Thursday, February 27, 2014

Frugal Finds and Fixes: Learning Curves

Sometimes frugality means learning something new. Or taking a risk.

For the past few years we paid someone to figure out our income tax returns.  This year Mr. Fixit used free online software and did it himself.  Besides saving money, it made him feel that much smarter, once he figured out how the program worked.

Ponytails has a favourite embroidered sweater, but the ribbing at the neckline was separating from the rest. She asked Mama Squirrel to fix it.  Mama Squirrel said she had no idea how to do it without ruining the sweater, especially since the pulled-apart spot was on the front, very visible.  The sweater sat unmended. Ponytails reminded Mama Squirrel that she really, really liked that sweater, and she couldn't wear it at all with the collar coming off.  Mama Squirrel decided that there was nothing to lose by trying, and rounded up a needle and purple thread.  It worked!  The repair required two stages: I sewed it together with thread, tucking in all the rough edges; then I went back over it with fine yarn, as close to the main colour as I could find in the scrap bag.  There was what looked like a running stitch at the base of each rib of the collar, and without the extra yarn stitching it would have held together but the repair would have been more obvious, so that's why I did both. If you look really closely, you can see that the stitching and yarn is slightly different; but you'd have to be looking for it.  So Mama Squirrel learned something this week too.

Dollygirl also picked up a project that had lain dormant for quite awhile: a small stuffed doll about five inches tall, meant for a dollhouse, with clothes to be sewn separately.  She had cut out two dolls from the same pattern (one I bought in the 1980’s and had never actually sewn); we had sewn the bodies, arms and legs together, and then she tried to embroider a face on one but it sort of got away from her and she packed the whole thing away for a long time.  This week she pulled the dolls out, finished the face on the other one, got it stuffed and sewed on the hair; she's now working on the dress which is a bit challenging--it is small, but it has a few tucks and pleats. I am really proud of Dollygirl for not giving up on what seemed too hard at first.  (photo to come when the dress is done)

What else have we fixed and found?  The usual baking and cooking experiments, this week featuring cranberries since they were the only reasonably-priced frozen fruit.  Ponytails discovered that her favourite microwave-in-a-mug treat works just as well without the egg that the recipe calls for--always good to know.  Mama Squirrel also noticed that the next-size-up bag of sugar offers a decent saving over the size we usually buy--that sounds too simple to mention, but sometimes you do get into a rut and don't think about small changes.

Oh, and we have been appreciating a variety of frugal entertainment, from free lunchtime concerts (we brown-bagged our lunch) to old radio shows (we had never heard "I was a Communist for the FBI" before), and even some vintage sitcoms online.  We recently upgraded our Internet service (the provider offered extra online time as an incentive to stay), so that makes it more feasible to watch whole shows sometimes.  This week it's been The Partridge Family.  Never say I don't tell all.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What's for supper? Chicken pizza pasta.

Tonight"s dinner menu:

Chicken Pizza Pasta.  How to make: Cut up a pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, and brown them in a small amount of olive oil.  When the pink is just about gone, add a few slices of pepperoni. Stir in two small cans of pizza sauce (or homemade equivalent), and let simmer while you cook a potful of rigatoni or other pasta.  Just before serving, sprinkle chicken sauce with grated Parmesan, mozzarella cheese, or both (it doesn't need much).  Serve sauce over pasta, or just let people combine it all as they like.

Vegetables: steamed spinach, mushrooms, and zucchini.

Bread machine garlic bread.

Monday, February 24, 2014

What's for supper? Trying to be colourful when it's gray and cold out

Tonight's menu:

Chicken Shepherd's Pie, with mixed vegetables and a chopped red pepper
Spinach Salad, with a yellow pepper, mushrooms, and sunflower seeds

Bran Flake-Cranberry Muffins
Sliced Oranges.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

On notebook keeping and copybooks, slightly controversial here?

The ongoing Living Page discussion on Wildflowers and Marbles is up to the several kinds of notebooks that fall in between Nature Notebooks and Books of Centuries. As Jen at Wildflowers says, "many of the notebooks discussed in this section can be accurately described as themed commonplace books with a couple of exceptions."  I mentioned some thoughts on the Fortitude Notebook last week.

But many of these sorts of notebooks are most suitable for the highest grades, or for adult notebook keepers.  As many of us know from our own or our children's early attempts at "keeping," the risk with young children is either that the parent or teacher does the majority of the work, such as by providing printed forms to fill out, or that you end up with personal journals (one form of notebooking that is not part of the CM canon, at least not as part of the educational experience), or multiple drawings of pink ponies.

