Always one more thing

I was tucking in my toddler to bed today, and she wanted her giant stuffed penguin. Then she wanted her water. Then she wanted a particular book. It went on and on. Finally I told her I was all done finding things for her, and she started to cry. I played a brief game with her, sort of like peek-a-boo, that got her laughing again. And then it was time for me to leave, and.. she started to scream again.

As I finally left the room, I found myself thinking grumpily, “What more do you want? I got your penguin, your water, you have tons of books, you even have a toy crib inside *your* crib to put your precious penguin to bed in! You have everything you need, but you always want something more!”

This really got me thinking, because it’s the Passover season and all, about God and our demands on him. I can just imagine him looking down on us and saying, “I gave you a house. I gave you a car. I gave you a husband. I gave you kids. And now you’re grumpy because you have too much laundry to do??? You always want something more!” We really are all Israelites in our hearts, aren’t we?

Maybe this Passover and Easter season, we should be saying, “Dayenu!” For those of you who aren’t familiar with Jewish Passover, “Dayenu” is a song of thanks for all the things that God has given us. The song goes something like, “If you had brought us out of Egypt, but not executed judgment against the Egyptians, *it would have been enough*. If you had executed judgment against the Egyptians but not executed judgment against their gods, *it would have been enough*. If you had executed judgment against their gods but not slain their first-born, *it would have been enough*.” And it goes on and on. “It would have been enough” or “it would have sufficed” is “dayenu” in Hebrew.

In other words, God didn’t just perform a single miracle to save us from bondage in Egypt. He performed a whole series of miracles and actions of grace. Any one of those would have been enough, would have shown us that God loved us, would have left us better off than we had been. But he didn’t just perform one, or two. He performed them over and over again, from rescuing us from slavery, parting the Red Sea so that we could cross in safety, giving us the Torah, and leading us to the Land of Israel. We complained and whined every step of the way about all the things that God *wasn’t* doing for us, or wasn’t doing the way we expected Him to. But all the while, we should have been singing, “Dayenu.” “It would have sufficed.”


Common Core math

I’ve been reading a lot lately about Common Core. It’s a big deal, even to homeschoolers, because of how it is changing the face of education in the U.S. I think there are a lot of things wrong with it, and I think educational standards should be left to the states, the “laboratories of democracy,” so that there’s always another state trying something different for us to compare ourselves to.

But this isn’t really about that. This is about all of those little “Common Core math” scans that people put up on news sites and blogs. You know, like this: There are tons, and I can see why the parents complain.

In a lot of cases, I can actually figure out what the question is asking, because we’re doing Singapore math. Common Core math seems to be at least partly based on Asian math techniques, so I recognize some of the techniques that it is attempting to teach.

So, for some of these problems, I think that this math technique *is* a good way to teach students. Parents seem to be choking over concepts as simple as number bonds, but number bonds are a great way for kids to see the relationship between numbers.

However, some of the problems I can’t even figure out what they’re asking. I don’t even think it’s always necessarily the math technique that’s at fault, it’s sort of like… like a language arts teacher was handed an Asian math book and told to adapt it for American schools. The wording is terrible, the construction of the problems is awful. The implementation is just basically all wrong all around.

I think the implementation issue is a big reason why we don’t need to have the federal government taking charge of school curriculum to such a degree (and despite whatever private funding it got here and there, the reason most of the states are doing it is that the federal government wants them to). Bureaucrats are not the best people to make math programs.

But I think there’s a bigger problem that we’re seeing with parents posting pictures of their kids’ math problems and how they can’t understand them… and that’s the fact that parents can’t understand them.

Now, I understand that many parents learned with a different math system, where 15 – 7 was taught by memorization, rather than by recognizing that 15 is made up of 10 and 5, so since you can’t easily subtract 7 from 5, you subtract it from the 10, getting 3, then add that to the 5 to get 8 as your result. But even though parents didn’t learn under these methods, kids are apparently getting sent home with math problems using new math, with the expectation that their parents will help them, but the parents have no way to learn the new math.

