Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Curriculum: Home Science Adventures

We have just started using the Magnetism Adventure kit from Home Science Adventures. I do like these kits. We worked through Microscopic Explorations last summer, and this is our second venture. Each kit has a series of hands on lessons, with everything you need included in the box - no preparation time (apart from copying the lesson sheets), no hunting round for household bits and pieces you don't have, and interesting activities. Today we did a levitating needle experiment, using magnets to hold a needle in the air without touching it. Then we experimented with putting different items between the needle and the magnets to see what, if anything would break the magnetic field. The levitating needle had the "wow" factor, and both girls were surprised that even thicker items didn't cause the needle to fall. A simple and effective science lesson, and we are all looking forward to working through the rest of the kit. I think the suggested age range of Grades 1 to 8 is a bit optimistic - even with the optional extra activities suggested in the teacher's manual, I don't think the content is enough for a 13 or 14 year old, but for primary / elementary science these are excellent. The Microscopic Explorations kit was worth the money for the pocket microscope alone. Ours will get used for years!


Star, who has a naturally mathematical brain, is currently hopping around around in My Pals Are Here 3 (a newer version of Singapore Primary Maths). Yesterday we started subtraction with borrowing of tens and hundreds. Looking at the first column of units, I asked whether we could subtract 9 from 5, expecting the answer "no". "Yes," says Star, "it's minus four". My attempts at explanation dissolved in disarray. And no, I haven't taught her minus numbers. She has picked them up from the temperature gauge in the car.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Half pregnant

Question from Angel this morning ... "Are you half pregnant now?" At least I knew what she meant! And yes, I am just about half pregnant - 20 weeks on Wednesday :)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Liturgical confusion

Star and I made a curious discovery at Mass this morning. Our parish uses missals from a series that divides the liturgical cycle into six parts - years 1, 2 and 3, each with a part one and a part two volume. Star was given the standard year 2, part 1 missal, but couldn't find her place in the readings. We noticed her readings didn't match up with mine and had a Gospel reading from Luke. When I checked the rest of the book, all the rest were also from Luke. Apparently we had a year 3, part 1 book disguised in a year 2, part 1 cover. What puzzles me is that the book looked fairly well worn and had obviously been in use some time. Had nobody else ever noticed? (And yes, I did hand the book in to our parish priest to take it out of circulation!)

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Ideal vs Reality

A couple of weeks ago we had our annual visit from the local education authority to check that Angel and Star are actually being educated. We are fortunate in that our LEA visitor is very supportive of home education and has known us for a few years, making his visit more of a social occasion than an inspection. Each year I send him some paperwork in advance, to give him an idea of what we are up to. This year I produced a curriculum outline I'd prepared a while ago for my own interest in imitation of one J-next-door brought home from school, along with a summary of progress over the last year. With our year condensed into two or three pages for each child it all looked so very tidy and systematic - completely disguising the messiness of the day-to-day reality. For example Angel's love-hate relationship with Singapore maths was reflected in my progress report with the comment "at times we have found the pace too fast, and have taken breaks as necessary". The reality has been a delicate balancing act of working out when she needs to be pushed out of her comfort zone ("you don't have to like it, you just have to do it!") and when she really does need a break, a balancing act that occasionally breaks down under my errors of judgement or her lapses in maturity. The statement "Star particularly enjoyed an Usborne Time Traveller book" suggests Star sitting nicely lapping up historical details with enthusiasm. Reality was that every time the book came out, she had to put on a time travelling helmet (cycle helmet), set imaginary dials and whizz several times round the room to travel back to the appropriate time. Occasionally there would be a technological error and she would have to interrupt looking at the book to repeat the performance. On particularly patient mother days, the experience would be enhanced by adding knee and elbow pads and wristguards. I never worked out the rationale behind this! Almost every statement on my progress report could be qualified by an explanation of the messy reality behind it - the interruptions, the sibling squabbles, the books that didn't fly (I like St.Athanasius Academy's 10% rule). Yet the progress was genuine. Both girls do know more across a range of subjects and have more skills than they did a year ago. Sometimes it has been two steps forward and one step back; some days have ended in frustration; some days have veered completely off track; and our "schoolwork" rarely looks like school. It may not match the ideal, but something is going right.