There are a few notebooks described in this section that would be useful for the elementary grades, including copybooks.  I agree with Laurie Bestvater that Charlotte Mason really does reach far ahead of her time here, in suggesting that students use "words that spoke to their hearts" (Bestvater, page 28).  I thought I was doing pretty well a few years ago in creating "left hand, right hand" type copybooks for my children; that is, I printed out a few words, a sentence, or a verse on the left hand page of an exercise book, and they copied it on the right hand side--just once, not multiple times.  I also used some of the make-your-own-handwriting ideas with the various fonts that our computer has been able to provide over the years--such as graying-out a font similar to manuscript or cursive, and printing it out in a size big enough for them to first trace over, then to copy.  This doesn't even take into account the various workbooks and other writing systems we have tried.  Having two lefties and another child who, though right-handed, just did not seem wired to produce beautiful handwriting, presented some challenges that we never quite overcame. 

Can we just put it that I felt like we were doing our best at the time, though we never did achieve such beautiful written work as some other homeschoolers I knew did? And that I sincerely did attempt to keep the writing practice personalized and meaningful, even if often it was my choice of text rather than the children's?  Perhaps that really is what works well for many of the youngest ones, especially those who have difficulty copying directly from a book; although Charlotte Mason does suggest that young ones be encouraged to copy out verses from their favourite poems.  But at least for those of upper elementary age and over, it seems important that they begin to choose, just as they should be choosing what to write about and draw in their nature notebooks, just as they will begin to choose what to enter in their Books of Centuries.  They may not exactly be keeping commonplace books yet, but they should begin to be given the choice of material to transcribe, even if the "choice" is limited to "from the term's play" or "from this poetry anthology."

Unhappy as this makes me to say it, that emphasis on choice pretty much rules out a lot of the other uses of copywork as we know it, and most of the commercial copybooks and penmanship programs (I mean those that go beyond teaching the formation of letters and how you connect them into words). Many of us have made much use of the Ruth Beechick methods of teaching grammar through copywork, or at least choosing copywork (even for older students) based on spelling patterns, particular forms of sentence construction, or just valuable thoughts.* It may provide great "natural" spelling practice (a term Dr. Beechick likes), it may be a good way to practice handwriting (something even my middle schooler still needs), and it does help to model great writing style and examples of character.  But here, I think, is Charlotte's point: other than demonstrating particular points of spelling or grammar, most of those benefits can be had even if the student chooses his or her own texts to transcribe.  And possibly there are some side benefits that we haven't fully realized.

Your thoughts?

*In fairness, I think Dr. Beechick does offer a good, useful method of evaluating older students' handwriting, in her book You CAN Teach.  She suggests periodically having a sort of "handwriting clinic," where the teacher/parent examines a sample of handwriting and makes suggestions of areas that could be improved; and/or a few weeks out of the year are used to focus on handwriting improvement.  That way it doesn't seem like such a never ending source of friction, but rather puts responsibility for correction on the student herself.  Rather CM there, don't you think?

Linked from The Living Page Discussion #3 at Wildflowers and Marbles.  Linked from the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival, Feb. 25/14.

School plans for this week (Dollygirl's Grade Seven)

This week will be a full one, and we have a couple of extra things to fit in.  The free lunchtime concert on Tuesday is going to be a woodwind quintet with members of the local symphony orchestra.  And some homeschoolers we know are putting on a performance of The Pushcart War this week, so we bought tickets to that.

What else?

We are up to the hardest type of math questions in the practice Gauss competition pages.  When I've marked Gauss contests over the years (they're multiple choice and you get an answer key), I've noticed that most students answer all the A questions, most of the B questions, but usually only a couple of the C questions.  They take longer and you have to think harder about solving strategies; they often involve hypothetical dice or checkerboards or number patterns.  They're grade seven or eight questions (the Gauss has two levels), but they're fiendish ones.
Science:  we read about Kingdom Monera last week, and this week's readings are about the other Four Kingdoms.
English and French history:  Stephen's reign, although Mr. Arnold-Forster doesn't give him much page space. Some French kings from the same time (twelfth century).  (Virtual twelfth-century shortbread if you recognize the two people in the above photo.)

And the rest is just continuing what we've already been doing.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Magic Blueberry Muffins

Magic because they looked so weird going into the oven, but they turned out fine--actually one of my better blueberry efforts.  Blueberry muffins can come out strangely green if the berries react with the other ingredients; these started out frighteningly purple, but baked into just a nice brownness.

I don't have the exact recipe, but this is what I did: combined all the wet ingredients for basic muffin batter, plus some frozen blueberries and a spoonful of strawberry jam, in the blender.  I combined the dry ingredients in a bowl, stirred in more whole blueberries, and then mixed in what looked like the purple smoothie from the blender.  It looked seriously yucky at that point, but since I had gone that far, I carried on, spooned the batter into muffin papers, and baked them.  Success!

Two other things: they peel out of the papers better if you let them cool first.  Most muffins do, but fruity ones especially.  And store any leftovers in the fridge.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Something Dollygirl made

What is it?  A stage, for Dollygirl's Doll-scars Awards Ceremony.  Mr. Snowman appears to be doing a sound check.

