September 29, 2008


I gave the girls a freewriting exercise the other day. But to re-assure them that this would be fun, I participated too. Here's my silly, cheesy poem:

There once was a mother
With a very silent house.
The kids were together inside,
Yet you could have heard a mouse.
"I wonder what they are doing,"
said the mother in her head.
"When they play, they are usually loud,
But they must be making mischief instead."
Though she dreaded what she'd find
She continued on her hunt
To find the source of silence
And put and end to any planned stunts.
Imagine her delight when she finally saw
Two girls reading books; another writing about the sea.
The mother's heart was heart was happy
And she was smiling with glee.

Crazy, I know. But I've decided to shelve any and every language arts program. I'm just not happy with any of them. Partly because some of them seem so limiting and partly because I simply don't like them. I've decided to teach to my children's love of the written word, and let their English skills become stronger with gentle guidance and practice over time.

Part of my plan is to have a free writing exercise every week. Last week I gave them 10 minutes to write whatever they wanted however they wanted. They were free to write a poem, a story or anything else. I had ideas if they needed some help, but I knew their imaginations would take over. I don't normally play music during school because they find it distracting, but I popped in a CD of classical music (Shine soundtrack) to differientiate this writing time from all the other writing times we've had. I told them that there would not be any proofreading, no spell check--they were free to write quietly. At the end of the 10 minutes, they would read to each other what they had written.

To my surprise, 45 minutes later, they were still writing. This is how much my kids love the written word. That is why curriculum can be so limiting to us. To write as assigned would have squashed their freedom--their enjoyment--of the project.

Truthfully, every child approached this differently. Kenna and Mabry started with a drawing. Apparently art work stimulates their brains. Kenna then wrote a story about a lion, because that's what she colored. She invented most of her spellings, but that was fine.

Mabry drew a picture of the sun. She didn't care to add any color. And she didn't elaborate in her writing any. She only wrote three basic facts about the sun. The perfectionist in her was more concerned that everything was spelled correctly. So she kept everything simple so that it would be as perfect as she could make it. I know her imagination takes her farther than the sun, so we will be gently working on freewriting much more with her so that she can enjoy this process.

And Cayli...well, she wrote an entire novel. She loves writing! She didn't spend anytime illustrating her 3 pages of writing. But she was very thankful that she was able to write without focusing on spelling. Her brain thinks faster than her hand writes. If I demanded perfect or even corrected spelling, she'd never get anything on paper.

Later--maybe next year, maybe not--we'll really begin to focus on proofreading and editing and spelling correctly. I'm waiting a few years before introducing strict grammar (though we do some copywork and dictation exercises a few times a week--another post for another time). Right now, I'm only letting them thrive on the process of communication and I get to enjoy the results.

September 27, 2008

FYI: Cell phones are not submersible,

especially in the hands of michievious toddlers playing in the dog's water dish. I'm currently letting all the circuits dry, but since I saw water sloshing around behind the screen, it may be a goner. (Maybe I'll upgrade...*fingers crossed for an iPhone!*). ;)

Just a friendly PSA for your weekend. :)

September 25, 2008

Tea and Poetry

Thursdays are our exploration days of sorts. We ditched the workbooks and texts and opt for discovering the world around us. Our morning starts as usual with our continued reading of the Little House on the Prairie series at breakfast. Today, though, instead of grumbling through two pages of math, we enjoyed a pleasant morning with tea on our backporch. I gave the girls a few minutes to find a poem about autumn to read to each other. Then they set up our tea "picnic" with a large blanket on the floor and a piece of scrap fabric covering a large overturned box.

The girls thought the weather was cold, so they bundled up in jackets and fleece. I found it pleasantly nice. They are used to finding the morning temp around 90 degrees, so 75 made them shiver as they read through some Robert Frost and Shel Silverstein.
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September 23, 2008

Family Mysteries

Why is it that...

Puppy dogs think brand new jazz shoes are tasty?

Toddler boys are fascinated by wads of toilet paper?

The girls can't walk by a dry-erase board without rendering a self-portrait?

And this child is feverently focused on traveling to Botswana (betcha have to look it up!) one day?

