching up to the "average" but surpassing it. Roger was pretty much an average talker, right on track with all the milestones. Rosie said her first words absurdly early, at around five months. I know most of you won't believe me, as I didn't believe my own ears, either, until my husband, my mother, my mother-in-law and a sister-in-law all insisted she was in fact using words with meaning. Still, she only said a handful of words until she was over one, then her speech development was normal -- she added a ton of single words to her vocabulary, once she had a certain number she started combining them into phrases, then sentences, then she talked constantly. Wait, they all do that. . .

Verity's speech development isn't abnormal but it is different from the others. She has been adding lots of single words to her vocabulary, but she is also using a lot more "jargon" than the other kids did. "Jargon" here means babbling with the tone, cadence and inflection of actual speech. She's constantly telling me things using jargon and gestures, and seems to be very good at getting her meaning across. What's really interesting to me that there are whole sentences starting to spring up in the midst of this jargon, and not always short sentences, either. Things like, "Can I please have it?" when she wanted her sister's popsicle. So instead of combining already established vocabulary into phrases, then sentences, she's coming up with whole sentences that use words that she may or may not have used on their own before. It makes me wonder what else she is saying that I'm just not understanding but am mistaking for jargon.

Added to this is the fact that she seems to be able to repeat just about anything she hears. "Knock, knock!" she said the other day, after hearing multiples jokes in the car. Or when Roger tried to trick someone with, "I bet I can make you say 'how,'" she was the only one in the family who responded with "how?" She is definitely reminding me of how fun watching a child develop can be.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

About the dog. . .

Bob and I are both getting to the point where we just don't think that taking in Louie is working out. Yes, he's learning. He now sits for his supper, and is starting to listen better in general, although it is obvious when we slack off on working with him as he doesn't obey as well. The problem is finding time for the training among all the other things I have to think about. Housebreaking had been coming along well, until he got into the habit of eating the fallen mulberries and this messed up his digestion. : / I think that as long as we can keep him away from the berries he'll be fine.

The pup has caused some problems – most notably digging up all the gardens that Bob had prepared and planted this spring. More than that, he is just one more thing for me to worry about. He chews stuff, he grabs the kids' toys, he steals food off the table (Fenja has NEVER stolen food off the table). We could take care of all these problems, they are definitely fixable with training and supervision, but finding time for the training and managing the constant supervision seems to be more than I can handle when I'm also trying to train and supervise four kids. ;) This is really too bad, as I really like Louie. A lot. He's an adorable terrier mix and I think he's got a great personality hidden under the puppiness. He's just so much work. Of course, so are the kids. . .

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

It's been awhile!

Well, I certainly didn't keep it going very long that time. I had planned to start my blog again to give me an intellectual outlet and a somewhat practical hobby, and look, I haven't posted in a month and a half! I'll go ahead and blame Facebook. If I have a picture, or a link that I want to share, then I share it there. It doesn't really require brain power, though. Maybe I'll try again to get this off the ground?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Now -- Better savings at

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Good Dog, Bad Dog; Good Kid, Bad kid

Since Louie, an untrained terrier puppy, joined our household a few weeks ago, I've been revisiting th idea of training and noting where our training has fallen short with Fenja, our older dog, as well as considering what training we need to be doing with Louie in order to turn him into a dog that we can live with. As I've reviewed the dog training ideas I have used in the past, I've also been confronted with the difference in the attitude I have toward my dogs and their training versus the attitude I have toward my children and their discipline. While I have good intentions in disciplining my kids, the majority of the time I fall back into Scarily Punitive Reactionary Mom mode. I've thought in the past that My Smart Puppy, my favorite puppy training book, may also be the best parenting book I've read. Obviously, there are significant differences between puppy training and child discipline; I'm not trying to figure out which training collars and flavor of treats would work best for my kids. However, some of the best advice in My Smart Puppy has to do with the owner's attitude and outlook, and I think a lot of this can teach parents something, too. So here are some musings on some puppy training ideas that might bring something to parenting.