I think that, if teachers are going to send home math worksheets for kids to do as homework, and especially if there’s an expectation that parents will help them if they need it, then the teachers need to also send home a packet of information (or a link to a website) that will explain any “new math” terms and concepts that they need to know. I don’t think any parent would need more than a 30-second introduction to the concept of “number bonds” before they’d get the idea of what their child’s homework was asking for. It would be hard to include a complete explanation (especially with examples) on every worksheet, but a website or a packet of information at the beginning of the semester could put the parents on the same page.

I once read a book, I believe it was the biography of Richard Rodriguez, where he talked about his difficulties with English in school. His family spoke Spanish at home, and he was having trouble learning English. His teacher told his parents that they needed to start using English at home, too, so that he could get better at it.

The problem was that his father didn’t speak English very well. So when they switched to English, his father went mostly silent. He no longer led the household, he no longer contributed to the conversation. He became a silent figure in the corner. His influence on his children’s lives was lost to a language barrier.

I think that, if we allow changes to curriculum to separate parents from being able to understand what their children are learning in school, we experience something similar to what Richard’s father did. We end up in a situation where our kids can’t ask us for help. Where our ignorance of how to do first grade math (in the new technique) means, to our students, that we just don’t know how to do things nowadays. That what parents know is out of date, and their teachers are to be trusted for real, modern information.

I think that this attitude is dangerous if it spills over from math into other things. Is it far-fetched to think that, because our children think that we aren’t clever/modern enough to understand math, that we also don’t know what we’re talking about in regards sexual education, or character education? Perhaps the “new” ideas in those, as well, are just not something that we can understand, and so we’re not to be listened to there, either.

I hope that the backlash against Common Core is successful, and the attempt to federalize education (even more than it is already) is dropped. I don’t know if it will be. But even though I homeschool my own kids, so they won’t be learning with it, I fear for the children of this country. I fear that they will get an inferior education through it that will damage our economy even further, as we graduate students who know less and less. And I fear that the Common Core will drive a wedge deeper between children and their parents.

Geography spines for next year

In an attempt to simplify my geography program a bit for use with my next two girls, I’ve been looking at nonfiction geography books that might work for the program. Last time I went through it, I tried to get an easy geography book from the library for each of the countries we spent a few days or more on.

However, this time through, I’d like to use some of those books that have a page or two on each of many countries, and not get all the individual books. Mostly because, with younger kids, I’d rather just read a few pages about each country and not a whole book. Some of the countries may be duplicated in the books, but I’d still rather read a short page spread from one book one day, another book another day, than try to read a full nonfiction book. It will be more repetitious, but that might be a good thing.

Some of the books I’m looking at are:

What the World Eats
Children Around the World
Children from Australia to Zimbabwe
My First Atlas

From last year, I’ll still be using:

Children Just Like Me
A Life Like Mine

I won’t be using “A Child’s Introduction to the World,” because that one is a little too advanced for the kids this time.

My main story spines will be:

Around the World in 80 Tales
Stories from Around the World
Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book
Lion Storyteller Book of Animal Tales
Stories from Africa

I will also be including various individual books from my library and my collection.

I’m thinking to make the schedule one Bible reading and two geography readings per day (one nonfiction and one fiction, where applicable, but sometimes both fiction if that’s what I have). I may also schedule some poetry, we’ll see. I figure that I can keep plenty of picture books on hand, and read one of those as well on days that we want a little more reading. But already sometimes we’re hard-pressed to get all the various readings and lessons done per day, so I don’t want to make it longer than I have to.

Also, with dropping off Native America and the general geography, it’s going to be harder to fill 36 weeks, especially as my current library system isn’t as robust as the other was, and I don’t have all those full nonfiction books to try to fit in.

I’ll be waiting for my newly-ordered books to arrive so I can catalog which countries they cover, then I’ll be getting started.

My other project that I’ll be starting on soon is making a notebooking journal to go with Science in the Beginning, the new book by Jay Wile. I have in mind to do a few simple games/activities for each section, so I think that will be fun to come up with.

New version of geography program for younger children–coming soon! Suggestions appreciated.