Thrift shop finds from last Saturday

(Photos to go with this post.)




Math archives #5: What's the longest prime number? --with an update

First posted on November 11, 2011.  (11-11-11.  I just thought I'd mention that.)

What would we do without the Internet...

I mentioned recently that a quick check on the current population of Burundi--the subject of a French lesson--showed that there were way more people there than even the (fairly recent) teacher's guide suggested.  That lined up with the fact that we were heading for 7 billion people on Earth by the end of last month.

Today's math history lesson was about the Sieve of Eratosthenes, and the hunt for very large prime numbers.  John Tiner's 2001 book Exploring the World of Mathematics mentioned that the largest discovered to date was over 4 million digits long, which would take about a thousand pages to print out.

On a hunch that that fact too might have been updated, I looked it up.

Yes, the 4-million-digits longest prime was correct in 2001.  

But as of 2008, we are up to a number that is 12,978,189 digits long.

And you thought your ID numbers were hard to learn.


2014 Update from Wikipedia:  As of January 2014, the largest known prime number is 257,885,161 − 1, a number with 17,425,170 digits.  (Sourced from this article.)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What's for supper on our ninth blog birthday?

I knew there was something special about today.  What would that be in squirrel years?  Probably way over the hill.  Well, I like round numbers; let's go for a decade.

Tonight's dinner menu was going to be marinated chicken chunks, pan-cooked and served with pasta and tomato sauce.  I decided to skip the tomato sauce and make it more of an Alfredo thing with cream cheese, Parmesan,  and milk sauce.  And lots of garlic.  Peas on the side.

Yeah, he's too much. (Winter winter winter winter)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

School plans and fortitude (Dollygirl's Grade 7)

This is a short week because Monday is a holiday. The Apprentice is here for a few days too because it's reading week.  On Friday, a local museum is offering cheap admission for homeschooled kids, and parents get in free.  So we'll have to fit school in from Tuesday to Thursday.

In Ourselves Book Two, we will finish the chapter on Fortitude (don't show off your suffering like the lady in Our Mutual Friend who tied a black ribbon around her face*).  And look what pops up at the end of that paragraph on page 47: "...it would not be a bad plan to keep a note-book recording the persons and incidents that give a filip to conscience in this matter of Fortitude." This is one of the incidental notebooks mentioned in The Living Page.  Really, it's not hard to come up with good literary examples, in both children's and adult literature. Charlotte even suggests a list of examples on the same page. Charlotte also answers any objection to why she has placed "fortitude" under the heading of the "house of body" rather than the mind or the heart; she says that "it is in the body we must endure hardness, and the training comes in the cheerful bearing of small matters not worth mentioning."  In other words, we're not entitled never to feel cold, or tired, or hungry, or overworked, or unwell, and it's a mark of maturity to be realize that and to put up with at least some discomfort without complaining.  I'm always impressed by the characters, even children, on long journeys, in books like Narnia and Lord of the Rings, who sleep wherever it's safest and eat (mostly) what's available along the road.  It's people like whiny Cousin Eustace who spoil the adventure by fussing over hard beds and no lunch.

What else is up this week?  "Bacterial Growth" in science class.  "Quebec Culture and Pea Soup" in French.  Sounds like the makings of a bread and soup meal sometime in the week (or maybe a batch of yogurt).

We move on to Henry the First in English history.  More chapters from Ivanhoe, Watership Down, and Tolkien.  A lesson from Plutarch's Life of Demosthenes; more Bible study on the topic of salvation; an alliterative poetry assignment; and some work in math.  If we get all that done in three days, I'll be very content.

*I am not sure that Charlotte remembered the details of Our Mutual Friend quite exactly here; Mrs Wilfer does go around with a handkerchief tied around her head, but not a black ribbon that I know of.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The living pages of nature notebooks

We have never been the faithfullest of nature notebookers, partly because we weren't the faithfullest of nature walkers either.  I know I am not alone in that, and of course there's always the excuse of the weather (especially this winter), but Charlotte Mason or no Charlotte Mason, we just didn't seem to be natural naturalists.

And yet this morning as I brought in bags of groceries, and noticed that it was slightly warmer and that the sunshine was just a little stronger, I also heard an unmistakable sound of spring: a chickadee calling "fee-bee, fee-bee." I know chickadees stay for the winter, but you don't hear them whistling until winter's over its worst.  And the funny part was, I kept thinking "calendar of firsts, put it on a calendar of firsts." Which I don't have, but you can tell how much the notebooking idea has been on my mind.

I thought of it last night too, when a flock of crows the size of large chickens landed on our backyard apple tree at dinner time.  A lot of the apples never fell, and they've been hanging, frozen, in the bare tree, ever since last fall, feeding birds and squirrels.  At this time of year, we often see crows, hundreds of them, roosting in neighborhood trees at dusk; but they usually choose the tops of the tallest evergreens, not our wimpy little apple tree.  I guess the frozen-fruit offering must have attracted them, although they were nervous enough to scoot for safer heights before Mr. Fixit could get a photo.

