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!
blogging · education · Fibro Flares · Homeschool · Kids

Day 398: Writers Craft

If there’s one thing I learned in my OAC (grade 13) year, it’s that nobody wants to hear about your pain. When I wrote yet another angst-ridden piece about the pain in my hands and the feelings of uselessness and hopelessness it prompted, one guy in my Writer’s Craft class said, “Yeah, we get it. Her hands hurt. Can we please move on now?”

Ouch. I mean, I get it: we were all teenagers, which is a nicer way of saying that we were walking egos with relatively low impulse control. But it still stung a little.

Don’t worry: I got him back inadvertently. On my laptop—which I used for note-taking, since it hurt too much to write—I had installed a program called Cartman Speaks, which would play a sound clip from South Park every few minutes or randomly, depending on the setting. I didn’t realize it was open and set to “random,” and one day when that guy was spouting off about something else, we all suddenly heard Eric Cartman’s voice saying, “Oh, would you shut the f*** up? Nobody gives a rat’s a** what you think!”

Sweet, inadvertent revenge.

Anyhooo… the moral of this story is… um… I forget. But the point is… well, I forget that too.

Oh, right, nobody really wants to hear about one’s pain. Which is too bad for you, if you’re reading this, because my blogging habit was born out of pain.

Once again, I digress.

Yes, fibro flare is still here. I did some exercise (don’t want to be deconditioned and in pain) and spent a lot of time in bed. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

The thing I really wanted to mention today was that K produced what is undoubtedly her best piece of writing, and I’m so thrilled for her. This kid used to scream about having to write anything; but when I gave her this assignment she went to the library and wrote it—painstakingly, by hand—without complaint. Today we had a writers’ meeting (it’s how I imagine writers sitting around in a conference room pitching their stories, except my writers drink hot chocolate instead of coffee) and she asked me to read her piece out loud to everyone. I did.

And when I put it down, all I could say was “…Wow.”

And then she explained to everyone how she didn’t want to keep mentioning the rain, but she wanted the wetness to be felt by the reader, which is why she described shoes as “waterlogged.” She made many other excellent word choices; if it hadn’t been for her messy handwriting, spelling errors, and hit-and-miss punctuation, I could have believed it to be the product of something like my OAC Writers’ Craft class.

Now when she says “I can’t write! I suck at it!” I can wave this piece in her face and say, “You can. Here’s the proof.”

education · Homeschool · Kids · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 393: A Sisyphean Task.*

*If you don’t know what this idiom means, you can find a definition here

I made my children cry this week.

It was about their homeschool assignments, which I thought were both interesting and completely age-appropriate: E had to do one page of two-digit addition drills, while the older three had an assignment of my own device.

They were working on a language arts unit about metaphors, similes, analogies, and allusions; so I gave them a page of sentences that contained allusions to Ancient Greece (the subject of our current unit study) and instructed them to identify the allusion, briefly explain the background story, and rewrite the sentence with no allusion so as to maintain its meaning.

Here’s an example:

She definitely has the Midas touch.

First I would have expected the kids to figure out that Midas touch was the allusion. Next they needed to get online and google “midas touch” or “midas touch ancient greece” or even “what is midas touch an allusion to?” and write a sentence that said something like It’s alluding to King Midas: everything he touched turned to gold. And finally, I would have wanted to see them rewrite the sentence to say Everything she does is a success.

(We won’t go into the fact that Midas’s golden touch ended up being a curse, not a blessing. Any English-language allusions to it conveniently ignore the end of that story.)

I thought it was a neat assignment; so did Mr. December and my mom. The kids thought it was too hard. Oddly enough, the web searches were the most difficult part for them. They seemed to be completely lost when it came to finding the information.

I was baffled. Aren’t they the internet generation? When I was their age I was using card catalogues and encyclopedias to find information. When I got to university we had online indices but the search terms had to be maddeningly specific. Nowadays you can type in a question in colloquial English, misspell half the words, and Google will still give you relevant results. How hard is it, really?

I stuck to my guns as they railed against the injustice of the assignment. K groused, “Nobody says this! You never hear people walking down the street going, ‘Yeah, man, that was a sisyphean task!’

“I certainly hope you don’t think my goal for you is to be able to speak and write English like the average person on the street,” I sniffed haughtily.

She was not amused.

The next day the kids were still not happy with the assignment, but tears had given way to resignation. R asked me to help her sift through the search results; N went and worked on his own; K finally admitted, “I did it, but not really. I guess I’ll go do it again.” I was pleasantly surprised.