Companionable computing

Tevye has taken Star to her First Communion class and dance classes, leaving Angel and I at home on our own. She has a cold so is skipping music school this morning in order to conserve energy for a dance class this afternoon, to be followed by a bowling trip for a friend's birthday. I have been struggling all week with some sort of bug and am conserving energy for a trip to IKEA this afternoon to buy a new wardrobe for Angel's new room. We are both sitting up in my bed blogging companionably on laptops and munching on potato crisps (chips to those of you over the pond!). She is adding another Haiku to her blog - she has a private one for which just a few friends and relatives have the address - while simultaneously IM-ing with a dancing friend. For once I'm only doing one thing at a time!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Who Do You Think You Are?

Who would have thought a genealogy programme on TV would be a hit? Tevye and I are engrossed in the second series of the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are. The programme has a simple premise - take a "celebrity" (mostly actors, actresses and other TV personalities), trace their family tree, and try to piece together the individual stories behind the names. Without exception the subjects have moved during the course of the programme from mild curiosity - or even cynicism - to complete emotional involvement with their family story. Several times we have shed tears along with them. Last night's subject was the actor Stephen Fry (best known in this household as the narrator on the Harry Potter story tapes!). First they unearthed the skeleton he suspected existed in his paternal grandmother's past. Turned out her father came from a family of Victorian paupers, was raised in the workhouse - where he contracted the TB that later killed him - and had a brother who ended up in gaol for some unknown crime. They then traced the family of his Hungarian Jewish grandfather, who escaped the Holocaust by a quirk of fate that sent him to England in the 1920s to manage a sugar beet factory. Sadly the rest of the family were not so lucky, and on discovering the records confirming the suspicion that his great-aunt and her family had died in Auschwitz Fry wept unashamedly. When he assembled three generations of his family to tell them his findings and read aloud the biographical account of the sole Jewish survivor remaining in his grandfather's hometown (where the pre-War Jewish population was over 1,000) there was not a dry eye in the house. Filmed with real sensitivity, this series is one of the best examples of human interest TV I've seen. Well done, BBC! I only wish Angel and Star were old enough to watch and appreciate it.

Aside: I have to admit to the tiniest twinge of jealousy of the historical researcher for the series, an old friend of mine from my student days (we studied for our Ph.Ds under the same tutor). While I'm thoroughly happy in my role as mother and homeschooler, if life had taken a different turn I can't imagine a job I would enjoy more. All that rooting round in archives, unearthing information and solving mysteries - and getting paid for it too!

Monday, January 23, 2006

The things I find myself saying ...

... to Star.

"Take your feet out of my face and look at your book!"

And, reduced to inventing words by the eccentric variations she invariably adds to any workbook page she touches (words with long tails, smileys, idiosyncratic comments, doodles):

"Just for once, could you do a page without it being peculiared."

Highs and lows

Today's homeschooling highlight: Star climbing into bed with me this morning and asking me to read a story from The Orchard Book of Greek Gods and Goddesses ... now. (This after she informs me that she doesn't like to be read to!)

Today's homeschooling lowlight: Angel assuming the face that says "I know I'm not going to understand this and I'm not intending to try" before even looking at addition of unlike fractions.

Angel's haiku

Now Angel has got the bug. She wanted me to post her haiku ...

dancing is great fun
modern, jazz, ballet and tap
all you want is more!

wind, snow, hail and rain
cold winters covered in frost
I wish it was spring

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Book shopping

I have just enjoyed myself spending an unexpected Amazon gift voucher. I ended up buying:

Daily Lenten Meditations from Pope John Paul II. That will be my spiritual reading for Lent.

The Gift of Julian of Norwich by Karen Manton. Doesn't this look lovely? I have a soft spot for Dame Julian, and my interest was reignited when I visited her cell in St.Julian's Church, Norwich during the summer.

Darwin's Black Box by Michael Behe. For my science reading. I've wanted to read this one for a while, and can't get it from the library.

The Tale of Hill Top Farm by Susan Wittig Albert. Light reading. A mystery set in the Lake District, with Beatrix Potter as the sleuth.

How the Heather Looks by Joan Bodger. Another book that has been on my wishlist for a while.

