Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Milk Safari

At our house, at any given time, we are either almost out of milk or all out of milk. Lauren phoned during the appetizer portion of Stuart's birthday date to let us know that the current milk status was nil. After we finished up dinner, Stuart and I went, hand in hand, on the milk safari.

We made it safely past the patio furniture and the tiki bar and the summer dishware to the farthest corner of the store. Two gallons of milk in hand, we made the trek back through the financial death traps, cursing store planners and their wily skills. We almost made it out of Kroger's with just the milk when I spotted the Butterfinger eight pack.

The self-checkout aisle beckoned and because Stuart was with me and doesn't have the same issues with self-checkout bagging that I seem to have, we sallied forth to make our purchase.

I scanned the first gallon.

"Please place your item in the bagging area." Cinderella's stepmother spoke to us in her pleasant yet condescending tone.

Yes! Success! One item down, two to go.

"Please place your item in the bagging area." The second gallon of milk, done.

Now for the Butterfingers. Scan. Bag. But wait these look so tasty! I took them up, opened the package, tore open a tasty morsel, popped it halfway into my mouth, and like Eve, offered one to my Adam.

"Please put the item BACK in the bagging area." I set the remainder of the package down and looked into the scanner for Cinderella's stepmother. Stuart knows my self-checkout issues. He looked at me with the half a Butterfinger poking from my lips and we laughed until the tears came. People with advanced degrees in self-checkout glared at us with haughty advanced-degree glares. We hardly noticed. The best part of the birthday date was in Krogers buying milk.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

History Repeats Itself

Once there was a little boy. A mischievous little boy with a wind-up car. He took that car, wound it up and drove it into his sister's hair.

The little boy grew up and had a girl and he told her the story about the car and the hair. "That car turned your Aunt Ellen's hair into a rat's nest. A regular rat's nest your granny would say. I made a hell of a mess! They had to cut that car out of her hair."

The girl grew up and had a little boy. A mischievous little boy with a wind-up car. He took that car, wound it up and drove it into his sister's hair...


Monday, April 27, 2009

Mr. Morse and Mr. Gilbreth

Stuart rang this morning, "Have you seen the Google homepage yet?"

We had. John did a little Gollum dance in front of the computer to let us know. "Come quick! Hurry!"

Morse code. The kids all joined John in his little Gollum dance to celebrate their new favorite form of communication.

We read Cheaper by the Dozen a few years ago when the little ones were too little so, my chore time pep talks, "Frank Gilbreth would roll over in his grave if he saw you clearing that table one plate at a time," only generated blank stares. Finally, after Mr. Gilbreth came up for the twentieth time Faith got curious. "WHO is Frank Gilbreth and WHY do you keep talking about him?"

Out came Cheaper by the Dozen . We rolled our way through the chapters, holding our sides. A story of a motion study pioneer who practiced his techniques on himself and his supersized family with hilarious results. A born teacher, a man who made the most of his time. We were spellbound. When we got to the part where Mr. Gilbreth covered his entire summer cottage in morse code, the chidren were hooked.

One morning at breakfast we spent an hour coming up with words to match the dots and dashes of the alphabet.
Here's our list:
A .- a DORE
B -.. BEST i ar y
C -.-. CREEP y CRAWL ers
D -.. DAN ger ous
E . egg
F ..-. fil i BUST er
G --. GAR GOY le
H .... half a min ute
I .. ig loo
J .--- ju LY JAM JAR
K -.- KAN ga ROO
L .-.. lim BER ger cheese (much to John's dismay. He prefers li NO le um)
N -. NOS tril (Charlie's favorite word! Just in general.)
O --- O RE O
P .--. pen I CIL lin
R .-. re MOR a
S ... sal ly forth
T - TOAST! ( from YeahToast!)
U ..- un der WHERE?
W .-- what IS THAT?
X -..- EX tract of MALT ( Tigger's favorite food)
Y -.-- YO da's KNICK ERS
Z --.. ZO OL o gy

Once we got the code under our belts, the kids started burning through all the scrap paper in the house creating messages for one another. We are not working on them every meal like we were a few weeks ago but every once in a while somebody will write one and we will linger at the table solving the puzzle. Of course John created one this morning after he finished his dance.

