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Archive for April, 2009

You know…in high school and in college I was very articulate. I could use all kinds of adjectives, adverbs and beautiful phrases. I never forgot a noun and I certainly got the names of all my friends and siblings straight.

However, when Steve and I gave birth to our firstborn, I realized that at the tender age of 21, my brain seemed to be rapidly going downhill. What was wrong with me? Could it be the onset of early dementia? How come I seemed to be so suddenly…well…dull? Interestingly, scientists now agree that this is not a mom’s imagination. Termed momnesia by one researcher, it appears stress, sleep deprivation and hormones are at the root of our declining mental agility.

You know what else I think is to blame? I think it also has to do with the particular kind of brain exercise a mom is often lacking. Before having children, I had more flexible time with far fewer interruptions. I would read lengthy and challenging works much more often. Nowdays, I am much more likely to skim through a parenting blog or a magazine article. These can be valuable, but are not sustaining for the brain by themselves. Often this type of reading contains mostly information whereas Charlotte Mason said that a brain’s proper food is ideas.

Recently, a friend recommended a particular article from the archives of the Parents’ Review at AmblesideOnline. I printed it off to read and found it quite challenging. The article, written over 100 years ago, was full of literary language that I don’t read very often these days. On one hand, I felt inspired by the article and refreshed to be exercising my brain in a way I hadn’t done in awhile. On the other hand, I found myself getting antsy and longing to put the article down and read a ‘snippet’ of something easy.

I did, however, persevere and was very pleased that I had worked to excavate some wonderful ideas I could digest over the next several days.

Beginning this week, I am hoping you will join me in a weekly ‘Read-Along’ of some of the articles from The Parents’ Review. I will post a link to an article each Monday and will share my thoughts about the article each Thursday. I would love to have several of you share your thoughts and feedback in the comments section of the post on Thursdays. Sound good?

This week, we will read, “Parents as Inspirers” written by Charlotte Mason. If you would like to participate, I suggest printing the article and reading through with a pencil in hand to underline those things that stand out as you read. Check in on Thursday to read my thoughts on the article and to share your own. See you then — I’m looking forward to it!

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This is fresh in my mind since I recently attended our local conference. I love the grassroots feel of hundreds of homeschoolers coming together to be encouraged and empowered. Now that I’ve been attending for about 10 years, I love it for different reasons. I need less of the ‘how-to’ type of information sessions and more of the inspiring sessions. I also love the opportunity to peruse the vendor tables, though these days I usually know exactly what I am looking for.

Because this my one ‘professional development’ day of the year, I like to make the most of it. I have developed some tips which I find helpful so that I end my day feeling as if it was a successful endeavor.

  1. Dress in layers. I find that the temperature of the different areas in the building can vary widely. Occasionally, it has been warm enough outside that a friend and I will eat our lunch out of doors (and need our sweaters/coats). At the same time, I always find that – particularly by afternoon – the session rooms can be stifling, so I want just a t-shirt. Dressing in layers leaves my options open. Also, be sure to wear very comfortable shoes. There is nothing worse than your feet aching just when you are starting to close in on that perfect math program. I also suggest bringing a water bottle to avoid dehydration-type headaches.
  2. Prepare ahead. Doing your homework ahead of time can make your time more efficient. I like to do two things. First of all, I like to make a spreadsheet listing all the resources I would like to purchase at the conference. I look at a couple of different catalogues and online sources to get an idea of prices. I don’t necessarily have to get the cheapest price, but I do like to be in the ballpark. I check to see if the item is widely available used and list an approximate price for that, too. Often 50% off bins at the conference will contain resources that end up being cheaper than the same item used purchased online (with shipping charges). The second thing I do is go through the syllabus, reading the descriptions of the sessions and circling those ones I am interested in attending.
  3. Be baby-free, if possible. I would be the last one to suggest ditching your 6 week old to attend a homeschool conference. However, if you have an older baby who still needs to be with you, I highly recommend hiring a young homeschooled teen to play with your baby at the conference while you are in the sessions. Several of my friends did this and it worked very well. Most babies over the age of about 2-3 months will not sit happily all day, peacefully sleeping while you listen to speakers. I think this is a really important day for homeschooling moms and if it is possible to meet baby’s needs at the same time as your own, that’s perfect.
  4. Take in at least one ‘inspiring’ session (versus informational). Usually there is someone speaking at the conference who is well-known for leaving audience members feeling renewed and supported in their calling. I highly recommend choosing one of these types of sessions during the course of your day. The sessions that give information about specific subject areas are also very important and not to be missed, but be sure to leave the conference both equipped and energized.
  5. Consider skipping a session to shop and talk to vendors. Because I am an experienced homeschooling mom, I generally know what I am looking for and just go and get it. This year, however, I was looking for something less specific for my oldest daughter and took some time to talk to a vendor in lieu of attending one of the sessions. She was a wealth of information and very helpful, directing me to consider items I would never have found or looked at on my own. When sessions are in progress, vendors tend to be much less busy and can offer you excellent personal help.
  6. If you are a speaker, plan to miss the session following the one you are hosting. You will probably have lots of people wanting to speak to you and ask questions and you likely will not be able to get a good seat or will be late for the next session anyway. If there is a session you are dying to attend, I suggest having a friend (or talk to the speaker ahead of time to do this for you) save you a seat near the door so you can slip in late without interrupting.