New Year Resolutions: Progress Report 2

Continuing my effort to keep myself accountable, here is my progress report for the last two weeks:

Faith: Week 1 - morning prayer 2 out of 7, evening prayer 7 out of 7; Week 2 - morning prayer 6 out of 7, evening prayer 6 out of 7. I'm feeling smugly self satisfied about last week's improvement in the mornings, though as it was achieved largely by mentally rearranging my day it is rather misplaced pride. Pre-pregnancy we usually aimed to start schoolwork by 9 in the morning. Since October our morning routine has fallen apart totally. I had hoped to get started more promptly after Christmas, but it wasn't happening and I felt constantly behind my non-existent schedule - therefore I was mostly running too "late" to have time for morning prayer. Last week I simply decided that for now our start time is 10 o'clock, so mentally giving myself an extra hour in the morning. Success! (And a sad reflection on the weakness of my approach to time management.)

Family: Mixed. I haven't done well with making time for one on one read-alouds. Partly because we are supposed to do this in the afternoon and I'm just plain tired after working with the girls in the morning, and partly because we are in a reading doldrums after a run of books that for one reason or another haven't engaged their attention. On the other hand, I have been very much more aware of spending time talking, playing games or just generally being "with" the girls. It doesn't look as though Tevye and I will manage a night out this month, but our weekend away in February will be a big enough treat to make up for that.

Fitness: Coughing less, but still have not started back into any regular exercise. Not sure how much the coughing and puffing is becoming an excuse. Determined that next week I will restart the gym / pool membership I suspended back in October, even if all I manage is some gentle swimming. Mercifully the bright spark who set fire to the sauna by leaving a towel over the heater managed not to burn down the entire leisure centre, though my informant (Tevye) tells me it still smells of smoke ten days later. Now, that won't exactly help the coughing and puffing!

Formation: Doing well so far. I finished my science book, The Fly in the Cathedral, so next week I'm going to concentrate on some gentle spiritual reading.

Fun: I spent last Saturday before last at a scrapbooking crop a friend runs once a month and managed to do four pages (in five and a half hours - I'm not a speedy scrapbooker). I didn't manage any last week, so I'm counting the day as sufficient for two weeks (OK, I admit that is cheating!). I need to get into some sort of routine here, as I know I won't make the crop again until at least April.

At least I can see progress, and I haven't given up on any of my resolutions yet, even though I still have a way to go.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Another haiku

We are having a shuffle round of bedrooms in anticipation of the arrival of Little Cherub, with Angel moving into what was our library-cum-schoolroom-cum-playroom-cum-guestroom (also our main clutter dumping area!) and Star moving into Angel's room, leaving her room for Little Cherub. Today was spent de-cluttering and painting Angel's new room, which inspired me to another haiku:

colourful fabrics
pretty pastel pink paintwork
space to dance and dream

I think this could get addictive ...


Lying awake at 4.30am and inspired by Haiku of a Homeschooler (I love these!) I tried to distract myself from puzzling over how to fit a flat packed IKEA wardrobe and three people into one small car by composing Haiku. Here are the results:

Little Cherub
underneath my heart
tiny child slowly growing
miracle of life

cold winter morning
white frost sparkling on dark ground
glittering beauty

Friday, January 20, 2006

Book Review: The Fly in the Cathedral

My first piece of scientific reading for the year has been The Fly in the Cathedral, by Brian Cathcart. The book tells how John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton, two researchers at the University of Cambridge, split the atom in 1932. Overall I enjoyed the book, though I got a bit bogged down in the middle with the construction of electrical apparatus - much as the scientists themselves did! It demonstrates clearly the extent to which scientific discovery was (and presumably is) a function of sheer, hard graft. By the late 1920s experimental research on the atom had hit a wall, with very few new discoveries being made. The researchers were stuck, as it seemed the only way to progress in the exploration of the atom would be to bombard it with enormous electrical voltages beyond any that could then be produced. Cockcroft and Walton worked for over three years on designing and refining apparatus capable of firing protons at high voltages. Painstakingly they tinkered with their apparatus, taking it apart and putting it back together, plugging tiny leaks with sealing wax and plasticine, spending hours (or even days) cranking up their machinery to experimental conditions, only to find something wrong. Eventually their hard work was rewarded when their proton accelerator succeeded in splitting lithium atoms into two helium particles. Ironically, it turned out the high voltage they had struggled so hard to achieve wasn't needed after all. They split the atom using only 125,000 volts, rather than the minimum of 700,000 volts physicists imagined would be necessary. Although the book introduces a number of interesting personalities such as the nuclear physics pioneer Lord Rutherford and Russian scientist George Gamow, its main strength is in the insight it gives into the scientific process. A worthwhile read for anyone interested in scientific history in general and nuclear physics in particular.

