27 February 2009

Toward a Philosophy of Physical Education

No doubt, a man who has a taste for [sports] (and for overeating as well) may very properly act on the medical motive when he makes for himself a rule to give general priority to his taste for [sports]. In the same way, a man who has a gust both for good literature and for mere time-killing with trash may reasonably, on cultural grounds, on principle, give priority to the former. But in both instances we are presupposing a genuine gust. The first man chooses football rather than a gargantuan lunch because the game, as well as the lunch, is one of the things he enjoys. The second turns to Racine instead of E.R. Burroughs because Andromaque, as well as Tarzan, is really attractive to him. But to come to the particular game with nothing but a hygenic motive or to the tragedy with nothing but a desire for self-improvement, is not really to play the one or to receive the other. Both attitudes fix the ultimate intention on oneself.


I have a love-hate relationship with sports. When our son was playing T-ball, he was so cute. Of course, his favorite part was climbing the backstop. I distinctly remember watching his coach pluck him off the fence like fruit from a tree, only to see him climb right back up. He might not have been the star player, but he was the shortest and climbed the highest, so I got prideful about it anyhow.

You meet different kinds of parents, as far as relationship to sports. There are the ones who do it because they want their kids to do what everyone else is doing, or they just have an unquestioning view of culture. (As in: this is what kids do, end of discussion.) There are the ones who think their kids need to lose weight and can't get them to run around in any other environment. There are the ones that at the age of four have already decided that some sport is going to pay for college and they just have to figure out which one it is.

And then there are the lovers.

My sister's family is like this, and I have a cousin who is, too. They love sports. They just do. The parents love them, the kids love them, and it is something they all do together. They have a great time, they bond, they get or stay in good shape, they reap all the benefits.

My sweet husband was a kicker for a football team in his youth and we spent the first couple years of our marriage heading to the park so that he could kick around. He just loved kicking.

Love compels in a way that other things cannot.

So the question arises as to what to do with a boy who doesn't want to play sports. A boy who might be a bit shy of the crowd of parents watching.

One of the reasons I'm asking this question is because many homeschooling parents use sports as P.E. They don't teach physical education in their school.

I, on the other hand, tend to use a trampoline.

Ahem.

I know I'm not the only one. You know who you are.

Anyhow, another way of asking the question is to say how do I pursue physical education (as required by the State of California, in case you are wondering) according to my child's natural bent?

A Brief and Terribly Incomplete History of Physical Education
And as I was thinking about all of this, I started to wonder what the deal is with physical education. Why was it ever part of the curriculum in our state? In the world? What is the purpose? Other ideas, like professional sports or keeping our girls looking like models have, I think, crowded out an original intention or two.

So my first thought was back to Poetic Knowledge(I will forever love this book) and the classical idea of the gymnastic. The idea was that the student is a whole person and that there is an extent to which knowledge is worked out when the student applies it with his body. In the book, the example is given of a student who couldn't understand physics until he performed manual farm labor. As he worked, the concepts of pulleys, levers, and such became vivid to him. What he had learned at school (or not learned as the case may be) didn't come alive until that moment.

So we have one principle here, and that is that the awareness of their bodies and their use of tools in certain types of physical activities will enhance their understanding of the world. There is a dynamic interaction which takes place, where the theories in books come alive in the world and the student begins to not only understand the theories, but also why anyone would have considered thinking about such things in the first place.

I did a little research about the Greeks and also learned that gymnastic training was considered so integral to schooling because children were being reared to be good citizens of the Empire. Gymnastics was essentially a form of military training for the youth of the nation. The Hilter Youth practiced something similar, as did many European nations. I think that even Charlotte Mason's Swedish Drill originated from preparing young men for hand-to-hand combat in their adulthood.

But Charlotte Mason was able to rise above the imagery of war, reach back into Greek culture, and focus these benefits on a broader scale. Mason talked about the formation of heroes.

Let's savor this and not rush right over it:

the formation of heroes.


She wrote:
All the same, it is questionable whether we are making heroes; and this was the object of physical culture among the early Greeks, anyway. Men must be heroes, or how could they fulfil the heavy tasks laid upon them by the gods? Heroes are not made in a day; therefore, the boy was trained from his infancy in heroic exercises, and the girl brought up to be the mother of heroes.

(Volume 3, Chapter 10)
She goes on to suggest that while many men in her time were prepared to die as heroes, not so many were trained to live as one.

What we are talking about with classical education really is, in a way, a rearing of everyday heroes.

Let's read a bit more from Ms. Mason:
The object of athletics and gymnastics should be kept steadily to the front; enjoyment is good by the way, but is not the end; the end is the preparation of a body, available from crown to toe, for whatever behest 'the gods' may lay upon us. It is a curious thing that we, in the full light of Revelation, have a less idea of vocation and of preparation for that vocation than had nations of the Old World with their 'few, faint and feeble' rays of illumination as to the meaning and purpose of life. 'Ye are your own,' is perhaps the unspoken thought of most young persons––your own, and free to do what you like with your own.

[snip]

But if children are brought up from the first with this magnet––'Ye are not your own'; the divine Author of your being has given you life, and a body finely adapted for His service; He gives you the work of preserving this body in health, nourishing it in strength, and training it in fitness for whatever special work He may give you to do in His world...

It would be good work to keep to the front this idea of living under authority, training under authority, serving under authority, a discipline of life readily self-embraced by children, in whom the heroic impulse is always strong. We would not reduce the pleasures of childhood and youth by an iota; rather we would increase them, for the disciplined life has more power of fresh enjoyment than is given to the unrestrained.
There are many attractive phrases in this passage, but my favorite is: a body finely adapted for His service.

Is this not the essence true heroism? Being adapted for His service?

The Whole Picture
Of course, we must keep this as part of the whole in our minds. When I have thoughts like this, which is to say that I am thinking the thoughts of other (wiser) minds long after they originally thought them, I am often tempted to change focus. After all, if physical prowess helps make a hero, why not drill the children a couple hours a day?

Well, because physical aptitude without proper nourishment of mind and spirit breeds not a hero but a brute, that's why.

A Nation of Everyday Heroes
I don't think that our nation will be improved by me, myself, attempting to produce two heroes and two mothers-of-heroes. I really don't. However, when I read that there is a classical co-op with 10,000 members nationwide, that classical Christian day schools are growing in number, that more families are homeschooling each year and that those families also tend to have more children besides, well, then I have great hope.

Sure, some of those kids will rise above and stand out as the Washington and Franklin of their age. But my hope is that they stand out among a generation filled with everyday heroes, raised in such a way that they are fit for heroic deeds performed in the course of everyday life.

