Thursday, June 28, 2007

How Children Learn

Well, I did it. I finally finished a book by John Holt, one of the pioneers of the "unschooling" movement.

I pretty much knew what to expect going in. While engaged in my eager research of home schooling it's been next to impossible not to get a crash course on the theory of unschooling and its general tenets.

What I did not expect was to be moved or convinced.

The revised edition of How Children Learn ends thusly:

Gears, twigs, leaves, little children love the world. That is why they are so good at learning about it. For it is love, not tricks or techniques of thought, that lies at the heart of all true learning.

How can I disagree with a that premise that rings so true? Looking back over my lifetime and thinking about all the times I felt I was really learning something they all were subjects that interested me, that I was passionate about and, besides a few things in school that I can pinpoint, most happened outside of school and were propelled by nothing more than my own interest in learning more about them.

There's no way to fit everything in the book into one measly blog post and, frankly, I wouldn't want to because I fear I could do Holt little justice, nor did I agree with everything he said.

It's impossible for me, at this point, to fully comprehend how this book, along with The Well-Trained Mind, could both have such an impact on me when the ideas presented in both seem, on the surface, to conflict with one another. Yet, to me, somehow there seem to be a lot of truths in both and possibly our home schooling will lead us to some sort of hybrid of the two.

If I could recommend just two books to people interested in how a child thinks, learns and is taught (or should be taught) out of the numerous books I've devoured on home schooling and education this past year, at this point I would recommend this one and The Well-Trained Mind. Fascinating reading, both.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Hot Day

Yesterday was hot. With our broken central air and temperatures soaring into the nineties, I think I almost melted. All I wanted to do was go swimming and cool off. In what might be a first, however, the kids did not. They were throughly engaged with some of the neighborhood posse and preferred sprinklers and slip-n-slides to the pool.

First up, the slip-n-slide.

Well, except for Elisabeth who seemingly hates getting wet.

After a solid thirty minutes of playing, what do all young children seem to want? A snack, of course.

The grapes and pretzels revitalized the gang and even made the more keen observers of the group notice that the caterpillars they'd caught a while ago had all turned into chrysalises. That merited a neighborhood update, so throughly cool in their wet bathing suits, they're off, once again, oblivious to the heat.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Culver's Trip

A favorite summer haunt of ours is Culver's, sometimes for a meal, mostly just for ice cream. Its appeal, for us anyway, is that it's just a short bike ride away, and not through busy, noisy city streets, but along a well maintained, peaceful bike trail.

The other night was a Culver's night and, since Superdad was working, Diana was kind enough to ride in his place.

Here are Diana and the big kids upon arrival.

This past trip involved suffering through supper before getting to the main event: frozen custard! Clearly the excitement level rises.

Elisabeth not only discovered hot much more fun a dish of frozen custard is versus a grilled cheese, but also that she could feed it to herself.

Do you suppose it's possible to work of all the calories in a Culver's meal during a ten minute bike ride home? Don't answer that. I already am convinced the answer has to be yes.

Monday, June 25, 2007


This is a bad photograph of the local pool we joined this summer.

My children adore the pool and talk ceaselessly about their love for it. There are diving boards, big twisty water slides, zero depth entry, multiple depths for swimming and a large sand pit.

See how much the kids love it?

But wait... I have three kids, do I not? Where's the picture of Elisabeth joyfully splashing around in the water? Oh, here she is...

... in the sand pit. Elisabeth doesn't love the water so much. But she does love the extra-large sandbox and all it has to offer.

She loves to climb.


And meanwhile, back in the pool...

Yes, it's going to be a fun summer!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Relaxing Saturday Morning

Saturday is supposed to be relaxing, is it not?

It's certainly not supposed to begin with an 8:00 morning appointment with a heating and cooling company to discuss an aging furnace and a kaput central air unit. No, those are Monday morning appointments, not Saturday morning engagements.

Certainly on a serene, temperate Saturday morning the entryway to my home shouldn't look like this, should it?

Do you see what's all going on in the above picture? Can you see the chaos? The strategically placed shoe cubby is forgotten; neighborhood children, of which there are two in my home upstairs playing with Madeleine, have strewn flip-flops and roller blades (!!!) about my formerly tidy living room. There's laundry to fold and Elisabeth is helping herself to a box of cereal.

No, this does not feel like a peaceful Saturday morning. I should still be sipping coffee and lolling over the morning paper, shouldn't I?

