Monday, November 30, 2015

Flannel Sheets and Grammar Symbols

P.S. Before I forget, Garnet Hill has all flannel sheets 40% off with free shipping today. And if you are like me and just bought your daughter adorable penguin posse flannel sheets as a Christmas present, they will honor the sale price and reimburse you the difference, but the price adjustment can only happen if your initial purchase was within the past 14 days.

In my eternal quest to find balance, happiness, and a little bit of peace and quiet, I have rearranged how we are planning our day, from more Montessori-ish to more Waldorf-ish. And as the children watch me navigate between methods, they are getting a clearer sense of the distinctions between the two and Leah pointed out to me this morning that they are almost opposites. A lot of adults don't realize that because they lump the European methods into one pot, but if you know what you are talking about you know where they clearly clash. In this case, we are talking about the teacher driven Waldorf-theory-of-child-development-based main lesson block versus the child driven independent exploration of topics that interest them.

I try to carefully choose what we do each day based on the strengths of each method, and when it comes to something like Human Physiology I think that the Montessori emphasis on precise vocabulary is an asset. I also think that Waldorf's cursory and simplistic color-coding of parts of speech in grammar is not well thought out when compared to the beautiful presentations of Montessori. They both use color but Maria's method is richer and more precise. Natalie had a lesson on the Montessori Grammar Symbols today. The presentation is noun, article, adjective, verb, preposition, adverb, pronoun, conjunction, interjection. I dictated phrases (they are all phrases until you get to the addition of the verb) and sentences as I introduced each symbol. She symbolized them in color as we went along. Then she had to compose a passage which used every one. We know there are more sophisticated facets to Grammar than this introduction, such as the difference between coordinating and subordinating conjunctions which we studied last week in a quick morning pages lesson, but I wanted her to become familiar with the symbols initially. We can then delve deeper.

Having her compose a passage helped me to see which parts of speech she doesn't clearly understand. In this case, it was conjunctions and adverbs. This is just like having a child write you a story problem which uses multiplication and you can see that they don't understand it. Or if you ask them to write a story using subtraction and it's always about goldfish being eaten by a cat -- which is why I object to teachers presenting subtraction as "take away"!!! -- and they don't know that it is also used to find the difference between two numbers (how much farther is it to Cairo than to Alexandria?).

Montessori math materials are really expensive and the training to know how to use them is not always easy. But the Grammar is very simple and we like the stencil from Waseca Biomes. I used a piece of pure wool felt from Magic Cabin folded into thirds to make the pouch to hold the stencil and the colored pencils which are needed. I still have a set of official Nienhuis Montessori colored pencils for Grammar but I will have the girls take them to Hobby Lobby and figure out which Prismacolor pencils are equivalent, since we prefer Prismacolor and you can buy them singly when they run out. When we've done that I will post them.

Back to finding balance...

We are going to try writing our daily plans as Head / Heart / Hands, the page literally divided into three sections, and making sure we include several things from each. We will still use the color coding per subject, but I think the girls have been trying too hard to hit all the colors of the rainbow in their plans, instead of looking at balance of types of soul activity (as opposed to school subjects). I'm also tempted to hit all the colors of the rainbow in a day, even though I know better, instead of cultivating what Torin Finser calls "a healthy forgetting."

I would also like to write my mommmy to-do list for the day in these three categories, making sure I have time for art or yoga or something else that is meditative. I have finally found a time for the mending pile. In the evenings my husband likes to decompress by watching tv and I can sit on the bed and sew things and use those quiet evening hours well. I keep my mending basket by the tv now. Weaving is harder to fit in since I have to sit by the loom.

Our current main lesson is Fractions and Graphing and Practical Uses for Arithmetic. I also have written down Cross Stitch and Embroidery in Handwork and Celtic Knots in Form Drawing. We do some beautiful things, and I promise I will photograph MLBs and post them soon, but I feel like I'm coming apart at the seams and that is an issue. So I think I may read The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Areagain, as well as How to Know Higher Worlds: A Modern Path of Initiation

The most important thing is that I can't be getting irritated with the baby and handing him off to people so I can "get things done" and I can't completely miss the decorating of the Christmas tree because I am "getting things done" and I can't put breakfast aside until 3 o'clock in the afternoon because I am so busy I forgot. I am being honest about this because I'm sure I am not the only person who is spinning in this busy Christmas season! The fact is that I need to re-center. Non-violent communication talks about anger being a sign that your needs are not met. I need to meet my needs but I also need to count my blessings. I am blessed to have been able to have another child at the age of 39, and I didn't think I would ever ever ever get that chance. I am blessed to be able to be a stay at home mom, and I didn't think I would ever ever ever do that again. I am blessed to be able to buy my grandparents' house and keep it in the family, a house which is full of beautiful memories from my childhood. I need to SLOW DOWN. I need to see all the good that is in front of me. And I need to enjoy it! Life is short.

