Tuesday, January 29, 2008

growing pains

(Zoo Boy playing with a buddy at the children's museum yesterday.)

On and off for the past year or so, Zoo Boy has complained about pain in his legs at bedtime. As is typical of "growing pains", these episodes correspond with periods of rapid growth. The Boy just recently hit the 45 lb mark, a mere 5 lbs behind his older brother, and in measuring him one night (while trying to take his mind off the aching in his legs), we discovered that he's sprouted an inch and a half since his last measurement in the fall. No wonder his bones hurt!

One night recently, when his legs were particularly painful, we got out of bed and looked up a Homeopathic remedy for him. He impatiently danced next to me, grasping his legs, asking why it was taking so long. I told him that I was looking for "bones" and had to make sure I read the descriptions carefully, because if it wasn't the right "medicine" (which is what the kids call the remedies), it wouldn't help.

Not having much luck with my Materia Medica, I took a different tact. Knowing that the various Calcarea remedies have effect on bones, I pulled out all the Calcarea vials I had, and read the labels. Bingo! Calcarea phosphorica said "bone pains due to bone growth during adolescence". I handed the vial to Zoo Boy, who wrinkled his brow while he studied the letters on the label, then victoriously yelled "bone!" I grinned and measured out a dose for him, which he happily popped into his mouth, then scooted back to bed.

A short time later, I asked him how his legs were feeling. "Good!" he said with a deep sigh. A few moments of silence passed, then he asked, "How does medicine work?"

I thought for a minute about the answer. Homeopathy is pretty complicated stuff, and I'm not quite sure how to go about explaining the Law of Similars to a four year old. I haven't even been able to effectively explain it to adults! I offered a simple statement, "It helps your body feel balanced, which make your legs feel better". It didn't fly. "Yeah, but HOW does it do that?" Western medicine with pain blockers would be so much easier to explain....

"I don't really know," I said lamely. "It's sort of like magic, isn't it?" He smiled and drifted off to sleep.

Just like magic, in fact.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

summary of week #19, winter #7

We've continued on our laid-back homeschooling schedule as I try to work out some of the kinks in our rhythms. I'm trying to work through two new twists that have been added. The first is a newly added weekly visit from the kids' friend, E, supervised by our babysitter, K (all playing together in this photo). The other is my having come to the realization that it's time to add a few new components into J's day, easing him towards the first grade materials, yet NOT include Zoo Boy as he's not yet ready for the activities I need to do with J. Both situations have made for a bit of a conundrum, and I'm still working through the kinks. I hope to have it all sorted out by the first week in February, though. In the meantime, we'll continue to embrace our more casual schedule and continue to encourage social opportunities (for both the kids and myself!) via playdates (this week's were with my friend P and her kids on Wednesday, and with our pals Kyra and Fluffy on Friday).

There was no Homeschool Chorus this Monday due to the Martin Luther King Jr holiday, so the kids worked on their own music curriculum instead. Here, J plays a rockin' version of "Over The River" on the Boomwackers (which he made more challenging and energy-expending by spreading out all over the room, so he had to jump around to hit all the right notes).

Meanwhile, Zoo Boy experimented with the electronic keyboard. With no pants on. (All a part of our push to accomplish potty training prior to his 5th birthday. The time has come!)

After performing his repertoire of Boomwacker concert songs, J uses the Boomwackers and accessories to make a maze. The kids' Pokemon toys spent an hour or two traversing this and other maze combinations they came up with.

There weren't any museum classes this week, either, and no Open Gym, so we spent the bulk of the week at home. Which gave me a chance to do some much-needed mid-winter cleaning.

The full moon rising over our barn one evening this week.

Family Story Time books this week included The Lonely Wolf, by Chantal de Marolles, illustrated by Eleonore Schmid; Winter Days in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, illustrated by Renee Graef (another of the My First Little House book series that the kids are so fond of); and The Tomten and the Fox, by Astrid Lindgren. The kids were absolutely delighted to see another Tomten book.

Friday, January 25, 2008

sticker charts revisited

Last year, on my other blog, I wrote about our use of Sticker Charts to finally accomplish J's potty training. I also wrote in detail about how I was very conflicted in having to resort to bribery to accomplish this very basic of tasks, but how once I found something J considered worth stretching himself for (Marshmallow Peeps initially, Lego sets eventually), I jumped all over the bribery bandwagon, and lo and behold, got the job down once and for all. Whew.

Well, here we go again.