I have been contemplating what I want to do with my two middle daughters for next year, for their main curriculum (literature, social studies, etc.). Currently, Jenny is doing Sonlight’s P4/5 and Charlotte is doing P3/4. We’re on week 8 of P4/5, so that puts us on track to finish it somewhere around December. P3/4 isn’t really scheduled, so I’ll just keep going with that until we finish P4/5. Next December, Charlotte will be 4 and Jenny will have just turned 6. I had tentatively thought about doing Core A with Jenny, but I’ve been thinking about combining the two of them into a core together. So my thought is to do my own geography program with them starting when we finish P4/5, and then doing Core A with them together afterwards. That would mean starting Core A maybe around Fall 2015. At that point, Charlotte would be (newly) 5 and Jenny almost 7, the perfect time for doing Core A together, since it’s for ages 5-7.

I think the geography program will be the perfect spacer for them. However, I do need to go through and re-plan some of it, since I found that a lot of the library books I had planned on doing when we lived in our former neighborhood were no longer available once we moved.

Since I have to re-plan everything anyway, I have a few changes in mind as well. The first is to make it for slightly younger kids. It will be all picture books, leaving out the few chapter books that were in it before. I’ll also probably be leaving out the missionary books, or at least only include a few selections from them, because the writing is a little hard and no pictures. I’ll probably still include some of the “Little Lights” series, as those are easier. I’ll also be leaving out the additional nonfiction books on countries that I was getting from the library before. All of these changes will help it to be better for slightly younger kids.

Also, I’m planning to actually do some planning for the length and layout, instead of just putting in all the books on a country I wanted, and then figuring that was how long we would spend on the country. This time around, I want to aim to make it 36 weeks long, and to spend roughly the same amount of time on each continent (I may make it 4-5 weeks each for North American/Australia, because those two continents have fewer separate countries/peoples to cover, and then I’d do 6-7 for the other continents). I’ll probably leave off Native America, and I’ll leave off the “general geography” stuff, or I’ll spread it out throughout the program.

I had a hard time before getting the crafts and science activities done. I had a schedule so that I’d remember to put library books on hold at the right time, but I didn’t do anything comparable to remember to add things to my grocery list, and sometimes collecting all the supplies just made it not worth it. So this time, I’m going to try to collect and bag all of the supplies that I need for each craft or activity.

One last change I want to make is with the passports. I’m still going to use our printable passports, but this time I’m thinking to buy a sticker book I found online that includes all the flag stickers. I think it’ll be a lot easier to get it done if the kids just have to pull off a sticker and stick it in their book, then when we had to get our drawing boards out, and the glue, and put glue on the sticker, and put it in the book, and sometimes they got too much glue and it made the pages stick. I’ll still post my old flag file in case anybody would rather print theirs (although I won’t be able to guarantee that the flags will still match up, with the changes).

What I’d love from any readers who are interested in this geography program is, are there any things you’d like to see done? Do you have a country that you’d really love me to make sure is included? Do you have a book that you recommend? I’m mostly looking at books that portray the country as it is now (modern) and folktales, but I’m willing to include historical stories if they are really good stories.

I am going to look into posting the new version on a website and being able to post a download link here, so that people don’t have to post/email me about it. We’ll see if that works.

I’ll include both a booklist with books sorted by country, and also a schedule. That way, people who want it all scheduled out will be able to just start right away, but people who would just prefer to go through it in their own time with the book ideas can do so.

Military life

Emily said something today that gave me pause. She said, “Mommy, why are we planting a garden? Won’t we just have to leave it behind when we move again? What if the new owners don’t take care of my poor baby lima bean plants?” She was close to tears. Before I could respond, she added, “Maybe we could put all the plants in pots to take with us?”

We are actually supposed to be in this location for 2-4 years, so we’ll definitely have time to plant and harvest a garden at least a few times, and of course just wouldn’t plant if we were going to leave before the harvest. But there are no guarantees in military life, any more than in civilian life, and with military downsizing, there’s an even bigger chance that those 2-4 years may not be a guarantee.

I reassured her about the garden for now, but this got me thinking.