This message is the first one that John made for us and I think it is the best one that we have done to date. If you would like to try this with your children, pretend that you are standing in the middle of the circle, turn so that you face the arrow at the top and then turn clockwise to work your way around.

morse code puzzle

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Peppers and Pigeons

They stand, the one born in 2000 and the one born in 2001, side by side at the kitchen counter chopping up peppers for the freezer. This is new for these young hands and the work goes slowly. To pass the time they discuss their favorite subject, science. Tonight extinct birds are on the menu.


"Mom, did you know that there used to be such a thing as dodo bird?"

"Yes, but now they are extinct."

"Yeah and there is a kind of pigeon that is extinct too."

"You're thinking of passenger pigeons."

"Yeah, passenger pigeons. The last one was shot by a fourteen year old boy and now it is in a museum." Claire slices methodically.

"Oh, I didn't know that." I say while corraling chopped bits of pepper in plastic wrap.

"Yup. A kid the same age as John killed it. I wonder if he went to jail?"

Faith wields her knife like a sword. I try not to look. "The last pigeon died a long time ago. A long, long time ago. Like in the Nineteen Hundreds or something."

At that moment I felt old. And so did John.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Chompo Bar for Lauren

Charlie and I went to the book store to get Lauren a study Bible for her twelfth birthday. I laid the Bible on the checkout counter when Charlie came to a realization, "That present is from you and Papa. I want to get Lauren a present from me!" Perhaps the array of candy right at his eye level helped his line of thinking but at any rate I could tell by the enthusiasm in Charlie's voice that we could not leave without a present just from him.

"OK. What do you think Lauren would like?"

"How 'bout these chocolates?"

"Lauren doesn't really like chocolate."

"How 'bout these chocolates?"

"I repeat, Lauren doesn't like chocolate."

"Oh. Then these. What are these?"

"Cinnamon candies. I think they might be too spicy. How about this?" I held up a roll of Orange Creme Life Savers."

He studied the wrapper with great deliberation. "That's not shareable. I want to get something to share."

"OOOH, so what you are looking for then is a Chompo Bar?"

It's been a while since we've read A Birthday for Francis so Charlie looked quizzically at my raised eyebrows. "What?"

"Never mind. The Life Savers are shareable."

"OK. Let's get them!" So we did. And then I explained for a long time how Lauren's presents were a secret and how he could not tell her and that if he wanted to talk about them he could only whisper about them to me when we were alone. And he wanted to know how alone, like when Lauren was in the same room but not sitting on the same sofa. And I said no, only when we couldn't see Lauren. And I repeated this several times.

When we got home Charlie got distracted with his sword and his radio control car with the dead battery and he forgot all about the presents so this morning we were able to surprise Lauren with her Chompo Bar...err...Life Savers. We didn't give her the other presents until dinner when Stuart came home but Charlie couldn't wait until dinner for Lauren to open his so early this morning before breakfast, he handed his little wrapped package to her.

"Here, Lauren. It's for you. It's for sharing! Open it! Open it!" Charlie said, jumping up and down, waving the goods in front of her.

Lauren opened her Life Savers and she was excited because she does like orange cream anything. "Thank you, Charlie."

And Charlie who had been waiting for two days to share, commenced to lay out his plan. "You get one. And give one to Mama and one to John and Faith and Claire and save one for Papa. Then give one to me and you get all the rest. "All the rest" turned out to be only four but Charlie is way better at sharing than Francis.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Spelling Wisdom

One day while skipping around the internet, I came across these:


And when I clicked on the sample, I knew we had to change spelling curriculums. Again. Goodbye Spelling Power and MacMillan and Sequential Spelling! We've found our true love.

The problem with the afore mentioned curricula is sheer boredom. Memorizing lists of words is mind numbing and as my children don't like their school work to lull them to sleep, they often push spelling to the side in favor of more exciting lessons.

When I found Spelling Wisdom, I realized what has been missing: an idea, something to engage the mind so that learning the difference between than and then occurs almost incidentally.

Sandra Shaffer uses the writings of famous men and women (Helen Keller, Beethoven, Winston Churchill...), Bible passages and quotes from quality literature...poems and novels (Robinson Crusoe, The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, All the World's a Stage...) to teach more than six thousand frequently used words.