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On My Needles

I’ve been doing a fair bit of gift knitting lately for people who I think might read my blog, so I haven’t posted my projects. 🙂 I do have two pairs of socks on the go right now that I will share with you. They are for my favourite person to knit for — ME! Why do I like knitting for myself? Well, I am always grateful. I always appreciate the amount of work that has gone into the making of the item. I can always take my measurements to give the best possible chance that the item will fit. And — I usually like the colours I choose!

What’s on my needles at this time?

First of all, I am knitting Cookie A’s Twisted Flower socks. I remember when I started knitting almost two years ago, these socks looked hopelessly complicated. I looked at them and thought, “Wow. I will never be at the stage where I could make socks like that.” I was sure I would always knit plain or almost plain socks with self-striping yarn to make things interesting. However, I can honestly say that these socks are a breeze now. I am knitting them two at a time on magic loop. They are part of a knit along on a Ravelry group called, Makin’ Cookies. The yarn is Knit Picks, Risata, which is a wool/cotton/nylon/elastic blend.


Next, I am knitting some socks called Brainless. They are created toe-up, my preferred method, and I am working them two at a time. Don’t be fooled by the name or by the simple appearance. I actually find the pattern a bit more challenging than the name suggests. It isn’t that they are difficult to knit, but rather just that at times interpreting the pattern can involve some mental work.


These socks are part of another knit along, one of the April selections for the Thrifty Knitters Sock Club on Ravelry. (I think these Ravelry links will only work for those of you who are Ravelry members.) I am using some lovely hand-dyed yarn gifted to me in a swap a couple of months ago.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter weekend! Steve is still off work today, so we are enjoying a relaxing family day today.

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Photo Courtesy of Neal the Ranger

Photo Courtesy of Neal the Ranger

It was back in October of this year when I finally admitted to myself that read-alouds just weren’t going to happen very much in our home. It was very difficult to accept this truth because so much of our homeschool is built around reading great books.  Several of our children are competent, skilled and independent readers, but I longed to return to the days when we could just snuggle on the couch under a big quilt and live a wonderful story together.  I used to love reading chapter after chapter, even spending an entire afternoon in front of the fireplace hearing the adventures of Bilbo Baggins or devouring an inspiring missionary biography.

I re-scheduled and re-scheduled, but nothing I could come up with could put the needs of my babies and toddlers (and sometimes preschoolers) on hold so we could accomplish this worthy pursuit. Our little people needed me and didn’t want to be pushed aside so we could spend hours on something that did nothing to draw them into our family circle.  It was then that I came to the realization our leisurely read-aloud days weren’t over forever, but were going to be on a loooooong vacation.

At a homeschool conference a few years ago, I attended a session presented by Bev Rempel, an expert in writing instruction and a former homeschooling mom.  She said that it was very important for children to hear language being used, in the form of literature read aloud, in order to be competent writers in the future.  These days, I need to be creative to make sure our children are being read to.

Here are a few ideas, if you struggle like I do with this:
Little Ones’ Sleeping Time: Either during a nap or after they have gone to bed, make it a priority to drop everything and grab a book.  This is your big chance, so don’t mess it up by checking your e-mail or a message board first.  If the kids are doing other school, they can set it aside.  When my baby guy falls asleep for his daytime nap, that is our signal for Bible time. He has been an erratic sleeper, so we do Bible immediately.    Because there are still other littles around, we don’t abolish all interruptions, but they are drastically cut down.

Dad Reading Aloud at Bedtime: My husband has just finished reading Alice in Wonderland to our 3, 5 and 7 year old daughters.  A lot of families find that having Dad read to a group of fairly sleepy (therefore mellow) children works well.