What have we learned here? I hope the kids have learned that they can type a question in plain English into the search bar and get reasonably close results; that sometimes you have to refine your search terms a few times; and that Google’s “People also ask” feature can be very helpful in finding the answer you’re looking for. As for me, I’ve learned that our kids can and do respond well to challenging work and high academic standards.

But man, some days educating these kids feels like a sisyphean task.

crafty · education · family fun · Homeschool

Day 378: Intermission

I have been to many live performances—most of them when I was in high school and university—and only once did I take intermission as my opportunity to escape the theatre. In my defense, it was a Handel opera: those things were written to be performed at a party where people can move around and chat with each other, not in a theatre where everyone is watching the stage the entire time. There was only so much D.C. al Fine this vocal major could take.

My kids have never before seen a movie that has an intermission. I’d kind of forgotten those existed. But tonight we continued watching The Sound of Music and paused it when the scene faded to black and Intermission was scrawled across the screen in script.

This week has felt like an intermission of sorts, and not just because it’s a break between the last school term and the next. Just like at a real intermission at a theatre or opera house there’s not really much to do; everyone is just milling around, eating, drinking, and waiting to get back to the main attraction.

Anyhow, I’m gearing up for the next term of homeschooling by doing such practical things as daydreaming about owning a pottery wheel. I’d be happy to take the kids to the art studio down the street and pay to do our pottery there, but an hour and a half from now Ontario will have entered a new “lockdown” and studios and gyms will have no hope of opening anytime in the next month. If we want to do anything cool we’ll have to do it ourselves, right here at home, just like we have for over a year now. There’s truly nothing new under the sun.

education · family fun · Homeschool · Kids · lists

Day 361: Don’t tell them, OK?

This is how we’ve spent our last couple of evenings:

  • Puzzles and brain teasers. I ordered an escape-room-type game from Finders Seekers. We cracked it open to find ten different puzzles, from algebra to ciphers to logic. The kids loved it. So did I, but Mr. December kept urging me to step back and let the kids solve the puzzles.
  • Reading about biology. Last night I sat down on the couch to look through It’s Not the Stork before reading it to the kids. The cartoon characters got E’s attention, and soon I had three eager children leaning over me, hanging on every word I read about anatomy and reproduction. Afterward N peppered me with questions all the way up to bed.
  • Watching documentaries. This was the only thing that required some… firmness… to get the kids to join. We’re watching What Darwin Never Knew. Once we started watching the kids were really into it.
  • Playing games. Tonight we tried a new game called Idiom Addict. You have to guess the English idiom from a phrase made up of its synonyms. Like, “You are howling vertically beneath the incorrect evergreen” would be “You’re barking up the wrong tree.” Word games are totally my thing; tonight I was gratified to learn that they appeal to N and K as well. The amount of new vocabulary they heard tonight was huge.

So despite my kids’ infuriating habit of watching the clock every afternoon waiting for “school time” to end, they’ve just spent two evenings learning math and logic, health, science, and English. And that was in addition to the work they did during “school.” I love that the line between “school” and “home life” keeps getting blurrier; the more muddled the distinction, the more time the kids actually spend learning (and the less time they spend eyeing us suspiciously and asking, “Wait a minute, does this count as school?”). Just… please, don’t tell them they’ve been learning outside of school hours. OK?

DIY · education · family fun · Homeschool · Kids

Day 355: There are forts and there are Forts.

In case you missed it, the weather was gorgeous this morning. The sun was shining and the temperature was above zero, which in my children’s eyes is a license to play outside with no jacket. It was the nicest day we’ve had so far, I think.

Mr. December started the school day with chemistry class and then sent the kids out for a mid-morning break. After fifteen minutes of break he looked outside and said, “It feels pretty mean to make them come inside when they’re playing outside and really enjoying themselves.”

“So don’t make them come inside,” I said.

“Ah, the joys of homeschooling!” he enthused.

It was that kind of day. Formal school ended at 10:30 and never reconvened. N was busy working on a jigsaw puzzle of the Periodic Table of the Elements, E was playing a memory game involving the Hebrew alphabet, and R was doing some online geography quizzes and practicing her touch-typing. It seemed pretty educational, so I let them be.

After lunch they started building a Fort. I capitalized it because there are “forts” and then there are “Forts.” This one is the latter. It takes up most of my living room and is a marvel of engineering and design. Each kid has their own little den with a separate entrance. Best of all, they built it so that I can still sit on the couch—so nice of them to remember (I’ve certainly complained about their couch-swallowing forts enough times.)