To go back to the Lewis quote with which I began this post, we are turning the focus of physical training in its many forms from being a personal quest into a duty performed in the service of others. It is loving-your-neighbor worked out in the flesh. After all, can a weak man push a stalled car out of an intersection? Yes, love of the game, of the activity, is wonderful. I think love is a great motivator. But love of our fellow man can compel us still further.

Official Recipe: Tex-Mex Chicken Soup

Before winter abandons us completely to spring {yay, spring!}, I'm dishing up the last of the soups for the season. We do soup when it's cold and salad when it's hot, being fairly sensible folks. One soup recipe that I've perfected lately is my Tex-Mex chicken soup. Most of the ingredients are fairly optional in the sense that if you leave one out it shouldn't throw the whole thing off.

So here's the recipe.

Afterthoughts Tex-Mex Chicken Soup
Ingredients
28 oz diced tomatoes
1 onion, diced
2 Tb. minced garlic
olive oil
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/4-1/2 head cabbage, chopped
3 potatoes, chopped
1 cup corn {I use frozen since it'd not exactly in season now}
1 pint black beans {or, a regular-sized can}
1-2 cups cooked, diced chicken
chicken broth to fill
thyme, salt, pepper, cumin
Toppings we use: cilantro, green onions, sour cream, Monterrey jack cheese, black olives, salsa and/or white corn chips

Directions
1. In a large soup kettle, sauté onion until clear
2. Dump in all ingredients. Fill pot to covering with chicken broth {homemade tastes nice and rich, but boxed will do in a pinch}. Simmer until carrots and potatoes are tender.
3. Serve with toppings. Say yum.

A note on spices: I usually wait until the soup is mostly done. Then I add a tiny bit of thyme and a TON of cumin, because that's the way we like it. I start with a teaspoon of salt and half as much pepper, and keep tasting and stirring until it is the way we like it. If you make your broth from scratch, then you know that some is saltier than others, which is why I can't give definite amounts in the recipe.

Also: if you slightly overcooked your beans before you froze them, wait until the soup is finished and then dump them in at the end. If they are from a can, you can cook them the whole time.

If you were looking for something else to do with those chickens you roasted, this will work nicely as long as you didn't originally roast it with strange spices. I've taken to roasting with only salt and pepper so that the leftovers are easier to put into other recipes.

26 February 2009

Growing an Education

I just love homeschooling. I really, truly do. Granted there are days when it gets tough and I'm ready to mail the children to my mother-in-law, but overall, I fervently love that our home is the center of our education. I say "our" because even Si and I are learning. In fact, one of the significant things about homeschooling is that it doesn't allow the parents to be stagnant, either. Which means that everyone's character, body, and soul is being improved upon daily.

Or, at least this is ideally so.

I feel like I am growing a school. We have a predetermined pace {or at least, a "plan"}, and yet we have the power to stop and focus when we need to, to spend an extra week practicing, to move the day around, and so on. I can have things on hand but not add them until the children are ripe for it. I am learning to pray for something new, and that is the wisdom to see when they are ready, what they are ready for, and so on.

This year is our first official year. Official means that I am now keeping records and such. It also means that my oldest is old enough for real, solid structure and rigor {but not too much}. We started with the basics: reading, narration, math, copywork, and so on. But lately, it became apparent that all of my students were ready to add things. Q. was ready for a short time, perhaps ten minutes, devoted to learning something interesting, like the names of animals, shapes or colors. She is a sponge, soaking up all the nouns in the language right now. A. was ready for time devoted to fine motor skill development and learning her letter symbols. E. was ready for a change in math and also some special time on spelling.

Here are some of the changes we've made, things we've added, things we've modified, things we've left undone, to revisit later:

For Q.

Like I said, she wants to master her nouns. Some days, we start Circle Time with a chunky wooden shapes puzzle. All of us practice teaching her the names of the various shapes. Other days, we have a shapes matching game that we play together {also during Circle Time}. Yesterday, our Ambleside reading for Year One was James Herriot's Treasury for Children. We simply allowed the reading to be punctuated by Q. pointing at the pictures and asking for the names of each animal. This didn't hamper narration at all, and Q. was very excited about baby lambs.

For A.

As A. approached four, she suddenly ready for more. I also think she needs time alone with me each day, and the best way to spend that time for now is learning the things she wants to learn. So we started Half-Hour Preschool. This is almost every day right before lunch. Usually lunch is in the oven heating up while we are doing our thing.

Right now, we are working on fine motors with:





More Let's Cut Paper

and


Let's Fold


We are studying our letters using Tasha Tudor's beautiful book:





A is for Annabelle


Annabelle is the name of Grandmother's doll who is to become a cake when A. learns all of her letters perfectly.

And for now we are reading Johanna Spyri's Heidi in a version that is no longer in print but is beautifully illustrated.

Besides this special time, I also added to Circle Time a book we gave to A. for her birthday:




The Big Picture Story Bible


A. loves that part of Circle Time is spent reading a book which belongs to her. This book is written for very young children and traces God's "big picture," the promises He has made and kept and will keep in history. Even though my son is past this reading level, I think the connections this book makes between the individual Bible stories is good for him. And Q. is learning bits and pieces, too.

For E.

We've had some changes with E., also. He is ready for more, and so I'm, naturally, going to give it to him. We added in an almost-daily reading {during Circle Time} of Beacon Lights of History, the volume entitled History of the Jews {Jewish Heroes and Prophets}. Here we are studying the Biblical patriarchs within their historical context. E. is comprehending way more than I expected.

Though E. has been doing daily copywork for many, many months now, his spelling hasn't much improved. Even though traditional Charlotte Mason homeschoolers don't use a spelling curriculum, I decided to check into something my sister had suggested. I think that long lists of spelling words memorized in order to pass a test {and then mostly forgotten thereafter} are a general waste of time. So my question was whether there was something out there which wasn't a list, but more of a way to actually learn to spell? After all, memorizing spelling words seems akin to whole-word reading {as compared to phonics}.

Enter this lovely work:





Sequential Spelling 1


This is the spelling equivalent of phonics. I was reading the reviews, and it sounds like exactly what I was looking for. This text teaches spelling within word families. So, for instance, a child would learn all and then ball, call, stall, install, and even installment. Children are actually mastering the way our language is coded. My sister assures me that Sequential Spelling is the best, and we cannot wait for our copy to arrive. E. is totally on board, by the way, because he wants to be able to correctly write a letter to out-of-state relatives. Even though he doesn't spell very well, he wants to, and his lack of skill bothers him.

