Monthly Archives: May 2014

Finding the Motivation for Math

That is key in a variety of areas for our kids, isn’t it?  Finding the motivation.  This is particularly true with the types I am mothering.  You know, those insanely frustrating, internally driven individuals, the kind who are not to be threatened nor bribed to perform? Whatever they do, it is because they want to, not because I say it is part of the curriculum, or because they get extra time on the iPad.

It seemed easier to find ways of incorporating their interests when they were little, when so much learning was facilitated through active play, games and a good book.  It was all so natural.  Now, as they have grown a bit older, I have had to go out of my way to create meaningful methods to hold their interests on certain subjects.  Currently, that subject is math.  Several months ago I wrote here on how I tried to keep up with S’s energy level during math lessons.

Subtracting the Presidents

When A was in kindergarten he was completely focused on the U.S. Presidents. He had flashcards with their photos and would line them up in chronological order.  He knew all their pets, which political party they belonged to, and could retell at least one humorous story about each of them.  This interest in world leaders kept him going for a long while, and eventually inspired me to teach him borrowing in subtraction.  He was always asking how old Millard Filmore was when he died, or Taft, or JFK.  So, we taught him how to borrow.  He learned quickly. He needed the information.  For months afterward, we would find scrap paper, doodle pads and white boards full of subtraction problems marking the deaths and births of many of our great leaders.

Then I grew lazy.  Math simply became math.  It is definitely not A’s strongest subject, but he is certainly at grade level.  We allowed him to plod along with his worksheets and assignments.  His only frustrations have to do with some obsessive tendencies to be correct the first time.  (aaaaagh!  One of the joys of the inflexible thinking of an aspie?)

Considering Baseball Math and Statistics

However, the other night, my husband unexpectedly reminded me  yet again of the power of motivation.  I had been out for part of the evening, and as he chatted baseball with A, he brought up statistics and RBIs.  Suddenly, decimals and probability seemed of utmost interest to my sixth grader.   He wasn’t complaining that math was boring, or that he didn’t care what the answer was.  He needed this information.

Next school year we may be creating word problems which include pitchers and first basemen.  Algebra equations and geometry proofs. Or he might have moved on to something totally different.  It’s hard to foresee.  Regardless, I don’t want to forget the power of motivation.  I always want to know my guys so well that I can readily pull a math lesson out of a hat – or batting helmet.



What does preschool at home look like?

Although we plan on continuing to educate our boys at home, my husband and I are still trying to decide whether or not to send G to preschool next year. The poor kid is just dragged along to whatever big brothers are doing. He might need a place that is just his.  Regardless of what our decision is, what does preschool look like at home?

As a task-oriented person, I often feel the need for productivity.  For example, I never just listen to music, although I may listen to music WHILE folding laundry.  My constant need for [the sensation of] productivity can, at times, strip the days of their natural joy.  Attempting to force this on my naturally joyful three (almost four!) year old son would be devestating.

My mother-in-law taught preschool-handicapped children largely overseas through the Department of Defense for nearly 30 years.  She loved her job and was fully committed to it.  She often said, “I love teaching preschool.  It’s just like being a mom.”  The unexpected order of her statement was not lost on me.  I would think someone might say, “Being a mom is like being your child’s first teacher.”  But no, mothering is the primary occupation.    Ultimately, we should set down our agendas, and be their guide.


1.  Playing is the same thing as learning.  The oft repeated mantra is true:   a preschooler’s job is play.  He makes sense of the world around him through testing, experimentation, and through imaginative play.  Play with beans and noodles, water and sand.  Play with crayons and play dough.  Play dress-up.  Play with their toys, and let them play with sticks and rocks.  Follow your child’s lead.  Play outdoors.  Play with light sabers and swords, or other weaponry that might maim.  Play with them.  And leave them some time to play alone.

2.  Life skills: getting dressed, brushing teeth, pouring juice, taking turns, picking up toys, dusting furniture, sorting laundry, helping bake cookies.  Mastering tasks that are age appropriate will fill her with confidence to achieve the next challenge.