A couple weeks ago, I discovered that if I bribed Zoo Boy with a Sticker Book, he would sit on the toilet for literally hours until he finally produced some poop in there. But having accomplished that, and earning the beloved sticker book, he then told us that he'd forgotten where the bathroom was, and any further progress looked hopeless. Last weekend, on our "Mommy and me" date, I grabbed a small armful of sticker books while in the book store. I showed him the books and told him that they would be rewards for pooping on the potty. (A pair of nearby mothers quickly grabbed me to ask if that works -- I said "Here's hoping!" At least I'm not alone....) Well, first thing the next morning, Zoo Boy was out of bed and ready to poop and earn a sticker book. It took the better part of the day -- in fact, it took two. But he DID manage to put some poop, a teeny, tiny, microscopic amount, into the potty. And I gave him a sticker book, which he was pretty excited about. Next day, the poop was in his pull-up again. When I asked him why he didn't just use the potty, he shrugged and said "well, tomorrow I'll use the potty and get a sticker book".

Hence, enter the Sticker Chart. I made up a chart for him and showed it to him. I explained that he would earn a sticker for every time he pooped on the potty. And when he pooped 5 times and covered the "Sticker Book!" letters, he'd get a sticker book. And then again, another round of 5, and then a sticker book. He examined the chart carefully, then frowned at me. "How come there's no sticker book for 15?" I explained that by then, he'd have so much practice that he had to work harder to earn his prize. He looked at me dubiously. I upped the ante, and said "but for the sticker book at 20, you can go to the store to pick out your own." He raised an eyebrow. "At the mall?" he asked hopefully. Sure, I said -- whatever, just POOP IN THE POTTY.

As you can tell from the above pictures, we've been having success. Outrageous success. No "accidents" since. (Well, not poop anyway -- we've still got some peeing issues, but we'll deal with that later. One thing at a time for goodness sake!) And today he earned his first Sticker Chart prize, the coveted Star Wars sticker book. Oooohhhh.... (but look at how proud he is of it!)

He quickly raced it out to the living room to show J, and the two of them set to work on it and filled in every space with the appropriate stickers. Then made me sit down with them and showed it to me. Several times.

He couldn't wait for his playdate with his buddy Fluffy (son of my friend Kyra, from This Mom) so he could show him his new sticker book. Just so happens that Fluffy was here right after he earned his very first sticker book, which Zoo Boy figured must be fate. Kyra and Fluffy celebrated his accomplishment with just the right amount of enthusiasm, and Fluffy showed just the right amount of interest in and admiration for the sticker book.

Sticker charts. I'm still conflicted about them. I still don't love them. But even a doubter like me has to admit -- with the proper motivation, anything is possible.

tiny blue chicken

Obviously, this is NOT a tiny blue chicken, although Pear the Budgie seems to think she is. Fact of the matter is that she's become a willing subject to Pineapple's advances, and for a couple of weeks now she's been gracing us with a new egg on the cage bottom every other day. Which would be fine if we could do something with them. You know, like make a tiny omelet. But really, there's not much you can do with a parakeet egg, other than make other parakeets.

I mean, look at the size of that thing! It's the size of the nail on my little finger!

We've been taking them out as she's laid them, given that we really don't WANT any more parakeets, and I was hoping the stress of having them disappear on a regular basis would be enough to convince her to stop laying. I mean, in addition to the fact that we've purposely been doing everything WRONG if we'd wanted to be breeding Budgies. Their cage is in the kids' room, at the foot of Zoo Boy's bed, so they have two laughing rambunctious children jumping in their face all day long, not to mention at least two cats at at time staring through the bars of their cage licking their lips. Tropical birds need warm temperatures, an abundance of fresh foods, humid conditions, and a steady supply of light to breed. These birds live in a room that is never above 65 degrees, get dry seed, in a room that's a dry as a bone, and have lights on at varying times of day and night. Yet, they're popping out eggs like it was rainy season in the tropics.

All this reproductive energy has caused strife in our previously harmonious birdie community. So much so that we had to remove Lemon and Apple from the larger flight cage to their own accommodations, just to protect them. I didn't feel right about separating the pairs that were already bonded (they REALLY love each other, and Pineapple and Apple, the two males, just don't get along, so I just couldn't subject them to living with each other as roommates for the rest of their lives). And we eventually gave in and provided Pear with a safer place than the cage bottom to put her eggs (which she's continued to lay despite the change in living arrangements), so the egg that was laid today will stay (it's not good for her to be laying so many eggs, poor thing, and once she has a full clutch -- anywhere from 4 to 7 -- she'll stop laying). It remains to be seen, but my guess is that we're going to be looking for homes for little blue and white parakeets come spring. Put in your reservations now! The kids are pretty excited at the prospect of watching little birdies hatch out, and now that I've gotten used to the idea (and spoken with the local pet store owner to make sure he'll buy any birdies we have to sell), it has the makings of a pretty cool homeschooling project.