Yep, Kenna is packing her bags for Botswana. She wants to go YESTERDAY!
Thanks to National Geographic, she has fallen in love with the scenery and wildlife and thinks we can stowaway an exotic leopard for a return trip home (don't you love the precious innocence of little kids?).
Thanks to our online research of the country, though, we've learned that the average life expectancy for an adult male is 36 year old, as much as 40% of the population is infected with AIDS and medical care is almost nil. Amazingly, diamonds are the nation's leading export...but seldom do they benefit the sick.
So now Kenna also wants to help the medical crisis. I'm not sure where all her interests will lead, but I know that she's persistent enough to make her dreams happen. I'm thankful that God has given her a heart for this country and I'm amazed at her continued perserverance by learning about Botswana and begging to travel. Will you pray for her, that she will be able to go at some point in her life? And will you please pray for the dire people of Botswana?
Her love for Botswana is truly a mystery to me, but I know it's straight from her heart. If only to be a child again, knowing that I can solve all the world's problems.

September 19, 2008

50 States Presentation: Georgia and Florida

This past week I stepped back and watched my kids as they researched GA and FL for their presentation at our co-op meeting. I had agreed to "teach" these states, but when my girls found out what I was doing, they wanted to help. Because I couldn't drop everything to tell them all the facts about GA, Cayli impatiently looked up GA in one of her books and online. She wrote everything she researched on notecards, printed off a few pictures from Google, and brought them to me. She said she went ahead and prepared for GA for me. Gotta love a kid with initiative and enthusiasm!
So I bought her some posterboard, sketched the outline and let her paste on all her pictures.

With FL, I did most of the research, but let Kenna and Mabes design FL with our findings. They went to the co-op as beach bums and Cayli "interviewed" them. Here Mabry is pointing out that she likes to swim on the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida. Kenna had said she prefers to swim on the Atlantic Ocean side. Of course, neither one of these country girls has ever been to FL and they would probably swim anywhere, even a mud puddle. But both were incredibly fascinated by the amazing wildlife of the Everglades. I think they'd rather go there than Disney World.

Then we completed our worksheets for our book of 50 states. We did images of the 2 states with fingerprint art. The kids colored their fingertips with markers, and then "stamped" them on the paper to form the shapes of peanuts, oranges, crocodiles, flamingoes and other artistic representations of these states.Honestly after having a week where I've spent every second surrounded by my kids, I'm loving my new role as a I pot-stirrer. I provide all the ingredients of learning and let my kids come up with the recipe. Sometimes I have to gently stir the pot to encourage the creative learning, but for the most part, they've done quite well, don't you think?

September 17, 2008

All day with my kids: Day 3

We had another great day together! It was fairly simple because we finished the bulk of the schoolwork before lunch because we needed the afternoon to prepare for our presentation of Georgia and Florida tomorrow. The girls are excited about their presentation and have owned it since I mentioned that we were doing it. Homeschooling is so much easier when the kids enjoy what they are they are doing so much that their excitement truly motivates them to continue researching and reading and learning.

I've been thinking about why, after over 8.5 years of parenting, I'm only now beginning to understand that my children need my complete, uninterrupted, undivided attention. Last year I read through parts of Raising Your Spirited Child (because together the twins have more spirit than a stadium full of football fans) and I realized that I need to withdraw to re-energize. Nothing wrong with long as I don't withdraw for too long of a time. Basically, I can't be selfish with my personal time. I can't just mentally or physically disappear for an extended period of time.

I've also noted that my children haven't taken advantage of me being around all the time. I was afraid that they would come to view me as an extra child, sort of a tag-along friend. But they've actually respected my company more, it seems. Before they would challenge everything I said. But since I'm always to encourage and enforce proper behavior, then they've risen to the challenges set before them.

So now I know that if I begin every morning by
  1. prayerfully considering my day's plans and my children
  2. purposing to wholeheartedly serve them by making myself available to their spiritual, academic and emotional needs
  3. preparing healthy meals and drinking lots of water so that I maintain my stamina

then my day runs smoother. And my children are happier. And I'm much more content with my family and homeschool.

Yep, I'm exhausted at the day's end, but I sure do sleep better.