In math, E. reached a mental block. I expected this. If I were asking him to just memorize a list of sentences {2+2=4, etc.}, it would probably be easy, but instead I was asking him to understand the relationship between addition and subtraction {he did fine learning each function, but once I asked him to go back and forth, as in 2+2=4 and then 4-2=2, put the groups together, take the groups apart, he was lost}. He was getting it, and then he ungot it.

So we decided to take a break {something MathMammoth suggests in times like these} and come back to it later. I explained to him that little brains aren't always ready for all of this, that someday math will probably seem "easy," and that it is important to breathe when we get overloaded. So I offered lessons in reading a clock instead, and he accepted with joy. My mother-in-law bought us a little learning clock over a year ago, and now we are using it daily.

And Mommy, Too

On a Yahoo group I subscribe to, I posted questions about Latin, as far as when we should start and how to go about teaching it when I myself have a limited knowledge {translation: practically none} of Latin. One woman replied and said that, with E. being so young, my times was best spent in learning Latin myself. I was assured that if I could master the first twenty to twenty-four chapters of Wheelock's Latin, I would know all the Latin there is to learn in elementary school.

So I think I'm going to take the plunge. But before I do, I plan to spend a week or so trying to convince Si to join me. I always wanted to have a secret language.

25 February 2009

All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Chapter Nine

I love rock n' roll
So put another dime in the jukebox, baby
I love rock n' roll
So come an take your time an dance with me

-Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

God gave rock and roll to you, gave rock and roll to you
Put it in the soul of everyone.

-Petra


When I was a child, I loved to play the Billy Joel Glass Houses record {yes: record!} on my parents' record player. I grew up on rock, but not in an obsessed sort of way. But it was part of my culture, I suppose. I have certain songs that still bring back memories of my mom laying out in our backyard in the summer {wow...she must have been my age}, or driving to school, or a dance in junior high, etcetera.

My dad also does a pretty good impression of Johnny Cash, but that doesn't have anything to do with this post.

Si, on the other hand, was raised on Christian rock. Just in case you were wondering.

I also have wonderful, wonderful memories of singing in choir growing up. In fact, one major lament I have concerning homeschooling is that my children might not have access to a regular choir when they are older. I say "might" because I do not claim to know the future. I felt like I was helping with something truly beautiful when our choir performed madrigals. Learning to sing pieces which required skill brought about an appreciation for more difficult music, one that I have never lost.

And, of course, during my many years of piano training, I studied classical. I remember once, when I was a teenager, complaining to my teacher that I wanted to play something else. Jazz, perhaps. I remember that she told me that if I could play classical well I'd be able to play anything. The implication was that I wasn't playing well enough, not yet. I'm glad she didn't just give in. I think it was good for me.

I was a rock fan until I had children. Becoming a parent changes so much. It is hard to explain to people who don't yet have children. But there is this sudden, dramatic change where what you might have tolerated in yourself simply has to go because you just couldn't stand to see it begotten in your children.

I know you think I'm going to say that we ditched rock, but actually it was the TV and rock was something that has simply dwindled over the years.

We are not against rock.

But it also doesn't seem to fit what we're aiming for around here.

The road away from rock began when Grace gave me a Charlotte Church CD. I had a newborn who was just crying and crying and he couldn't seem to be pacified by anything I did and I just happened to flip on Charlotte Church and something amazing happened. He stopped crying. Things continued this way, and with all of our children, until I can say with conviction that complex, beautiful music has a calming effect on children, and on our home. When the day gets wild and the children are bickering, I can often save the day with a classical CD if I remember to lift myself above the ruckus long enough to turn it on.

So I suppose you could say there is far less rock in our house than either Si or I ever really planned for, and it didn't so much have to do with being anti-rock so much as it did with pursuing a different sort of life in which rock fit less and less.

So when Myers' says that rock has certain affects on a person, I tend to believe him, even though I hate to see rock "attacked" in that way. Myers discusses rock's ability to create restless energy in the listener:
The usual line offered in defense of rock 'n' roll was, "But it has so much energy." What was rarely asked in response was why the experience of energy was intrinsically a good thing.

Mere energy, undirected and purposeless, is generally regarded as a nuisance. Mere energy is the stuff of insomnia, not creativity. It is what parents and teachers lament in hyperactive children. Energy is only an asset when it can be directed toward a task.
Since the word "restless" is a good descriptive term of our culture, it is interesting to have Myers say that the music we listen to encourages restlessness, energy without purpose.

Of course, I tend to take a more holistic view of this and say that the purposelessness is part of the problem. So when we need to deep clean the house, I turn on rock and it gets us going and we put that energy to work and I'm not sure that's a problem. But to entrench ourselves in rock throughout the day would have negative repercussions, I think.

Myers explains that there is actually a dominant Rock Myth which informs the culture. It is anti-intellectual in nature. It is emotional in a way that overrides reasoning. He writes:
The essence of that myth was that rock would offer a form of spiritual deliverance by providing a superior form of knowledge, a form that was immediate rather than reflective, physical rather than mental, and emotional rather than volitional.
I was surprised that Myers didn't follow this thought into the drug culture. Rock held hands with hallucinogenic drugs in The Sixties. When the music and drugs coupled up, folks were essentially attempting to reach Nirvana without dying. It was a spiritual quest which denied Christ and His Church.

I remember that when I was at Biola a parent came into my office to complain about some music being played in our coffee shop. We allowed the student managers to select the music during their shifts and, unbeknownst to my boss and I, they were playing that famous socialist/atheist ballad "Imagine." Naturally, we told her we would instruct our managers as to what was appropriate taste. I don't remember the rest of the conversation except for one thing. She said that we didn't really understand because we hadn't experienced The Sixties {my boss was too old and I was too young}. She said that those songs could still, to that day, provoke memories of the visions she had seen in her drug trips because they were so tied to the music.

I would go so far as to say that many rock songs of that era were written in consideration of drugs. They were made to complement the trip, if you will. And when we note that this sort of thing didn't just have a spiritual component but was actually a spiritual quest, we have reason to pause and consider.

The idea of rock is also tied to dancing, to whole body movement. I like dancing. However, a lot of the "dancing" associated with rock isn't really dancing in the strictest sense of the word. Myers quotes Charles Reich:
The older music was essentially intellectual; it was located in the mind and in the feelings known to the mind; the new music rocks the whole body and penetrates the soul.
I think this might be a sign that rock is bypassing the intellect altogether. There is a general lack of thoughtfulness in the culture. Most "decisions" are really impulses. I wonder how much rock has contributed to this. Or perhaps it is actually a result of it?