Whenever I get a military discount or hear people saying things like, “Thank you for your service” or about “the sacrifices made by military families,” I always feel a little embarrassed. Fact is, my husband is an engineer. He’s never been deployed, and even when he is, he probably won’t be on the front lines. I feel like a bit of a faker in getting discounts or thanks from people when my husband’s life has never been on the line, more than any average civilian job.

But today, Emily’s comment got me thinking. I found myself thinking that, in some ways, we *have* had to make sacrifices, and maybe there’s more to the “sacrifices of a military family” than just risking life and limb overseas. In the 4.5 years since my husband joined the military, we’ve moved 5 times and lived in 3 different states. That’s not including the 6 weeks we were in Alabama in a hotel room, with the girls sleeping on mats in the closet, cutting off adult access to the bathroom during the night. That was for training, and the girls and I could certainly have stayed home, but we’ve made it a priority to stay together as much as possible.

With all those moves, we’ve been in locations anywhere from 6 months to almost 2 years. It really takes a toll on our friendships. The kids haven’t really been able to develop deep relationships, because it takes time to get involved and to meet kids and then to develop specific relationships… time we haven’t had. Same with us adults. My husband has a few friends who have worked in multiple places/moved with him, which helps, but it’s hard for him, too. And I’ve had trouble making mom friends because, well, it’s hard to find time to get involved, meet people, get to know individual people, hit it off, get up the nerve to start talking outside of whatever the activity is, etc. And usually by then, I’m gone.

Many of the people I’ve met are now my friends on Facebook, and ironically I’ve gotten to know some of them more through FB than I ever did when we were in person together, just because of time.

Facebook is not without its perils, though. When I move on, I get to see posts about happenings in church, or homeschool groups, or just from friends, and I’m sad to see all the great stuff they’re doing that I’m no longer part of.

I’m starting, yet again, the hard work of finding friends in a new place. I’ve joined a homeschool co-op with the girls, and I really enjoy talking to some of the other moms there. We have something in common right from the start (homeschooling), so maybe deeper friendships will develop.

Unfortunately, two of the moms I really enjoy talking to mentioned the other day (separately) that they are looking to move soon. One not too far (next state over), but another to Texas. It feels like a flashback to last summer, when I made friends with another mom who I really enjoyed spending time with, only for her to move to another state and me left to start over again. Both of these moms mentioned the tendency of people to pull back from friendships when you mention that you’re moving, and I know I’ve experienced the same, so I won’t do it to them. But still, I’d like to start a friendship with somebody who I might actually be able to continue to see for a year, at least.

Moving is tough. I like the adventure of starting over in a new place, but the relationships are hard. So, you know what? I don’t think I’ll feel quite so guilty next time I get a 10% discount at the kids’ consignment shop. Because it’s the 5th kids’ consignment shop I’ve shopped at in the last 5 years and I’m tired of looking for new ones, and maybe there is something to this whole “sacrifices that military family members make” thing, after all.

But I’ve heard being a pastor’s wife is even harder, with about as many moves but no discounts. Sorry, pastors’ wives!

Preschool and pre-k books for 2014!

By the time I had finished listing out (with pictures for once!) all of our books for Emily (in first grade) and the programs we’re doing together, I was too tired to get around to posting the last few pictures.  So, here’s an overview of what my preschooler (Charlotte) and pre-kindergartner (Jenny) will be doing this year.

First, these are the core books for Jenny for pre-k.  These are books that I’ll be reading aloud.  Some of the books are missing (I’d had a stack of books that I’d just finished reading out, and when the kids cleaned the room they stuck them elsewhere on the bookshelf, so they missed the picture.


There’s a nice mix of more advanced picture books with some chapter books in which each chapter tells a different story (so no need to follow a plotline from day to day).  So far she seems to be doing fairly well with them.  She wasn’t thrilled about Uncle Wiggily the first day we started it (“No pictures!  I don’t want to read a book without any pictures!  There has to be a picture on EVERY page!”), but after the first story or so, she warmed up to it.

