Homeschool · Kids · Montessori

Day 420: Essay Writing and Personality

Despite the difference in their ages, we’ve taken to teaching the three older kids all together. They still do skills-based work (math exercises and so on) at their respective levels, and our expectations differ from kid to kid when we give them all the same assignment, but by and large they’re learning the same stuff. As N says (about everything,) why not?

I’m using a grade 7 book for our writing class. In the past few weeks we’ve covered allusions, metaphors, thesis statements, and transitional sentences. This week I introduced them to their newest assignment: a comparative essay.

I’m a big believer in what Montessori called “isolation of difficulty”: each material or lesson is designed to teach one thing. That’s it. The Suzuki Method does this as well, at least in the beginning books: each song introduces only one new skill. Likewise, I’ve taken to thinking carefully about what specific thing I want the kids to learn so that I know what I should be nitpicking about and what should be deferred to another lesson.

For this essay, I wanted them to focus on the skill of putting together an essay; writing an introduction and conclusion and stringing the paragraphs together so that there’s a smooth transition from one to the next. If that was to be the challenge, content had to be super simple to write. I decided to have them write an essay about Animal Farm and its similarities to the Russian revolution.

(Before you ask, I’ll tell you that yes, they have learned about the Russian revolution. I’ll also remind you that the point of this assignment was not to have them generate content.)

In the spirit of not having them focus on research or content generation, I found and printed a comparison chart between Animal Farm‘s main characters and the historical figures of the Russian revolution. I gave each kid a copy and told them to use those notes to write an essay (we’ve already covered how to write compare/contrast paragraphs.)

Naturally, there was a problem (of course there was): Two of the three kids didn’t want to write about this topic.

R asked if she could write a comparison of something else. She then eloquently laid out to me all the ways in which Gravity Falls (an animated TV show) was just like Land of Stories (a popular kids’ book series.) At this point I threw up my hands and said, “Sure, fine. I was trying to make this assignment easier by giving you the content, but you go ahead and do your idea instead. It sounds way more interesting.”

K wasn’t keen on the assigned topic, either. “Does it even have to be a comparison? Can’t it just be an essay based on a story? And doesn’t a TV show count as a story?” (She might have a point there—Shakespeare is literature even though what he wrote was intended to be watched, not read.)

This is where knowing the real purpose of the assignment comes in very handy. I could have tried to force K to write about Animal Farm, or I could have required her to write a comparative essay; but neither the content of Animal Farm nor writing a comparison was the purpose of the assignment. The whole point of the essay was to write an essay with an introduction, a clear thesis statement, and good transitions between paragraphs. The content was really beside the point—so I let K pick her own topic. Problem solved.

N was the only one who chose to write the essay as assigned. He has a tendency to do only what’s required and not an iota more, in schoolwork as well as at home. In his calculating way, he determined that using the notes I’d given him would allow him to get the job done with a minimum of fuss.

All three kids have worked diligently on their essays this week, and they have until next Friday to finish them. I’m still floored by the lack of resistance from K, the-kid-who-swore-she-couldn’t-write. I’m still astonished at R’s clarity and descriptive word choices, although I should be used to her writing ability by now. And N’s philosophy makes me chuckle and then shake my head in chagrin as I remember that I, too, used to calculate the absolute minimum grade I’d need on the exam to pass the course. It’s obvious he’s Mr. December’s mini-me in so many ways, but if I stop to consider it, he’s pretty obviously mine too.

bikes planes and automobiles · education · family fun · Homeschool

Day 419: Classroom of the year

We had the perfect confluence of events today: Mr. December wasn’t teaching today, and the weather was beautiful. I decided we’d spend the entire morning doing our schoolwork at the park.

Our morning was the kind of morning that makes me fall in love with homeschooling all over again. We biked out to the park with all our stuff and chose a picnic table to serve as our classroom. I gave the kids ten minutes to play in the playground and when I called them back, it was to join me on our picnic blanket for music class.

I’ve found a video-based curriculum that teaches theory, sight singing, and ear training. About a minute into the first video, the kids we complaining that the teacher talked too much and that the whole video was stupid. “Can’t you just teach us this stuff without watching the videos?” they pleaded.