So enough of my rambling updates on what's going on with my family. I'll get back to posting the fun stuff from the kids and not the turmoil in my little head, I promise. :)

September 16, 2008

With my kids all day long: Day 2

Since I've purposed to be a continued presence with my children, today was another great day. Exhausting--and let's just say that I'm very glad they are in bed--but decidedly great.

Though I'd prefer to be done with academics by lunch, school is spilling over well into the afternoon and even even into the evening. We're making posters, writing stories, reading for pleasure, asking questions, learning answers.

As I think about how my kids are wired with incurable curiosity, and how much staminia I require to meet their needs, I've come to realize that it's not school we're doing all day long--it's life.

I'm simply setting the tone for a life of learning. In this day and age, my kids will never know a gap in their education that they can't Google later. So we just rock away with whatever they are interested in...I have a plan in pencil just in case they find themselves at a loss.

But so far, they are never without an idea. They continue to absorb everything--passionately and eagerly.

Here's a picture of them making a poster for our 50 States Co-op on Thursday:

Apparently they also learn better when they are on top of the table. :)

We also ditched our language arts plans for the week. Matthew has been reading the Narnia series to the girls over the past few months, much to Mabry's delight. So today, instead of an official lesson regarding the use of a and an that I had originally planned, we wrote a song about the Narnia storyline, per her request. She's my thriving reader but hesitant writer, so I did most of the writing. She did the research, though, by looking through the books to create a list of characters and settings so that our song could be fairly authentic. We still would like to write another verse or two, so we'll continue this project tomorrow and post our results later this week.

I will say that I was amazed at how efficient my to-do lists seems, even though I don't have as much time to get everything done. I'm off to bed now with a clean kitchen, plans for tomorrow, two completed graphic design projects and another in the works, and a happy heart. :)

September 15, 2008

Confessions of an introvert

I spent all day with my kids. All day! As in, I was with my children

Not that it should surprise you, I've stayed home with them for the past 8.5 years. But every day of that past 8.5 years, I find some way of escape. I am surprisingly introverted and find myself frazzled and overrun by the 4:1 ratio in my home during the day. I'm tired, overwhelmed, frustrated. My kids are messy, destructive, lively little creatures that zap every amount of energy. So instead of facing their eagerness armed with constructive activities, I retreat.

They need me NOW and I can't seem to get anything done. Recently, I've come to accept that this is the season for unfinished projects in my life. My children show me no mercy in their needs and requests for my undivided attention. So I have fabric for curtains that is still in the Hobby Lobby bag. I can't even put the sewing machine on the table unless I let each girl sew something significant to her.

I have a long list of phone calls to make, people to email and check up on. But just looking at the phone is an automatic sound enhancer as my children go from calmly quiet to roaring loud.

Honestly a lot of what I want to accomplish around the house will simply have to wait until another time. My children need me now.

It used to be, when they were all babies, I'd throw them into the safety of their crib and go sit in my car and read a book for 10 minutes. During that season of my life, a hot stuffy car was well worth the moments silence.

Shortly after they outgrew the crib, I'd shut all the doors to the living room and let the 3 hour version of Mary Poppins babysit them while I quietly read or checked email. My quiet time never lasted 3 hours, but I'd normally get a solid 8 minutes of alone time.

As they grew, I'd send them outside to play so that I could work on a graphic design or sewing project. Though they loved being outdoors, I'd only net 3 minutes of concentrated time before they were back inside for more water, another potty break, searching for a lost doll, or just being nosy about who I was talking to or what I was doing.

Then recently, I started retreating to my bedroom and locking my door. Because my room has glass french doors that open to the back porch, they'd stand there tapping of the glass begging for me to take pity on them. So I'd unlock my door and endure the every.five.minute interruptions.

So today, after much prayer requesting patience and determination to perservere, I stayed by their side all day. Since they demand my attention, I gave it to them. I had well-established boudaries, as in they had to do their school work, but I let them take the lead for the most part. Being in constant motion, physically and emotionally drains me; I truly need some down time to recharge. I knew I needed a plan. So I woke this morning with a list to things to accomplish (the 3Rs and a few chores) and another list of things to do when we need something else to do (some more chores and a science experiment).

And I purposed to have my downtime after every one was in bed.

And you know what, with some prayer to prepare me and a heart to serve my children and a plan in hand, we had a great day!