In these days when all you hear is "climate change," and when there seem to be so many wind storms, ice storms, crazy seasons, it seems to make more sense than ever to do a bit of Gilbert White-style, little-corner-of-the-world record keeping; to participate in the backyard bird counts, to be "citizen scientists." Yes, there are official records kept of everything from temperature to snowfall to mosquito predictions; everything's computerized and video-recorded, and I'm sure that professional biologists and naturalists out there have given the official word that winter is ending, spring is coming.  Or will come if it ever stops snowing.

But they didn't see my crows, or hear my chickadee, did they?

So I guess it's up to us.

Linked from The Living Page, Discussion #2, at Wildflowers and Marbles.

Saturday thrifting finds

This and that from a trip to the thrift store:

Two plastic embroidery hoops for Dollygirl to use

A big bag of (26) mini wreaths and (9) grapevine hearts, the kind you hot-glue things on for ornaments, all for two dollars.  These must have been around somebody's craft room for awhile, because a lot of them still have clearance price tags on them from a store that went out of business here years ago.  There were a couple of small baskets in the bag as well. (These ended up going to the church for VBS
 crafts.)
A very old copy of Smith's Mennonites of America

And a copy of Lee Strobel's The Case for a Creator, because we didn't have one.  

Thursday, February 13, 2014

What's for supper? Honey garlic pork and peppers

Tonight's dinner menu:

Honey garlic pork and peppers (ground pork, sliced peppers, and A Year of Slow Cooking's honey-garlic sauce--this is really, really easy to make)
Frozen mixed vegetables, frozen spring rolls, rice

Thawed frozen blueberries and vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The meaning of life (Dollygirl's Grade Seven)

Dollygirl's science assignment: to design a creature and demonstrate how it meets all four criteria of living beings.

This is what she came up with:

New! Exclusive! It's...BLUB™!!!  (She included a drawing of a fluffy-looking thing with horns, fangs, large round eyes, and a bow tied on its long tail.)

She can suck up her BLUB™ Pellets!  (demonstrating ability to convert energy and derive nourishment)

She turns blue if you put her in the sun!  (demonstrating ability to respond to changes in the environment)

Turn off the lights, and her cells glow!  (demonstrating that she is made of cells, which we assume contain DNA)

ALSO BUY Her Children:  Blub™, Bib™, Bob™.  (Demonstratng her ability to reproduce.)

(I gave Dollygirl full marks.)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What's for supper?

Tonight's menu:

Turkey-pasta casserole from the freezer
Leftover crockpotted chicken from last night (partly bones, but it is easier to just heat and eat it than to pick it apart)
A pan of little potatoes, cut in half and sprayed with olive oil before baking
Lettuce and celery salad

"Pumpkin" bars made with butternut squash

Monday, February 10, 2014

School plans for the week (Dollygirl's Grade Seven, Term Two, Week 8 of 12)

Instead of a day-by-day schedule for this week, here's a shorter list by subject area.  Some things (like art and music) aren't decided yet.

French:  Review the geography lesson from last week (French words for things like South Pole, map, "the earth is our spaceship,"Atlantic Ocean).  Begin "The Alphabet Lesson."  Also start working on "My First Visit to Quebec."

Christian studies:  Begin the second-last chapter in The Accidental Voyage.  Continue the topic of Salvation in Basic Bible Studies, or possibly read My Heart, Christ's Home in honour of St. Valentine's Day.

Charlotte Mason's book Ourselves Book II, on Fortitude, using literary examples from The Talisman and Middlemarch.

Math:  Do four pages from the middle sections of old Gauss competitions: that is, the slightly harder questions but not the real challengers from the last section.  Keep track of anything new that we haven't covered yet in math.

English history:  Feudalism and William Rufus.  No French history this week.

General Science:  Experiments with leaves and potatoes and iodine (but not fruit flies).

Watership Down, Ivanhoe, and The Return of the King.

How to Read a Book...talking about different kinds of books.

A few pages of grammar--still working on verb tenses.

Plutarch's Life of Demosthenes.

A new lesson from The Grammar of Poetry, on alliteration. Make sure we make time to just read poetry too.

If we have time: the very last bit of Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?

Friday, February 07, 2014

How to cheap some apple squares

Why this is a cheap dessert: because the batter doesn't require much more than a batch of pancakes; and because it's a good place to use up small, sad winter apples that don't look like they'd last the week.  It's also very flexible--amounts can be approximate.  It's a lot like the apple dessert that a European lady--she might have been Croatian, might have been Czech, I forget--showed us at a neighborhood cooking class years ago.  She told us that where she came from, this kind of dessert would follow a plain, simple main course--like soup--rather than a big meal.  They didn't have both at once.