Fort construction took a couple of hours during which they had to forage for materials and make sure to share the structural elements equitably. I heard negotiation and problem-solving. Mr. December came up from his office, listened a while, and pronounced today to be the quintessential homeschooling day. Very few lessons, but lots of learning. I could get used to this.

education · family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real · Kids · lists

Day 341: How is it Wednesday Already?

(Although R, standing behind me and reading over my shoulder, wants to know how it’s not Thursday yet. Obviously we experience time very differently.)

I feel like the week totally got away from me. I was chatting with Mum tonight about how I wanted to send my brother a package for Purim tomorrow “…so even if it takes two days it’ll get there by Friday… wait, what? Tomorrow is Thursday?”

Yesterday and today my lesson plans went mostly unappreciated, although the let’s-find-countries-on-the-world-map exercise was sorely needed. I’d say something like, “Korea. Anybody know where it is? … I guess not. It’s a little peninsula off the south-east corner of China.”

“Where’s China?” said one kid who shall remain nameless.

“Really? Where’s China?” I blinked a few times and schooled my features. “Does anybody know what continent China is on?”


I know that my kids weren’t the most attentive at school, but shouldn’t they know where China is by the time fifth grade rolls around? Do schools not teach geography anymore?

No matter, we’ll cover it eventually.

Purim starts tomorrow night, so I’m working on mishloach manot (although we don’t deliver them until Friday.) I’m also trying to figure out how to make Friday feel fun and festive for the kids. Here are all my brainstorms so far:

  • Gameschooling day
  • Watch funny history videos
  • Mad Libs (they’re fun, and they get to practice parts of speech!)
  • Torah Mad Libs. (Although I don’t see how it could get much weirder than some of the stuff from the middle of Vayikra (Leviticus.)
  • Giant bowling: the kids have to hurl an exercise ball down the length of the attic and knock over life-size silhouettes of the six of us.
  • Dance party
  • More charades. They did beg for more at last week’s party, didn’t they?
  • Karaoke again. It never gets old.
  • Drive around delivering mishloach manot while blasting music with funny lyrics.
  • “Just Like Mom,” Purim edition: each kid has to make a few hamentaschen with stuff we have in the house, then Mr. December and I taste them and guess who made what.

(As an aside, I don’t even really like hamentaschen that much. But E says we must make at least a few, so I guess we will.)

That’s all I’ve got so far. Maybe I’ll give the list to K and let her run with it. She loves making things happen (although planning is another story.)

Oh yes, and an update on my dress: I’ve decided to keep it. I’ll take it in only slightly, after which I’ll put it on and strut around the house with my hands in the pockets for the next several weeks.

education · family fun · Fibro Flares · Homeschool · what's cookin'

Day 335: What passes for school these days

Yesterday morning Mr. December stepped back from teaching in order to focus on his corporate job, giving me the entire day to teach whatever I wanted to. I assigned some writing and then went to work with K on her viola. One thing led to the next, as you read yesterday, until all four kids and I were rehearsing a quintet of “Long Long Ago.”

After an hour of rehearsal, I declared it time to go outside. We had a layer of fresh snow and bright sunshine—a rare treat in February—so we spent almost an hour at the toboggan hill, descending into the inevitable snowball fight before coming home.

After lunch I herded the kids to the computer to watch videos about the Japanese artist Hokusai, and then downstairs to the Makery to try our hand at printmaking. We tried our best, but the results were not great. Still, the kids thought it was fun. Then suddenly it was 3:15 and my clock-watching students ran off to play Roblox with their friends.

I got going with our bread unit this morning. Every child now has a B.O.B. (Book of Bread) where they’ll record recipes, observations, and improvements for next time. We talked a bit about the science behind the perfect baguette, and the criteria of flavour, crumb, crust, and appearance. Then the kids learned all about bakers’ percentages… and had to calculate the percentages for our first recipe, which they did without complaint.

So often I feel like I spend a day teaching the kids and have almost nothing to show for it; tonight I had the great pleasure of seeing tangible results in two subjects. First, of course, was the bread. We evaluated and taste-tested (and polished off) our three baguettes. The kids took notes in their B.O.B.s, noting that the slashes weren’t deep enough, the crumb was random and light enough to see the light shining through our baguette (but it could still be better,) the crust needed to be crustier, and the flavour was excellent. We talked a bit about what we need to change for next time… but any fresh bread tastes amazing, no matter how amateurish.