She is definitely very, very sensitive, though.  Almost every day has her practically in tears over something or other.  Animals or children getting hurt in the *slightest* will really set her off.  And it doesn’t even take that.  The other day, I was telling my mom my disappointment when I realized that I’d forgotten at a restaurant that I’d bought a sandwich to take home with me, and I’d thrown it away when I threw away the other trash.  She overheard, and started crying, “Poor sandwich!  It doesn’t get to be eaten???  Poor, poor sandwich!”  Real tears, people.  This is definitely my sensitive one.  I was thinking to do Core A with her next fall, but… we’ll see.  They’ve toned it down a bit, I know, but it may still be too much for her.  If need be, I could reorganize P4/5 by geography and do it with Charlotte, and combine Jenny in with her.  Doing it geographically would vary it up a bit, and I could use some of the other geography stuff from when when we did geography this past year.  She might need that extra time before she’s ready for Core A.

Jenny also has several workbooks this year.


Her favorite is the Developing the Early Learner books (we don’t appear to have book 3, so I’ll have to buy one when she gets close).  She’s zooming through those.  She likes to call them her seatwork, since Emily has seatwork, and she really likes the activities.  She’s way ahead on those versus the rest of the core (except the Berenstain Bears book, she’s ahead on that as well).  I actually just found the logic book again, so I’ll have to try her with that again sometime, as it’s been a while.  It’s a little complicated because I have to read it to her, and she needs a lot of help working through it.  The Earlybird Kindergarten Math is her main math book.  She’s not generally a huge fan, but she does well with it.  I keep meaning to start Rightstart Math with her, as I have all the stuff, I just a) don’t always seem to have the time, and b) don’t seem to think about it when I *do* have the time.

Next is reading.



We’re using All About Reading to teach reading.  Jenny is on level 2.  We’re actually taking a short break from AAR, as she was getting to the point where she really just needed more practice with the things she’d already learned, and for more of the really easy stuff to become sight words, before moving on.  So we’re actually running through the IEW (Institute for Excellence in Writing) program PAL (Primary Art of Language).  I’m not generally a huge fan of its structure, but it teaches things in a different order and from a different angle from AAR, and so it’s reasonably complementary as a second program.  I’m not sure if we’ll go all the way through it and then go back to AAR, or just do it for a little while, or what.  I’ll see how it seems to be working.

Along with that, I’m having Jenny practice reading a bunch of Dr. Seuss books.  She’s getting more fluent and sounding out fewer words, which is good.  Not only does it mean that she’s seen the words enough to remember them, but it helps her read faster and understand more, which makes reading less of a chore.  She’s definitely getting more and more interested in reading.  The other day, she wanted to read a picture book we’d gotten at the library (“Mrs. Chicken and the Crocodile”) which wasn’t even intended to be an early reader.  She did really well.  I needed to help her here and there, but she read most of it.  These are some of the Dr. Seuss books that she’s reading.



She’s also been reading books from the library, like Biscuit books and some easy Caillou books.  I think I might see if they have Elephant and Piggie, as those are a lot of fun.  I don’t think these will last her a whole year, although it really depends on exactly when a kid starts to take off.  I think she’s getting really close to that, though, based on how quickly she’s suddenly progressing from sounding every word out to know tons of words by sight and doing well with sounding out words she doesn’t know.  Such an exciting time!

Charlotte is doing Core P3/4.  We’re doing it fairly casually, usually I just grab a book and read a story from it each day before starting Jenny’s P4/5.  I find it easiest to keep using the same book until we’ve read all the stories in that, so right now we’re reading the Richard Scarry book, which they both like.



I’ll probably do the Mike Mulligan and McCloskey books near the end, when she’s getting closer to 4, because they are definitely the slowest and hardest of the books here.  We’ve already read Madeline a few times, as it’s apparently a favorite.  And that Harper Collins Treasury of Picture Book Classics?  It is practically falling apart, it gets so much use.  It is probably the absolute favorite children’s book we own.  It’s much better than the other big compilation, the “20th Century Children’s Book Treasury,” because that one eliminates a lot of the pictures and shrinks the ones it keeps, and is just not nearly as good.

