Category Archives: literature

Schooling Update

9yo using Cuisenaire rods to help with Singapore Math.

Friday was conference day at my oldest child’s school, when we sit down together with his teacher to check in and set goals. The pre-conference paperwork asked us, as his parents, to list our goals for him for the upcoming year; we wrote that we wanted him to set his own goals, as our goal is for him to be a self-directed learner. Honestly, I can’t think of any other answer to that question. It seems absurd to state what I think my son’s goals for himself should be.

At the same time, it’s been about a month since we began our non-summer homeschooling schedule. While learning happens all year round, we do add in more required work in the fall. Because I have one child in school, it makes the most sense to stick to the same sort of schedule, although that has its frustrations–I don’t enjoy being beholden to an outwardly imposed schedule. However, it’s a good point at which to check in with how we’re doing.

I began using Singapore Math with my 9yo this year, and I’m happy to say it’s going well. He knows more than he thinks he does; the main thing is overcoming his own self-doubt. A year ago, he’d have fought me on using a workbook and textbook; this year, he sometimes complains and needs reminders to focus, but he gets the work done. I’ve noticed that he does best with word problems (even though he says he doesn’t like them). He also took really well to Life of Fred last year, which is story based. I noted this and pointed it out to him—he seems to comprehend the numbers better when they are presented in a verbal way.

Another great help for explaining some of the concepts are Cuisenaire rods. We’ve had these for quite a long time and they have been useful many, many times. Most recently, I used them to demonstrate the concept of borrowing in subtraction. He needed a visual in order to understand that I wasn’t telling him to get rid of any numbers; we were just regrouping. After seeing it with the rods, it clicked in about a minute. Now he understands what’s going on when he borrows to subtract, rather than just doing it because he’s been told to but without any comprehension.

My 4yo, of course, wanted her own math to do. She was making up her own rather baffling worksheets, so I picked up a workbook for her. She’s happy, and I get a little bit of time to teach the day’s concept to my 9yo without her chatting our ears off.

The other area that has me really excited is language arts. We’re transitioning into using Brave Writer; we read August’s book, The Lemonade War, in September, using the copywork assignments and discussing grammar and a bit about writing style. We haven’t begun October’s book yet because we moved right into the sequel, The Lemonade Crime. This is my main logistical problem with using Arrow; we read aloud as a regular part of our homeschool, and trying to make one chapter book stretch out all month is limiting; there are other books we want to read too. I haven’t quite figured out how to handle that. We’ve also done some free-writing exercises and list-making; gentle ways to get my 9yo writing more often.

But then! I saw the book Guy-Write on the library shelf and asked him if he’d like to read it. He said yes, read it in about a day, and then…began writing a book. Something in that book hit him just the right way, and his writing is alive and exciting. He reads each chapter to me when he’s done. He told me the spelling is all wrong, but I told him when he was done writing, we could type it into the computer and worry about the spelling then. He declared I could be his editor. I’m a bit dumbfounded; he has “hated” writing for a few years now. I am cautiously optimistic, hoping this new-found love of writing will stick around.

My daughter is also writing—asking how to spell words and either writing as we tell her the letters or copying the words she’s dictated to me from another piece of paper. She’s been reciting letters off of signs, asking me what they spell. Just recently she began doing that in reverse, saying words and trying to sound out the letters they contain. Her brain is working constantly, it seems, on the puzzle of reading. It’s really cool to watch.

One area I’m not totally up on is project time. I’ve failed thus far to carve out predictable blocks of time for project work. I keep waiting for our weeks to settle down into a routine, but I think our routine is that there isn’t one. As much as I try to contain the errands, things like doctor’s appointments go where they fit, and we seem to have lots of those. So I’ve begun just claiming the time where I see it. I need to do a better job of reminding the kids what they wanted to accomplish, though. So project time is still a work in progress this year.

Of course we’re continuing our studies of history and science, supported with library books and so on, but math and language arts have taken such a huge leap lately, so that’s where I chose to focus on this recap. It seems like overstating the obvious, but a huge advantage of homeschooling is the ability to work with my child right where he is, to take advantage of leaps of understanding, and to take the time to work on trouble areas…as well as having the time to be patient and wait for the progression of things without feeling pushed and rushed to meet an artificially imposed standard. I’m thankful we can do this right now.