Meanwhile, the happy couple is taking full advantage of their private bridal suite. I don't see how they have time to eat, they are too busy try to make sure every one of those tiny eggs is well fertilized. They particularly like getting busy when it's the kids' rest time. Zoo Boy, on observing them for the better part of an hour one day, said to me "Look at the birds!" I said, "Oh? I wonder what they're doing?" I figured he'd tell me that Pear was giving Pineapple a piggy back ride, or that Pineapple was practicing for the circus with Pear. Nope. "They're marrying," was his explanation.

Farm kids. No need to explain the birds and bees to them!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

the gift of time

My wonderful friend P contacted me a few days ago and asked if it would be OK if she brought her son over on Wednesdays for a playdate with the boys while she took a pottery class with her daughter. She offered to bring along the babysitter/mother's helper that we share as well, since Wednesdays is our regular day for K to come watch the kids while I work in the afternoon. This resulted in overwhelming joy for my kids (playing a game of Balloon Lagoon with K and E in this photo), and an extra 2 hours of free time for me. I suppose I could fill that time with another lesson or two. But somehow that would seem like a waste of this wonderful gift of ME time!

And what did I do with my gifted time today, you wonder? (I'll bet you can guess!) Yup! I purged!

And speaking of which, I promised you all an update as I went along, so here's what I worked on yesterday:

Remember my closet from my last post?:

Well, now it looks like this:
Stunning difference, no? By the time I went to bed yesterday, I had stuffed 7 tall kitchen trash bags full of clothes to be donated, another 2 trash bags full of recycling, 1 of trash, and 3 boxes of kids clothes to be sold.

This afternoon I dove head-first into the room behind the garage. I didn't take any photos yet, because (alarmingly enough) I'm not sure you'd be able to tell any difference yet. But my tally from my 2 hours of hard labor and sorting through 5 or 6 large boxes of junk was: 2 large garbage bags full of garbage, another bag half-filled with paper recycling, a mammoth mountain of corrugated cardboard boxes broken down for recycling, 3 large boxes of things for donation/give aways, and one tiny box of things I'm keeping. (And here's what's in that tiny box: The Map Man's high school ring, two honor society pendants, a bag of marbles, a tiny plastic box of tinier seashells, and an unopened package of "hello my name is" stickers. The marbles and the shells are for the kids. The ring and pendants are for memorabilia's sake. And the blank name tags....well, you just never know when something like that is going to come in handy. A seminar or convention could break out at any minute around here!)

Don't worry, I'll get back to posting about the kids, or the farm, or something more interesting than my STUFF at some point. But right now I'm trying to figure out a way to fit all that crap in the van to haul it where it's going....

Monday, January 21, 2008

mid-winter purge

I'm purging this week. Which isn't as disgusting as it sounds. (Well, not really....) I've just hit that time of the winter where I feel like if I don't get some extra breathing room in here, I might scream!!! Which sends me into a throwing-stuff-out frenzy. Something that is badly needed around here pretty much year-round, but that I have trouble finding time (and motivation) for unless I'm stuck looking at it for days on end due to frigid temperatures outdoors.

So I invite you into the seldom-seen recesses of my house. These are the places that the purge is most needed, and where I concentrate my efforts. Like this first location, the focus of my attention this afternoon-- my closet. Nice, huh? (NOT!) Yesterday afternoon I purged my dresser drawers (and now the clothes I actually wear fit in there -- what a concept!) and I have 2 1/2 tall kitchen trash bags' worth of clothes headed to the donation bin next weekend. I purged my bookshelf (my own personal books, not the kids') a couple of days ago and plopped a nice big "used book sale" box of dog training books at the training center where I work, with a suggested price and instructions as to where to leave the money. (I hear I've sold a couple -- what doesn't sell I'll donate with the rest of my discarded books to our library. The few that actually have decent value I may sell on Amazon or eBay, if I can find a place to store them -- snort -- and ever find the time to actually list them -- double snort!)