Each Puppy is Different
Temperament is inborn -- in children and in dogs. "The trick to being happy is not to get what you want, but to want what you get." This applies as much to kids as it puppies. Regardless of the child you imagined you would have, the one you've got now - with all his strengths, weaknesses and quirks,; is the one you've got. Accepting this and working with him rather than trying to mold him into an idealized image is essential for good discipline.

Do you love your puppy, or do you love loving your puppy?
Love means giving the puppy (or child!) what she needs for her growth, not what you'd like to give her or what would make you feel good about being a parent. Often times what she may need is firm boundaries - and this may not always make you feel wonderful or loved in return.

Get to Good
Focus on teaching what to do, not what not to do. While corrections may be necessary, they should not be the bulk of training or disicpline. Being told "don't do this" without being told what to do instead can be confusing for dog and child alike. Focus on teaching behaviors that you want, and then encouraging those behaviors.

Effective Corrections are as gentle as they can be, and as firm as they must be.
Intimidation or harsh punishments may make you feel like you've "done something" in response to he behavior, but it isn't like to help the trainee learn what to do and feel capable of and motivated to do it. Good corrections stop the behavior long enough so you can teach the wanted behavior in its place.

Your puppy can change, but you have to change first.
Doing the same thign you've been doing is likely to end in the same result you've been getting. If what you're doing isn't working, don't blame the dog or the kid , change what you're doing. For some reason, this is much easier for me to keep in mind with regards to the dogs than the kids. Louie has an accident. I clean it up and think, "He should not have been off-lead in the house. Also, he never is in the hallway or the bedrooms, so he probably doesn't even think of those places as 'inside.' I need to make sure to bring him into each of those rooms on lead and feed him there."

Rosie has an accident, and I freak out that once again she hasn't bothered to stop what she's doing and go to the bathroom. Unlike with the dogs, my first thought isn't of what I need to change about what I'm doing in order to help her be successful.

My title is intentionally a bit misleading -- the label "bad dog" isn't helpful in dog training because it doesn't help you to change anything about what you are doing, but only encourages you to become more frustrated and annoyed with your pet. Something similar may be true for children as well, along the lines of the famous Fr. Flanagan quote, “There are no bad boys. There is only bad environment, bad training, bad example, bad thinking.” We can't have total control over our kids (or our puppies!), but we can control our affect on the environment, our example and our training. I'm not sure why my first instinct when the dog misbehaves is to adjust my training, while my first instinct when the kids misbehave is anger, but I don't know what is going be my self-improvement priority for now. Hopefully in a few months, Louie will be better behaved, the kids will be decently well behaved, and I'll be at least a bit calmer.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


One would think that I would be worried about the current school year and what we're not accomplishing every day, but I'm not. Instead, I've been thinking about our curriculum choices for next year. This may be to distract myself from what I ought to be doing right now.

I had felt that I needed a "plan" for next year. I rarely manage to get myself to actually plan the week ahead, and all too often if I don't make plans, very little gets done in school at all. This might be just fine; the kids are learning a lot just by reading books about what they're interested in and asking questions. However, I feel like our day goes much better and the kids are better behaved if we have more guided learning. We decided to go with the Mother of Divine Grace syllabi -- we had used this for first grade for Pauly, and while we used something different this year, I found myself missing the day by day plan, and I liked having affordable structure in my homeschool, as opposed to having to enroll with a program. I like the poetry memorization and recitation and the focus on history through "real books" that Mother of Divine Grace has. I've gone ahead and ordered the third grade syllabus and teacher planner, which organizes the subject-by-subject plan in the syllabus syllabus into a weekly planner style format with all subjects scheduled. Now I'm doubting whether this was a good idea, since the planner is most useful if you stick pretty strictly to the recommended resources. I had intended on doing exactly that, but I've found myself deviating from the plan as I've begun purchasing materials for next year.