Myers spends some time discussing this culture of rock and explains that it glorifies youth and primitivism. I think that the idolizing of youth is fairly obvious, but the primitivism was a new concept to me. I was particularly interested in Myers' assertion of the connection between rock and the Noble Savage of Rousseau. I hadn't considered that one aspect of rock is not just generalized rebellion, but an actual throwing off of civilization. Once I thought about this, I came back again to the idea that my children respond differently to jazz and classical than they do to rock, and perhaps this is the reason.

As I read this book, I keep coming back to this troubled feeling when I consider the connection between rock and worship within the evangelical church. However, I think that the dangers of rock for the church are actually a little different from what Myers discussed. Though I do think that the restless energy is somewhat counterproductive when one considers than most churches expect parishioners to sit through a sermon subsequent to the singing, and though I do think that rock-as-rebellion is antithetical to the humility and submission required by a holy God, I also think that there is a more simple danger. {After all, the culture of rock isn't something that most folks sit around discussing.} Rock-as-worship changes worship into a concert, and that is my real concern.

Worship service was intended, I think, to me something participated in rather than something watched. Rock worship can be participated in, but it is more difficult than traditional worship because rock-type worship songs are actually written with soloists in mind. When soloists really get going, they stray from the music altogether into improvisation, which is to say that they are making it up as they go along. This might please the ear, but it is still individualistic in nature and not conducive to participation. And so congregations are dubbed "audiences," which is to say that they watch what is happening.

And then there are rock lyrics, which tend to be vague an emotional as a general rule. And since we are now at least two generations away from a firm theological foundation, the emotions are more manufactured than they are responses to actual knowledge of actual truth.

These assertions are all generalizations, of course, but they are concerns of mine nonetheless. So I suppose a good place to end, and a way of seeing how far the Church has come, is to read Saint Augustine:
I waver between the danger that lies in gratifying the senses and the benefits which, as I know from experience, can accrue from singing. Without committing myself to an irrevocable opinion, I am inclined to approve the custom of singing in church, in order that by indulging the ears weaker spirits may be inspired with feelings of devotion. Yet when I find the singing itself more moving than the truth which it conveys, I confess that this is a grievous sin, and at those times I would prefer not to hear the singer.

24 February 2009

Folk Art

I suppose I'm using the word "art" here loosely. I certainly don't mean any sort of Myers' high culture arthere. I say folk because I associate folk with things that are made at home and with love rather than in a studio by a professional. This is not to malign real artists with studios. It is only to say that I am the farthest thing from a real artist with a studio.

When Si and I got married, I remember we discussed not wanting to hang just anything on our walls. We talked about not having a lot of framed posters purchased on sale at Target. I don't know why he liked this idea, but I dreaded my house ending up looking just like everyone else's. This wasn't a snobbish thing. I just wanted our home to look like we lived there.

For about seven years, I just let decorating slide. I was perpetually pregnant. We were living in a rental and I hated to spend money on a home we weren't keeping. {No, Dana, I hadn't yet read Hidden Art of Homemaking, though I own a copy now.} And I didn't have a lot of money, even less vision.

But now here we are. In a home that we own. And our little girls have a room that is slowly taking shape. I wanted them to have something pretty in their room. I wanted it to be something that went with the colors already there and which appealed to their interests.

So, I went to a store that sells art supplies and made a purchase. Actually, I collected items on sale and using coupons for about six weeks. We won't mention how many times Si had to wait in the car while I ran in to grab something for my project.

One Saturday morning, I was finally ready. So I grabbed two canvasses.





I also grabbed A. because this sort of painting was right up her alley.





Solid pink.

Yes, our girls are traditionalists. Pink. Flowers. Butterflies. Etcetera.

Later, in the secret recesses of my office, I tried to pretend I was an artist.









Then I had fun with a craft knife. These things are way sharp, by the way.

Ask me how I know.





Did you know that English bluebells curve over while Spanish bluebells stand straight up? It's important to know these things. I think Antoine de Saint-Exupery would agree.





Don't forget daffodils.





Hmmm...I wonder how it turned out.

I think I'll tell you on Thursday since I just realized I don't have a photo of the final product on my computer yet.

23 February 2009

The Butterfly Cake {Part Deux}

If you remember, last year I made a butterfly cake {well, it was more like a glorified sugar cookie with two pounds of sugar on top, but you get the idea} for A.'s third birthday. It seems that butterflies haven't lost their charm, and she requested yet another butterfly cake. I googled "butterfly cake" and printed off four options that I thought I could pull off and let her choose.

Just my luck, she chose the easiest one of all. I felt like I'd won something!

Originally, this was supposed to be a two-layer cake, but with over 20 folks RSVP-ing for the big day, I added a third layer. It was two batches of cake, so the layers were a little thicker than normal and then I used the leftovers to make a strange number of cupcakes to snack on for fun.

Here is the cake before decoration:





The filling is seedless raspberry jelly, in case you care about things like that. I am on an eternal quest to recreate the taste of my wedding cake, of which I only was able to take one bit.

I'll be forever bitter about that.

Or maybe it's about the fact that my mom gave the last couple pieces to "the help" while said help threw my piece away before I ate it.

I often attend weddings for the purpose of eating a piece of really good cake, so you can see why I was upset about my own Big Day.

Sometime I'll tell you all my nightmare wedding story. It doesn't really matter, since I still got to marry the man of my dreams. That's what makes it fun to tell, that it all turned out okay in the end.

Next shot is an in process sort of shot. It's about 9:30pm, the lighting is bad, and I'm painting butterflies.





This time around I learned that it is helpful to sketch the design lightly with a toothpick before actually frosting. That would have saved me about a hundred mistakes in my past.

Live and learn.

At this point, I was done except for outlining everything with white and adding A.'s name on top. White really makes it all pop.





By the way, if you are seeing crumbs in the icing, that was another one of my mistakes. I like to call it Icing Trouble. Thank the Lord I'm not a perfectionist otherwise it would have driven me crazy for time and all eternity.

Here's the best shot of a finished top I'm going to give you:





Sorry. No first names. But you can see how cute it was meant to be.

Here is the side view, complete with bad lighting:





The important part of all of this is that little A. was thrilled.

Yes, I should do a crumb coat next time.

22 February 2009

And Then She Was Four

Each time one of my children has a birthday, I write a memoir of sorts. It's like a love letter to the child. Last year, on A.'s third birthday, I reminisced about her life-affirming story. Every child has one, I think. Children are resilient, but on the other hand, it is a miracle they survive.

If you don't believe me, try raising a boy.

Ahem.

This year is different. We have had A. with us for four years now, and yet there is a sense in which she was reborn this year.

A. was a vivacious infant. She was sparkly and happy from the moment she was born. At four months, she began to crawl, and I began to wonder what sort of child I had on my hands, but she just wanted to be with her brother, who is still her best friend in all the world. Crawling meant she could be with him, and that was what she wanted.