Language Arts

That’s not exactly the right title for this post, but I’m not sure what is. We read all the time here. My older kids read voraciously to themselves; I read out loud every day. My 4yo will sit with a book and “read.” Because I have my younger two at home and my youngest cannot actually read yet, I read many of my 8yo’s homeschool-related books aloud. That way, my 4yo doesn’t feel left out. Usually we start the day with me reading from whatever chapter book we’re in, and we move on to history or science or project books, as well. (If I get laryngitis, our entire homeschool schedule will fall apart!)

So I have no worries whatsoever about my 8yo’s reading skills. He loves to read, he reads a variety of books, and he can tell me about what he’s reading. We talk about the books we’re reading together, and we’ve compared different versions of the same story (such as with The Wizard of Oz). Actually, now that I’m writing all of this, I’m not sure why I thought I needed to do anything additional with language arts. The main thing that’s missing is writing. My son doesn’t like the actual, physical act of writing. So I’m not forcing it.

Yet, I did feel like adding in something additional, so I thought back to my previous homeschooling experience, with my oldest during his first-grade year. We used Enki curriculum that year. As it turned out, I needed to supplement it quite a bit, because he wanted more in some areas (specifically science and math) than that curriculum offered. But I really enjoyed the storytelling sequence, of telling a story and working with it over a few days, and I decided to add something similar into our schedule when we started up again after the holidays.

In our history readings, we’re up to Roman times (and just past Greek), so I thought we’d work with myths. We have books of Greek and Roman mythology, but I wanted a version without illustrations–you’ll see why. After poking around Amazon a bit, I borrowed Classic Myths to Read Aloud from our local library. And this is our process: I read the myth aloud. The next day, I read it aloud again, and I have my 8yo tell it back to me. And then we each draw a picture related to the myth. I’d like him to add a sentence describing the illustration, but I got some resistance to that idea today. We’ll work up to it.

Meanwhile, he retold the myth beautifully. He remembered so many details. And we all love to draw, so working with the story in that way was fun for all of us. And we will have a collection of our own illustrations for various myths.

Illustrating a myth

Illustrating a myth

I don’t need him to write a book report to prove to me that he is comprehending what he is reading and is able to summarize it in proper narrative order. Without the distraction of the physical act of writing, he can focus better on what he’s doing. And did I mention how fun it is to sit on the floor together and draw?

So that is our “language arts.” We read… a lot. We talk… a lot. And we draw, too, because we like to and we can. And yes, he is still working on his monster book, which entails reading, researching, note-taking, and even…writing.

Mapping The Land of Oz

Around Halloween–a couple of days after Hurricane Sandy stormed through, when we had our power back but the library didn’t and we were all a little not-knowing-what-to-do-with-ourselves–I loaded up The Wizard of Oz for the kids to watch. They’d never seen it, and I thought it was high time they did. Of course they loved it, all three of them. When the library finally opened again, we borrowed L. Frank Baum’s original book version. My boys also found a graphic novel version based on the book. I began reading the book out loud to my homeschooled kids (reading aloud is part of our day, even though my 8yo can read to himself).

You can see where this is going, yes? The book and the movie are very different. The kids picked up on all the differences, and then we added the graphic novel to the mix (my 8yo read that to himself, and I read it aloud to my 4yo). The graphic novel and the book are very similar but not exact. Through discussion, my kids were comparing and contrasting different versions of the same story–fantastic stuff! Then we thought we’d try to map the Land of Oz.

To do this, I read the relevant parts from the original book, and my son (age 8) and I each made our own rough sketch, tracing the friends’ path.

N’s sketch of Oz, in progress

While we sketched, G (age 4) made her own drawing with colored pencils.

G’s drawing

When his sketch was completed, N used nicer paper and watercolor pencils to make a more finished version of his map.

Using watercolor pencils, in progress

G requested paint to make another map. Can you see the yellow brick road in this version?

G’s painted map of Oz

To finish, N added water to his watercolor pencil drawings. He was pleased with his final result.