Tonight I asked the kids if they wanted to perform a concert for Mr. December. The buy-in was unanimous. We spent almost an hour rehearsing in the library, and I saw some beautiful things happening, like K reassuring R and pulling her out for a private rehearsal when R wanted to quit.

N and I performed a viola and piano duet of Schumann’s The Happy Farmer. K and I performed a viola duet based on Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Then came the finale: a quintet of T.H. Bayly’s Long Long Ago, arranged for two violas, piano, guitar and Toot. Mr. December gave us a standing ovation (I don’t think our performance justified it, but the kids seemed to like it.) He also took pictures:

And now, after two days of activity, my body is sore and begging me for sleep. I regret nothing, though. We did no history, grammar, or literature, and minimal writing; somehow, there was plenty of learning anyway.

Darn Tootin' · education · family fun · Kids · Resorting to Violins

Day 334: Darn Tootin’

“Now that you’re six,” I told E, “it’s time for you to really learn an instrument. Is there something you’d really like to learn?”

“Drums!” she shouted.

“No way.” Mr. December and I said at the same time. “Pick something else.”

Here I’ll interrupt the narrative to explain that E started learning violin pretty much from birth. She had her own solid wood violin to hold and play while her siblings practiced. She was just starting to play a real violin—and to complain about practicing—when I got my concussion. We shelved violin lessons after that and picked them up again in September 2019. I don’t think I have to tell you why the lessons stopped in March 2020. Anyhow, E’s been dead set against violin lessons since then.

I play six instruments, three of them reasonably well (guess which ones!): Voice (my major through high school and university,) guitar, piano, viola, violin and flute. I know from personal experience that people can feel very drawn to one instrument and thoroughly hate playing another; I hated piano lessons for the ten years I took them, but was immediately drawn to the violin and viola, which I could practice all day if my hands didn’t protest. That’s why I decided to give E a choice of instruments instead of forcing her to continue with violin. And now, back to the story.

“Oh, I know!” her face lit up, “flute! I love flute! I play it at Savta’s pool!” (She was talking about those bath toys that you fill with water to change the pitch. In case you didn’t know, it doesn’t matter how much water you put in. Invariably a small child will blow as hard as possible, which will always result in a loud screeching sound.)

“Okay,” I said, “I’ll see what we can do about getting you started on flute.” At that, E went into raptures.

I found an instrument designed for small kids as an introductory flute. It’s called a Toot, and after reading all the reviews and advertising copy, I decided to buy it along with the introductory music book. E got to choose her colour (black with blue keys). She was thrilled.

The following week I said, “I can’t wait til your flute arrives!”

“I don’t wanna play flute!” E declared crossly. “I HATE THE FLUTE!”

This is where I started channeling my inner 1950’s parent: “You’re going to learn flute, and you’re going to learn to like it, because I already ordered it, and paid for it, and it’s on its way to our house!”

The flute arrived yesterday. The moment I placed the package in E’s hand, she was excited. We took out the Toot and I showed her how to hold it and how to play the first three notes. She got it very quickly and started reading the songs in the book (graphic notation, not the type of sheet music you might be picturing.)

“I love this! I’m so good at it! Listen, everybody!”

All I wanted was to spent ten or fifteen minutes with the instrument and then put it away for another day, but E insisted on practicing for another half hour. This morning when I sat at the table to drink my coffee, I could hear E’s practice wafting in from the library.

Later in the morning I was working with K on some viola duets when N wandered in. We invited him to accompany us with a simple drone on the piano. E was next through the door, and she was very excited to be able to join us on her Toot.

It’s early days yet, and I’m sure she’ll resist practicing as soon as it gets difficult, but this week I’m just going to bask in the excited glow of a six-year-old falling in love with her first flute.

education · Homeschool · snarky · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 333: Emails I Don’t Miss

I definitely don’t miss the plethora of emails we used to get from the kids’ schools… but I do miss the comic relief they provided. Here’s a look at some of the emails we haven’t received since our children left the school system.