This is what I did: peeled and sliced about eight little apples, and put them in a 9 x 13 inch pan with cinnamon and a little butter.  I should have put in a little sugar too, but I forgot.  Because the oven was already on, I put the pan in to melt the butter and start the apples cooking.

I used the batter for Bettina's Baked Cottage Pudding (skip the lemon sauce).  If you use a large pan, there might not seem to be enough batter to cover the fruit, but don't worry, it will spread.  Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees until done; time will depend on the size of the pan.  Check after twenty minutes, but it could take longer.

(When I took it out, I realized I had put cinnamon on the apples, but no sugar; so I sprinkled just a bit of brown sugar on top and around the edges, added a couple of spoonfuls of water as well, and put it back in to bake for just a few minutes.  It worked out fine.)

Cut in squares to serve.  Store leftovers in the refrigerator.

How I became a math teacher?

The question mark in the subject line is deliberate.  I am a very un-mathy person.  I like Scrabble, cryptograms, word-based logic problems, crosswords; I shy away from number puzzles.  Not that I can't do math or handle numbers, at least in the everyday world; it's just that if I were sign up for a course in something that interested me, it probably wouldn't be math.  My idea of probably the dullest job in the world is accounting.

But teaching math--that does interest me.  Ever since I started looking at math curricula and homeschooling The Apprentice (and the later Squirrelings), close to two decades ago, I've been fascinated by the history of how math has been taught, especially over the last century, especially at the elementary levels.  I was there for a lot of it, good, bad, and ugly. What might be abstractions for some are clear memories for me.  I liked this, I learned from that; or not.  This teacher knew how to get math ideas across; that one made us fall asleep.

And I like teaching elementary math (and basic algebra and geometry) at home, seeing the girls learn new ideas and gain confidence in their numeracy. Even when they struggle or complain that math is hard or boring...that's a challenge.  I like being able to work at our own pace, and to use whatever's handy for illustrations.  I like feeling free to just say "here's the rule, here's how you do it" when that makes more sense than endless demonstrations and discovery learning.

I liked using our stash of rods and hundred charts and games and software.  I liked helping people who didn't get Miquon Math.  (I still think it's a brilliant primary curriculum.)  I liked reading about people like John Holt and John Mighton who believed that all children could learn math if it was carefully taught.

So does that make me a math teacher?  Well, I do teach math, and as I said, I have been teaching math to at least one child each year, sometimes two, for almost twenty years.  (Sometimes Mr. Fixit has been the math teacher too.) While I'm not a mathematician, did not major in math, do not even have math credits beyond Grade 13 (and I struggled for that one), I seem to have steered the Squirrelings towards acceptable levels of numeracy.  Other homeschooling parents, many without specialization in math, have done the same.

How?  I can't speak for all the other families out there.  For some it might be nothing more than buying a solid textbook or workbook series and doing whatever comes next.  For myself, I just decided that the process of teaching elementary math was not that much more mysterious than the teaching of any other subject.  If I could teach reading, writing, history, there was no particular reason I couldn't also handle elementary arithmetic and middle-school math topics. And since I was very aware of the booby traps and swamps in my own math adventures, I was determined to avoid as many of them as possible, including the infamous Fifth Grade Slough of Despond (girls often fall into it around the time they meet up with Giant Long Division).  If public school gave me only a mediocre appreciation of math, I could do at least somewhat better with my own girls.

Now here's the big point.

In Ontario, scores on standardized math tests are dropping.  Why? Some blame the teachers.  Some blame the curriculum.  Some blame society.  Or the weather.

One proposed solution is to have elementary math taught only by math specialists.  Because even the classroom teachers don't seem to be able to teach math well using the new approaches.  Does that imply that there's a) something wrong with the students, b) something wrong with the teachers, or c) something wrong with the curriculum? Votes?

It reminds me of a situation where an office bought a huge, expensive, complicated copier that required advanced training just to make ordinary copies.  Yes, if you were properly trained on it, you could use it to copy, sort and bind entire encyclopedias, but most of the usual copying chores were much more mundane.  It would have made more sense to buy a simpler machine, and send the occasional complicated jobs to a print shop.  It didn't make sense to blame the office staff, either, just because they didn't want to be full-time slaves of the Copying Beast.  And it wouldn't have made sense to put blame on the clients--because, in the end, they didn't care how big or expensive the copier was--they just wanted their letters and documents.

And what we really need is for schools to teach math (and other subjects), in a way that the teachers can handle, in a way that delivers what the children require, in ways that help them to grow and learn and include numbers and measurement and shapes and mathematical relationships in their lives.  Because they aren't impressed by how big the machine is, either, if it's not working for them.

For them, all you administrators out there. Take it from this question-marked math teacher.

Linked from Math Teachers at Play Carnival #71.

Math Archives #1: Can they do enough math to know they're being cheated?

First posted April 2012; but this is a post-within-a-post, and part of it is from 2007.