Charlotte doesn’t really have any workbooks yet, but I’ve been having her do some of the “Letter of the Week” activities from “Confessions of a Homeschooler.”  She likes those a lot.  We’ve done A-D, I think.  I need to get more of those printed and ready for her.  We’re also going through All About Reading pre-level 1 (not sure why I didn’t think to take a picture of that one).  It’s the precursor to the program the older girls are doing, and it teaches the letters and their sounds, plus other important pre-reading skills like rhyming, breaking apart words into sounds, etc.

And that’s basically it for this year!  We’re having fun, hope you are, too!


And now for something completely different…

We’ve started our geography curriculum! I’m so excited. Some of it’s because I created it myself and I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes. Some of it’s because I have it very tightly organized, so I’m looking forward into delving into the different countries of the world, instead of doing a more loosely organized core like Sonlight’s early cores are (nothing against the early cores, I’m just excited about doing something really focused). And, honestly, some of it is just the excitement I always have about moving on to something new. Regardless, I’m excited!

We’re starting by spending a few weeks doing some general geography stuff. We’re reading the first 14 sections of a book called, “A Child’s Introduction to the World,” which deal with stuff like the earth’s axis, latitude and longitude, time zones, geographical features, etc. We’re also reading the more general parts of “A Life Like Mine.” Both books also have country-specific sections that we’ll get to when we start going country by country.

“A Life Like Mine” is rather frustrating to read. It has 14 sections (so that much aligns neatly with “A Child’s Introduction to the World”) that portray different aspects of life, like education, water, houses, etc. However, it presents each of these things as a need and focuses on the idea that children deserve all of these things, and often mentions UNICEF’s role in providing these for children around the world (the book is published in conjunction with UNICEF). I don’t really like how it does that, or how it treats some of the subjects. I won’t argue that access to health care isn’t a good thing, or that it doesn’t save lives, but I will disagree that everybody is entitled to see a doctor when they are ill. Doctors are not slaves, and their knowledge is very specialized and takes a great deal of time, effort, and money to achieve. While many doctors volunteer their time and many people around the world are loving enough to donate to charities so that doctors can reach those who can’t afford to pay, people are not *entitled* to receive for free the work of somebody else without compensation. They receive it because of the love, goodwill, and charity of others, but they are not entitled to it. There are other things that are similar, and it definitely pushes a UNICEF agenda, especially in the general parts.

I would try to edit the politics out of these parts when I would read it to Elisabeth, focusing, say, not on people being entitled to healthcare, but on what kinds of healthcare people receive around the world, the discrepancy between what people can access in richer countries and what they can in poorer countries, the different kinds of diseases that are threats to children, etc. But Emily is a good reader and could tell that I wasn’t reading exactly what was on the page, and this frustrated her. So finally I sat her down and explained that the book has an agenda, here’s what it is, here’s why we disagree with it and don’t want to read it word for word and have it influence you without you knowing it, etc. She seemed to understand, so now instead of skimming parts I don’t like, I point out what they say, what I see as the bias, what *my* opinion is on the topic, and then we move on. So she can hear UNICEF’s bias and mine as well and see where we differ. Hopefully that will work out as we go along. I didn’t really intend to get into all that with a 5-year-old, but she always surprises me with her maturity.

We’re still reading “The House at Pooh Corner” as well, trying to finish it up. When we do, we’re going to read “Here’s a Penny.” Pooh was from Core A, a last book that we didn’t quite finish when we decided to save the rest of it for gaps during the geography curriculum. Penny is from the new Core A, which I bought for fun. I figure we’ll read as much of Penny as we can until we’ve finished our geography overview, and then when we go into our first country (well, not technically a country, as we start with Native America), we’ll move it to a bedtime book. And that’s about where we are right now!

Stay tuned for our next post, where I’ll talk about an advent program we’re doing, plus my visit to see parents/grandparents! I need to head to bed now if I want to be able to remain lucid during the night when I have to wake to feed Megan, and also get up a decent hour tomorrow to take the kids to a library storytime.