So today, on our blanket, we reviewed the solfege hand signs and I taught them about major chords. We sang through a few simple songs with the hand signs. I even had them figure out the names and hand signs for the first bar of “O Canada.” By the end of class, even the most tone-deaf of my kids was singing “Sol, Mi, Doh” in tune.

We took a quick break while I tethered our laptop to my cellphone for the internet access; then I set E up with wireless headphones at a nearby table for her Zoom class. While she was learning about Shavuot in Hebrew, we were learning Latin roots and then previewing and discussing the kids’ literary essays. Next up was our read-aloud of Animal Farm. I hadn’t quite planned it this way, but we finished the book today.

“That was the best book ending ever!” K said, wide-eyed. I happen to agree with her.

Then it was free play for everyone as, one at a time, the kids joined me on the blanket to practice their Hebrew reading. R decided to bike a bit more (easily done, as this park is huge and flat with several little paths) while E tried some challenging new climbers.

Three hours after we started school, we all packed up and biked home. It had been a remarkably easy morning: no arguments, no resistance, and no complaints. Everyone participated. Everyone enjoyed it. We all got some exercise, fresh air, and Vitamin D. I’d be hard pressed to imagine a better school day. Maybe we should do it again tomorrow.

A picnic table in the park. Best classroom we’ve had all year!
Darn Tootin' · Just the two of us

Day 418: What I can’t stop buying.

Some people just can’t stop buying books (*cough*Mr. December*cough*.) I have a similar problem, but it’s a bit noisier than the books; I can’t seem to stop buying musical instruments.

After buying E’s Nuvo Toot (beginner flute) and really liking it, I started looking at their more advanced student flutes. I read the reviews. I watched YouTube videos where professional flautists played the Nuvo flutes and their $10K professional silver flutes back-to-back. I started lusting after those flutes. And when I saw that they come in a metallic indigo colour… well, sign me up!

But wait! I already have a flute… don’t I?

Okay, fine, I do. But it’s a silver flute and the pads are all dried up and it’s a bit leaky, and repairing it would cost just a bit less than buying it brand new. In fact, the Nuvo flute was about half the price of fixing my silver flute. Not to mention the fact that it’s waterproof, washable, practically indestructible, and has silicone key pads that never dry out. It seems like a slam dunk from every angle, right?

As I considered these issues, I began to notice that Mr. December was frustrated when playing his clarinet. Like my flute, it went many years without proper maintenance. Like my flute, it would cost close to the purchase price to fix it. Unlike my flute, it had a crack in its bell. Combine those problems with the need to transpose music on sight when he played with us, and Mr. December was not having a good time, clarinet-wise.

Of course I noticed that Nuvo has an instrument that is essentially a C clarinet. I floated the idea to Mr. December and he was not opposed. Several days later, I’d ordered both instruments.

They took their sweet time coming… but tonight at dinnertime we received a box that was very light. Inside were our flute and clarinet. We ignored our children in favour of trying out the new instruments.

It was kind of disappointing. The clarinet is pretty small and doesn’t have all the same keys as a concert clarinet; Mr. December will have to spend some time with the fingering chart before he plays anything with the rest of us. The flute is beautiful (it actually camouflages very nicely in our library) but it feels a bit harder to get a sound out of—not what I would expect from an instrument geared towards students.

There’s a decent return policy on these instruments, so we’ve decided to try them out for a week or two and then decide whether they’re worth keeping. In the meantime, K gravitated towards the blue flute and spent some twenty minutes trying to play it.

“You know,” she ventured, “It gets boring only practicing one instrument all the time. If you keep this, will you teach me flute as well as viola? I really like the idea of having a few different instruments to choose from.”

So do I, kid. That’s how I got into this instrument-buying addiction in the first place.

bikes planes and automobiles · family fun · Fibro Flares

Day 417: Where has he been all this time?

Mr. December is currently out with all four kids, biking to a bubble tea place to celebrate R’s finishing all the grade five Kumon workbooks. Grade six math, here she comes!

Everyone was running to and fro, looking for socks and masks and helmets, as I stood on the front porch and watched.