Part of the reason I need to purge has to do with the size of our house. And not so much the actual SIZE of the house, but the amount of usable space within. We're living in about 800 square feet of space (and that's including my bedroom, so I'm being pretty generous about that amount!). That does not include the room pictured in this photo, which is SUPPOSED to be a family room, but instead has sort of become a place to stash things we need and use somewhat regularly, but don't have a place to be when not in use. If we could find places for all this stuff, we'd have 400 extra square feet of living space. That's right. 400. We'd increase our living space by 50%. Of course, that's including this space:

Also known as our half-bath and laundry room. Which, as you can see, has also been consumed by the stuff-we-use-but-can't-find-a-place-for. This particular room happens to stash toys and dog beds. (Dog items in general account for a lot of the stuff-we-use-but-can't-find-a-place-for, hence the importance of purging the next room I'll talk about.) You can almost see the toilet in there, about 2/3 the way down on the left side. The sink and the washer/dryer are to my immediate left, and, believe it or not, are actually accessible. Surprisingly, everything in this room is accessible, it's fairly well organized. Just, you know, impossibly crowded and in desperate need of a purge.

Here's the product of last year's purge. This room was filled from wall to wall to ceiling with STUFF. It's now only half filled (and only half-way to the ceiling) with stuff. Most of which can probably be thrown out. Last winter I threw out about 90% of the stuff that was in here (more stuff has migrated in from other areas of the house, as stuff is apt to do when you create an empty space in a storage room). This is not a "real" room, by the way, it's a not-really-finished-off garage, and hence is NOT livable space, unless we were to do some major renovations to it. But it should be able to comfortably house my dogs (they're in there, by the way, out of sight on the right) AND all of their equipment, plus all of my horses' gear and supplies as well. Plus room for storing grain in the front part. If only I can finish purging out the rest of this junk, I could erect some shelving units and finish off a nice little tack room.

And last but not least, here's where all the remaining stuff needs to go. This was also a location of last winter's purge, although it's filled in considerably since then. This is the actual storage room. You see those boxes on the top shelf, to the right? That's the result of this weekend's work. And actually, those will be leaving at some point too -- baby and toddler clothes that I can sell for credit at the 2nd hand store, so that I can buy clothes in sizes my kids can actually wear. There are a couple of other shelves in there behind all the stuff, too. So all in all, a nice storage room once it gets organized. And honestly, most of that stuff is going to have a place in the garage room, once that room gets purged.

But this week isn't about organization. It's about purging. Organizing will come later -- this week is strictly about throwing out, donating, selling, giving away, or burning as much stuff as possible.

I'll post updates. Anyone care to join me?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

week #18, winter #6

We started the week with a snowstorm, and are ending it with bitterly cold temperatures. After last week's "January Thaw", it's an adjustment, but we're back in the swing of Winter again, and our curriculum materials are back in full use. (It's so much easier to do an adventure circle about a snowstorm when it actually looks and feels like winter!)

Speaking of our adventure circle, I made the first small adaptation to it. Instead of my boot breaking while shoveling, I had J's boot break in the story. And instead of our neighbor coming by to pick us up in his sleigh, Twirly Whirly came by in her sledge and offered us a ride. (A character from one of the books we read last week, The Story of the Snow Children, by Sibylle von Olfers.) The kids were absolutely delighted with the changes.

We kicked up our woodworking program a notch this week. The Map Man bought some thin wooden dowels and cut them into pegs so that the kids could practice hammering them through the holes they've been drilling. They're cut long enough to actually join two pieces of wood together, but the kids haven't discovered that yet. So far they've just been working on pounding in pegs, then pulling them back out with pliers so that they can be pounded in again. Especially Zoo Boy, who has really taken a shine to our little makeshift wood shop in the corner of our living room.

Our curriculum story for the week was a traditional Western Europe folk tale called "Four Friends", in which a goat, a pig, a goose, and a lamb escape being eaten by their farmers and build a house together in the woods, eventually working together to scare away a wolf. Zoo Boy sat mesmerized by the story, hanging on every word, during each telling. He's been that way for the past couple of stories, and is obviously really ready to be listening to these sorts of tales. I think it's time to move on with J, so I'm going to try to find a way to read him some of the Kindergarten Quasi-Fairy Tales to try to better meet him where he is in his development right now. He might even be getting ready for real Fairy Tales, but I want to see how he handles the milder versions first. Meanwhile, he's still enjoying the Folk Tales (which I'll let him be a part of anyway, just because it helps in their play with each other), and the two of them immediately asked for their farm play set the first day we read the story so that they could re-enact the tale, and add countless embellishments as the days progressed. (In the above photo, the little farmer character J is using makes a wish on the wishing well -- "I wish I was on my tractor" -- and whoosh!! Suddenly he's on his tractor!! Such magic!)

Yesterday Zoo Boy had a "Mommy and me" day, while J had a "Daddy and me" day. On our "date", Zoo Boy and I went to the mall (per his request) so he could play with the "little kids" in the play area. He had a blast, proclaimed himself a Superhero named "Super Slide", and declared to all who would listen that he was naming this "Kid Island" and that there were "no adults allowed!" Afterwards we went to the book store for awhile (also at his request) before heading home.

