Darn Tootin' · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Travelogue · Unschooling · what's cookin'

Day 796: Quiet day at home?

Today was just a regular old school day—don’t all regular school days start with a trip to the shuk for provisions?

We started with journaling. Notably, nobody complained about having to do it. They all sat down with their notebooks and started bouncing ideas off each other. It’s definitely getting easier for them.

Next up: music. I taught them a song about Jerusalem; that’s not to say that they learned it. K sang along but nobody else did, so I’ll probably be teaching them the same song on Thursday.

K playing her viola out on the porch.

Everyone was supposed to find a space and practice their instrument. K got right to work setting up her music stand and tuning her viola; N took the roll-up keyboard to his room with the songbook we’d brought along. R and E, however, engaged in all sorts of avoidance—flopping on the couch while moaning, needing a drink, needing a bathroom. Mr. December started to get fed up with them. I corralled the two girls and took them downstairs with me. It took all my patience and then some, but eventually R agreed to learn the F chord. Then it was E’s turn with me—she started to learn the chorus to Sweet Caroline. And when I say “started to learn,” I mean “played the first four notes repeatedly.” Guess what earworm I had all afternoon?

While Mr. December taught the kids, I did laundry. I had to hit the supermarket first, though, because someone (I’m not naming names) scratched their mosquito bites and bled on the bed sheets (it happened in Costa Rica too,) and I needed something to get the stains out. So that was my afternoon: soaking, scrubbing, and hanging to dry.

Bird's eye view of a bowl of chopped tomatoes and cucumbers with crumbled feta, a wedge of pita with za'atar, and a cup of coffee.

Two kids refused to go to the park after school; I informed them that if they stayed home there would be no screen time and they would be cleaning up the kitchen. They were unmoved. I was starting to despair of them actually doing any cleaning when R finally heaved herself off the couch and loaded the dishwasher. In the meantime, I sat on the patio and enjoyed an Israeli salad with sheep’s milk feta, a pita with za’atar, and some hummus. Have I mentioned how much I love the food here?

Darn Tootin' · Resorting to Violins · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 778: Instrumental

I was about to write this post, and then realized that I hadn’t told Mr. December yet; and a blog post is NOT the way for him to find out. Wait right here—I’ll be back in a moment.


He has now been told: we’re taking the instruments to Israel. Guitar, flute, viola. Possibly a roll-up keyboard.

Mr. December’s reaction just now was a very put-upon, “Really?” to which K loudly expounded on the difficulty of not being able to practice consistently. Yes, you read that correctly. My kid was complaining about not practicing her instrument enough. Will wonders never cease?

Long story short, Mr. December got outvoted. As I pointed out to him, if he wants to actually try worldschooling with slow travel (living in one place) for extended periods of time, he’ll have to accept that the musical instruments come with us.

We brought R’s guitar to Costa Rica and Galapagos with us, and were allowed to bring it into the cabin and put it in the overhead bin. K’s viola won’t take up much more space than that—although come to think of it, I should go measure my viola case (it’s nicer than K’s and probably better padded, too.) E’s flute is obviously no problem—she’s brought it on all our trips. And N…

Look, it kind of sucks to be a pianist sometimes. You have to rely on an instrument being provided for you, and then it might not even be well-tuned. I made an executive decision to try one of those roll-up keyboards to see if it might suffice for N’s piano practice while we’re away. I’m not expecting it to be amazing or just like a piano; I simply want him to be able to practice the notes and fingerings when we’re gone for long stretches of time.

Have I even begun packing yet? No. But our flight is still 72 hours away. Plenty of time, right?

Darn Tootin' · Kids · Montessori · parenting

Day 775: I want her back.

Remember last year, when we bought E her first flute? She played it constantly; every free moment, she’d run back into the library (also our music room) to play another little song. Whenever someone came over, she would haul her music stand out to the living room and play one song after another. She was so proud of herself. And I was so proud, but mostly in awe of how happy and excited she was about playing her instrument.

Pic of a 7-year-old with long hair playing a small black flute. The flute has a fuzzy toque on its head end.