“You’re not coming?” Mr. December looked puzzled.

“I’m already feeling pain in my legs,” I said. “If I come with you I might not be functional tomorrow. I’m not sure that’s worth it. Just get me a bubble tea.”

He frowned, “Wow, you really can’t go anywhere! That sucks!” He said it as if this was the first time he’d ever noticed my limitations.

“No kidding,” I deadpanned, channeling my late Buby. I wanted to say something a bit more colourful, but there were children present.


It’s not that I’m in a flare—I’m not—and it’s not like I can’t do anything. After all, we started this morning with a workout that included holding a wall sit for 75 seconds, doing a bunch of squats, a full minute-long plank followed by another thirty seconds, and push-ups. I sweated, I felt the burn, it felt great.

OOH, LOOK! BUNNIES! I’m not kidding! I just looked out my window and noticed two adorable bunnies eating our lawn. I wonder if I can attract more of them—it might save us having to mow the lawn!

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Exercise, feeling the burn, not completely incapacitated. But it’s so hard to know what kind of effect the 4K bike ride will have on my legs if they’re already sore. I figured it’s safer to stay back, if a bit disappointing and a lot less fun. At least K promised to bring me my bubble tea.

bikes planes and automobiles · blogging · family fun · Guest Posts · Kids

Day 416: A Review Of Mother’s Day (Guest Post)

Today R decided to write a guest blog post: a behind-the-scenes look at how my Mother’s Day treat got picked up. I did correct the name of the bakery and I did a bit of capitalization clean-up, but all the words (and most of the punctuation, including the semicolon) are R’s. Enjoy.


Yesterday at 8:25 Abba woke me up saying “Were going to pick up scones for mothers day.” We biked to Baker and Scone and stood in a line for what felt like forever. We were only really standing there for fifteen to twenty minutes before we realized we were in the wrong line; apparently, for pick up, you just walked up to the door and they’ll bring you your order. We were standing in the line to order from the store/restaurant. While a worker went to get our order E decided to get off her bike, and tripped over over what I think was the wooden porch and hit her head right over one of the ears (can’t remember if it was the right side or the left.) Once we got our order and made sure it was secured on Abba’s and K’s bikes we headed off. N and Abba went a bit ahead, so me and K stayed with E to make sure she was okay. When we were only a block away from the store I checked on E to make sure she was okay. E said she had a headache, so once we crossed the street and joined Abba and N on the other side E told Abba about her headache and Abba called Ema to pick E up. Despite there being room for one more bike and a person, Abba made me, K and N bike home. When we got home and washed our hands, I went to swing in the attic, only to be called down five minutes later to eat our scones. We had to do school on Sunday because it worked better with Abba’s schedule. Sunday was an all-math day. And I’m almost done grade five in math! Around three we got out of school and I got online with my friends.


There you have it. They all went out to pick up treats and then I got called to drive over and rescue one of them; so not only did I get scones and jam, I also got the gift of feeling needed. Not to mention, of course, the gift of not having to think of what to blog about for two days in a row. Now, that’s really something.

Kids

Day 415: Inside the mind of a ten-year-old kid

I told the kids they had to write tonight’s post for me because I was taking Mother’s Day off. Predictably, they left it til the last minute and the girls shirked their duty. That means tonight you get a glimpse into the mind of a ten-year-old boy. Lucky you.

Without further ado, here’s N.


Since it’s mothers day, someone other than Ema has to do the blog post. So… ya. Since I can’t think of anything interesting, I’m just going to tell you stuff about B.S.S. (Bee Swarm Simulator [in roblox]) So i’m almost done killing ol’ stumpy (that’s what spirit bear calls the snail boss in the stump field): it’s at roughly 2 mil health and I do eggsactly 500 total damage (not including impale from vicious bee which does 1000 damage per spike with 10 spikes.)

I’m also almost done spirit bear’s 10th quest. Why is it so great? Because spirit petal. Spirit petals can be used for the petal wand (which I’m going to get,) petal belt (I’m going to get that one last,) and windy bee which is really good. Now I should ramble (I think I used that properly?) on about BSS but I’m going to leave you with this: (side note ol’ stumpy is at 1.8 mil health now)(now its at 1.7 mil health but im gonna say it as 1.5 because why not)

p.s Ema said no pictures and what I wanted to show you was some of my bee ideas for BSS.