Hello parents!
Just a quick reminder that tomorrow is school colours day!
(We told you about this special event three weeks ago by burying a one-sentence description somewhere in our weekly newsletter. You read those, don’t you?)
The students have been assigned one of our four school colours based on the first letter of their neighbour’s dog’s walker’s name. Students should come dressed in their assigned colour. Don’t worry if you don’t have the right colours for your child to wear—we’ll supply them with a cheap paper streamer to tie around their upper arm so that everyone knows what team they belong to… for about five minutes, until the streamer rips and falls off.
We can’t wait to share our photos of the day with you so you can see how uncoordinated most of the kids look when running the obstacle course. That ought to make you feel better about your own child’s athletic prowess (or lack thereof.)
The assigned colours are as follows:
A-F: Periwinkle
G-L: Turquoise
M-R: Ultramarine
S-Z: Sapphire
As always, thanks for supporting our zany endeavours to make the kids think school is as much fun as summer camp!

Dear parents,
Lice has been detected in your child’s grade. Due to confidentiality issues we can’t share the name of the affected family, but your children will undoubtedly tell you that it was Joey. Again. Please refrain from giving his parents the stink-eye in the parking lot.
We’d like to take this opportunity to recommend that you purchase either a fine-tooth comb and a Netflix subscription (all that combing takes a long time,) or else an annual membership package with Lice Squad or a similar lice-removal company.

Hi Mrs. December,
I just wanted to touch base with you because N hasn’t handed in any of his homework since September 15. I tried informing you through the “notes” section in his agenda book, which I’m sure he showed you even though that probably would have resulted in negative consequences for him. Since it is now February 15 and you have yet to respond to those notes, I thought it might be time to e-mail you instead.
Despite what the empirical evidence clearly indicates, worksheet-based homework is an essential element of any successful education. I’m sure that if you simply tell N you expect his homework to be done to a high standard we’ll see a complete turnaround in his work habits, so would you please talk to him?
Thanks for your support,
A. Teacher

This email is to notify you that your child has been late 18.0 times this month. As per section 42.b.(i) of the parent handbook, punctuality is of the utmost importance, as late arrivals disrupt the focus of the other children who are already well into their silent reading period, and of their teacher who is hurriedly trying to complete his lesson plans for the day.
Please remember that class starts at 8:30 a.m. Starting at 8:25 we will begin directing students to the office for late slips, since there is no way they’d be able to make it to class on time (what with having to wait in line for late slips and all.)
We appreciate your support in developing responsibility in our students, who of course are the ones in charge of the whole family’s timely egress from your house in the morning.

Hello Parents,
This email is a reminder that tomorrow is Standardized Test Day at school. Since our funding hinges on our students’ scores, we implore you to put your children to bed early tonight and to actually feed them a nutritious breakfast in the morning instead of throwing a Pop Tart at their head as they walk out the door.
We also ask that you remind your child that standardized tests only measure a small segment of their knowledge and skills. Children are so much more than their standardized test scores or report cards—they can also be used for unpaid manual labour! Students should never be distressed to the point of anxiety attacks about these tests. If they are experiencing severe anxiety, it’s probably because you’re an overbearing Tiger Mom.
We thank you for your support and look forward to our students showing us their superior test-taking skills what they know.
Your Principal.

Dear Parent,
Your Grade Seven student has requested the privilege of reading books that are written for Grade Eight and up. In order to protect your child from any material you may deem inappropriate, we require your written permission for your child to read above their grade level.
Thank you for helping us give bland Young Adult novels the allure of banned books!
Literarily Yours,
The School Librarian

Dear Parents,
We are asking for donations of clean, single socks for our class fundraising project. Donations of spare buttons would also be appreciated. Please leave them at the front office, as your children cannot be trusted to not lose them between your car and the classroom door.
Thank you in advance,
The Grade Three teaching team.

Dear Parents,
This Wednesday, the Grade Three students will be selling sock puppets they’ve made to raise funds for a children’s charity. We know that you’ll want to support their charitable endeavour, so please have cash in hand when you arrive for pickup on Wednesday afternoon. Also, please be encouraging to the students who will approach you about buying their puppets—we’ve deliberately given this job to our quietest, shyest students to help them come out of their shell.
If you prefer not to support the third graders’ fundraising efforts, we urge you to re-examine your values and priorities. Only a terrible person would refuse to pay $5 for a sock with buttons sewn on.
All the best,
The Grade Three teaching team.

Dear Parents,
After receiving feedback that the school sends too many emails, we have decided to set up an electronic notification system where you can see all of your school notices on one inconvenient webpage. Within the next two weeks, all school communications will migrate to the new system, which you can then check on a daily basis so you don’t miss anything important. Below please find your new login information.

Your Personal Login: December_9344hq302zo864qt83pmdd87fu
Your High-Security Password: password123

We look forward to bombarding you with messages on this exciting new online platform!
See you in cyberspace!
Your Formerly-Luddite Principal