I had planned to repost this 2007 post today (both the part about our own homeschool and the comparison with the third grade math class at the end of the post), and then someone sent me a link to a recent Macleans' Magazine article on the sorry situation in Canadian math teaching.  It reminded me even more of the educational Blerwm (see the old post) that continues to spew, particularly in the elementary schools.  If this situation doesn't make you furious for our children--that is, the children of this generation, even if we homeschoolers have taught our own offspring better--I don't know what would. And it's not just that they grow up cheated on math:  the same applies to standards in readingwriting, and other skills that, until recently, were considered within the normal scope of a child's education.

And what makes me even angrier for these children is that we non-experts, the home-teaching parents who may or may not have college-level math courses or education credentials (many homeschoolers do have advanced degrees), seem to be doing better than the current average at math education, almost without trying.  Some of it's the curriculum homeschoolers use--certain popular programs are known to be a level or two over traditional North American math goals, so kids using them would seem a bit ahead anyway. But even if we take math slow and simple, we have this crazy advantage over the current hands-tied school situation: most of us parents, especially those of us over a certain age, were taught with traditional math methods, and that's what we pass on to our kids.  Here's how you multiply fractions, here's how you divide them.  None of this messing with paper strips.  

It doesn't matter why we do it, though, so much as whether or not it works.  Can our kids add, subtract, multiply, divide?  Can they make change?  Can they figure out a percentage?  Do they just have a good sense of how numbers work?  Apparently the kids taught with the any-way-that-works-for-you method can't, and don't. When they get to high school, where math is still taught using more traditional methods, a lot of them flounder.

Are you laughing in disbelief at this point?  I'm more ready to spit.  Crayons has been suggesting that she might like to go to public school for grade six, just to try it out like Ponytails did.  Sorry: with this amount of un-teaching going on in Canadian schools, that would be my last choice for her for next year.  

Here's the relevant part from our 2007 post:

But on the other hand, there was an article today in the local paper about math teaching in public schools, that tipped things back towards thinking again that we must be doing all right.
"Recently [the grade 3 teacher] taught the children to count by fives, using Popsicle sticks. She had them sit in a circle and line up four Popsicle sticks in a row, with a coloured one laid diagonally across each pile.

"Then she asked how many Popsicle sticks there were. One student crawled into the middle of the circle and counted up the piles: "Five, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 45 . . ." he said and paused at the final two sticks. "Forty-seven" he called.

"The class applauded him. 'Good job!' she praised, and then sent the children to sit down with worksheets where they again had to add the "bundles" of lines arranged five to a pile.

"Instead of having the children write down the correct totals, though, she had them choose the right answer from some numbers printed on the bottom of the sheet. They were to cut out the right number and glue it in the proper spot.

"The children were enjoying cutting and feeling the texture of the glue stick under their fingernails.

"'Children at this age are very visual and very kinesthetic,' she said. They learn by seeing and often need to move around while learning, even if it's just working with glue."
OK, I know it's still September, and maybe that was a review lesson--but cutting and pasting answers in grade 3? And Crayons (grade 1) has been doing that same kind of counting-by-fives-plus-whatever's-left. Without crawling on the floor, I might add. Or needing to get glue stick under her fingernails.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Frugal Finds and Fixes, Featuring Dollygirl


I think Dollygirl gets this week's Treehouse prize for frugal creativity and, well, a bit of luck here and there too.  Over the past while she has won several doll-related blog giveaways, which makes watching for the mail truck much more exciting.  She's received a free (girl-sized) t-shirt, buttons, and craft materials.
(Photo by Dollygirl)
 She found an awesome clearance-aisle deal (a dollar a pack) on several sets of small doll clothes that fit Only Hearts Club girls and others of about the 9-inch size.  (Official Only Hearts Club clothes run about $20 an outfit, which is why Dollygirl's 9-inchers have so few clothes.  I don't like sewing for small dolls much either.).

She also searched online for the doll hairstyling kit that we couldn't locate for her at Christmas, found it on a Canadian website for a very reasonable price, and ordered it; she's still waiting for that one (there are supply issues, which is why the store here didn't get them in either).  She has been working really hard earning extra money this week, shoveling a vacationing neighbour's snow...I mean, really, REALLY hard.  .
(CTV News photo)
Also, in the past week or so, she has built a doll sewing machine from Lego, a fabric-draped stage and other necessities for a doll awards show (an idea she had for a blog story), made a pair of bead earrings (for herself, not the dolls), and used a gift of fabric to make a very cute mini bed.

As for the rest of us...well, sometimes frugal is just deciding not to replace what's no longer needed: in this case, an answering machine that suddenly started misbehaving.  It used to be a necessity; now, not so much. We could have gotten message service added to our phone line, but again, it's not worth it for the few callers who can't email us or don't have Mr. Fixit's cell phone number.  The last message we got on the machine was a very confused telemarketer (which is what alerted us to the fact that it wasn't delivering our we'll-call-you-back properly).