Aside: One scientific advance mentioned in the book is the discovery of the Van der Graaf generator. I remember absolutely nothing about what we did with a Van de Graaf generator in physics classes, but I do have a memory of a rather uninspiring physics teacher who contrived to give herself not one, but several electric shocks with one in the course of one lesson. Presumably the school version didn't generate a particularly high voltage!

More on science, evolution and intelligent design

A director of a blog dedicated to following Cardinal Schonborn kindly responded to my comments and pointed me in the direction of Schonborn Sightings, where you can read more about the Cardinal's thinking in this area. I particularly liked the clarity of an interview he gave to the Beliefnet website earlier in January, which put Darwinism, evolution and the response of the Catholic Church to science neatly into perspective. I thought this comment hit the nail on the head:

  • Evolution is a scientific theory. What I call evolutionism is an ideological view that says evolution can explain everything in the whole development of the cosmos, from the Big Bang to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. I consider that an ideology. It's not good for science if it becomes ideological, because it leaves it own field and enters the area of philosophy, of world views, maybe of religion.
The blog also led me to a Catholic News Service report on an article published this week in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano arguing that intelligent design is not science, and various comments on this article. How I wish I had more time to read this all more carefully and ponder on it. The whole debate fascinates me.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Science and philosophy

If you are not interested in the topic of evolution and its relationship to faith and reason, skip this post!

As I am planning to have a science oriented year, one of the subjects I want to learn more about is the debate on origins: creationism, evolution, Darwinism, intelligent design and so on. Over the last year or so I have been trying to get to grips with the main arguments by reading articles online, so I was interested to see this new article by Cardinal Schonborn, The Designs of Science. This is a follow up to an original article Finding Design in Nature (New York Times, July 2005) written in response to comments made by Catholic physicist Stephen M. Barr in The Design of Evolution (First Things, October 2005). If you are interested in Catholicism and evolution and have not already done so I recommend reading all three, as I'm sure the discussion is not at an end. Unfortunately I think the Cardinal may have done his cause a disservice in publishing an imprecise article that only further muddies some already pretty murky waters. To explain ...

Cardinal Schonborn begins his first article by stating that "evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense — an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection — is not". Unfortunately he makes the cardinal error (ouch! dreadful pun!) of failing to define his terms. He admits in his second article that "I expected some initial misunderstanding. Even had it been possible to state in a thousand words a highly qualified and nuanced statement about the relations among modern science, philosophy, and theology, the essay would likely have been dismissed as “mere philosophy,” with no standing to challenge the hegemony of scientism." And there we have the problem. The Cardinal's aim - rightly - was to communicate that the debate about origins is far more than just a debate about science, and falls also into the realm of natural philosophy. Not only faith, but also reason, lead to the conclusion that the universe and everything in it is not the result of an "unguided, unplanned" process. Whatever the scientific facts, it is easy to perceive the hand of a creator at work. Unfortunately, by failing to use a few extra words to define what he meant by "neo-Darwinism" (specifically, atheistic neo-Darwinism) he has fallen into the same trap as the atheist neo-Darwinists themselves. Stephen Barr rightly points out that evolution as a process of "random variation and natural selection" is in itself entirely compatible with the Catholic faith. In his second article Cardinal Schonborn himself acknowledges this. The issue is not the process of evolution, but the theological and philosophical importance attached to it. The Cardinal's real target - rightly - was the linking of evolutionary science with atheistic philosophy. If only he had distinguished between the two, his original article would have hit that target. As he didn't, he appeared to reject the science for purely philosophical and theological reasons and left himself open to the accusation of misunderstanding the science.

In this whole debate about evolution and faith, distinguishing clearly between the spheres proper to science and those proper to philosophy and theology is vital. As Catholics we have a framework of faith and reason that allows us to do this without difficulty. The atheistic evolutionists, on the other hand, seem oblivious to the effect of their own philosophical convictions on their interpretation of "science". I have heard the arch-atheist neo-Darwinist Richard Dawkins on the radio a few times and have felt like banging my head against the wall in frustration at his lack of logic. They are scientists, not fooled by old-fashioned ideas about God, so they must be right, yes? Well, no actually. They are so busy attacking Christians for allowing theology to skew their views of science that they don't see the mote in their own eye. A more carefully worded article by Cardinal Schonborn could have made their philosophical weakness apparent and used the weight of Catholic philosophy and reason to good effect against their belief in an "unplanned, unguided" universe. Sadly, he missed the opportunity.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Classroom comments

I was amused by a classroom exchange reported to Angel by J-next-door.