A Special Book with Grandma/Grandpa: If your children’s grandparents live nearby and you see them frequently (once a week or more), you might ask if one of them would be willing to have a special book from which they will read a chapter at each visit.  If you and the grandparent have a similar philosophy on what constitutes good literature, it is particularly meaningful to have the grandparent choose the book.
Books on CD:  Digital read-aloud versions are available for many classics on Librivox.  They are free and can be easily burned onto CDs for your child to listen to independently, at bedtime or during car trips.  Younger children may enjoy the wonderful stories from Story Nory.

Getting Help from Your Older Children: If you have an older child, you can consider asking them to watch a baby/toddler while you read to the other children.  Alternatively, you can watch the baby/toddler while the older child reads aloud.  A key to success here is to have the reading done in a different room than the entertaining of the little ones.  Some moms find that children are more attentive if they get to pile onto Mom and Dad’s bed for a read-aloud, even in the middle of the day.

Contain Little Ones: As long as it hasn’t been overused, older babies/younger toddlers are often content to sit in their high chairs munching on a snack. Preferably, this will be something that will take them awhile to eat and that they enjoy.  I don’t know why some babies who are normally very active are content to sit in a high chair, but I do find this sometimes works for short periods of reading aloud.

Hire a Mother’s Helper: Several homeschooling families I know without older children have hired a 10-12 year old homeschooled young lady to come over once or twice a week and play with her children while Mom remains in the home, safely close by.  This frees her up to have much needed time to herself, work on projects, have a nap or…read aloud to children who are old enough to listen!

Please recognize that as great as any ideas or plans might sound, life with very young children is filled with interruptions.  No matter what you do at this stage, it is unlikely to yield hours of read-aloud time.  Young children’s needs are often immediate and their immaturity means they need lots of shepherding.

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I just finished reading an excellent post by a new visitor to my blog. I could summarize it here, but I would love it if you would head over to her blog and read her urgent words yourselves. If you are a Christian mama, I highly recommend Passionate Housewife’s wonderful post:

Against the Norm

I am working on a post on creative ways to incorporate reading-aloud into homes like mine where it is extremely difficult. Look for that post tomorrow.

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What a wonderful and very busy weekend I had! I just love going to my local homeschool conference. When I get to present a session, it is even better. 🙂 The initial feedback I received was the moms left feeling inspired. I am very grateful to God that He made this happen.

Here is a quote from my prayer journal on March26/09:

I pray for my talk next weekend. I wish so much I was better prepared. Please help me pull things together this weekend. I pray it will really minister to the moms and dads in attendance. Let them feel your love and grace and freedom through my words. You are so great and so very gentle and so very good.

I never did pray that anyone would learn anything from my session. I do hope people had some good take-away, practical ideas, but my heart really just longs for homeschooling moms to feel the freedom that the Lord wants them to have when he calls them to homeschool.

One lovely mama at my session asked if I could post a copy of the overhead I showed that was a chart of the ‘schoolwork’ three of our children are currently doing. A copy of that particular overhead is below. When a child finishes a particular book or resource, we just replace it with a new one. I generally select the kids’ books from the year on AmblesideOnline that corresponds to their grade number (though Ambleside years are not the same as grade levels in school). Our oldest daughter, who is in her grade 9 year is working mostly independently on Level 100 of the Sonlight Curriculum.

I hope this chart will inspire you when you see that we aren’t doing a huge amount of ‘schoolwork’, but are getting wonderful results. I didn’t indicate how often children are reading from particular books, as this varies according to age. We homeschool Monday to Thursday and generally get most of our work done by lunchtime. We usually do Nature and Art in the afternoons.

Click on the above image to enlarge in a new screen.


I’m happy to answer any other questions you have in the comments section of this post.
If you are visiting my blog for the first time — Welcome! It is great to have you here. 🙂

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The big draw!

Thanks to everyone who participated in my very first give-away! I hope I can knit some more goodies in the future for you.

My 10 year old son did the honours.

And the one with the toasty toes will be……

Congratulations, Maria!

Your socks will be on their way very soon. If you leave me a comment on this post with your e-mail address, I won’t publish it, but I can get in contact with you.

I just loved reading everyone’s wonderful comments about their husbands and families. I am certainly blessed to have such a generous and loving blogging community. 🙂

I’m off to a homeschool conference this weekend, at which I will be speaking on “Charlotte Mason Style Education – Guilt Free!!”. I know it will be a joy to attend and to encourage other homeschooling moms and dads. I would love it if you would pray for me, if you think of it.

Have a wonderful weekend!

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