We've done some of the usual baking--muffins, oatmeal raisin cookies--and made some fairly frugal meals like turkey-pasta casserole, Polish wieners with sauerkraut, and bean soup.  We've used the dryer a lot less this week. I've re-read Liss Burnell's 2012 grocery guide (free book still on my e-reader).

And Mr Fixit and Ponytails each got a needed pair of running shoes at a buy-one-get-one event, plus Ponytails has a student price card that gives her an extra discount at that shoe store.

How was your week?

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

What's for supper? Soup and snowflakes

Tonight's dinner menu:

Barley-split pea-vegetable soup

Bread Snowflakes (Mama Squirrel's were rudimentary, Dollygirl's were much prettier)

Cranberry-blueberry-strawberry crisp

Monday, February 03, 2014

What's for supper? Taco Turkey Pasta and a Hot Fudge Sauce recipe

Tonight's dinner and dessert menu:

Taco Turkey Pasta, a casserole I made up with browned ground turkey meat, homemade taco seasoning, macaroni, chopped celery, cheese, a bit of tomato sauce, and water as needed.  We had enough left to freeze some for another night.

Broccoli

Very small slices of leftover Chocolate Microwave Cake, dressed up with Gary's Microwaved Hot Fudge Sauce.

Gary's Microwaved Hot Fudge Sauce came from MyRecipe.org about seven years ago, but it's no longer there, because MyRecipe.org is gone.  So here is the recipe, because it is very good and because Mr. Fixit says he wants leftover chocolate microwave cake with fudge sauce for his birthday cake next summer.

In a microwaveable container (I use a four-cup glass measuring cup), combine 1/2 cup white sugar, 3 tbsp. cocoa, 1 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch, and a dash of salt.  Stir in 1/2 cup water.  At this point I cover the container lightly with plastic wrap, although Gary didn't say to--I just like to be careful.

Have a spoon ready, plus something to lay the spoon down on (trust me on this), and maybe a damp cloth in case of drips.  Microwave the sauce for between 3 to 4 minutes total, stopping to pull it out and stir every 30 seconds.  Gary says not to skip this step--it's important.  Stop cooking when it begins to thicken, and stir in 1 tbsp. butter or margarine and 1 tsp. vanilla.  Serve hot, cold, or rewarmed; thin with a bit of water if it gets too thick.

School plans for this week: On weekly timetables and the second half of the year (Dollygirl's Grade Seven)

Charlotte Mason approved of school and home classrooms following a predictable weekly timetable.  Lots of variety, but a definite pattern to Monday and Wednesday geography, or Tuesday Shakespeare, or Saturday review.  (Yes, back then they went to school on Saturdays.)

Our problem with that is that, sometimes, often, we get Monday or Friday school cut off by a holiday:  religious, government-mandated, or all-the-other-schools-in-town-have-today-off-so-why-don't-we.  But never on Tuesday, or Wednesday, or Thursday, unless it's weather-related.  So that means we have to either never schedule anything important or interesting or at least weekly on Monday or Friday (unless we want to move whatever it is to Tuesday or Thursday that week)...or try a slightly different method of scheduling. (Also there are a couple of homeschool group field trips and events that also take place on Fridays...sigh.)

For the rest of Term II, a season that has more than its share of interrupted weeks, we're falling back on a different method, one we've used before.  I took the 28 scheduled school days that are left in the term, and just divided up the lessons and readings as evenly as I could.  For the two Apologia modules we're doing, I used the schedule from Donna Young's Homeschool Resources. (Except that we won't be doing the experiments that require digging up worms and dirt...um, not in February.)

So we have Day 1, Day 2, and so on, each with its own work, rather than a definite plan for Mondays and Tuesdays.  It may not look as neat on the wall as a weekly schedule, but at least it's laid out.

Also, we're doing some slightly different math for the rest of this term:  working through old Gauss competition pages, as review and also as a kind of diagnostic tool to see what we've missed.  In the third term we'll probably use Key to Geometry.

So this is the plan, more or less, for this week's school.  The lessons are not in the order we're doing them, but the way I have them written down by subject.  I've left off our opening-time routine: hymns, sometimes a poem, a reading from Ourselves or a Bible passage.