Teacher: Of course, everyone has to go to school.
L (J's friend, who knows Angel): No, they don't. Some children are home educated.
Teacher: Yes, but I'm sure you don't know anyone who doesn't go to school.
L: Yes, I do. J's neighbours are home educated.
J: That's right. My neighbours don't go to school. Their Mum teaches them at home.
Teacher: Humph! Well, they must have lots of money to buy books. That's why you lot have to come to school.

Angel pointed out that this was silly - "you don't have to be rich to homeschool. And anyway, we know lots of people richer than us who don't homeschool!"

Work in progress: more

Tevye pointed out that my work in progress photos looked remarkably unmessy. This was because the scissors, cotton wool, fake fur and other collage materials (floor), fabric paints and general debris (desk), abandoned music books and instrument cases (various) had been strategically situated round the room in such a way that I could only photograph the component parts. To give an idea of the full effect would have required a whole series of photos!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Work in progress ...

Our sitting room at 12.30 today ... why do my daughters have to play different things on different instruments in the same room at the same time? And why is it always easier to take instruments out of their cases than to put them back in?


One of the things I love about home education is the opportunity to share experiences with my children that simply wouldn't be possible if they were in school. Yesterday we went to a schools' matinee performance of the ballet Giselle at the Royal Opera House in London. These schools' performances are heavily subsidised and always oversubscribed, so tickets are allocated by lot. A friend applied on behalf of four families, and hit lucky - not only did we get tickets, but they were for some of the best seats in the house, right in the centre of the stalls. Top seats at the Royal Opera House, one of the world's great theatres, would normally be way, way out of our league financially, so the opportunity to see a world class ballet company perform a classic ballet was an unexpected privilege. We paid the standard school student price of £6 (around $10) a ticket. The same seats for an evening matinee would have been £77. Each! Star was probably a little young to truly appreciate it, but Angel was entranced and is now declaring she can't wait to start pointe work. This despite warnings from slightly older friends who have already reached that stage that pointes mean blisters!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Three cheers for brass bands!

Last autumn we made a wonderful musical discovery when a friend of Angel's joined the local brass band. Angel started playing the trumpet - a long time ambition - last January, and it was immediately obvious she had found her instrument. A kind brass teacher friend started her off, but since June she has just been playing under her own steam. Then we heard about the brass band. They have a junior section where they not only teach children an instrument free, they even lend them the instrument. In early November both Angel and Star went along to try it out. Star had ambitions to play the euphonium and was given a baritone horn, a slightly smaller and lighter instrument of which she is very proud. Angel was greeted with open arms when they realised that she was already playing very competently and they suggested she move straight into the senior band after Christmas. Brass bands traditionally use cornets rather than trumpets, so she was duly supplied with a cornet. (A player can easily transfer from one to the other as the fingering is identical and the feel of the instruments very similar.) Yesterday she and her friend - who has also been promoted - went along for their first full band practice. She was given a newer, better instrument, befitting her new status, a great deal of encouragement, and a space in the second cornet section. In February the band will be recording a CD of Christmas music, which will be great experience for her. They were, however, very apologetic that from now on she will be expected to pay a weekly subscription. Where else could you get the loan of a decent instrument and three hours of band practice and music tuition for the princely sum of 50 pence (less than $1) a week? I LOVE brass bands!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Yiddisher momma

Thirteen years of being married to Tevye has turned me into a Jewish mother. Star has thick, straight hair which gets everywhere if not tied back. Star does not like having it tied back and keeps taking out her hair elastics. Tevye was amused to hear me in a moment of exasperation informing her that I was fed up of her looking such a schlock (roughly translated in UK English as a "scruff") - and I didn't even notice that I was slipping into Yiddish. Oy vey!

New Year Resolutions: Progress Report

I have decided to post progress reports to keep myself accountable for my New Year Resolutions. Here is the first.