They recommended a science textbook from a Protestant publisher that promotes creation science, which is something that I don't consider science at all, properly speaking. Despite reassurance from others who have used this text that it doesn't mention evolution positively or negatively at all, I decided to use a different resource that I felt better about, and which is designed to give a Catholic perspective on science. I was uncomfortable with using an older catechism, which doesn't incorporate the development of doctrine evident in the Vatican II documents and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, so I've decided to go with something different for the catechism portion of their religion classes. That affects not just the basic religious plans, but also the memorization plans. We probably will not use their recommended math text, I don't really care for the approach. I did purchase their phonics and spelling recommendation, which uses an intensive phonics method to teach spelling through sixth grade. Honestly, this resource look pretty overwhelming to me, and I certainly don't agree with some of the philosophical underpinnings of the program, which states that phonics and phonetics can't be learned without direct instruction. I'm still planning on trying it out, but I don't feel very hopeful about it. Pauly takes piano lessons, so that will be substituted for the practical aspects of the music curriculum. I'm not sure what planning help I've been saved, here.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Life with Louie

The new puppy, Louie, has been living with us for nearly a week now. There is at least one way that my life has changed -- I get to sit down and rest even less than I did before! I think things will get a bit less hectic as we get more accustomed to living with him, and move him into a set crating schedule. Since he was incompletely housebroken at his old home, and wasn't keeping his crate clean, I can't trust him yet to keep it clean here. We take him out a lot, as I can't assume that since it has only been x long since he was out last, that he doesn't need to go. I do think he is trying, though, and I am much more optimistic about his housebreaking than I was before we brought him home.

I am excited about having a new puppy. Louie is a sweetie and seems very smart. I'm really looking forward to see how his training comes along, and I feel newly motivated to work on the things we never really conquered with Fenja -- like walking on lead without pulling. Now, I just need to find the time to fit that in. I wonder if I invest in some treats if I can get the kids to listen as well as the dogs. . .

I want to state for the record that I was NOT motivated to get Louie to show up my sister (who just got a new dog, herself), despite what Bob thinks. : P

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Diaper Savings -- Shameless Plug

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Poor Motives

I have been suffering random stabs of (mental) pain ever since we switched from cloth diapers to disposables. This isn't because I'm consumed with guilt over our affect on the environment; I'm not convinced one way or the other about the environmental issue. It isn't because of the increase in cost; through happenstance (I complained about a product and got a big refund) and luck finding some great deals, we've actually saved money using disposables so far, when you consider the cloth diapers I sold off, the savings on detergent, and the reduction in our electric and water bills. I know that probably won't continue, although since I can redeem our RecycleBank points for $5 off Huggies coupons, disposables could end up costing us little more than cloth. It isn't because I prefer using the cloth, I'm really enjoying not having to think about washing or worrying about carting wet diapers back home when we're out and about. No, I'm suffering these stabs of pain because now that we're using disposable diapers, we're just like everyone else. I've found myself perusing the websites of the various "eco-friendly" disposable diapers and comparing their virtues and prices, not because I am convinced that they would have any different environmental impact than standard disposables, but because if we used them I could at least regain some of that subtle feeling of superiority that I now realize was one of my primary motivators for using cloth diapers in the first place.

Now I'm stepping back and looking at all the "different" choices we make and wondering -- when I do things differently from the norm, how often is it because I really think what we're doing is better, and how often is it because I just want to be different?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Mindful Living

I have been encouraged by several different sources lately to consider how "mindfully" I am living my life, and how that is affecting my happiness and anxiety. "Mindfulness" simply means being aware of and living in the moment, rather than fretting over the past or worrying about the future. Eckhart Tolle points out in his book A New Earth (which I'll warn you is pretty weird and probably isn't the best place to start reflecting on this) that truly only the present exists; the past is just memories and the future exists only in our imagination. The past and future are simply a row of moments of "now" placed one after the other in our mind. The only place we can truly live is "now," because it is the only time that exists outside of our minds, yet how many people never truly live in "now" because they are mulling over the past or the future?  It is only in the present moment that we can meet and connect with other people in our lives, and not being mindful of "now" also means not being mindful of what other people and what they may need or can offer to you.