“So? Was my post good, Eema?” `

“No.”

“Come on… be honest!”

“I was being honest.”

“What could I have done better?”

“Hmmm… capitalization, punctuation, spelling… for starters.”

“Okay, but really?”

“Really, it’s bedtime.”

crafty · DIY · Fibro Flares · lists

Day 414: Don’t overdo it.

I haven’t said anything, because I didn’t want to jinx it, but my fibro flare seems to have ended last Monday or so. I’m trying not to overdo things lest I throw myself into a relapse. As you might imagine, it’s not easy. There are things I want to do… and worse, things I have to do.

It’s almost summer, which means it’s the right time to be thinking about the landscaping improvements we wanted to make. Unfortunately the landscaper we had hired seems to have dropped off the face of the earth (I really hope he’s ok; we are in the middle of a pandemic, after all.) I still want to put up a shed so I can move my big saws in there and have them set up to use at a moment’s notice. We also need a sturdier swingset: ours is twelve years old and everytime K swings on it (for several hours every day) it looks like it’s going to tip right over.

Summer also means that the sun comes up really early and shines straight at my bedroom window. The full-length blackout curtains I made don’t manage to block out all the light, so something needs to be done. I think I’ll try a simple valence to see if it works well. This needs to be my top priority, because it’s waking both Mr. December and me every morning and we need more sleep.

Speaking of windows, I need to put some kind of window treatment on the library windows. They face full west, as Jane Austen might have said, making the library very hot in the afternoons. I’m hoping I can find something ready-made that works in the space.

And then there are all the little things: figuring out how to replace our HEPA filter; installing the shelves that I bought for N’s and E’s rooms; painting the porch wall; getting the kids ready for camp (that’s not actually a little thing, there’s a lot of packing to be done); and the small matter of, you know, staying on top of their homeschool progress.

Just writing this list has me all tired out. I think I’ll take tomorrow off—it’s Mothers’ Day anyhow—and let the kids do everything, including my blog post. I can’t wait to see what they think of.

Camping it up · Kids · parenting · snarky · whine and cheese

Day 413: Quaint.

It’s that time of year again: time to fill out all the camp forms for the kids. Most of them are time consuming, but no big deal. Where I always get stumped, somehow, is at the immunizations.

For those of you who don’t live in Ontario: we have this antiquated system of keeping track of our immunizations. It’s this little yellow trifold card that we (or the doctors) fill in by hand with the date and which vaccines were given. That’s all I have to refer to when the camp asks me for the dates of every vaccination the kids have ever had. I’m sure the doctor’s office has this information in the kids’ files (which are, thankfully, now all computerized,) but that information doesn’t get shared with anyone. Not with me, and not with public health.

That’s why, when each of my kids was enrolled in grade one, I got a letter from Toronto Public Health threatening the kid’s suspension from school if we didn’t provide records of vaccination. The first time it happened I was baffled; The second time I was annoyed; and the third time I was fed up. Apparently after the doctor vaccinates the child and enters the information into their computer, the parents have to go home and enter the same information into the Toronto Public Health website… every single time the kid gets a vaccine. You’d think there’d be some way to opt-in to your doctor sharing the vaccination records with public health—but you’d be wrong.

Honestly, I have flirted with the idea of just telling the school and public health that I’m not vaccinating my kids on conscientious grounds. Of course I’d still have them fully vaccinated—I’d just be saving myself the duplication of labour.

Today as I put in the kids’ vaccination dates I noticed a few… irregularities. I had no record of K being immunized for chicken pox, even though I’m positive that we’ve never declined a vaccine that was offered. That’s the sort of error that comes of having the parent and/or doctor forget to update the quaint little yellow vaccination card. Now I’ll have to call the doctors’ office and have them spend even more time on this issue by generating lists of the kids’ vaccinations and emailing them to me (at least I hope they’ll email them to me, although most doctors won’t actually email confidential medical information. That’s why doctors here still have fax machines, another quaint reminder of a bygone and less efficient era.)