The snowstorm on Monday prevented the Winter Semester of Monday Homeschool Classes from starting (J is signed up for Chorus again, and we decided the one class is enough for the winter). So we played in the snow for the next couple of days, and finally got out and about a bit on Thursday (our favorite park) and Friday (children's museum and a class for J). I spent a bit of time planning projects for the coming months.

Last week I promised I'd post a picture of the barn when our project there was finished. Here it is! The Map Man re-configured it to be a 3-stall barn rather than a 2-stall barn (the door to the third stall is arond the left side of the barn), which means that each horse has it's own stall and paddock. Which also means no more having to knock snow off the temporary horse shelter during storms (see, it's gone! hooray!!!), which was MUCH appreciated during Monday's storm. That temporary line of wire panel fencing will be replaced with board fencing when the ground thaws enough in the spring for us to dig post holes, but in the meantime it's safe and usable.

Family Story Time books this week were Winter on the Farm, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, illustrated by Jody Wheeler and Renee Graef (one of those My First Little House Books that we like so much); The Tomten, by Astrid Lindgren (which I can't recommend highly enough, ESPECIALLY if you live on a farm or have a barn with a hay loft -- this book has inspired a lot of imaginative, magical thoughts about our own farm!); and The Blizzard by Betty Ren Write, illustrated by Ronald Hilmer.

I have to comment on that last book. It's a library book, and this is the first year we've seen and read it. The Author grew up in Wisconsin, so I'm guessing the book is about that area, but it could have been set in New England. I'm guessing the timing is about the 1920s or 30s. The kids in this farming community still go to school in a one room school house that is heated by a central wood stove, and lighting is by kerosene lamp, but telephones and electric lamps are common in homes. Does that timing sound about right? In any case, the kids are in school when a Blizzard hits (it's the main character, Billy's birthday), and the kids wind up all walking with their teacher to the closest house (which happens to be Billy's) to spend the night. When Billy walks in to tell his mother, and she sees all the snow-covered children standing outside her door waiting to come in, she proclaims "Oh, my stars and garters!" THIS was what I wanted to comment on (although the book is just wonderful, in content, writing, and illustrations, so I highly recommend it to everyone!). My grandmother used to say "oh, my stars and garters!" when she was surprised by something. So the first time I read this book, I totally cracked up when I got to that line. The Map Man had the same reaction the first time he read it. And now the kids are walking around saying "Oh, my stars and garters!" which is even funnier coming from the mouth of a 7 year old boy than it is from the mouth of my grandmother (which was funny enough).

Anyway, it was a warm, fuzzy memory from the past touching us every evening this week. Which made for a very special week for our Family Story Time.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

adventures indoors and out

Actually, our adventures were mostly indoors this week. It was just too darned cold to do too much outdoor adventuring. But the nice thing about our favorite park, where we met up with some homeschooling buddies on Thursday afternoon, is that it's a nice long walk from the parking lot to the barn and nature center and back again, so even on an "indoor adventure" day, there's still a bit of "outdoor adventure" involved.

And it gave me a chance to snap a couple of picture, because I was too busy enjoying myself to think about taking pictures inside the nature center that day! Silly me! So as we were walking back to the parking lot, I gasped "Oh my! I didn't take any pictures!" and snapped a few of the boys making their way back to our car.

The next afternoon found us over at the children's museum for more indoor adventuring. Zoo Boy's adventure was primarily on the high seas with a bunch of other museum-visiting kids around his age. See the blurry gray kid torturing the adorable little girl in red with a sea gull? Yup, that's Zoo Boy! (Actually, that little girl thought The Boy was the best thing since sliced bread and they played for quite awhile together, with and without the rest of the pack of boys.)

Meanwhile, J was adventuring in a class about poisonous animals with his buddy B and other classmates. (J is in the gray shirt with his back to me, of course....) The kids were making origami frogs (quite a coincidence, eh?? He only just taught himself how to make origami penguins last week!), which they were painting in bright colors to warn everyone they were poison dart frogs.

Zoo Boy reading a book to one of the museum's resident rabbits. I really wish this picture had come out better. But Zoo Boy moved his head at just the wrong time, both blurring the photo and obscuring the bunny's cute little face. Er, cute BIG face. That's the biggest bunny I've ever seen!

