Monthly Archives: October 2013


Recently some friends and I were discussing how history is naturally written from different perspectives, with different agendas or intentions, if you will.  We also discussed how this is not always a purely negative thing, but merely part of the purpose of historiography.  This concept is conveyed even in Scripture.  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all addressed their gospels to a slightly different audience, stressing different aspects of Jesus’ words and ministry.

As our church family has been reading through the Bible this year, we are also nearing the end of Scripture.  Reading Christ’s death last night I noticed something new, or perhaps something I had not thought about in awhile.  Fabric – two distinct fabrics- appeared simultaneously as a powerful symbol in Christ’s death scene.

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.  The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15: 37-39

Two histories of the same historical event.  Two fabrics.  Two different fabrics.

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining.  This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

“Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another.  “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”

This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, “They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” John 19:23-24

Mark describes a Jewish curtain ordered and designed by God Himself.  John focuses on a garment given to a Jew by the Romans.

Each historian creates significance from a textile.  One is negative, the other positive.  One says, “No more!”  The other cries out, “Forever!”

Mark says the temple and the priests are no longer needed.  They are imperfect. They are obsolete.  The temple curtain is ripped from top to bottom.

PILGRIMS TOUCH CASING CONTAINING ROBE REPORTEDLY WORN BY CHRIST ON DISPLAY AT CATHEDRAL IN GERMANY--Pilgrims touched a casing containing the "'Holy Robe" in the cathedral in Trier, Germany, April 15. The ancient town of Trier marks the 500th anniversary of the first public appearance of the Seamless Robe of Jesus, reportedly worn during, or shortly before his crucifixion. Some 500,000 pilgrims are expected to visit the relic through May 13. (CNS photo/Wolfgang Rattay, Reuters)

John says only He is necessary.  He is perfect.  Even his simple garment makes a statement; it is woven from top to bottom.  It is eternally intact.  His plan was seamlessly finished.


Hanging Halloween Patterns


Believe it or not, these flimsy construction paper cut-outs have survived six or seven Halloweens.  They originally came to life when A and S were still small.  They have recently had a reinvented purpose wtih G, who merely knows the label “ghost,” but truly has no idea what it represents.

I discovered them buried in a drawer of the dining room hutch as I was digging for a tablecloth.  How fortuitous, given the season!  I thought they would be perfect for G to practice his patterns.

This was not a new concept for him.  We have periodically worked on patterns whenever we see them appear naturally.  Last year we used a fall theme to create an ABB pattern with pumpkins and pinecones.

Fall ABB patterns

Below, G has created an ABC pattern.  Recognizing and predicting patterns is an important skill for 3-5 year olds.  We encounter patterns in nature, music, mathematics, grammar, and in so many other areas.  This is slowly preparing G for some higher level thinking.  At least, I hope so.  Right now, we are just having fun.

"Owl, pumpkin, ghost, owl, pumpkin, ghost, owl..."
“Owl, pumpkin, ghost, owl, pumpkin, ghost, owl…”

I have been wanting to play with clothes pins lately, ever since this summer when G discovered them at Oma’s house.  They are such a great way to practice some fine motor skills.  Not only do they provide a challenge beyond the pincer grasp, but they are a solid pre-writing exercise.  Just the act of opening a clothes pin strengthens those hand muscles necessary for holding a pencil and writing.


A simple rope tied to two kitchen chairs, some construction paper shapes and clothes pins were all we needed.  Initially, I had intended for him to continue his AB patterns on the clothesline.  However, it was quite the challenge for him to hold the paper still with one hand while squeezing hard enough with the other, so I just let him have fun hanging them all up.


He made sure we kept them up for the rest of the day.

Jealous of Thoreau

I am jealous of Henry David Thoreau.  Yes, I do know he is deceased, but I cannot help it.  I am still jealous.


After reading several chapters of My Side of the Mountain, a story of a New York boy who decides to live out on his own in the Catskills, A is doing some preliminary reading on Thoreau.  As he  is starting to do some research for his eventual essay, I began to re-read bits of Walden, various quotes from other sources and came upon this –

I think I cannot preserve my health  and spirits unless I spend four hours a day…sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.”


Exactly!  If I could just spend half my waking hours away from all people, I would be replenished and peaceful.  I could handle the rest of the day.  This is fairly close to how I spent some of my time in my 20s.  It was glorious.  I was a Thoreau in a city park.  Now, I am a mom of three boys with scarcely a moment to myself.  Mr. Thoreau, my spirits are failing, but a hibernation to Walden Pond  seems impossible.  Four hours a day?  Four consecutive minutes seems a stretch.