We greatly prefer this dictionary to the revised newer edition. And it was easy for her to look up words when she was stuck. I like the organization and their example sentences for words that can be several parts of speech. The thing I like best about the grammar stencil work is that it forces you to think logically about what role a word is playing in the sentence. And it gives a strong visual! If you have a child who writes run-on sentences, pick a few and have them symbolize what they wrote. This will gently help them to see the problem.

article and noun
article, adjective, noun
addition of a verb
addition of a prepositional phrase

addition of an adverb

a sentence with no pronouns

the same sentence but with pronouns added -- shorter!


Which symbol is which. But, knowing WHY the symbols are what they are will allow you to introduce each as a story, the Waldorf way. Maria Montessori also liked things to make sense to the child. I always taught that the pink bar of the conjunction was like a handshake.

Natalie's attempt at composing and then symbolizing. Note her troublesome areas.

Friday, November 27, 2015

140 Characters

My eighth grader, who listens to a lot of NPR, finally asked me about the tagline "when you want a story that's more than 140 characters." I explained about Twitter and she came up with an idea, which I thought was a good one, to actually count out 140 characters in a newspaper article. She realized that it was a sentence and a bit. That really drove home to her how little Twitter could give you of a story. It was a worthwhile little mini lesson.

Of course, she then pointed out that the radio isn't limited to 140 characters but it IS limited on time. That was when she heard the interviewer say to the person she was interviewing, "quickly; we only have one more minute."

We've also spent a lot of time this block talking about credible sources.

Natalie has benefitted from listening to NPR and reading the Wall Street Journal, and while it may have been too ambitious to pace our World Geography / Economics block the way that I did, I'm still really glad we did an overview of the continents in that way. It has been especially helpful to have spent time talking about the situation in Syria. Now that she understands it she listens more closely to the news about Syria and so do I. I understand it better because I worked through it slowly with her.

She picked a funny little Europe topic for that continent: How to Lead a Nation That Never Existed: Free State of Bottleneck created by mistake after WWI. There was also an article in the WSJ about the euro and the dollar but she was intimidated by it and didn't understand the economics vocabulary, so I will work on that with her in our Math block which is starting Monday: Fractions, Graphing, and Practical Uses for Arithmetic.

One practical use for arithmetic is to calculate how big of a turkey you need! We had 8 people at our house. And I roasted an enormous 21 pound bird!!! Hmmmm. Carving it was much harder than I expected too, especially with the baby crying. We had to play hand the baby around the table. And next weekend is St. Nicholas Day which means that now we need to set up the Christmas tree, get out the Christmas decorations, put lights on the house... and I need to get online and order all the presents and hope they come in time. There are only nine picture books left in our wrapped Advent calendar, a tradition we have been doing since 2010 (I found my original blog post).

We have so many beautiful books, but my absolute favorite Christmas story -- I like the kind that makes you cry every time you read it out loud -- is The Little Trollby Thomas Berger, translated by Polly Lawson.

I can't believe you can find it used on Amazon starting at six cents!

And I think we will pick a poem from Isabel Wyatt's The Way Down: Christmas Poems for Children of All Agesto memorize this week.

Traditions are so cozy and soothing for kids and it's my fondest wish to have them be cozy and soothing for the adults too. I think I just need to get an earlier start. And some sleep.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Sleep: An Unobserved Element in Education

It's too bad that it seems to be so hard to find a copy of Audrey McAllen's SLEEP: An Unobserved Element in Education

My opinion of Audrey McAllen is so high that I'd buy any Waldorf book sight unseen if I knew she wrote it. Her book on Teaching Children Handwriting is fabulous. And she makes a good point by writing an entire book about the value of sleep in education and the development of the child, although it seems no one can get their hands on it to read it. I have it, though, and if you are interested in borrowing something from my lending library, please feel free to contact me!