After the museum, we adventured ourselves over to the mall for dinner and some time at the bookstore while B and his mom waited out rush hour traffic before heading home. It was a rare treat to get to spend two days in a row with them! And it's always more fun to have adventures with good friends.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

random shots

A few random shots from the past couple of days:

Snowy Breakfast:

Here are the sheep having breakfast as the sun comes up over our tree line (behind me) yesterday morning.

On the Tundra:

The kids at play in the sheep pasture. They were pretty disappointed to discover that this snow is too sticky for good sledding. But they found other ways to entertain themselves with the fluffy white stuff (a lot of it involved "hey, I've got a surprise for you" followed by a snowball).

Baaaaa Humbug:

Here's J with the "snow lamb" he and I built.

Invasion of the Hay Scratchers:

The chickens take advantage of the kids leaving the sheep tent unzipped to make themselves at home.

Budding Musicians:

J and Zoo Boy carefully study the music and instructions for their chosen instruments, J's harmonica and Zoo Boy's Boomwackers.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Zoo Boy is reading. This is somewhat new, although not entirely unexpected. He's been working on spelling out words he sees for months on and off. He's been verbally playing around with letter sounds. He's stopped asking what words say when he sees them, I think because he now KNOWS what they say. Prior to a month or so ago "what does that word say?" was a common question.

The realization came on Friday, when he "read" a book to one of our homeschooling friends who was here for a playdate. I wasn't paying a whole lot of attention, watching the other kids play as Zoo Boy worked his way through a familiar book. About mid-way into it, my friend said "He's really doing well with his reading!" I was about to tell her that he's just got the book memorized, but I hesitated and watched what he was actually doing. He was pointing to each word as he said it, readily stating the words he knew by sight, sounding out the shorter ones, looking to her for help with the longer ones. When she gave him the first sound, most times he was able to sound out the rest of the word. This was not recitation, he was actually reading the book. Hm! I thought. Wonder how long this has been going on....

That night, I told The Map Man that Zoo Boy was reading. He scoffed and declared that it's just memorization. No, I told him, I'm certain that he's reading, and explained the scenario. He skeptically smiled and didn't mention it again. Until the next day. We were watching football, he went out into the kitchen for a few minutes, and when he returned he said "You're right, Zoo Boy is reading." I looked questioningly at him, and he told me that at that moment, Zoo Boy was in the living room playing with a puzzle card game where you match 3 pictures and letters to make words -- only he was rearranging the cards to make unique words.

There's been a lot of discussion lately on the Enki support list about reading, how to help kids learn, when it's appropriate, how much support to provide. For the most part I've completely ignored the thread. It's not that I don't find it interesting, I just feel that I have absolutely nothing to add to a discussion on it. Our kids have learned to read entirely on their own -- what do *I* know about learning to read?

What I do find puzzling is where this early reading comes from. Neither The Map Man nor I were early readers. Sure, we learned right along with the rest of our first grade classes how to read via Dick and Jane (See spot run!). Like my kids, I've always adored books and wanted to be read to constantly. But I can remember the day I came home with my first reader, absolutely thrilled that I could finally read a book on my own -- that the teacher taught me how to read! (In retrospect, I can see that as the point in my life where I was convinced that I had to be taught how to do things, that I couldn't learn things on my own. What a lesson to teach a kid....) My kids don't have that same level of being thrilled to know how to read. They were each thoroughly convinced they would do it, the thought that they couldn't never entered their minds. To them, there is nothing amazing about it. It just is. They possess the inherent wisdom to know that they WILL learn. They don't need to be taught a thing.

I read on one holistic blogger's site that she would be considered a Holistic Education failure because her daughter is an early reader. And the perception is partially true -- many children raised and educated holistically don't learn to read until they are 7 or 8 years old, some even older, because that is when most kids are naturally ready to read. But to call early reading a failure is one of the silliest things I've ever heard. I agree that actively TEACHING a child to read before they are ready for it is wrong. (I also believe that some children have obstacles that will need to be overcome in order for them to read -- dyslexia is only one example -- and in those cases it IS up to the educator to help facilitate learning to read. Not at age 4 or 5, though.) But to discourage a child from learning to read at a time when she is naturally ready for it is every bit as big a failing as "teaching" them to read before they are ready for it.

Giving our children the space to learn at their own pace, when they are developmentally ready for it, is the responsibility we take on when we make the decision to facilitate our children's education. Other than the unconditional love of a parent, it's the greatest gift we'll ever give them.