3.  There is no need for a set curriculum.  Read stories while he is cuddled up in your lap. Take turns telling each other stories.  Play games with the neighbors, or friends from the community.  Work on gross motor (ride a tricycle, swing a bat), fine motor, (crumple up pieces of paper, cut with scissors, or draw outdoors with chalk.  If she is  really ambitious, she can write letters on the sidewalk.)  Count.  How many ducks are in the pond?  Cars in the driveway?  Dots on the ladybug?

4.  Talk…..Tell him about the new recipe you are using for dinner, about the book you are looking for at the library, what the sky reminds you of, your favorite movie when you were little, a funny dream you had last night, how you calm down after someone is mean to you… Talk…and Listen.  Listen to her retell the dream she thought was so hilarious.  Even if it is painfully long and tedious for you.  Listen to her ideas on how to build a giant robot,  or the world’s largest cupcake.  Listen when she disagrees with you.

5.  “School” doesn’t have to be from 9:00am to 12:00 weekdays, or whatever the local preschool schedule would be.  There are many days I feel G is largely neglected, left to play alone, or sporadically tended to during “school” hours.  However, just like any home school schedule, learning should not be relegated to certain parts of the day.  Preschool education can take place before breakfast, right before bed, or on Saturday afternoon.  It probably will not entail doing a worksheet at the kitchen table, but it will always be learning.

Isn’t this what moms do, homeschooling or not?  Isn’t this what all little ones love to do?


Preschool Prepositions

Amazingly, G is learning to read at lightning speed.  I have tried to tell him that the whole language approach is out of fashion, that phonics is where it’s at, but so far he is not listening.  The other day he wanted to play a children’s Bible trivia game, but I was unsure whether or not we could play just the two of us.  Who would read ME the questions?  G didn’t seem to think it a problem.  He immediately picked up the first card, and READ the question.  Word by word he read the question to where I understood it.

DSC_0011_2394After the game I made a big deal about how he read those questions ALL BY HIMSELF.  Obviously proud of himself and hiding a grin, he feigned a nonchalant gesture, “Yeah, I can read, ’cause I’m three.”

Ok, G, let’s practice some prepositions.  This was a very spontaneous activity.  Basically, I was trying to occupy him while the big brothers were finishing up some more demanding grammar and math.  I told him we would  need to enlist the help of some of his “buddies.”  I had written a few directional prepositions on slips of paper, asked him to read the word(s), and place the stuffed animal friend where indicated.  Here they are:


Lewis is ON the bed.




DSC_0019_2389Bubby is IN FRONT OF the bed.


Bubby-Crab is UNDER the bed.



DSC_0016_2387_edited-1Hooey is NEXT TO the bed.





My favorite is how he figured out what to do with the teddy bear.


Grandma-T bear is climbing OVER the bed.

The Voice

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Know that the Lord is God.   It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.  Psalm 100:3

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I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me -…….My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:14, 27

To Read or Not to Read


Shakespeare at ten and twelve years old may seem a bit amibitious, but when we reached the bard of Avon in our second volume of Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer, S began asking the questions.  Tragedies?  What kind of tragedies did he write?  Were there alot of fighting scenes?  My husband began filling in the gaps with quotes and story plots.  Although his degrees are in biology, chemistry and pharmacology, he grew up educating himself in Greek myths and Shakespeare’s plays.  He has always kept up an avid interest in the classics.  I married one of the few Renaissance men.

About the time we finished the chapter on Shakespeare and the arts during the Renaissance, I discovered Jamie Martin’s post on Simple Homeschool.  Amazon has the FREE Kindle version of Tales of Shakespeare retold by Charles and Mary Lamb, which contains twenty of some of Shakespeare’s most famous plays.  This brother-sister team originally published these works back in 1807 in order to give children the opportunity to enjoy the great comedies and tragedies.  Charles Lamb is most famous for his collaboration with his sister in this work, and with his friendships with the poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth.

Although, the language is still somewhat stilted for today’s young reader, the stories provided a great opportunity for a challenging read aloud.  They are brief enough to be read in one sitting.  With an occasional pause for questions or explanations, my guys thoroughly enjoyed Macbeth and Hamlet.  Hamlet was by far S’s favorite.  I mean, really, what ten-year-old, adventure-seeking boy would not thrill with the final scene in Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark?

We followed this up by reading a few select quotes online from the original play.

“This above all: to thine own self be true.”

“Conscience doth make cowards of us all.”