That was last spring. As we approached the new school year I decided to find her a teacher, and I did: a wonderful teacher who specializes in flute lessons for very young children. She was amazing—she was cheerful, engaging, and she even sent little “flute mail” packages to E a couple of times, once with a variety of straws and blow toys, the other time a little toque for her flute with instructions for how to make another one.

I thought E would blossom and flourish with this new teacher’s help, but the opposite began to happen. E would refuse to practice between lessons; then she began to object vocally to even having lessons. Her teacher tried to engage E with new games and fun videos of giant flutes. Nothing worked. E stopped playing her flute in her spare time, and she refused to engage in her lessons. Her love of playing music wilted before our eyes.

Congratulations, I told myself sarcastically, you’ve managed to kill her passion for the flute. Well done.

I had the best of intentions when I hired our flute teacher: I wanted E to keep on playing and to gain skills and confidence. Our culture tells us that to learn an instrument, we must have a teacher—so I found one. But would E really not have continued to develop her musicianship if left to her own (joyful) devices?

That question is moot, since she certainly hasn’t developed or improved her musicianship since she started lessons in September. If anything, she’s taken a step backwards, swapping eagerness for resistance.

I’m reminded of the time we moved our kids from the Montessori school we all loved because I wanted my kids to be learning more Hebrew than Montessori could provide. Within a few months, N had gone from the child who burst out of his classroom yelling, “Today was AMAZING!” to the kid who would answer my question about his school day with three words: “It was bad.” We killed his love of school. I’m still not sure whether it has recovered.

Since that disastrous decision, we’ve established that it’s a very bad idea to take a kid out of a learning situation where they’re happy and enthusiastic, in order to satisfy our own concerns about content and rigour. And yet, I did it again with E and her flute.

So I’m cancelling flute lessons. We might start them again one day, when E is ready and willing. Until then I’ll back off, provide songbooks and support, and hope like crazy that my excited little flautist comes back.

Darn Tootin' · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Montessori · parenting · waxing philosophical

Day 657: Don’t Fight It

“The kids begged me for more algebra sheets.”

Eyebrows raised, I just looked at Mr. December.

“Sorry, honey. I know I said you could have the morning for your subjects after a quick math drill… but they begged me. Seriously.”


“Eema,” E said earnestly, “Can I forget about my other work and just finish my cursive writing book? There are only fourteen pages left and I think I can do it!”

Of course I said yes. Why wouldn’t I?


Remember when I bought some highly structured curricula and decided we’d follow those lesson plans? Well, we’ve ditched the older kids’ history curriculum and I’m picking and choosing from the biology curriculum. Most importantly, I’m not fighting about schoolwork. I have some firm boundaries—the subjects aren’t optional, but how and when we do them is open for negotiation.

Take E, for example. She worked intently on her cursive writing for two hours this morning. I could have told her “let’s stop here and do something else,” but why would I do that? When a child is motivated and focused, why on earth would I go and break that focus? To enforce some abstract ideal of “balanced” subjects? Or to assert my power by imposing the schedule that I gave them on Monday?

It’s definitely easy to be flexible when the child is eager to learn and work on an area that interests them; less so when the child doesn’t want to do any work at all. Yesterday N didn’t do his writing or his Hebrew, and today he was still reluctant to do the assignments I’d given him. We compromised: he wrote about a topic of his choice, in the structure of my choice. I’ve decided to go for quantity over quality with him, on the theory that he needs to be able to get his ideas down on paper quickly; editing can be done later and with the assistance of someone else.

I’m also trying to remember the purpose behind the assignments I give. The writing assignment I originally gave all three big kids was to take a picture from our trip and write about it. Part of my goal with that assignment was for them to recall things they saw and learned during our travels. I think with N that’s not so essential, not because he doesn’t need to remember what we learned, but because I’m certain he already does. The kid soaks in everything and makes connections to what he already knows. Why should I belabour the point?

R’s writing assignment evolved differently, too: she’s writing a fictional story based on a series of photos from our volcano hike. I agreed to this on two grounds—first, that she’s in Grade Five and maybe doesn’t need to spend quite so much time on essay-writing; and second, that she’s a strong writer who really wants to hone her craft. Why fight her natural inclination?