Given the opportunity I would not change my life, but am I the only one who complains about what I do have?  The children are needy.  Life, at times, seems tedious, and I can be easily preoccupied.  My schedule is crowded.  The house constantly needs attention.  Mr. Thoreau, how do I carry with me the quietude of the forest?

 Beautiful, beautiful day!

Mr. Thoreau, I think I may be talking to the wrong person.

 study in sunlight and leaves

Jesus was constantly surrounded by people.  They were always following him and grabbing for him.  They were needy and insensitive.  He had a great deal he wanted to accomplish in any given day.  Did he get distracted?  He was often side-tracked by the crowds.  He was never able to spend four hours a day sauntering anywhere.  And yet his “health and spirits” always seemed strong.  Even in fatigue he never lost his temper; his compassion and vision for people never faded.  He had the eyes and heart of God.  He had an insatiable desire to spend time with his father.  He pulled away.  Even for a moment.  Often times a moment was all he was afforded.  Yet it was enough.

“Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses.  But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”  Luke 5:15-16

"I am so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers!"  -L.M. Montgomery

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”  Mark 1:35

Jesus, teach me to pray.  And let it be enough.

Farm Tales

Soups and stews. Pumpkin pie and muffins. Cardigans and scarves. It’s autumn in the Midwest. How does this translate into preschool literature? Farm stories! For the last couple of weeks G and I have been reading a collection of Golden Books all with farm themes – “A Day on the Farm,” “The Little Red Hen” and “Two Little Gardeners,” by Margaret Wise Brown but mostly we have delved into Richard Scarry’s “The Animals of Farmer Jones.”

This sweet story introduces preschoolers to typical animals on the farm and the various grains they might eat. The animals patiently wait for Farmer Jones to leave his tractor at the end of the day to provide them with their dinner.  G enjoyed all the supplemental activities that we created for this story, but I don’t think there was enough substance to the tale for the multiple readings we did as with “Lentil” and others. Nevertheless, our weather vane still adorns the kitchen table.


Science – Every barn has a weather vane. We stuck to creating one with the traditional rooster. G already knows his compass points, so he helped me label them, and we stuck them on the lid to an empty plastic fruit container. We placed rocks in the bottom to weight it down and poked a hole in the lid large enough to set a straw through, which was stabilized by the rocks. We placed another straw in the first and secured them with tape.


While G was coloring a print out template of a rooster, I cut out an arrow from cardstock and fastened it with a paperclip in the middle of the straw. G taped the rooster to the top of the straw, and we were ready to observe the wind. G learned that meteorologists observe and study the weather.

Crafts – Our craft project was having fun with scarecrows. Every farm story incorporated the scarecrow at some point, even if he was silently taking his place in the background. For this craft we used a paper plate, felt bits, construction paper, origami and tissue papers, glue and crayons. Basically, it was whatever materials I had on hand. I got this great idea from notimeforflashcards.  Allison McDonald always seems to be full of preschool craft ideas – an area where I seriously struggle.

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Telling Time – G has had a little green clock in his room ever since he was born, so I often show him what time it is, namely at bedtime. We noticed Farmer Jones fed the animals at six o’clock, so we played with the hands on our clock as we talked about what we did at seven o’clock, twelve o’clock or eight o’clock.


G knows the minute hand and the hour hand, so we learned how to change the time for the hour and the half hour.

G showing what six o'clock looks like.
G showing what six o’clock looks like.

Farm Sensory Bin – These homemade bins seem to be our go to activity regardless what we are learning.  I usually have two or three different themes going at one time, and am finally starting to store extras in large ziploc bags. This saves on having to purchase many different plastic containers.


This one was created with a combination of rice, beans and popcorn I had leftover from another bin. We added a few plastic scoops, craft leaves leftover from a church luncheon and, of course, the Fisher Price farm figures. Sensory bins are really the most fun when the play is child-led. We don’t have a particular agenda when playing with these. I mostly liked burying my hands in all of it and sifting the popcorn through my fingers. G has spent most of his time so far throwing the leaves in the air and quoting, “The leaves are turning red and brown.  The leaves are falling to the ground.”

Word Cards– From such a young age G has been focused on text in his books. He follows along with his finger as we read, so at three he already has quite a few sight words in his repertoire. I wanted to boost his confidence with his familiarity with some of these words. G helped me look through the illustrations and text as he chose which words to create into word cards. He spelled them aloud for me as I wrote. Pig, cow, horse, farmer, thank you were a few. I think we made 10-12 altogether.


First I scrambled them up while he read them to me. Perfect. The next day I gave him dot paints and called out a word while he put a dot on the correct card. This was fun for him for a few minutes, and he was proud of himself for being able to “read.” A couple of days later we got out the play dough and wooden letters. G used his word cards to spell the words by pressing the wooden letter into the play dough. Not only did this reinforce his knowledge of the sight words, but it was good fine motor practice for his little fingers.