This has been a major problem for me. All too often I try to escape my life instead of living in it and being present to it. The internet and message boards have been a major means of escape for me, as have reading books, spending time thinking about "how things will be" at some point in the future, curriculum planning, or just mulling over theoretical issues of theology and philosophy. Oh, and this blog. ; ) None of these things are bad in and of themselves, and in fact each of them is good and can be beneficial in its proper place. However, when they are being used as a means to avoid dealing with the present moment and its frustrations and demands (all too often, my children) then they become detrimental to my overall emotional and spiritual health.

While some of the sources advocating mindfulness come from an Eastern or New Age perspective, I've also been encouraged to reflect on this by sources coming from a purely psychological perspective, which consider mindfulness important for mental health, and sources coming from a Christian perspective. I've just begun reading The Sacrament of the Present Moment which seems to take mindfulness to its next logical step in the Christian life: after becoming aware of the present moment, one asks, "What does God will for me to do right now?" Now, if only I can remember to ask this of myself.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

What a difference a year makes!

It just so happens that my blogging hiatus has encompassed the whole of Verity's existence thus far, so this is actually the first mention of her on the blog. In any case, she is a year old!

A Curriculum Decision

We reached a decision about what we would do for school next year -- we're going to be using the Mother of Divine Grace third grade lesson plans. We used their lesson plans loosely for Pauly for first grade and I really liked and agreed with the methodology of lessons, including memorizing poetry, reading lots of literature for history and using "narrations" or retellings, but Bob wasn't really happy with their focus on American history rather than world history in the elementary years so last year we enrolled with St. Thomas Aquinas Academy. STAA was fine, I do like a lot of their suggestions, but they don't have lesson plans available without enrolling, and enrolling is pretty expensive. I am planning on following MODG's plans pretty closely for next year, simply switching out their religion plans and using the Faith and Life books instead. Best of all, since we still have the plans for first grade, we'll spend very little money on Roger's curriculum next year.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Creative Contrariness

Roger will not cooperate with any schoolwork that I plan and initiate, but he's full of plenty of creative ideas for himself. This was how yesterday's school day went.

First, he fought with me over the copywork I'd printed off for him. This confused me, as last week he'd said that he loved copywork and wanted to do it every day. Then I had just written something on a paper, but this weekend I'd printed off a copywork booklet, and maybe that was overwhelming? With many threats and much cajoling I finally convinced him to do it. I wanted to take the time while Pauly was practicing his piano and then working on his typing to get Roger's math and reading done, but that didn't work out anything like I'd planned. For reading, I was going to do a spelling activity, but was first going to make letter tiles out of some of our many sheets of blank business cards. Roger asked to make the tiles himself, so I let him do so. Instead of just writing the lowercase letters, as I was planning, he insisted on writing the capital letters on one side, and the lowercase on the others. That's fine, extra practice, right? I was trying to tell him which letters we would need for the spelling words, but he ignored me entirely and wrote the letters he wanted, then started using the tiles to spell his own words. After he did that for a while, I suggested that he finish writing the letters we needed so I could read words for him to spell, but he declared that he was done and stacked the tiles up. So we didn't do what I'd planned, but he did reading.

We watched the next lesson on the Math-U-See DVD, which introduced subtraction, and then used the blocks to practice it a bit. He went along with this for a few minutes, then started using the blocks to build a restaurant, instead. My attempts to bring him back to math met with obstinate refusal, so I gave up. I had no energy for a fight. Instead, I used the math blocks to show Rosemarie subtraction, because she wanted to learn. Then Roger told me, "Guess what is on the dessert menu at my restaurant?" As he started listing things off, I figured we might as well roll with what he wanted to do, so I asked him if he wanted me to help him write the menus down. We ended up making two menus -- a regular menu and a dessert menu -- and he also named his restaurant. After I'd written everything down like he wanted, he illustrated the menus. So not math, but certainly educational.