And so she was content and happy crawling, and lived this way for six whole months, tearing up the knees of all infant outfits, which were naturally not designed for mobility.

And then the allergies hit. I've discussed them a lot before, so I'm not going to go into details today. But A. was around one, and subsequent to three rounds of antibiotics for a persistent ear infection, she became allergic to many foods.

Of course, I didn't know this at first. We changed her milk from cow to soy and later to goat. Goat milk works wonders with a lot of allergic children. However, I wasn't aware of most of her allergies until she was two-and-a-half.

This means that, for over a year, A. sat on my lap, sucking her thumb.

Our active, happy child had disappeared from our home and in her place was a child who suddenly seemed very slow. Her mental development slowed way down so that, between the age of one and two, she hardly added a handful of words to her vocabulary. The girl that had wanted, from the day of her birth, to follow her brother and play with him now sat on the couch waiting for him to come to her. She cried. She whined. She slept for hours more than the average child her age.

I could go on, but I won't.

Last year, on A.'s third birthday, we were about nine months into the GFCF diet. Her malaise had lifted. She was again running and playing. She was beginning to communicate in complete sentences. But there were still some problems. She still cried at the drop of a hat. She still had chronic, daily tummy aches. Life was looking up, but we had only won battles, and not the war.

And then, when A. was about three-and-a-half, we met our beloved Dr. Linda. Within two months of beginning treatment {and only three appointments}, A. had been reborn. The infant I remember, the one who was happy and sanguine and had the energy to keep up with a brother who is almost three years older than she.

She has returned to us! That is what I will forever remember about this fourth year.

Today, I celebrate a four-year-old who couldn't form a sentence a year ago, but is now learning her letters. A four-year-old who has opinions and all the words needed to express them. A four-year-old who wants to read and write, who can play Memory and actually remember where the pieces are, who doesn't always need a nap. A four-year-old who has blossomed into a vibrant, dazzling little girl.

Happy birthday, Little A. You're right. All week you told me that you were getting taller, that you were almost four. And now, here we are. Today, you rode in your new pink butterfly booster chair to church with a smile on your face because now, you are four.

20 February 2009

Book Non-Review: How Strong Women Pray

Once upon a time, there was a publishing house who sent books to little old me {for free!} in exchange for reviews published here on Afterthoughts. {It was a lot of fun, as I love to read but refuse to spend much money on books, especially books published in the last fifty years.} I was looking through my bookshelf the other day and a twinge of guilt pricked my soul as I saw a certain book that I had received and never written a review for.

Truth is, I never finished reading it.

In my defense, this was not due to sloth. On the contrary, I decided the author couldn't be trusted with my soul.

When I open a book, there is a sense in which I open my heart. I'm a very critical reader, as you know. But being on guard isn't an excuse for compromising integrity. And here is probably the most important point I will make today: The fact that a book purports to be Christian doesn't mean it can't compromise integrity.

So how in the world can a book on the subject of prayer compromise integrity? Or perhaps innocence?

Let me start with Scripture.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Ephesians 4:29
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

Ephesians 5:3 & 4
Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.

Ephesians 5:11-12
It is my opinion that this book has crossed the line.

Now allow me to explain.

Let's just say that when the author was a little girl, something very horrible happened. In fact, it is just about the most horrible thing I could imagine happening to a person. And now let's say that the author describes this horrible thing in graphic detail. And let's just say there is nothing really leading up to it, and so all of a sudden, there it is. The worst thing that ever happened to her, the deed of darkness, is right there in living color in my mind.

I understand that this woman had a terrible, awful experience that harmed her as a child, stole her innocence, and so on. But what she has done in her book is cause every reader to revisit that memory with her. There is a sense in which my soul was victimized.

I'm not saying that these things can't be brought into the light. But I think, unless we're in a court of law where explicit testimony is necessary, details are not only unnecessary, but they are harmful. Just because a woman has been victimized doesn't give her the right to turn around and accost others with what happened.

I know that sounds a little harsh, but I firmly believe it is true. And I also know that the memory of reading her words has haunted me many months.

Charlotte Mason wrote about exactly this thing in her Volume Four: Ourselves:
There is one kind of sins that we must be especially careful not to take impressions of; once we do so they will haunt us all our lives. These are sins of uncleanness. If people talk of such sins, do not listen; go away and do something. If you come across the mention of such sins in your reading--of the classics, of poetry, of history--learn, as it were, to shut the eyes of your Imagination, or your thoughts will become defiled. Never knowingly read anything or listen to anything which could suggest unclean imaginations....Shun all such talk, all such readings, and all such imaginations, more than you would shun the plague.

I remembered this advice and promptly shut the book. I never opened it again. I have been debating what to do with it. Initially, I intended to list it on PBS, but I've had misgivings because I don't see the use in it accosting someone else's mind. So I think I will discard it.

My thoughts here are not meant to be a statement concerning the individual characters of the contributors of this book. They aren't even meant to be a personal attack on Bonnie St. John, who compiled the essays and herself wrote the words which I've been discussing here. I firmly believe Ms. St. John's purpose was to write a book that was encouraging, that showed that women can triumph over trials.

However, comma.

Our society has lost its ability to blush. This lack of shame, this forthrightness when it comes to sharing what has been done in the darkness, only propogates sin, for sin is born not only in the flesh, but in the imagination. I would highly suggest that, in the name of purity, Christian women avoid this book and instead take the time to read the words of the prim English governess, Charlotte Mason, who labored for a lifetime, fueled by love of goodness itself.

The Darndest Things: Stop Throwing Things!

I have a general rule at our house and it is Don't throw anything in the living room. This rule also applies to remote-controlled flying helicopters which technically aren't thrown, but underpinning the rule is the general priciple that living rooms survive best without Flying Objects of any kind.

Ahem.

If you have a boy or two or five, then you know how hard it is to get certain people who will remain nameless to actually obey this rule.

However, comma.

I feel I owe it not just to my own living room but also to living rooms everywhere to maintain civility in this way.

So it was with a mix of exasperation and good humor that I saw this:





Do you know what this is? Allow me to explain. This is a smoke detector. Attached to the living room ceiling. At the highest point of the vault, which is to say about twelve feet up. The little blue man is a magnet which should be in a box on top of my refrigerator.

Guess how the little man ended up attached to my smoke detector.

And you can only imagine my little boy's surprise and chagrin when he discovered that, when it comes to magnets aimed at a metal smoke detector, what goes up does not always come down.

Ahem.

Which is how Mommy ends up finding out what you've done.