Field trips – I always like to give G a field trip opportunity with the stories we read. The most obvious choices were a trip to our very local organic dairy farm, which of course, meant milkshakes afterward, and a visit to the pumpkin festival.


Picking a pumpkin, pony rides, the corn maze, and eating apple donuts are all a highlight of our fall season.


Seven From Scandinavia


During this last 2012-2013 school year, my boys and I read a significant number of books.  Most of them were excellent.  I am thankful that some of them were responsible for turning S on to reading for the sheer pleasure of it.  Unwittingly, we read several books with Scandinavian settings.  Were we subconsiously drawn to the frigid northern climes once we slid down the steep mountains with Norwegian youth, or was this collection pure coincidence?  I am not sure, but here are a few fantastic reads if you wish to visit Norway or Denmark, if only through children’s literature.

Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan – It is not often we happen upon a book that is equally celebrated by A and S both.  A wants to stick strictly to realistic or historical fiction; S needs adventure.  This book fits both criteria.  Snow Treasure details the true story of how Norwegian children in a small mountain village smuggle millions of dollars worth of gold on their sleds past Nazi officers.  In the end, they save their village and their way of life.  McSwigan provides the reader with a positive story of children’s courage in a difficult time.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry – This well-known Newberry-Award winner pleasantly surprised me last year when I read it for the first time as an adult.  It is based on a conglomeration of true stories during World War II Denmark, and like, Snow Treasure, it is a happy tale of grim times.  The Johansen and Rosen families have always been friends.  Jewish evacuation by the Nazis does not change that.  Concentrating on the friendship of Annemarie and Ellen, we see a glimpse into the goodness, bravery and determination of the Danes as they save the vast number of their nation’s  Jews by smuggling  them onto the southern shores of neutral Sweden.  This is an excellent story for eight to twelve-year-olds who may love an historical novel, but are not able to handle other gruesome events of war times.  Truth be told, I was comforted and inspired by the noble nature of the story.  Do not forget to discuss the scientific reasons why cocaine was used in the smuggling.  While Annemarie was not an actual girl, she and her family are true in spirit.  Many such Jewish families found freedom due to the compassion and goodness of their neighbors.

Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus – Here is another World War II novel with a unique perspective, and with perhaps a bit more violence described than the two previous books.  Again, we are in the Norwegian mountains, this time with 14-year-old Espen.  Over the next five years we see him come of age as he becomes a courier, then a spy for the Norwegian resistance movement.  He protects his family, his friends and his country, but eventually finds himself skiing for his life over the mountains into liberating Sweden.  Preus’ storytelling keeps the reader on the edge of his seat, while the actual photographs remind us that real youths began (and ended) their lives in such extraordinary ways.  Preus interviewed Erling Storrusten, the real-life  Espen, in researching her novel.

          Samuel Blink and the Forbidden Forest, and its sequel, The Runaway Troll by Matt Haig – These are some of S’s favorite books.  The book opens with the Blink family in an automobile accident after an argument ensues on a road trip, killing the parents. This macabre beginning may be offputting for some, but S did not seem to be disturbed by it.  The story tells of Samuel and his younger sister Martha as they move to Norway to live with their peculiar Aunt Eda after their parents’ deaths.  Everything about their new home is odd.  There are many different cheeses and many different rules, namely that they are never, ever to venture into the forest.  Fantastic creatures based on Norwegian folklore, exploding body parts and solving the mystery at what really happened to Uncle Henrik are part of the fun.  Both books are well-written.  Do not forget to point out to your child Haig’s nod to Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.

D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths by Ingri d’Aulaire and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire – Monsters, gods, elves, sprites and other mischievous creatures come to life through the sumptuous artwork of this children’s classic.  Each story is faithfully, but succinctly told to give boys and girls a great appreciation for the weird and raucous tales of Norse mythology.  Thor, Loki, Odin, Freya and frost giants storm through its pages.

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman – This is a perfect read for seven to ten-year-olds who want a fictionalized version of some of the great Norse myths.  This slim book stays true to the original myths and characters.  Odd is a very unlucky twelve-year-old in Norway, but with a bravery he does not know he possessess, and a growing collection of peculiar friends.  He just might be the one to save Asgard, the city of the gods, from the invading frost giants.

Boy by Roald Dahl- Welsh-born, from Norwegian parents, Roald Dahl is best known as a great British children’s author.  What did he do with his time, however before he flew in the Royal Air Force, or before he invented the Oompa Loompas, or an enormous, juicy specimen of fruit in his own backyard?  In his brief autobiography from birth to early manhood, Dahl charmingly describes his family’s yearly trips back to Norway, as well as the severity of the English boarding schools, and his inspiration for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.   Adults will be shocked, and children will be rolling on the floor from laughter,  when they discover what the precocious Dahl children actually put in the pipe of their sister’s boyfriend. 