And  a bonus for this week: something fun for teatime, Snowflake Buns or Bread Snowflakes.  (You gently fold circles of bread dough and snip them with scissors, as if you were making paper snowflakes. Then bake and sprinkle with powdered sugar.  Idea from Electric Bread for Kids.
Monday: 
Basic Bible Studies: continue study of salvation
Math page
Watership Down chapters 13, 14
Start Ivanhoe together
Copywork
English History:  Short chapter on the Saxon cultural traditions such as shires
Nature study
Science: wrap up the previous module
French: start a lesson about the map of the world (continuing through the week)

Tuesday (planning to go hear a jazz trio at lunchtime)
Math page
Watership Down chapters 15, 16
Return of the King
Easy Grammar Plus page 92
Geography:  Heidi's Alp, finish the chapter where they arrive in Germany
Write dictation from Geography chapter
Science  Read pages 217-219, introduction and "DNA and Life"
Grammar of Poetry: review old work (only if we have time)

Wednesday: 
Mr. Pipes, The Accidental Voyage: Finish chapter 10.
Math page
Watership Down chapters 17, 18
Ivanhoe
Easy Grammar Plus page 94
Architecture: finish the chapter on Norman architecture
Write in the Book of Centuries
Science: continue reading about DNA; build a model of DNA, and I hope I remembered to buy pipe cleaners for that. If I didn't, we may have to get out our old plastic dollar-store model instead.

Thursday:
Basic Bible Studies
Math page
Watership Down chapters 19, 20
Return of the King
Easy Grammar Plus page 95
English history:  one chapter
Science:--continue chapter..
Music history: starting chapter on Haydn and Mozart.
Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?--almost finished this book.

Friday:
Basic Bible Studies
Watership Down chapters 21, 22
Ivanhoe
Copywork
Heidi's Alp, part of chapter 6 (about Germany)
Science:  see Thursday.
Plutarch's Life of Demosthenes, Lesson 7, The Battle of Chaeronea
Picture Talk.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Parents' Review Quote for the Day: On Children's Books and Uncle Podger

"The very genius of childhood demands that it should be screened by parenthood from evil influences, and laid open to benign ones, and we need not therefore stint the babies in bright and pretty pictures full of sunshine, in fun, frolic, and beauty, as much as a Caldecot [sic] can find to give.

"...I am convinced that it is sufficient to teach children what to do, and ignore lessons on what to leave undone. Miss Sinclair--"Holiday House" [Aug.. 2014, try this link instead] --says incidentally:--"Such mean vices as lying and stealing are so frequently and elaborately described that the way to commit those crimes is made obvious".... It may be argued--I hope it will not--that children cannot appreciate humour at an early age. To anyone who does take up this position I would like to suggest that the scenes of Uncle Podger and the packing up from "Three Men in a Boat" should be tried on infant minds. It is quite true, of course, that these scenes are pictures of really painful experiences, but I verily believe that the author meant the reader to laugh over them, and he will be pleased to learn, if he did not know before, that it is scarcely possible to fix an age so young at which the fun cannot be understood. "Oh, mother," said a little girl of four in baby tones, "do get father to buy you 'Three Men in a Boat' for your birthday; it would be so delicious!" The copy out of which Uncle Podger had been read was a library one."



"If pictures and fun are to be the delight of the very young, it is also very necessary that the latter should be put into intelligible words. To use intelligible words it needs to speak of things which can be understood, and the things which can be understood are those with which the babies come in contact daily. It is not necessary for authors and authoresses, prim and perfect, to choose sweet words and dole out moralities which miss their mark; the plain words which are regularly used for the facts stated are the best. Has it never happened to the reader to reproduce the polished sentences of a children's author, and at the end to be saluted with the exclamation, uttered by the auditors amid a rustling of relief, "Now, mother, tell it us?" This request gives us a key to the writing which suits the young--I do not say either that it is unsuitable to the older folk. What they want are curious and interesting facts; such situations as they may place themselves in, in imagination, the adventures of a grandmother, as a child, in India, "Little Susie's [sic] Six Birthdays," the doings at "Holiday House." Hence if we will only treat childhood with the respect due to it, and speak in simple and forcible language, not in the pigeon dialect and style so common, we shall attain our end more completely. "  ~~ "Childrens Books," by George Radford, in The Parents' Review, Volume 2, 1891/92, pgs. 496-504.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

How to cheap some soup

We have been making the Hillbilly Housewife's recipe for Taco Style Lentils and Rice since discovering the site several years ago.  I usually make it in the slow cooker, and use it as a substitute for refried beans at a tortilla meal. There are other versions of the lentil-rice filling out there, some much spicier than that one, but I like Miss Maggie's simple (kid-friendly) combination of seasonings.  One change I do make is to use a cupful of lentils to half a cup of rice, rather than equal amounts.  I don't usually have beef bouillon cubes around, either, so I just leave that out.

The recipe does make quite a bit, and we usually end up eating about half of it and either freezing some or turning it into Creative Leftovers.  This time around I had quite a bit left, so yesterday I made Mexican-Style Soup. Amounts of ingredients depend on what you have:

About half a recipe of lentil-rice taco stuffing
Enough water or broth to make it soupy (I used water plus some chicken broth powder)
1 can pinto beans, drained
Some frozen corn
Half a cup or so of salsa

I brought the water and leftover lentil-rice mixture to a boil, then added the pinto beans and let it simmer a bit.  The corn and salsa were last-minute additions, but they really improved the texture and flavour.  It was even better (as most things are) leftover for lunch today.