19 February 2009

The Microhomestead Report {Feb. 2009}

There has been much laboring here on the microhomestead since we moved in at the end of July. We finished unpacking, had a miracle baby, and then Si moved on to clearing the back-forty {40-100ths...I said this is a microhomestead, after all}. When we bought this place, we could envision its potential. It didn't take long for us to draw up a plan, a map of what our "final" product would look like after five to ten years of hard labor.

However, comma.

We also knew that the soil was in bad shape. Buyer beware: it is a bad sign if a vacant piece of dirt has been sitting untended for months and months and hasn't hardly grown weeds. Weeds are unpleasant, it is true. However, they are a sign of life. It was the lack of life that concerned me most.

But, few as there were, there were weeds. Tumbleweeds, most of them. So Si cleared them by hand. He has driven all but one monster to the dump. He and some friends trenched the soil for irrigation lines. He installed a drip system {which is still giving us problems} in the area we designated "fruit orchard" before ever owning a tree. He dug deep holes.

I did a bit of clapping and general cheering, fed the baby around the clock, and so on for a while. Then I hoed some weeds and mowed the lawn Si planted from seed {it is more like "pasture" since it'll provide food for our ducks we have yet to buy} and generally put in a whole lot less effort than Si.

Si has now planted six trees in the orchard:



Orchard


Some we purchased locally, some we had delivered the first week of February. There is lemon, orange, peach, and three types of apple {Anna, Granny Smith, and Fuji...which will give us a long harvest season since each type ripens in a different month}.

And suddenly this weekend we were ready.

Weeding


See where he weeded?


Si and I spent some time on Saturday making starter pots with a wonderful tool which Kimbrah first introduced me to, The Pot Maker. On Sunday afternoon, we had a fun family time together, planting our first seeds for our new garden. Si and E. went outside and mixed up the soil while the girls and I made markers and decided which seeds to plant.




Some of our indoor starts


Then we headed outside and planted seeds for Shasta daisies, zinnias, and marigolds {a natural insect repellent, by the way}. On Monday we started more seeds inside, and also planted sixteen carrots in a square-foot plot that Si had specially prepared for the purpose. Our soil is very heavy and clayey, meaning that carrots will be tricky, but we are hoping his extra work will pay off.

Half of our carrots will be purple.

The reason for this post, however, is that this morning, a miracle happened. Miracles happen a lot if you garden. Our very first sprouts sent forth their tender shoots in our starter pots. See?




Lentil sprout


A couple types of lettuce, a couple green French lentils, all were there to greet us after breakfast this morning.

A garden is a wonderful place to enhance reading comprehension, though I should never think it the purpose of gardening. Teaching children the names of the flowers will help them understand children's poetry. This year, I hope to plant a special garden in honor of E.'s favorite poem by A.A. Milne. In it, we will plant geraniums red and delphiniums blue.

18 February 2009

All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Chapter Eight

I'm still plugging away at this little book, gleaning what I can and also building a booklist so as to increase my comprehension and decrease my ignorance {of which I am becoming increasingly aware}. As far as future reading goes, it seems wise to start with what I already own, so I think my logical next step would be Francis Schaeffer's Art and the Bible as well as Culture Matters by T.M. Moore. Culture Matters is a broader read, but I remember Si saying that there were discussions of visual art, specifically Celtic Christian artwork, in its pages, as well as general discussions of beauty.

It'd be a start.

Anyhow, I appreciated the chart which compared and contrasted pop culture with traditional high culture. I say traditional because Myers makes it very clear {and I have to agree overall with his generalization} that current high culture doesn't retain the virtues of its rich history.

The chart was interesting because I realized that what we are trying to do with our family school fell into the high culture column. For example, Myers contrasted focuses on the new {pop culture} and focuses on the timeless {high culture}. There was also emphasizes information and trivia versus emphasizes knowledge and wisdom, and also content and form governed by requirements of the market versus content and form governed by requirements of created order.

These distinctions are ones I would make between the type of schooling I received and the education I am trying to give. For instance, my elementary school wanted to give its students "the latest" and so we spent critical time, time that could have been spent enhancing our language abilities or learning to think by studying Latin, in front of glowing computer screens in order to learn to program them, type on them, and so on. Because my education was secular, it could only offer me a "smattering of subjects" {as Dorothy Sayers wrote} devoid of wisdom, since wisdom comes from the God who was not welcome at my schools. And the schools I attended had a primary focus on giving me the type of schooling that would produce a widget {me} which {who} would be useful to the American Industrial Economy. Which is to say that this schooling didn't consider what Scripture says a person is and how a person should be educated. In fact, the idea that education primarily forms a person morally, or produces a certain kind of person, would be unfamiliar to the composite teacher of my past.

So though I have trouble with High Art issues in specifics, I am beginning to get the big picture here. We are talking about timelessness, transcendence, the things that remain long after eighties rock bands are entirely forgotten.

Incidentally, I am starting to think that it would have been helpful for Myers to study the classical model of learning before writing this book. As a person coming to the subject {especially the visual art part of the subject} with very few pegs in my brain on which to hang these ideas, it would have been helpful for him to begin at the grammar level, for example, with this chart.

I'm just saying.

If there is one contrast on which this chapter stands, it is the contrast between the timeless and the Eternal Present {which is where we all live now, an almost complete disregard for past and future}. He explains how High Culture gave in to the demands of The Present, which resulted in, among other things, novels written in the stream-of-consciousness, improvisation in the theater, once-performed pieces by composers, and art which focused on the activity of painting and sculpting rather than the end product, which was referred to by painter Robert Rauschenberg as "the leftovers."

In regard to theater improvisation, this caught my eye:
Judith Malina, the director of the much celebrated Living Theater, once said, "I don't want to be Antigone [onstage], I am and want to be Judith Malina." This "I Gotta Be Me" aesthetic is worthy of a Charles Bronson or a Clint Eastwood, since, after all, moviegoers are paying to see Charles Bronson be Charles Bronson. Let Clint be Clint. But this was rather surprising in theater, since theater has traditionally offered something more than celebrities. Malina's insistence on playing herself involves, as Daniel Bell has observed, the denial of "the commonality of human experience...To eliminate Antigone, or deny her corporeality, is to repudiate memory and to discard the past."

17 February 2009

Children At Church

On Sunday, I spent an entire church service rocking a very distraught toddler. My parents had been kind and gracious to my downtrodden husband and I and gave us the weekend off. We only had one child to contend with for two days and nights, and this child sleeps most of the time and never ever talks back.

It was a lovely weekend.

My parents showed off by getting to church before us with three kids in tow. {I couldn't figure out how they did that until I realized my children wake a whole hour earlier at Granmama's house than they do at home.} When Q. saw Si and I, she was suddenly overwhelmed by it all. During the second song, she began to cry softly.