I know that Angela Gusso of Waldorf Books is also considering setting up a lending library. If you think this is a service the Waldorf community could benefit from, consider contacting her to show your support. I sure it would help her to know that it's a valuable idea!

My family is struggling with sleep right now in particular, and finding balance in general. I think that homeschooling helps you to know your flaws as a person. I have a terrible problem with over-planning and then getting frustrated with myself and my children. I posted to my Yahoo group during Natalie's human physiology MLB to ask for some perspective and support with pacing, and then turned right around and made the exact same mistakes in our World Geography block. I had a friend over a few days ago and this is what I told her: For each continent we are drawing a political map and a biome map. Then we are choosing an animal from that continent and doing a little mini animal report. Then we are choosing a hot button political or economic topic, researching it with multiple sources, and writing a summary of the topic.

And we are doing a continent a day.

Dumb, huh? All I can say is WOW. What was I thinking? Where was my head at? That I would think we can go at that pace? That I would create that situation for my family? That my daughter would be up at midnight every evening writing in her MLB and feeling guilty for not working fast enough?

And I feel incredibly guilty for making a snippy comment about her in my blog a few posts ago, saying that she can't do a two day cycle and needs a three day cycle. The problem isn't Natalie!!!! It should have been a continent a week, with the biome lesson on Monday / Tuesday and the political lesson on Wednesday / Thursday and assembling the several page spread in the MLB and citing our sources on Friday, if that volume of work -- two maps and two reports -- was our goal. And it should have been a three week block and a four week block.



My stress and my to-do list trickles down to my kids. I understand that better now. I need to remind myself of it day by day. My old mentor Nancy used to say that perfectionism was a terrible burden. And a terrible thing to pass down to our children. We were at the pediatrician yesterday and Natalie was saying that she's not getting enough sleep. She is getting 9 3/4 hours a night but she still feels tired. And she would prefer 11 or 12. So we changed our whole schedule. Natalie's bedtime is 8 pm. We are not letting homeschooling become an all day long all consuming beast. And I am going to focus on finishing each thing I start before I start the next thing, instead of going like a spastic hamster all day long and driving myself crazy.

We sat down as a family and decided that finishing what we have started before we move on to something else is our new commitment, alongside with bedtimes, and if someone comes up and interrupts us and we need to stay focused on what we are doing and would prefer not to talk, or we simply aren't available to do the next thing yet, we will pat ourselves on the head a few times as a simple signal. Yesterday was so quiet and calm!!!!!!

Just for perspective on how bad it is, here is my actual to-do list for Monday:

    find a new pattern and knit baby booties for Zac

    move into a new closet and sort and put away all my clothing

    address and mail all the birth announcements / Happy Thanksgiving cards

    shampoo the sofas (fleas...)

    make Thanksgiving centerpieces for the table

    write in the baby book for Zac's six month page

    make yogurt

    restring the curtains

    put up window plastic in the rooms that are too cold

    decide on the Christmas gifts for all the children and order them

    put a quilt over the attic vent

    make chili

    have Colleen over to visit

    find a book on multiple intelligence theory that I want to lend to her: Differentiating Instruction in the Regular Classroom: How to Reach and Teach All Learners

    find the Christmas present / family board game "Evolution" from Kickstarter that I bought early and have since lost

    make a daily schedule for our family

    start Zac on rice cereal

    research life insurance policies

    repot the bonsai

    learn how to test the pH and TDS in our hydroponics system

    come up with a plan for who is going to water what houseplants, since we lost the mango tree that Leah painstakingly started from seed

    put catch-and-release mouse traps in the upstairs bathroom

Not even counting the fact that I have four kids ranging from a six month old to a thirteen year old, and we are homeschooling all day long.

Clearly, this isn't logical.

I was drawn to Waldorf primarily because of the inner work demanded of the teacher. Time to sit down and commit to it!

Thursday, November 19, 2015


Now that I have used the K-W-L chart idea more, I am finding a few quibbles with it. Yes, this is a classic graphic organizer. Three columns on a piece of paper. What I know. What I want to find out. What I learned.

But the biggest problem I see is that the learning process DOESN'T stop with L, "what I learned". True life-long learners have another step. They have new questions. I propose we add a fourth column. What questions I have now.