N’s finished map of Oz

This is not just an artistic exercise–this is about processing what is read in a different, visual, spatial way. How do events connect in a story, both in time and in space? This is a great story to use for mapping, because the characters are traveling through Oz on a path, and Baum gives good cues on how things connect. (I’m tempted, myself, to try to map the story in time, too. Are there enough clues for me to figure out how long Dorothy spent in Oz?) My instincts tell me that going through the process of translating the written words into a visual map will help my children become better readers and to process information better. But my main impulse behind suggesting we do this is simply that I thought it would be fun. My kids like maps and were (as I suspected they would be) both excited to try mapping the Land of Oz.

Have you mapped a fictional land from a story book or novel? Do you have suggestions for other imaginary lands for mapping?

Peek-a-boo Paintings

Materials: Drawing and/or painting materials of your choice; drawing or watercolor paper, depending; acetate the same size as your paper (we used this); tape; paint for the acetate–this can’t be too watery–we found liquid acrylic and gouache worked well, tempera not so much

The first day of summer vacation dawned grey and misty, giving us the perfect opportunity to get into the studio after breakfast and add one more activity to the Eric Carle birthday celebration. Several folks have created beautiful painted tissue paper collages. We painted tissue paper many months ago, but my boys really didn’t want to cut their creations. We are acquiring a nice pile of textured, painted, and printed papers for collaging with some day, but meanwhile, I knew our Eric Carle-inspired activities would go in another direction. Earlier this week we were inspired by Dragons, Dragons, and today we looked to Mr. Seahorse.

Mr. Seahorse is another of our favorites. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it follows a seahorse as he interacts with other underwater species in which the males help care for the offspring. But what we really like about it is that some of the pages are transparent, so you’ll have a fish that’s hiding, and then you turn the clear page and see him in full.

From Eric Carle's Mr. Seahorse

I was reading it to N earlier this week and I thought, Hey, we could do that! As I explained the idea to the boys, though, I realized it’s a rather complex idea. You need to think about your artwork in layers–what will be underneath? what will be on top? It’s a different way of looking at it, to separate the full idea into parts. But the boys were ready to try.

We knew the top picture, on the acetate, would be painted, but we had to think about how to do the underneath. V wanted to do watercolor resist, but I thought oil pastels would smear against the acetate, so we used good old-fashioned crayons.

V decided to draw fish, and N wanted to draw a monkey–he used some of our story books as a reference.

After we worked with crayons, it was time to add liquid watercolors.

Then we let the bottom layer dry. Next, I placed a sheet of acetate on top of the first picture and used a couple pieces of clear tape to hinge it on whatever side the kids chose. This way, we could paint our covering picture while it was lined up with the bottom image–much easier that way.

Here, V is checking on his work in progress. He chose to use gouache paints on the acetate.

G joined us too, of course. She loves to paint. N, G, and I used liquid acrylic.

So as not to completely overload the post with photos, I put all our finished-piece photos together–click to embiggen. (And even though I didn’t use flash, the ceiling lights are bouncing off the acetate–so sorry, but it was wet outside!) From left to right, we have V’s ocean scene (seaweed for the top layer), N’s forest scene (that’s a big leaf), G’s, um, lots-of-paint, and my big flower.

And now the peek-a-boo: V’s fish, N’s monkey, my bumblebee, and G’s fish.

I completely loved this project, and I’m not sure why we didn’t think of it sooner, except maybe because we haven’t had the acetate in the house all that long. It was so much fun to do, and the results are pretty fun, too.

Check out more Eric Carle-inspired activities at the link below!

(Also included in the Read, Explore, Learn link up.)

Inspired by Mr. Carle

Kate at An Amazing Child is hosting a week-long celebration of Eric Carle‘s birthday. We are lucky here not just to own and have read many, many of Eric Carle’s books, but we’ve also been to visit his fabulous museum of picture book art several times. I’m not sure what I like best about the museum–that it includes a great Reggio Emilia-inspired studio, that it contains a wonderful bookstore, that it has the best story-time (in its on-site library) that I’ve ever attended, or that it places picture book art in its proper place as a valid art form, not just there to prettify the words but to truly be part of the story. Isn’t it good I don’t have to choose?

(Oh! Look what I just found! The Carle Museum’s art studio blog is finally up! I’d heard in the fall they were planning on starting one and here it is!)