Monday, January 14, 2008

snowy scenes around the farm

Back during those horrible ice storms last month, someone asked me why I live in New England if I don't like it here. Now, I know that I was whining it up pretty good at the time, because that sort of ice storm makes our lives, well, hell. But not liking New England?! Nothing could be further from the truth! I can't imagine myself living anywhere else. I'll even go so far as to say that I love winter. Mind you, I find the difficulties that the cold and snowy weather bring more challenging as the years pass and my body ages, but still, I wouldn't trade it for anything. Not even a nice warm beach chair in the Caribbean. (Well, especially not that -- that sort of thing has never held any appeal to me!)

In any case, this afternoon, as I was walking around the property, soaking in the beautiful snowy scenes, I thought that I would take and post some photos so that all of you dear readers can share in the beauty of this afternoon of white splendor with us. Especially those of you in horribly mild places like Alabama and California...shudder.

The first photo of the series is of an old community (many trees growing from one spot as a single tree) Red Maple tree, which I refer to as "My Grandmother". The next is of the barnyard, taken from the corner of the house. The picture to the left of us now is the edge of the horse pasture (also taken from the corner of the house, I just turned around after snapping the barnyard, and captured the view in the other direction).

Here is the north side of the sheep pasture -- that's the same Grandmother maple in the foreground. The fallen limb has been there for the past couple of years, and is one of my kids' favorite play areas, serving as both jungle gym and tree fort.

The south side of the sheep pasture, taken from the top of the kids' sledding hill (near the entrance to the sheep tent). The ground slopes away pretty good there, although it's hard to tell from this picture.

The snow continued lightly for the rest of the day, and even now it's flurrying out. The animals all stuck close to their shelters today, but will no doubt be out and roaming, exploring the fluff, at sun-up tomorrow. Soon there will be tracks plowed through the pastures, and an hour or two of sunshine will take care of the frosting on the trees. But for now all is covered in a pristine, even blanket of white.

stormy morning

Here's the view from the sheep tent this morning. Hard to tell (other than it looking particularly dim out), but it's snowing to beat the band in this picture. I was down doing my morning chores and knocking snow off the roof of the tent (which is labeled as "not rated for snow load", requiring us to visit the sheep tent every couple hours when it's storming to make sure the roof is clear and not in danger of imminent collapse). It's a really pretty storm, and we're only supposed to get a very reasonable 7 to 9 inches. Anything under 10 inches makes for nice scenery and plenty of snow to play in, but not so much that it cripples daily operations for us. Of course, The Map Man is out there snowblowing right now, but I think it's likely he'll get in a half a day's work today. Certainly beats the heck out of an ice storm! This is what winter is SUPPOSED to be like, so we're pretty happy with it today. Now let's wait and see what the storm coming on Thursday is supposed to bring.

After taking the above photo, I turned around and took a picture inside the tent too. It's a little blurry, as there wasn't much in the way of lighting in there during the early morning snowstorm, but you can see the sheep contentedly munching their breakfast hay, warm, dry, and cozy in out of the storm. In fact, on a day like this, I'm the ONLY one out in it, all the critters are snuggled cozy into their stalls and shelters. Which makes me wonder a bit about my sanity....

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Those are the openings lines from this article on nutrition from the New York Times, which I've been reading this morning and nodding my head at. It's what I've always believed -- that the human body is best served by eating the foods it was designed (by evolution) to eat: real, whole foods, and the sorts of whole foods that can be naturally digested. In other words, foods that your body can utilize in their raw form. These sorts of foods include meats, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and not much else. We could argue dairy -- I mean, it CAN be consumed raw. But did the ancestors that developed our digestive system have access to dairy? Were they out milking mammoths? I'm guessing not. I remain on the fence about dairy. But we can all agree that grains and legumes (i.e. beans) can NOT be digested without cooking them. So what makes us think that they could possibly be good for us to eat?

Real foods. As in NOT pre-cooked, pre-packaged, pre-processed foods. Not the sorts of things that are loaded up with sugar, salt, chemicals, preservatives, colors and flavors (artificial OR natural).

And in this day and age, in this polluted over-medicated world we live in, I'll take it one step further -- organic foods. Or, better, foods that you grow organically yourself.

I've undertaken an important project this year. I'm attempting to grow all of our own foods. Or as much of them as I can. Chicken and lamb -- that's a given, although I've not quite been able to bring myself to butcher, clean, cook and eat a chicken yet. (We have a butcher do the lambs for us.) Eggs, check! Beef -- well, we don't have room for cattle. But I DO know a farmer who grows his cattle holistically, and I'm comfortable buying a side of beef from him when he has one available. And this year I'll be bringing in a dairy ram to breed to my ewes so that we'll have a future ready supply of fresh sheep's milk for our dairy needs -- milk, butter, yogurt, cheese. So plenty of animal protein available.