Disclaimer: I have been struggling to get my nasty cough under control, and had a couple of limp days when I spent most of my time slumped on the sofa. This is my excuse for my less than stellar progress. Still, any progress is better than none. I hope!

Faith: Morning prayer, four days out of seven; evening prayer, six days out of seven. Do you see a pattern here? I'm not good at mornings. In the evening I am getting into the habit of saying the office when I get into bed. In theory, I intend to say it in the morning before I get out of bed. In practice I'm often still in too much of a sleepy blur. I think I need to rethink this.

Family: I only managed one-on-one read alouds once, but then there were only two days when we were home in the afternoon and on the second I was coughing too much to feel like reading. I have managed to reorganise our regular schedule so that it should start to happen next week. Tevye and I haven't organised anything for this month, but we have booked a romantic weekend away for February while the girls stay with Grandma.

Fitness: Non-starter. Too much coughing.

Formation: I'm nearly half way through my first science book, an account of how a group of Cambridge scientists first split the atom in 1932. I'll review the book when I've finished. So far, so good.

Fun: No scrapbooking done at all. It would have involved moving off the sofa.

Verdict: Could do better, but considering I wasn't at my brightest and best, it could have been worse!

Dance fever

Back in December Angel and Star took part in a dance show performed by the theatre school where they take classes. Yesterday we collected a copy of the DVD recording of the show, so dance fever has taken over as the girls watch and dance along. Here is Angel in her modern dance, "Mist". Apparently waving these ribbons is trickier than it looks. They have a tendency to wrap themselves round the waver's arm, when the only option is to run off stage trying to make it look like a deliberate, planned exit!

Bubbling over

Yesterday Angel, who is always energised by company, went out for a friend's birthday treat. Six ten and eleven year olds (including Angel's three best dancing buddies) were taken ice skating followed by pizza. When she got home at 8pm she was bubbling over ... "We went for pizza and we had a whole pizza each ... and I ate all of mine ... there were eight slices and it had lots of pepperoni ... and one of J's friends was a really good ice skater 'cos she goes every Saturday ... and she taught me tricks ... and O got a huge blister and she is allergic to plasters (Band Aids) so someone had to get her special padding ... and when we went for our pizza J's Mum had to tell us to stop talking and start eating ... and the waitress wanted to know how old J was to know how many candles to put on her cake ... and she thought she was thirteen not eleven ... and we had cake and ice cream ... and ..." All this while executing a series of one-handed cartwheels, handstands and back walkovers because she was too excited to stay still. I think she enjoyed herself.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Book Review: Modern Rhymes About Ancient Times

We all enjoy this series of fun historical poems by Susan Altman and Susan Lechner. Star chose this one from the Ancient Greece book as copywork today to go with our history topic of Greek gods:


Mighty Zeus was king of the gods.
Poseidon ruled the sea.
Hades ruled the underworld.
They were the reigning three.

Zeus controlled the weather,
With power, good and bad!
He'd throw his mighty thunderbolts
Whenever he got mad.

Though mighty Zeus was king of gods
Revered all over Greece,
His wife, the goddess Hera,
Would never give him peace.

Whenever Zeus was gone too long,
His wife would fume and fuss,
'Cause back in Greece, the ancient gods
Had problems, just like us.

OK, it may not be great literature, but the poems are catchy, fun and educational. The books are colourfully illustrated and include pronunciation guides. So far we have the Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece books, but I'm hoping next year's book budget will allow us to add the other two in the series - Ancient Rome and Ancient Africa.

Back to school

We officially started our new school term yesterday, but today was our first "normal" day and an opportunity to test out our revised routine. Last school year I planned to have Angel and Star mostly working separately, only to find they were joining in with each other's work. This year, I planned to have them work together more. Once we started it became apparent that Angel had made a cognitive leap and was getting frustrated waiting for Star to catch up. Either that or Star was getting frustrated and disruptive because things were going over her head. Back to the drawing board. This term I have reorganised our day a little so that they are mostly working separately and I have more one on one time with each girl. We are still starting together with either a Bible story or saint story, followed by another reading (either geography , mythology, or history of science). After that I will work with Star on French, history or catechism (depending on the day) and maths while Angel works independently on grammar and a notebook page. She has reached a point where she likes to research and write about a topic, so will do a page most days covering a variety of subjects. Even her pet hate, history, becomes tolerable when tackled this way. (I'm a historian. How did I get this child?) Then the girls will swap over. Star will finish her maths, do grammar and either draw or do copywork for her notebook, while I work with Angel on French, Latin or catechism and maths. I haven't decided yet whether to have them continue to work together on science or not, or quite when to slot it in. We will experiment a bit over the next couple of weeks. Once work is done for the morning the girls are free to do their own thing, and I'm aiming to spend some time decluttering. In the afternoon, Angel will do independent reading while I have 30 minutes with Star to read aloud and just chat; then they will swap over and Star will read while I spend time with Angel. We can then do art and other fun stuff - crafts, educational games - or just have more free time.