Today, Faith and Claire copied these words by Abraham Lincoln found in Book 1 (used for grades 3-5):

Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

Tomorrow I'll let them look over their work and then they will turn to a blank page and I will dictate the passage (and punctuation) to them. They will be required to write the passage correctly. I will check their spelling and they will have to write any words they misspelled three times each. Then they will go on to copy the next passage. The next day, I will review the words that gave them trouble the previous day and after giving them a few minutes to study, I will dictate the new passage. We talk about the meaning of each passage as they work.

Lauren's exercises are longer. As the dictation exercises increase in length, the kids will only do one or two exercises a week. Here is an example from the end of Book Two (used for grades 5-7)

Exercise 88
The Smileys
From Amusements in Mathematics
by Henry Ernest Dudeney

When the Smileys recently received a visit from the favorite uncle, the fond parents had all the five children brought into his presence. First came Billie and little Gertrude, and the uncle was informed that the boy was exactly twice as old as the girl. Then Henrietta arrived, and it was pointed out that the combined ages of herself and Gertrude equaled twice the age of Billie. Then Charlie came running in, and somebody remarked that now the combined ages of the two boys were exactly twice the combined ages of the two girls. The uncle was expressing his astonishment at these coincidences when Janet came in. "Ah! Uncle," she exclaimed, "you have actually arrived on my twenty-first birthday!" To this Mr. Smiley added the final staggerer: "Yes, and now the combined ages of the three girls are exactly equal to twice the combined ages of the two boys." Can you give the age of each child?"

See? Lauren will learn to spell coincidences, presence, and astonishment and get a little math in as well. This is fun spelling.

I bought all five books in the series. John can spell anything and has an excellent grasp on grammar so I bought the remaining books just for him to read and grow from the BIG thoughts on these pages. Inaugural Address by Theodore Roosevelt, Give Me Liberty by Patrick Henry, The Wants of Man by John Quincy Adams... Together we will discuss the ideas found here and I might throw out a word or two to check his spelling...solace, insidious, omniscient. (Hardly necessary for the child with an obsession with thirteen letter words but I like to have the bases covered.)

So far, Spelling Wisdom appears to have been a wise purchase. The children went wild when the books came in the mail. Claire and Faith grabbed up their spelling book and their dictation notebook that evening on our way to the movies so they could work in the car. Claire even brought her work with her into the theater, "...because this is so INTERESTING, Mom! I might want to work on it in case the movie gets boring. Monsters vs. Aliens held her attention but on the way home the two girls pulled their books out again and got back to work.

Tomorrow after the breakfast dishes are cleared and we've read another chapter from Belles on Their Toes, they pull out their books and get started in on:

Work With Serenity
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

The day is always his who works in it with serenity and great aims.

They can't wait. They've got their books and pencils piled up on the counter ready to go. It's going to be a great day.


Eight months later: This post brings more traffic to my blog than any other. I was a fairly new Spelling Wisdom user when I wrote my review. We've covered seventy odd lessons in each of three levels and still are in love with this spelling program. We've done research on artists, scientists and delved into books that we might not have otherwise chosen to read if our curiosity had not been piqued by the passages that the children interact with in their spelling books. I've copied and framed some of the passages to capture the profound thoughts in these pages. (A Swarm of Bees Worth Hiving by Richard Newton is not to be missed.) Spelling Wisdom has been a fantastic choice for our family!

Our current approach to spelling is as follows: My two oldest children read their lesson and then I dictate it to them. They write misspelled words three times each. Since they rarely miss a word they move right on to the next lesson. My third child copies her passage one day and I dictate the lesson (including punctuation) to her the next. She writes misspelled words three times each and if she misses more than three words, she repeats the lesson the next day. Again, she is a good speller so this is a rare occurance for her. My fourth child is in second grade. (Spelling Wisdom is not recommended until third grade but she really wanted to be included so we made some accomodations so that she can be successful. If she didn't have so many older siblings, I wouldn't consider this program for her for at least another year.) Anyway, I have her copy a portion of a lesson on the first day. She writes the tricky words for a couple of days and then I dictate that portion when she is confident that she is ready. Again, she copies misspelled words three times each and if she misses a significant amount of words (more than four) I have her repeat the lesson. She works through one complete exercise a week as opposed to the other childrens' two or three.