Hopefully, some of these books spark your interest, whether it is in fiction, geography, culture or mythology.  Grab a map or a globe with your child, curl up with a book, and “travel” to Scandinavia.

Who Said Math Was Fun?!

Math, in any of its forms, has never been my favorite subject.  Once I had mastered rote memorization, I quickly lost interest, and quite frankly, easily became confused.  For this reason I was somewhat surprised when one of the motivating factors in beginning our homeschool journey was teaching math to my own children.  Now I want to pause and insert a disclaimer here.  In no way do I have a bad taste in my mouth regarding public education, or the new methods of teaching mathematics.  However, what do you moms really think of front end estimation or the lattice method for multiplication?  It is very likely that since mathematics has first been taught, parents have complained , “Well, that is not how we did it back in the day.”  I remember my father and uncle patiently attempting to teach me algebra while I cried out of frustration.  They attempted while I lamented, “That is not how Mrs. L—— showed us.”  Once my children reach pre-calculus, we may learn the “newfangled” methods.  In the meantime, I will show them the tried and true ways which have got me thus far.

Anyway.  While allowing my kiddos to get those mathematical bits of rote information down pat, we could make it a bit fun every once in awhile.  This is easily achieved with my three-year old.  Math is everywhere around us.  Once the older boys are on to me that we are actually reviewing lessons learned, and not just playing, it had better be fun.

My nine-year old, S,  is learning division this year, but still struggles to have his multiplication facts as firmly in his head as I would like them.  He also has that nine-year-old boy energy that would just prefer to jump up and down repeatedly like a pogo stick than, say, write out his multiplication table over and over.  The world is his trampoline.  So, the kind-hearted and understanding mother that I am, I came up with what he calls, “run-around-the-house math.”

Run-around-the-house math – This is a fun activity we use at the beginning or end of a week after the hard work (I didn’t say boring) has already been done.  We use it as a refresher.  I collect about ten 3×5 index cards.  On one side I write a math sentence.  For example, 9 x 7 = 63 or   63 / 9= 7.  If I want him to have a greater challenge, I write it down without the product or quotient.  On the flip side I write the location of where he will find his next note card.  I place them all around the house, upstairs and down, some even in the backyard, then instruct him to place his spiral notebook and pencil in one particular location.  It is usually on his desk in his bedroom.  His job is to read the first card, e.g. 24 / 6 = 4.  Then, he reads  the opposite side, which may read, “under the kitchen table.”  He places the card back down, races upstairs to his room, records it in his notebook, runs to the kitchen table and gets the next card.  This is repeated until all ten cards are completed.  By this time, he has tripped once or twice, and is out of breath, and laughing.  My hope is that the slight delay in having to remember a couple of things simultaneously, going through the motion of writing it down, combined with a little bit of moving around will all work together to help something stick in his head.  In any case, it is his favorite day of math.

Odd One Out– This is another activity we do with index cards, but is stationary.  After cutting several cards in half to save paper, I group them in fours.  Three numbers will belong together to form a true math sentence.  The fourth will be the “odd one out.”  His job is to recognize as quickly as possible which one that is.  The first group of number cards might reveal 6, 42, 8, 7.  Obviously, the 8 is the odd one out, because 7 x 6 = 42.  This is a fun exercise to strengthen his knowledge of patterns and relationships in math, or what today’s elementary children call “fact families.”

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With G, my three-year-old, math practice is easier and naturally more fun.  There is not much to plan ahead, because at this age counting with numbers just happens organically through play and conversation.  I do, however, have a couple of activities for G that we like to get out when he wants to join his brothers and “do math.”

Sensory math – With toddlers and preschoolers the more senses they are able to use, the better.  This is even true for certain learning styles as we get older.  Last year I made G a simple (I am not at all a craftsy person) flannel board with a tree, apples, basic geometric shapes and numbers.  We like to play with these in different ways.

G lining up numbers and shapes
G lining up numbers and shapes
One-to-one counting with apples
One-to-one counting with apples

Threading Beads – I have been proud of how G has grown in his hand-eye coordination.  Scissors are still a challenge for him. I frequently need to remind him that his thumb goes on top while he is cutting.  He has, however,  truly mastered threading his wooden beads  through the laces even with the tiny holes.  He also uses index cards or colored card stock with a number.  He, then, counts his beads as he strings them on the laces.

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This seems to be meaningful for him as he often initiates counting throughout his day.  “Let me see how many apple slices I have on my plate.”  Or,  “One, two, three, four, five, six ducks in that pond.”

It’s not pre-caluculus yet, but we are getting there.