But the majority of our diet should be PLANTS. Meat is good, but overdoing it is not. We were developed as hunter-gatherers, and given that we were hunting with rocks and sticks, my guess is that we weren't eating meat nearly as much as we were eating fresh fruits and veggies. So, gardening comes into play -- I want to grow plenty of good veggies for fresh use during the summer and to freeze for use the rest of the year. We don't own fruit trees (and probably won't, we need the space it would require for pasture for the animals at this point), but there IS an organic orchard about an hour from here -- I could certainly stock up there this fall, and can enough to take us through the rest of the year. Or, the grocery stores are now carrying a pretty good supply of organic fruits and veggies. And, even more appealing, there are lots of wild blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries growing in the woodlands around here. Strawberry plants in my garden are a given, as are Watermelons.

Now, about that "not too much" part. I can see that being a problem for me, and most of the western world. Overeating, even of good, healthy, whole foods, is not good for your body. And probably accounts for a lot of my excess baggage. Oh, I like to blame my hormones and the fact that I carried two enormous babies to term at an age where some women are becoming grandmothers. But with my extremely active lifestyle (and let's face it, with all the manure slinging I do, I should be downright buff!), there's only one thing accounting for the roll around my middle (and my arms, and my thighs....), and that's an excessive intake of food.

Of course, it's easy to KNOW how to eat right. It's quite another to actually do it. As I sit here sipping my hot chocolate (from a packet with questionable ingredients in it) and munching a handful of bright orange powdered Sun Chips (what IS that powdery stuff, anyway???), I wonder just how much hypocrisy I'm capable of. (But hey, it could be a diet coke and a handful of pork rinds, so I guess it could be worse!) We've stock piled a lot of CRAP in our cabinets and freezers. We're working our way through them. The really atrocious stuff is being fed to the pig (poor Pig!). The rest is slowly being consumed by us, and is not being replaced. Eventually we'll get to the point where there's only healthy (TRULY healthy) foods in the house, and then I'll have no choice but to grab a glass of water and a handful of walnuts when I sit down to type.

It's a work in progress. But understanding human history and biology and how they, by necessity, relate to nutrition and health is the first step in the right direction.

week #17, winter #5, or...

...What We Did Instead of Homeschooling This Week.

This was one of those weeks where the kids were too involved with their own projects and creative play for me to "bother" them with "schoolwork". That's the very BEST part of homeschooling -- you can go with what is actually working for your kids, and avoid having to squash their natural creativity. I had some pretty good stuff planned. But what the kids came up with on their own was better. Like here, where they acted out a scene from an Inuit village on our Nature Table.

And this -- Zoo Boy had brought me a book to read, and just as we were finishing up, J came in and announced "There are six Matryoskas hiding in the kitchen, can you find them all?" And Zoo Boy was off to find them. J's creativity was running high in general this week, and I was happy to be able to give him the space to run with it.

Zoo Boy continued pursuing his interest in cooking by helping out with dinner this week, too. We took advantage of the January thaw by taking some walks to look at winter trees and explore stone walls instead of having adventure circle. We did stick to our general daily rhythms, and we did have our nightly Family Story Time, during which we read The Quilt Story, by Tony Johnston and Tomie dePaola; The Big Snow, by Berta and Elmer Hader; and The Story of the Snow Children by Sibylle von Olfers (which I was extremely impressed with -- not so much the book itself, but in the response of the children to this story. It immediately grabbed their attention and they sat breathless as I read it. Happily, I already have a few other of von Olfers' stories sitting on our bookshelf for future Family Story Times). With my "extra" time this week, I fiddled around a bit more with our daily rhythms, fine-tuning and tweaking the order we do things in to make everything flow just a little smoother. And I started reading a bit of the Enki Education 1st Grade materials, which are even more impressive than the Kindergarten materials (and that's saying quite a bit!).

We also went to the children's museum, where both kids participated in an animal program (here Zoo Boy prepares to pet a chinchilla with his "two petting fingers", while J watches on with a smile), and J took a museum class called "Let's Be Dr. Doolittle" where he learned how animals communicate, and got to "talk" to quite a few of the animals that live at the museum. We topped off the week by having a playdate here with some homeschooling pals, which was a lot of fun for the kids and for us Moms, too.

Here's The Map Man's project for the week -- cutting a new door in the barn. Actually, by the time he's done with the project, the door on the left will no longer exist, and instead of two stalls in our barn, there will be three. Oh, and that paddock we're looking through will have a temporary line of fencing through it (which will become part of the permanent paddock fencing once spring comes and we're able to dig fence post holes again). I'll post some photos of the finished product next week.