All of this to say that there has GOT to be a better system for sharing this information. A unique PIN for each child, perhaps, that the camp can input into a database to confirm that the child has had all required vaccinations? Something? Anything to advance our public health system past the days of carrier pigeons and fax machines?

Booster shot for Ontario's vaccination policies | The Star
Image description: an Ontario Immunization Record Card. Yep, we’re on the honour system, it seems.
DIY · el cheapo · Fibro Flares · Homeschool · whine and cheese

Day 412: The Devil’s in the Details

Fun fact: in Hebrew, “shed” is the word for “demon.”

Not-so-fun fact: It’s pretty much impossible to find a prefab shed that meets my needs.

Coincidence? I think not.

Last autumn and over the winter, Mr. December and I discussed having the kids design and build a shed with us as part of their homeschooling: it would involve geometry, arithmetic, and physics, and they’d get firsthand experience in how houses are built. But that plan seems a bit laughable right now, when just installing three display cubes on N’s bedroom wall has resulted in more elbow pain… and we still have another five to install. Don’t get me started on the pile of IKEA furniture in E’s bedroom that has yet to be assembled and mounted on the wall.

It’s an odd twist on one’s eyes being bigger than one’s stomach. The idea of building a shed from scratch excites me, but these days it’s feeling pretty likely that I’d go into a fibro flare somewhere around the second or third day of construction and be unable to finish the job. A prefab shed seems like a decent compromise: we’d get to do some building without having to think about (and then execute) things like stud spacing and roof pitch.

I’m encouraged by the fact that my kids now do useful work without arguing about it first. Tonight K finished cutting up all the branches Mr. December pruned off our plum tree; N bundled them neatly, tied them with twine, and put them at the curb for pickup. Their competence gives me just a little hope that they could make themselves useful for shed building, too.

But first I’ll have to find a shed to build, which is harder than it sounds. Most of the prefab sheds have six-foot sidewalls, which is a bit low for my purposes (woodworking; using giant saws on big, long pieces of wood.) For eight-foot walls I’d have to go to a custom shed place, which puts the price up around $10K for a 108 square foot shed. Or we could go with the alternative: build our own shed from scratch… which I’m pretty sure would be its own unique form of torture.

Keepin' it real · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 411: Technical Difficulties

You know, all these cordless devices are a real pain in the butt. My mouse likes to tell me to charge it immediately, with no prior notice that its battery is getting low. Sometimes the keyboard is nonresponsive—although it uses removable batteries, so I can swap them out and keep on working. And then there’s what happened tonight when I tried to record myself singing for a video performance by a group from our synagogue.

I was ready. Really, I was. I even brushed my hair for the occasion. My computer and phone were propped up on the music stand; I had one earbud in so I could hear the song. I hit “record” on the phone and “play” on the computer.

For the first verse and a half, all was well. Then my phone stopped recording the video because the battery dropped below 25%. I accepted that I’d have to go plug in my phone and wait for it to charge up. But while I was waiting, why not listen to my part a few more times? Answer: because two lines into the track, my headphones beeped and switched themselves off. Great.

I guess the good news is that I didn’t start doing it after the kids’ bedtime—then there would have been no chance of getting it finished tonight. As of right now, my phone is at 71% power and still charging. My headphones are charging too, they just don’t want to tell me how much more time they need. I’m assuming that by 8:30 I’ll be ready to try recording again.

8:40 p.m. update: I wasn’t ready at 8:30 because I has having my butt handed to me by a 6-year-old in a vicious game of Azul. I finally scraped out a 2-point lead, but it was close. Now I’ll have to wait ’til after 9:00, because the kids are currently making and eating their bedtime snacks.

10:18 p.m. update: I’m done, but it wasn’t easy. Just as I started recording, someone ran through the upstairs hallway. ThumpThumpThumpThump. Then K dropped something in her room, which is directly above where I was recording. I started again. And again… at which point I realized that we were asked to wear something that was a different colour from our background. I was wearing a violet-blue shirt in my purple-blue library. Oops. I’m submitting it anyhow and hoping it’s acceptable.