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

“To be, or not to be: that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them?”

Next, we are waiting for Netflix to deliver Franco Zeffirelli’s Hamlet starring Mel Gibson with the superbly crazed eyes.  Bring on the popcorn, crackers and hummus; let’s see what is rotten in the state of Denmark!


What we would be reading if I had girls

May I preface this post with two small clarifications?  First, I really do not regret having all boys.  How could you regret the loves of your life?  I do, however, wonder from time to time what it would be like to share some really great children’s literature with them from my own childhood, you know, the kind boys just don’t truly appreciate.  This brings me to the second clarification – yes, there really are differences in girls and boys.  As much as I detest the pink aisles of toy departments in box stores, as much as I dislike labelling “boys books,” we all must admit, there are just certain subject matters to which one gender or another naturally gravitate.  This is particularly true as children grow past those early years.  So, what follows is a wonderful (and personally dear) collection of books which I would still be reading aloud if I had girls.  The list may not be surprising.  They are mostly classics, widely read, but if you do have a girl in your life, snuggle up next to her and share a treasure, a shared language of  literature.  Or, try some of these out with the little man, too.  At least as long as he will allow you.Spring2014 004


Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder – Oh, sure, A was partially toilet-trained on chapters like “Grandpa and the Panther,” and “Mr. Edwards meets Santa Claus,” but even a wild prairie tomboy does not generally hold the interests of boys in the same way that I was captivated by Laura’s trek across the grasslands of pioneering America.  Reading about sugar snow, Pet and Patty, Nellie Oleson and Laura’s early romance with Almanzo after the long, long winter held me spell-bound and made me wish I had also traveled by covered wagon.

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich is where young girls might go after they have grown a bit older and read all the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories.  Beautifully written, they are told from the opposing perspective of the pioneer girls.  Ojibwa is from the Omakaya tribe near Lake Superior around 1847.  She is mysteriously discovered as an infant on a neighboring island, but grows up strong and full of curiosity.  Her people go through difficult times, and though the culture is a new one for most of us, through Ojibwa’s eyes, it is full of humanity and love.  This is a relatively new read for me.  They were first published  fifteen years or so ago, after I was well into adulthood.  However, I can imagine treasuring Erdrich’s books as a youngster.  Also in this series Chickadee, The Porcupine Year and The Game of Silence.

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Anne of Green Gables/ Emily of New Moon series by L.M. Montgomery.  I cannot emphasize the importance Montgomery’s writings had on me as  an 11 and 12-year old (and far beyond!).  I feel, like Anne-with-an-e, we are “kindred spirits.”  I cry every time Matthew gives Anne the “puffed sleeves” at Christmas, and I laugh when Mr. Carpenter “goes out with the tide” warning Emily to “beware of italics. ”  I have never been able to decide which series I enjoy more.  Emily is certainly darker, but more grown-up.  I will always be grateful to Lucy Maude not only for her characters, but also for introducing me to poets like Tennyson, Keats and Byron.  I would still love to make a pilgrimage one day to Prince Edward Island.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  Putting on plays in the parlor, eating apples in the attic, timidly playing the piano in the neighbor’s house, befriending the boy next door, reading war letters from father, growing up a March…..Who has not loved this family?

All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor.  Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, Gertie, then later, little brother Charlie.  Growing up Jewish at the turn-of-the-century in New York seemed neither strange nor unfamiliar. The books are full of sisterly love, patient parenting and Jewish holiday traditions.   I loved Ella as the Purim jester!  My favorites were always Sarah, who loved to read, and Henny who was always getting into so much trouble. All of a Kind Family Downtown, More All of a Kind Family, All of a Kind Family Uptown, and Ella of All of a Kind Family portray Mama’s and Papa’s girls (and baby brother) as they grow up before WWI.

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Betsy-Tacy-Tibseries by Maud Hart Lovelace.  Was there a happier place to live in than Deep Valley on Hill Street? Modeled after her own childhood experiences in the turn-of-the-century Minnesota, Lovelace helps us feel what it is like living in a community and growing up with best friends.

No surprises here in this list?  What were your favorites growing up?  Which childhood character seemed more flesh and blood than words on a page to you?  May you and your own “half-pint” bury your noses in a book, may you love every leaf, every page as you turn them together.