So, back to our Carle-inspired project. If you’ve visited here before, you know my kids range in age from two to nine, our projects are open-ended, and I try to make art alongside them whenever I can. So when we thought about Eric Carle, we thought about one of our very favorite books–and yes, we enjoy the caterpillar book, especially G, but it’s very much a toddler book. Dragons, Dragons, though, is a book for all ages, full of vibrant Eric Carle portraits of mythological animals to go along with a selection of poetry on the same. He also has another, Animals, Animals, which we haven’t read yet, that contains animals you can more easily see. (We don’t like to say that mythological animals aren’t real; just because you’ve never seen one doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist!)

So our thought was to collage and/or paint an animal–mythological or not–and perhaps (this part was my idea) write a poem or find a poem to go along with it. The boys liked this idea, so I gathered my scraps of colorful paper, glue, paints, paper, and we got to it.

V wanted to paint a hawk, so he found our Peterson Bird Book and looked up hawks. G selected a field guide, too, ending up with the one on rocks and minerals. (It’s a first guide, and I think she feels like the smaller field guides are clearly hers.) N decided to look at the phoenix page in Dragons, Dragons, and I was inspired by the snake that lives under our front step.

G tore up some paper and used her glue stick to stick them to a large sheet of paper, then asked for some paint and picked up this scrap paper that had some holes punched out of it and used it as a stencil to paint a scrap piece of vellum underneath. I was pretty impressed that she had this idea on her own. When she was done with that, she painted another large sheet of paper, telling me the right side was the rock, and the left was the mineral.

N wanted to collage and then paint.

V painted one hawk with liquid acrylics and the second with tempera. He struggled, and I reminded him that he was using a scientific illustration as his guide, and it was going to be challenging to copy that exactly. I also pointed out that my snake did not at all look like a field guide-worthy illustration of a snake! I’m pretty impressed with V’s finished paintings, and he got the field markings in there, too.

V's red-tailed hawks, acrylic on left & tempera on right

My collage & gouache snake

V declined to write a poem. Here’s my snake poem:

The snake
Takes a break
A slash
In the grass
Flash
He disappears
Under the stairs

N decided he needed a whole story to tell about his phoenix, pictured here with the page he referred to in Dragons, Dragons.

His phoenix is holding a treasure chest, saving it from the burning castle that has been attacked by knights–I think. The story is in progress.

And here are G’s finished works, first her rock and mineral painting and second her vellum piece (which got thoroughly soaked–on purpose–with painty water, and I’m surprised it ever dried!) and her bits of collage.

All in all, I think Mr. Carle would be pleased with the various approaches! We have one more Carle-inspired project in mind; if we have time to do it before Saturday (my kids are STILL in school, so we might not) I’ll post it as well.

Thanks, Kate, for inviting us to the celebration!



(Also included in the Read, Explore, Learn link up.)

Poetry Painting

(The break between posts is because I took over the studio table to do some sewing. You can see what I’ve been up to over here.)

Materials: Imagery-filled poem; mark-making materials of choice

April is National Poetry Month, which makes me happy head to toe. I looked through some of our poetry books and decided to choose a William Carlos Williams poem for this activity, because he is so good with the small, image-filled detail. I settled upon Primrose. (Follow the link to read it, as I don’t want to violate copyright by reproducing it here.) Before reading it to the kids, I told them that after they heard it, they would be making a picture in response, and that could mean anything–how the poem felt, or what it talked about–whatever they decided. I love reading poetry aloud; it’s just better that way.

I waited a few minutes after reading it, and then I asked them what materials they wanted for their artwork. V began with oil pastels, and N and G (who of course wanted to be at the table painting, too) went right to watercolors. (Other possibilities: colored pencil; drawing chalk; tempera cakes.) V used watercolor along with the pastels. And here are the results:

V really keyed into the exuberant “Yellow!” that began the poem, along with, I think, a general mood of happiness.

N tried to include some details–the purple grass, for instance–that  he remembered from the descriptive language.

G was quite pleased as she painted a purplish line along the bottom, just like her older brother was doing. (She also added some oil pastels in between using the watercolors.)

This was such a wonderful, open-ended (my favorite kind!) activity. The boys listened closely to the poem, they thought about their artwork, and they produced such different pieces–as is appropriate, given they are different people.

Do you have a favorite poet or poem?