Today's trial run worked beautifully. Everything got finished promptly and cheerfully, even Angel's maths which has been such a bugbear we took a sabbatical last term. We had plenty of free time, most of which computer whizz Angel spent experimenting with a new webcam and making a "spy" movie. How she would love a video camera, but as we don't have one she will have to make do with the webcam. Star "helped" Angel for a while, then went for a walk with Tevye, who was working at home. Later they went out to run a few errands and I unashamedly took a nap! If only all homeschooling days were like this one. I love it when I feel we have completed a fair chunk of academics, completed them happily, and still had plenty of free time.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Posting sausages

We are a sort of kosher household. No truly orthodox Jew would eat with us, but we have various dietary restrictions in Tevye's honour, the chief of which is that we don't have any pig products in the house. Those of us who are not Jewish eat them, but not at home. We are blessed to have wonderful neighbours who sympathise with our occasional feelings of deprivation and provide myself, Angel and Star with bacon sandwiches. When pregnant, I predictably crave bacon, ham, sausages and other banned items. I now know the definition of a truly good neighbour ... someone who can come home from work to find a half-eaten package of pork sausages has been shoved through her letter box, know exactly why it is there, and put it into her fridge for future consumption without batting an eyelid!

Puffing and blowing

For the past few weeks I've been out of puff. Walked up a slope? Puff, Puff! I put it down to lack of exercise. After a while I found bending down to put a dish in the oven was leaving me breathless. Hmm! Not so good. Then I remembered that when I was expecting Star I developed asthma - which, happily, disappeared again after she was born. Duh! Lightbulb moment! Over the weekend I started coughing ... and coughing. This morning I staggered out of bed, booked a medical appointment and asked my neighbour if she would mind giving me a ride back up the hill from the doctors' surgery (Tevye had the car). I thought I could manage to stagger the twenty minutes downhill to get there. My blessed, wonderful neighbour heard the coughing and wheezing and suggested I might also need a lift down the hill, which I gratefully accepted. Saw the nurse there, who listened to my halting explanation ... "think ... puff, puff ... have asthma ... cough, cough ... again ... cough, splutter ..." and promptly offered sympathy and a Ventolin inhaler. Tonight I am sitting here typing with only the occasional little cough, no spluttering, and I can move without sounding like a broken bellows. Lovely, lovely Ventolin!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Year Resolutions

As always, I'm making a number of resolutions for the new year; as always, one or two (at best!) will stick and the others will fall by the wayside. I work on the theory that it is better to aim high and miss, than not to aim at all. I'm hoping that if I post them publicly here it will help to keep me accountable, so here goes:

Commit to saying morning and evening prayer from the Divine Office daily. I used to do this, but over the last few years it has slipped from regular, to spasmodic, to almost never.

Fit regular one-on-one time with both girls into our normal routine - time to read aloud at their own level and just to chat. Make a monthly night out with Tevye a priority (we can do this, but are lazy about making the effort to arrange it).

Aim for an aqua-aerobics class and two trips to the gym each week. Getting into a regular fitness routine was one of the resolutions (the only resolution?) I stuck to last year, and I'm determined to get back to it now my energy levels are improving.

I have decided that this year I'm going to improve my scientific knowledge, so I'll commit to reading at least one "living" science book each month. And for faith formation I'll add one piece of spiritual reading monthly. And I'll post reviews here.

Set aside some time each week for scrapbooking, even if it is only an hour. If I get much further behind I'll never manage to fit in a new baby scrapbook!

Need to get off to a good start by saying morning prayer before morning turns into afternoon. Note to self: more likely to be successful on this one if morning prayer is said before turning on the computer.

Happy New Year

May 2006 be a happy and blessed year for you.

The end of a long year ...

... did you notice the extra second at the end of 2005?