And then louder.

And then finally I tapped Si on the shoulder and offered to exchange my quiet baby for his almost-screaming toddler. He agreed, leaving me with the short end of the stick, which I promptly took to the Cry Room, where we proceeded to rock {me} and cry {her} for the next hour.

There was a young mommy in there, one that I know. Her second-born is about the age of Baby O. Just last week, she was asking how in the world we get our children to sit through church, so I was so very glad I did the right thing. You know what that was? Telling her to go ask that mother-of-nine we both know! Seriously, though, the dose of reality {that children, even trained ones, still have bad days} was probably encouraging to her. I know it was for me when I was in her shoes, training a resistant A. to stop singing during sermons.

Our church has a full array of Sunday School activities, so our children do not need to be in church with us. And though I wasn't frustrated this past Sunday, there have been times where Si or I or both of us have been so tempted to plop a child down in Sunday School and go to worship service in peace.

But we never do.

We made a choice to train our children to come to church as a family because we believed in the power of such an act, of its rightness, and so on. And on the very best days, I am bursting with joy. Seeing my son and his granddad near-hugging while belting out hymns together? That is something so priceless, something I'll never forget. Watching my toddler flirt with the couple behind us {to their great delight}? Possibly a little distracting, but also a treasure.

Three years ago I wrote a post about why we decided to bring our children to worship service with us. It is funny to call it a decision. Our modern world has turned everything into a choice issue. Even a hundred years ago, there wasn't much decision making about church. You either went or you didn't, and that was the extent of it.

Having a conviction about bringing children to church and actually doing it are sometimes two different things. I mean, there is the ideal and then there is the practice. Ideally, we all sit in church together, sing together, pray together, and so on. In practice, small children are in training. This means that the parents are often not singing and praying. Instead, they are whispering in a child's ear to please-stop-whining-this-very-instant.

Sigh.

I was not worn out on Sunday one bit, but I remember how exhausting it once was for me, this training. And I distinctly remember watching other mommies happily drop off drooling babies in the nursery and head for "Big Church" as we called it growing up because church was perceived by children as being for grownups only. And as these moms calmly sat through church, I rocked a crying person in the Cry Room and wiped spit up off of the dress that I just remembered wasn't appropriate for nursing in public.

And I wished at that time that I could rip the conviction out of my own heart and go to worship service sans wee ones.

But I just couldn't, and as we all know, we must be convinced in our own minds for anything which isn't done in faith is sin.

Now, it's different. The battle hasn't changed. I still have one half-trained child and one untrained child, and church can still be taxing at times. But I think my heart is changed because now I know that this time isn't forever {as long as we practice and work at it}, and that the pay-off is worth it {like the time my son reminded my husband of Pastor Brent's sermon on evangelizing}. Sitting in church with my children and training them has made me more patient. I suppose I could say it has been sanctifying.

So my heart warmed today when I read over at Preschoolers and Peace this quote from Doug Wilson:
But the life of Christ is not best represented by listening to a lecture, undistracted by anything. The life of Christ is pulled in many directions, just like you are being, and you are willing for this to happen so that your children may come to worship the Lord. Laying it down for someone else this way is our glory. It is a sacrifice to bring them to the Word, to the psalms, to the wine and to the bread. So don’t measure what you get out of these worship services with carnal balances. The weight of glory you are carrying is far beyond the weight of toddlers in your lap.


P&P has the larger quote here.

___________________________
Links:
Children in Worship
Training in Churchgoing
Childrearing #11: Using Tally Sheets in Church

16 February 2009

High Art: Counterpoint, Math, and the Music of the Spheres

As I've been reading through Ken Myers' book All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes, I keep coming back to this issue of "high art." I think we all instinctively know what it is, or at the very least can come up with an example. For me, it's Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven because I was a pianist in my youth. {I say "was" because I am just now getting back into practice after my seven-year pregnancy stint.} I don't connect well with the discussion of visual art {think painting, sculpting, etc.}, simply because I've not studied the subject much.

Anyhow, I've always held up history's Big Three composers. Bach especially was beyond amazing due to his ability to improvise such beautiful music right on the spot. But I still didn't "get" it. What I mean is, how is it that Baroque music, for example, could really be said to be closer to God? How can one say that rock is farther away? Or even inherently rebellious against God? Even though Myers doesn't say such things outright, my mind instantly drifts to questions like these. How do we know? What makes one sort of music different from another?

This weekend, I think I came a bit closer to understanding. Just a bit. It wasn't a giant leap for mankind or anything. But still, it was significant.

I'm reading a wonderful biography, which is really two biographies. Written by James Gaines, the title is Evening in the Palace of Reason. This is the biography not just of Bach {Johann Sebastian, the most historically significant of the Bach family musicians}, but also Frederick the Great. The book centers on a famous meeting between the two early in Frederick the Great's reign, which is late in Bach's life. But, of course, in order for a reader to understand the significance of this encounter, the author must back up and explain the history of the country and the place of each character within the history.

At one point, Gaines begins to pit counterpoint, which is to say "Old" Bach's music, with the simple melodies of Frederick the Great. It becomes apparent early on that each type of music is born of a corresponding worldview. And, not unlike how Myers describes rock music, Frederick's music is a sort of rebellion against Bach, counterpointe, and the philosophies and ideologies and religion that such music represented.

What shocked and amazed me was Gaines' description of counterpoint and its relation to the music of the spheres, an expression I always thought was metaphorical. The music of the spheres, like all music, is mathematical:
[T]he learned composer's job was to attempt to replicate in earthly music the celestial harmony with which God had joined and imbued the universe, and so in a way to take part in the act of Creation itself...[T]he practice of threading musical voices into the fabric of counterpoint...[has] been endowed with...metaphysical power.

The key is music's relation to number, a connection that was as old as Plato and as new as Newton...

For Western music, the most important discovery attributed to Pythagoras was that halving a string doubles its frequency, creating an octave with the full string in the proportion of 1:2. A little further experimentation showed that the interval of a fifth was sounded when string lengths were in the proportion of 2:3, the fourth in that of 3:4, and so on. This congruence was taken to have great cosmic significance. As elaborated over a few centuries around the time B.C. became A.D., the thinking {much oversimplified} was that such a sign of order had to be reflective of a larger, universal design--and sure enough, the same musical proportions were found in the distances between the orbits of the planets. Further, since such enormous bodies could not possibly orbit in complete silence, they must be sounding out these intervals together, playing a constant celestial harmony...