Natalie picked the South China Sea as her hot-button topic for Asia because she had heard about it on NPR. She knew something was going on there. I picked four articles for her to read. When she was done she looked at me and said, They're acting like the South China Sea matters.

Yes, they are. WHY, Natalie? What would make this matter to people in the U.S.? I was pleased that she came out of it with questions, not just answers.

So first I had her draft a summary of what was going on, based on her understanding of the articles, and then write a list of "questions I now have about the tension in the South China Sea." This actually worked as a really nice assessment tool. I read her questions and read the WSJ article and realized a lot of them had been answered in the article. So, I asked her, did you understand this article? And she said No.

After talking to her about advocating for herself as a learner -- as well as being metacognitive and realizing she doesn't understand something -- we came up with a new plan.

We went back over the article from the Wall Street Journal slowly and carefully. It was at a higher reading level than the others. I actually had her read it aloud to me one sentence at a time. After each sentence I had her stop and then say in her own words what she thought it meant. It took a long time but she thoroughly understood it in the end and we had a nice conversation. We then re-read and revised her draft paragraph about the issue, and added some clarifying sentences, and then re-read and revised her list of questions.

Here is her final piece, which went in the main lesson book.

    China has been constructing new islands in the South China Sea, which does not belong to it. Not all neighboring countries know how to respond. Barack Obama, the president of the U.S., is aggressively trying to deter China, showing support for the Philippines in particular, and defending the right of all countries to have free navigation of this waterway. China was left out of the recently completed Trans-Pacific Free Trade Deal. The U.S. has also recently sent a warship and two B-52 bombers to the South China Sea. There is a U.S. military base there, left over from the Cold War.

    I think China wants to take over the South China Sea so it can control navigation and trade routes and possibly prevent ships from getting through to bring things to and from other countries. China is also building landing strips on the islands. This suggests that they are trying to control the air as well as the sea. China is acting this way because these actions are popular with the Chinese people, but they are unpopular with the rest of the world.

    Why does China want to take over the South China Sea?

    Is it either deploying military troops on the island or is the military building the islands?

    If military troops have been deployed to the islands, why?

    Who are China's enemies?

    How long has this been going on?

    Why is the U.S. involved?

    Who would the Philippines side with in an altercation between the U.S. and China?

After Red Carpet, Xi Jinping Faces a Showdown in Manila
Wall Street Journal (we read the print version), 11/18/2015

China 'must stop' land reclamation in South China Sea - Obama
BBC (online - we also watched the video), 11/18/2015

Obama Calls on Beijing to Stop Construction in South China Sea
The New York Times (online), 11/18/2015

This experience makes me think I should actually read a book I have had on my bedside table for forever.

Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Big Math MLB

December is creeping up on us... after Thanksgiving we have one last block before the girls have their Winter Break. They will be heading to Wisconsin to celebrate Christmas with their father. And we will have a quiet but sweet Baby's First Christmas here with Zac!

Sophie the Giraffe Teether

Skwish Classic Rattle and Teether Grasping Activity Toy

New Zealand Lambskin for Baby - 100% Natural and Luxuriously Soft Shorn Wool

But Not the Hippopotamus
by Sandra Boynton

My plan is a combined Math block and a combined MLB, where they each contribute pages to the topics. This will be less lesson planning for me and will give plenty of time for holiday decorating, present making, baking, and family visits. Our topics are Fractions, Graphing, and Practical Applications of Arithmetic. Leah is very excited! She actually lay down on her bed and kicked her feet in the air. Why? Because she adores Coordinate Graphing above all things. Some good resources for this are the Descartes (Stay-in-Bed Scholar) story from Mathematicians are People, Too and the beautiful wooden Coordinate Graphing Montessori material by Clocca Concepts. We had this at my last school but, obviously, can't afford it as homeschoolers. Still, I recommend it highly in case you are looking for just such a thing.

Mathematicians Are People, Too: Stories from the Lives of Great Mathematicians, Vol. 2

Knowing that Natalie MUST have a three day rhythm allotted to her, or she will take it by sheer force of will and I will simply stand around and pull my hair out trying to move the immovable (remember, our children's traits are gifts given to them by their guardian angel and will stand them in good stead later in life... we just can't see that now), I can see time for 6 stories. Descartes and the fly on the ceiling is obviously one of them. What should be the other five? Hmmm.