I think I was afraid that they'd start manipulating my time, but instead they sensed my desire to help them answer some of their nagging questions. Cayli was reading about quicksand in her spelling book, and since I wasn't quick to delay answering her question, we looked it up right then. Kenna desperately needs some extra reading practice, and my patience is usually depleted by the time I really can give her some of my time but I sat with her as she rattle off a few paragraphs in a story about a girl from Scotland. This then spurred her interest in kilts and bagpipes, and we found ourselves on Google.

I don't know if I can do this every day, but I know God will grant me the endurance to be sensitive to the need after need after need of my exhuberant children. I'm sure I can come up with a creative way to finish my home projects in 10 minute increments, and even respond to phone calls and emails. I have already reserved the evening when Matthew is home for graphic design work. Designing ads and websites is actually therapeutic for me, so I have a refreshing yet productive time. So I have that time to look forward to.

During the day, though, I will embrace their inquisitiveness and constant urge for activity. I do need time to revive my spirit, and I trust that God will provide that rejuvenation on a minute by minute basis.

By the way, I typed and edited this entire post uninterrupted and in one sitting. Bedtime can be such a blessing. And I would have been totally alone, except the cat constantly begged for my attention. Oh, well. At least I was able to accomplish something tonight.

September 11, 2008

Can you see this?

A few weeks ago I arranged a visit to the optometrist for Kenna and me. The longer I'm on the computer, the quicker my eyes blur over. And I thought I'd drag Kenna with me because her eyes read all over a page, so I was sure that she might need some help focusing.

Nope, the doc said, she has perfect vision. Bummer, I said, I was hoping glasses would solve all her phonics problems and calm her hyperactive eyes. I guess I'll have to wait for maturity to find it's way into Kenna's head.

But I did learn that she is far-sighted, just like every other 7-year-old. Apparently at her age, far-sightedness is normal and expected. Eventually, as she ages, her far-sightedness will give way to near-sightedness. And then when she's 40, she'll need glasses.

As for me, my vision is excellent too, especially given my age. But he did write up a mild prescription for "computer/reading" lenses. Apparently I'm not the only person who has focusing issues in front of a laptop and eye-frame companies have a market for these types of glasses. I did add the anti-reflective coating so that my night vision will improve as the lenses will lessen the glare of on-coming headlights.

And I let the friendly optician talk me into the sale they were running on prescription sunglasses too. I don't ever wear sunglasses because I've never found a pair that fit well. But I really like the frames I found for my computer/reading glasses so I thought I might as well be comfy while hanging out outside. The sun is super harsh for people with blue and hazel eyes. These glasses are UV/A and B barrier, polarized, anti-reflective, surely have x-ray vision and other mama super powers, and should protect my eyes from future cataracts and retina issues. Statistics show that those of us who live in the South have greater issues with eye problems, not because of the sun itself, but because of the glare from the road, water, windows, etc.

Who knew? But that one fact, coupled with my light blue eyes, caused me to fork over a tiny wad of cash in hopes that I can avoid a surgical procedure later. But at least I'll be able to see without blurring.

September 8, 2008

Meet Frank

Years ago, when I had one 2-year-old and two 1-year-olds toddling about, I bought a paper model for skeleton at our local $1 store. Amazingly I found it just in time for our study of bones.

So meet Frank, our resident skeleton:

Sadly Frank lived a short life. Though it took an entire week to cut him out and glue him together, Mini Monster Boy took mere seconds to rip, tear and crumble him into tiny pieces.

Farewell, Frank. You taught us much in you short life.

I read Frank's last words to the girls and Cayli Grace paraphased them in her science notebook:
"We have 206 bones in our bodies. If you were made twice, you would have 412 bones in your body. And it's hard to believe that there are 20 bones in your skull. Half of all your bones are in your hands and feet. Each hand has 26 bones in it."

Since Frank taught the placements of the bones, I took pictures of the girls and had them label some of their main bones in their science notebooks:

They think it's funny that they can proudly say, "maaaammmaaaaa, she kicked me in the patella" and "mmmooooommmmm, she elbowed me with the end of her humerus."
Gotta love kids with knowledge from a paper skeleton.

September 7, 2008

Today is our anniversary

We've been married 12 years!