[snip]

No less than the seventeenth-century astronomer Johannes Kepler gave Luther's position the stamp of scientific certainty in his great work, Harmonices Mundi, where he correlates the orbits of the planets to the intervals of the scale and finds them to be "nothing other than a continuous, many voiced music {grasped by the understanding, not the ear}." This last point was debated: Some thought the celestial music was abstract, an ephemeral spiritual object, but others insisted it was real, inaudible to us only because it had been sounding constantly in the background from the time of our birth. In either case, music was a manifestation of the cosmic order.

Earlier on, Gaines had explained that counterpoint wove many melodies instead of one melody with three- or four-part harmony due to the belief that the celestial bodies would {or could} themselves provide the harmony.

13 February 2009

The First One Hundred Books

In the very first month of 2006, E. began learning to read. He was three-and-a-half-years-old. Right before we really got going, I read Charlotte Mason's opinion that children should be given books right from the start, that there would be nothing more satisfying than to put each lesson into action immediately. Around the same time, I read a post that Cindy wrote saying that she rewarded her children after they had read their first one hundred books. All of this is to say that reading lessons meant reading books from the very beginning. I kept a list, and, by the end of 2008, E. had read one hundred books and earned the right to a Trip With Dad, to be taken in the spring when the weather is a bit better.

Today, I'm going to share the list of the one hundred books.

For starters, there are Bob Books, which begin from the very first lesson. A child only has to know four sounds in order to read the first book.


Bob Books: Set 1


Bob Books: Set 2


Bob Books: Set 3


Bob Books: Set 4


Bob Books: Set 5


Five sets means that alone is the first forty books. By the time a child is through Bob Books, they are right at easy-reader level. However, our last Bob Book was actually number fifty-four, and that is because I threw in a few works that fit within the Bob Books level, sometimes because E. asked, and sometimes because I wanted to. Among these are some traditional children's tales which I printed off and placed in a binder, courtesy of The Baldwin Project. These included The Boy and the Goat, Chicken Little, and The Little Red Hen.

This also means we read:



Go, Dog, Go!


I. hate. this. book. It is not only the farthest possible thing from literature, it also has no plot.

No. Plot.

However, comma.

Kids love this book. Early on, it is important to woo them. Therefore, we read this book.

Over and over until my brain bled.

But I digress.

After leaving Bob Books behind, we moved on to the Billy and Blaze series:



Billy and Blaze


Blaze and the Forest Fire


Blaze and the Mountain Lion


Love You Forever


Blaze and the Lost Quarry


Blaze and the Gray Spotted Pony


Fantastic Frogs


Blaze and Thunderbolt


Blaze Finds the Trail


Blaze Shows the Way


Okay, so I know there were a couple extras thrown in there. The book about frogs was a gift from my sister. It was actually very informative for an easy reader. The Love You Forever book was something he picked up and asked to read. I allowed him to. He logically pointed out that a boy that naughty and that unrepentant would be unlikely to grow up to be a nice person the way the book said. Of course, he said this in his own baby way, but that was the gist of the conversation. All children do naughty things like the boy in the story; the problem is the lack of correction. I don't know why that book is so popular. The longer I am a parent, the less I like it.

Ahem.

So by now we had completed 64 books. All of them were read aloud. Very few were read in one sitting. Most, I required he read twice. Once to learn, the second to flow with and better comprehend. When necessary, I had gone through the book in advance and given lessons on the white board specific to what we were reading that day.

I always required that he read a book at or above his current ability in order to receive "credit" on the chart. This way, we didn't get stuck in easy readers for a year, but he was still able to read simple books as often as he liked. My goal has always been for him to acquire a taste for truly good literature. Easy readers reinforce reading, but they do not teach good taste, nor do they encourage advanced reading skills, etc. My opinion so far is that one should try to get past that level of reading as quickly as possible. I say this knowing full well that I am sure to have at least one student who gets "stuck" in said level.

From here, we went back a step because E. began to struggle a bit and frankly, I had forgotten all about Frog and Toad and a child just shouldn't learn to read without reading Frog and ToadFrog and Toad is the ultimate standard for easy readers and everything I just said about this level of reading doesn't apply to much of anything written by Arnold Lobel.


Frog and Toad Are Friends


Days with Frog and Toad



From here, I did a combination of Nate the Great and more Arnold Lobel:


Nate the Great


Nate the Great
Saves the King of Sweden


Small Pig


Mouse Tales


Uncle Elephant


Nate the Great
and the Musical Note


Nate the Great
and the Stolen Base


After that, we simply slowly moved through books we had in our library, trying to advance his ability a bit with each book. It helps that he's sort of hyperlexic.

About halfway through this, I began to allow him to read the books on his own. This means that he didn't have to read the entire book aloud in order to get "credit" on his chart. He had proven he was capable, and he had also proven that I was slowing him down because as the books got longer, it became harder and harder to get it read (out loud) in a reasonable amount of time. Once we allowed this, Si expressed concern that he might be reading too fast, so we began to require him to keep a list of words he didn't know with corresponding page numbers so that we could go back and build vocabulary together.

These books below, by the way, he has now read over and over. He is a rereader, just like his Auntie MPL.


Doctor De Soto


The Adventures of
Grandfather Frog


You Can Do It, Same


Next was some text book on amphibians and reptiles that he slowly and painfully read aloud to me for what seemed like a year, every single night while I made dinner. Then, he quizzed me on the details of the little critters. More than once, I had to admit my lack of comprehension.

It was totally embarrassing.


The Boxcar Children


The Deserted Library Mystery


The Story of Doctor Dolittle


Little House in the Big Woods


Stuart Little


Old Mother West Wind


By the Shores of Silver Lake


The Long Winter


On the Banks of Plum Creek


Little House on the Prairie


Mystery Ranch


The Story of Benjamin Franklin


Little Town on the Prairie


The Story of Daniel Boone


The Story of Geronimo


Enid Meadowcroft's The Story of Davey Crockett


The Story of Buffalo Bill


Margaret Leighton's The Story of General Custer


The Story of George Washington


Mr. Bell Invents the Telephone



The Wonder Clock



Charlotte's Web



Richard of Jamestown



And that's all. For the list, at least. And, yes, he read Farmer Boy, and no, I don't know why it isn't on the list. That was his favorite one and he read it over and over. All I can think is that I neglected to write it down. Life is more an art than a science, is it not?

Now, I am constantly adding to his book stack. Pretty much every book we read aloud as a family is then placed in a pile from which he can choose a book to read. For now, I prefer that he hear the book aloud before reading it on his own. My hunch is that this enhances his comprehension because he has heard the book in an adult voice, which is to say a voice that expresses comprehension. Hopefully, this is training the voice inside his head to mature.