This is just so very different from Pauly, who, until relatively recently, was happy to cooperate with what I wanted but who rarely initiates any kind of creative activity himself. The more I want Roger to do something, the less likely he is to do it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I Forgot Myself

After I posted the link to my blog on Facebook, a friend commented on how much she enjoyed reading it and what interesting things I had to say about homeschooling and other subjects. I was a bit taken aback. I haven't blogged regularly in more than a year and a half, and lately I've felt that I don't know the first thing about homeschooling well. I went back to my blog and read the archives of older posts from 2007 and the first half of 2008, and was surprised to find that I had blogged pretty regularly for quite a while and I had some good ideas and interesting things to say. I particularly thought this post was interesting as it described how we were doing math at the time, and it addresses some of our current problems and frustrations. We were using the same math series that we are now, Math-U-See, but we weren't using it in the same way.
I do alter the lessons somewhat. After reading How Children Fail I have taken a lot of Holt's suggestions for the Cuisenaire rods and applied them to the Math-U-See blocks. This doesn't change the content of the lessons, just how I present them. I do a bit less instruction and a bit more guided exploration.
At the time we were exploring the blocks together and using the student book very little. In Math-U-See, the instruction is supposed to take place through watching the video then practicing with the blocks, and the student workbook is only supposed to be practice and reinforcement. That's not how we've been using it at all lately, and I think that's been a big part of the growing math resistence and frustration. My kids simply don't need that much repetition to understand the concepts, and if I'd been using the curriculum as it is intended to be used instead of feeling like we had to complete a certain percentage of the workbook to be doing it "right" then things would have been going better.

There were other posts covering my thoughts on homeschooling approach that reminded me of what I had thought and why I had thought it, and I'm glad I reread them. They've given me some inspiration for what I would like to do in the future.

On a more somber note, I realized as I reviewed the blog that the drop off in posting coincided with my descent into a bout of depression, anxiety and spiritual turmoil that I've only recently begun to emerge from. I hadn't really realized how long it had been since I had felt good.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Structure, Freedom and Anxiety

Providing our children the freedom to learn and explore at their own pace instead of being bound by curriculum and conformity to a set of group standards is one of the primary reasons that we have chosen to educate the kids at home, yet when I look at how we have been homeschooling in practice, I realize how very far we are from our original intentions and even my current convictions. We've been using a math curriculum, for instance, that explains things in interesting and innovative ways, but at the same time doesn't involve much exploration and does require a great deal of drill and repetition. We have been skipping some of the workbook pages, but I'm now convinced that I've still been requiring far more than my kids need in order to retain the material. The kids have gone from loving math to resisting math, even though they are quite good at it. We are using a highly structured phonics program, which hasn't met the same resistance, yet I wonder about how much it is really required. Pauly made a jump in reading some months ago, and now the phonics material is far below his current reading level, yet we've kept slogging through it because I feel like we need to complete the program before moving on. Why I am doing this? Why aren't I taking advantage of our freedom to move at the kids' pace?

This year we are enrolled with St. Thomas Aquinas Academy, and when I called our advisor to discuss some of these frustrations, her advice could be reduced to "Lighten up, have fun, they're little yet." Even with this blessing, I've found myself unable to truly relax. It finally occurred to me this week that most of what we have been doing in practice has had little to do with my educational convictions or what my children need, but instead is about calming my own anxiety and meeting my own need to do things "right." The irony is that in seeking to do things "right" I'm actually acting against what I am intellectually convinced is right for home school education; my rigidity interferes with utilizing home schooling's freedom and flexibility and instilling a love for learning.

So what do I do now that I realize this?

I'm Going to Resume Blogging

Really, I will.