I feel validated by this week’s experience with K and viola practice. Since Monday, she has worked diligently every day to learn a new piece. She does scales and practices trouble spots ten times in a row, all without complaint—in fact, she was eager to do it. I tried forcing her to practice for years. Years. Is her diligent practice now a result of my dogged persistence? No. No way. She’s practicing because she wants to play viola better.

That’s why I’m not being especially forceful with E and her flute practice. I’m not letting her give up flute, but I’m also not insisting on serious practice right now. It’s not worth the fight; when she’s a bit more mature and wants to play better, we won’t have to fight about it anyway. Right now my goal is to keep her immersed in music, have instruments available to explore, and try to keep it light and enjoyable. If she’s naturally drawn to it (I personally think she is,) she’ll play music no matter what I do.

This all feels very Montessori. Long periods where the child can do work of their choice? Check. Having all the resources available, introducing the child to the work and then allowing them to do it in their own time? Check. Stepping back and watching the child’s innate drive to learn? Check.

A happier homeschool environment and a more relaxed mom? Check and check.

Darn Tootin' · Homeschool · Resorting to Violins · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 530: First Day Back

We began our school day with a back-to-school assembly. Our principal, Mr. December, welcomed everyone back and gave a special welcome to E, who is beginning grade one and is now a full-time student at our homeschool. As part of the welcoming tradition, E had to run around the room getting high fives from everyone. It was adorable and she was so excited.

Of course, no assembly is complete without the school song. I wrote this one to the tune of Safety Dance by Men Without Hats.

We wear pants at our homeschool
we don’t show our bare behinds
but when we say “bare” our mascot gets scared so
we’ll just say “behinds”

We can learn what we want to
just as long as we’re wearing pants
because as you might know it’s our school motto:
Wearing pants leads to excellence.

Put on pants, put on pants
Everybody’s waiting for you
Put on pants, put on pants
It’s the smart thing to do.
Put on pants, put on pants
Even if they show off your shins
Put on pants, put on pants,
That’s how excellence begins!

Oh, we wear pants!
Excellence!
Oh, we wear pants!
Excellence!

I am proud to say, by the way, that 100% of our student body was wearing pants today, as were all staff.


I can’t speak for E, but I had a lot of fun in Grade One today. In only two hours we were able to cover science (criteria for life,) reading (phonics program and storytime,) handwriting, math, and Hebrew. Oh, and grammar. The only thing we didn’t do was flute, but I’m inclined to let that slide for today because she practices every day without being told.

In fact, we had a trial lesson with a flute teacher yesterday. E’s excitement is so endearing—she played a few songs for her teacher and tried everything the teacher showed her. Her lessons begin in earnest a week from Friday; in the meantime I’ve gotten her a subscription to Little Flute Magazine, which contains a recipe for flute-shaped cookies, some fun puzzles, and other flute-related content. Anything to keep up the excitement, right?

I haven’t had the same kind of luck finding a viola teacher for K. One teacher had no space in her schedule; the next only works out of her own studio and we’re committed to finding teachers who will come to us—or at least teach online—so that’s not going to work. I’ll keep looking, all the while hoping that K doesn’t lose the excitement for viola that she gained at camp.

Darn Tootin' · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids · Resorting to Violins

Day 440: 440

Ah, 440.

More accurately, A440. It’s the pitch to which orchestral instruments are tuned—unless you’re one of those weird European orchestras that prefers A438. You’d think a difference of two Hertz wouldn’t make much of a difference, but apparently it causes some consternation for trans-atlantic orchestral collaboration.

Closer to home, we’re working on our latest musical collaboration—the arrangement of Ode to Joy that I was working on back in April. We’ve gotten to the point where fifty percent of us know our parts quite well, roughly 16 percent are just sight-reading their way through it, and the remaining thirty-one percent aren’t really comfortable with their parts yet.