The girls reminded us this morning by giving us lots of homemade cards. Matt and I started our day worshiping at the same church where we married and then we celebrated by having a lunch--alone!--and browsing Books-A-Million. Matt brought me a photography book and I reminded him of the four gifts I have given him over the past 12 years.

Yep...we're boring romantics.

It's been an interesting 12 years. It hasn't turned out exactly as planned. It's been so much better. :)
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September 4, 2008

Toothless Twirling Twin

Well, Kenna's tooth finally fell out Wednesday night. As we were driving home from church, she and Mabry sat in the back seat playing some sort of weird name-this-thing game where one of them closes their eyes while the other puts something in her mouth. So Mabry put a circular metal ornament thingy in Kenna's mouth. Kenna bit, Mabry pulled.
And the tooth fairy left the second presidential dollar in the past 10 days.
Now, as you know, all three girls twirl batons. Sooner or later a baton is going to knock out a tooth or two, but so far the girls have managed to keep a tight reign on their twirling sticks.
I will say that Kenna has an exceptional knack for all things creative. I'd thought you'd like to see her practice flow-chart:
I'm really not sure what all the figures mean but she does. She carefully planned out her practice steps. If you look closely, you'll see two figures standing on their heads. That's because they are doing cartwheels. Which explains why their hair is just hanging down. The child will run into a wall because she didn't see it, but she sure puts some details into her sketches.
Anyway, here she is twirling while standing on the couch. Why she is on the couch, I'll never know. But she has mastered the jump-off-the-couch/spin-in-the-air/flip-a-cartwheel/land-in-a-split move. (See flowchart--it's all on there.)
Just for fun, here are both of the snaggles:
Can you tell who is who?
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September 3, 2008


The other morning the girls woke up to the pre-autumn beauty calling to them to explore the woods around our house. We shoved off our normal routine to take a walk up our country drive, picking flowers and weeds to press for bookmarks. We walked slowly because Micah toddled behind us and would stop to dig in the sand or or pick up a stick or taste a few rocks. As we were walking, Mabry started asking questions about mushrooms for those little spongy fairy stools were everywhere.

In our house, if you have a question, there must be an answer waiting to be found. So we turned our morning walk into some mushroom research.

For starters, we gathered all of our supplies for this nature study: field microscope, regular microscope with slides, digging tools, a camera, a notebook with coloring pencils and a collection of mushrooms:

It's interesting to watch each of my children approach research with their own personal style. Cayli Grace was interested in extracting a piece of mushroom for a slide, but she really enjoyed drawing her findings and recording what she saw. She's fairly detailed in her observations, writing about where she found her set of mushrooms and the descriptions of color and texture of each of them.

The twins, however, were more interested in amassing a mammoth collection and grouping them into "families" (really...with a big one as the daddy and the medium one as the mother and the little ones as kids, cousins, should hear all the imaginative stories...*sigh*).
Here's our ever-growing assortment of 'shrooms (who knew that they came in all these colors?):
Our largest was that reddish-brown one and it was almost 6.5 inches across.
We looked up Mushrooms and Toadstools in our Usborne's Living World Encyclopedia. Mushrooms are a fungi that grows year round underneath the forest floor, breaking down dead leaves and other matter. During the fall, they spring up through the ground, complete with a stem and a cap that makes the spores that ride the wind to a new home in another part of the forest lands to continue the cycle.

Now, I've lived in the area forever and I never took the time to notice mushrooms. But when a curious child wonders and's amazing what you can learn.
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September 1, 2008

Farewell to Summer

For this Labor Day weekend, we treated the kiddos to Micah's first beach trip. Being a boy, he already loves water and dirt, so he was truly in heaven on the shore. I couldn't keep him still enough for a picture, so I have a collection of random images where I mainly caught his backside or only half his profile as he walked out of my viewfinder.
Our favorite beach houses a lighthouse. I didn't climb it all, but the Matt and the girls did. I got the luxury of sitting in the air-conditioned car while baby beach bum deeply napped.
Matt took the picture of the girls on the top of the lighthouse:
And one of the girls took a picture from that viewpoint:
I'm sad that summer is winding to a close. Of course, here in the South the summer last far longer than the calendar says it should, since today's high is in the 90s and there's no stopping this stifling heat.
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