I started working with everyone on their parts in late April. E took to it immediately and was playing all 32 bars of her part within the week. N took a bit longer, rhythmically-challenged as he sometimes is, but he gradually got up to speed. R is still working on her chord changes; to be fair, she is learning a new instrument, whereas N has been learning piano for four years.

And K… well, we had some…unpleasantness…early on. I had written the viola part to be a bit more interesting than just a string of quarter notes; she objected strenuously. The first roadblock was the dotted quarter note at the end of the fourth bar. She didn’t get it. I explained. Then she explained to me why it was a stupid way to notate a beat and a half. Volubly, and at length. Then she refused to practice it anymore.

(Yes, I pointed out to her that she was arguing about musical notation to someone who has a university degree in music. She was unmoved.)

Words were exchanged—many words—about the possibility of me just writing an easier part for her. To put it mildly, she was not in favour. I did it anyway. No “weird” rhythms, nothing too crazy.

Today she sight-read it fairly easily, and we practiced together for half an hour (which in and of itself is a minor miracle.) Then we called in the rest of the kids and tried the piece all together.

It was… not terrible. As you may know, amateur music groups can sound rather awful; we sounded unpracticed, very rough around the edges, but not bad—especially not for a first run-through.

At this time yesterday I was feeling less than positive about K’s progress in music this year. Tonight I’m feeling a lot more hopeful. As long as the part is mainly quarter and half notes—and let’s face it, many viola parts are—she can sight read it with little trouble. Maybe once she can sight read a little better she’ll be able to develop a solo repertoire. For now she’s happy playing music with other people… as long as she approves of her part. But that’s a fight for another day.

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.

community · crafty · Darn Tootin' · Fibro Flares · gardening · Homeschool

Day 396: Worth it.

Today was one of those full days that ends with a feeling of great satisfaction. Unfortunately, the fullness of the day has also left me with a feeling of significant pain; still, I feel like I made the right choices.

I can barely believe how much E has been practicing her flute. Anytime nobody else is in the library (which is also our music room,) she’s in there with her music on the stand and her flute at her lips. Her work really shows: she’s sounding better and better every day. Now I just have to teach her about eighth notes.

When I finally got my hands on the three older kids—which is getting to be later and later each day as Mr. December gets carried away with whatever he’s teaching them—I sat them down and assigned them some substantial writing, which they immediately started brainstorming for. Later we had art class, where we once again tried to make pottery in the style of Ancient Greece.

Last week I taught the kids the coil method for making a pot. This week I took a slab-building approach, using balloons as our moulds. It wasn’t particularly successful, and only N’s pot was still standing by the end of the hour. Mine looked beautiful, but I tried to smooth “just one more lump” and… POP. With the balloon gone, my whole pot collapsed in on itself.

Around 5:00 we all went to the park. I was there on a mission: the apricot trees in the community orchard are already in bloom, but tonight’s snow and freezing temperatures threatened to kill all the blossoms and any fruit they might bear this summer. An email went out this morning asking for volunteers to bring tarps, plastic bags, and tie-downs and help cover the trees. That’s why we found ourselves in the park, tying multiple tarps together and then raising them over the trees—like a giant chuppah—before tying them down. The best part was that, once again, my kids were doing useful work to benefit the community they live in. There’s no substitute for that experience.

After dinner we started watching Animal Farm (the 1954 animated film, not the 1999 live-action one.) The kids were riveted. Our next step will be a read-aloud of the book, as part of our literature studies.

And then it was bedtime. I could hardly believe that it was 8:30 already. Where did the day go? Oh, yeah… we did stuff today. Lots and lots of stuff.

I definitely overdid it today. And yet I did it knowingly; sometimes I need to feel normal and functional (especially if I’m not) more than I need to be pain-free. Besides, these past six (or seven?) weeks have taught me that resting won’t guarantee me a pain-free day anyhow, so I might as well do at least some of the things I enjoy.

Now… if anyone needs me, I’ll be in my bed with a heating pad and my banana popsicles for the next day or two.

Image description: three tarps are spread out on the ground, tied together with twist ties and zip ties. A child is squatting near the far corner of the tarp, tying it to a pole. Grass in background.
Darn Tootin' · DIY · family fun · Homeschool · Resorting to Violins

Day 395: Finally, the Payoff

Yesterday I used my Music Therapy degree for the first time in what feels like ages.

I painstakingly transcribed the main theme of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (aka Ode to Joy) using some musical notation software. Then I listened over and over again to the original orchestral piece, stopping every few bars, humming, transcribing the parts to solfege, and then notating them in C major, the only key in which E can play her flute.

It brought back memories of a fourth-year assignment we had in one of our Music Therapy classes: to take a piece of orchestral music and arrange it for a hypothetical group of clients, using common music therapy instruments. I chose Also Sprach Zarathustra (a.k.a. the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey) and arranged it for three reed horns, metallophone, bass drum, and piano.

This time I’m arranging a piece for my family to play; the kids all seem to enjoy playing music together and it teaches them how to listen and respond to each other, so I’ve made it my goal to do some ensemble work with them. Several hours spent on a musical arrangement seems excessive—but then again, how else will I be able to get an arrangement for flute, clarinet, guitar, viola, and piano? And if I could find such a thing, I highly doubt that the parts would be perfectly matched to the kids’ disparate levels.

No, this was definitely a job I had to do myself. Finally, all those years of musical dictation and transposition have paid off!

Darn Tootin' · family fun · Fibro Flares · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Resorting to Violins · whine and cheese

Day 383: Doin’ it with flare

How does one homeschool their kids in the middle of a fibromyalgia flare-up? It turns out that the answer is: as little as possible, as honestly as possible, in as much comfort as possible.

It was a gorgeous day today, so I pushed all of us out the door and to the nearest park. We did our workout on the playground equipment. At one point N got lazy and started lolling around on the climber instead of doing the exercise. I set him straight: “Listen, mister. If I can do it today, then you sure as heck can do it too. Get moving.”

I find one of the most difficult things about fibromyalgia is gauging how hard I can push myself. Exercising during a flare-up doesn’t do any damage to my body; it just hurts. So I guess the question is how much pain I feel like tolerating, given the expected payoff. Going to the park with the family improved my mood substantially, but it didn’t help my pain level at all.

Mr. December worked on chemistry and math with the older kids while I helped E with her writing, reading, and flute (which is going really well, by the way.) The rest of my morning was spent ordering groceries on Instacart and sitting in a hammock alternately reading and spacing out.

The kids joined me in the living room to discuss their next writing assignment. I stayed cocooned in my hammock with my furry blue blanket and patiently answered all their questions. Then I went upstairs to lie down for an hour. I have no idea what the kids ate for lunch, but I think it’s safe to assume that if they were hungry they would have eaten something.

We reconvened in the living room after my nap and I read aloud about Ancient Greek democracy. Then, for art, I asked them to bring over all the sketchbooks and markers and introduced them to meandros, those Greek key designs that you can draw without lifting your pen (did you know the word meander comes from the name of a river in Asia Minor? I was today years old when I learned that.)

By 2:30 I was done. I went to the back porch and cocooned myself in the outdoor hammock for a bit of a change. Groceries arrived around 4:00 and I dispatched my child labour force to bring everything in and put the perishables away. Dinner—rotisserie chicken and potato wedges from the supermarket—was at 5:00 and by 5:30 the kids were clamoring for more screen time.

“Not until you’ve practiced your instruments,” I stared levelly at R and K, “You haven’t done that for a week or so.”

I’m proud (and a bit surprised) to say that both R and K went off and practiced on their own. After a while K invited me to join her on the back porch for her practice; shockingly, she was very receptive to my suggestions and did some really good work.

And now here we are, after an hour of British reality TV about kids of varying backgrounds having playdates at each other’s homes (E loves this show,) and I’m about to tuck in three of the four kids.

Everything still hurts, possibly more than this morning. But I did it—I managed to preside over some learning, music practice, and dinner, which feels like a massive accomplishment right now. I think a warm bath and a cup of tea is what’s needed now, and then maybe if I get lucky somebody will tuck me in.