Friday, June 22, 2007

First Sweet Corn

What bigger indicator of summer is there than fresh corn on the cob? Elisabeth enjoyed her first ear last night and it was definitely a hit!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Cold Mountain

Loved this book.

I have little to say by way of review, but I enjoyed it. I thought it well written and told a good story. What more can one ask for in a work of fiction?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Have you all noticed how a size small doesn't seem to exist anymore in regards to pizza joints and coffee shops? If you want a small chances are they call it a medium. Or a large. Gosh forbid you actually want a large. If so, be prepared to order the super-deluxe large. Or the extra-extra large.

When did this begin? And why!?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Father's Day

Question: What makes for an almost perfect Father's Day?

Answer: A girls' afternoon out with shopping and coffee (Superdad and Hank stayed home to mow) and an evening spent at a serene Lake Michigan beach with a bucket of fried chicken. The shopping was nice, but the evening was perfect. Its only flaw (hence the modifier almost in the question) was finding ourselves without a camera to capture the perfect sunset and the happy, goofy children. We all came home covered in sand and exhausted from giggling and running.

I hope everyone else had a nice Father's Day! I know it's not about the kids or me, but I assure you Superdad had a great day, and the rest of us did too!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Atlas Shrugged

I finished this a few weeks ago and have been trying to narrow down exactly how I feel about it. It made an impression, certainly, and it sparked a lot of interesting discussions with Superdad while reading it, but it's hard to articulate exactly what I thought of the book.

Here they are, my random impressions and musings regarding a book which has helped shape many modern day conservatives' philosophies.

- The book was well written, entertaining and readable. I rarely felt bored or disengaged from the writing and that helped, in my opinion, not get in the way of the overall philosophy Rand was trying to illustrate.

- The characters were entirely one-dimensional. A good character was very, very good and a bad character very, very bad, with no middle ground. This didn't bother me though because the characters were merely props in a larger picture Rand was trying to paint. If the good characters had had flaws it would have, I believe, been harder to see the overall political message or, at the very least, it may have been harder to accept it.

- Rand's ideas are interesting, but also flawed. I agree with her in some respects (that government taxation and regulation ends up not only hurting those who it intends to hurt, which is those in positions of power and wealth, but also ends up detrimentally affecting those whom those very same regulations were intended to help) but I vehemently disagree with her in others (it would seem ideal, in theory, to hold reason without passion as an ideal, but when dealing with passionate, living beings we must, in my opinion, accept this as an impossible dream).

- I felt it was a very important book and I still find myself considering many of its premises, even weeks after reading its final page.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Bottle of Java

Some people might say I get a little crazy in the morning before getting my first cup of coffee. Mowing down anyone who might dare to get in my way, I race down to my Black and Decker as quickly as humanly possible. And until I've had that first sip it's better just not to mess with me.

It's because of my coffee madness that I started giving Elisabeth a bottle of milk in the morning. Quiet! I would say to myself as Elisabeth chased me around the kitchen yelling, "Up, up, UP!!!!" You can't blame her, really, it's not like she understands about the importance of caffeine. So, I gave her a bottle once or twice. It made her happy and, more importantly, it made her quiet and content for ten minutes.

But now it appears genetics have taken over and Elisabeth has become somewhat, um, manic about the morning bottle. Gee, I wonder where she gets it from?

Do you see the bottle I've just poured up there? She wants it now, darn it! I feel your pain, Elisabeth. Brew, coffee, BREW!

This isn't funny, Mom! Stop taking my picture and give me the stinkin' bottle!

Ah, heaven. That first sip of coffee... er, I mean milk.

I may not be able to stomp my foot and cry like a one-and-a-half-year-old toddler, but sometimes I sure want to.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Movie Review, VII

After finishing Jane Austen's Persuasion in April I immediately logged onto my library's website and ordered a copy of the movie starring Amanda Root as Anne Elliot and Ciaran Hinds as Captain Wentworth. It took awhile for them to track down an available copy, but this past week they succeeded and I received my email from Library Elf informing me that my long awaited movie selection was finally available.

Last night Superdad joined me in a mid-week movie night and we settled in. I, for one, loved the adaptation. No, it's not eighteen million hours long, like the adaptation of Austen's Pride and Prejudice that I so dearly love, so it doesn't do the entire story justice and there were a few aspects that made more sense to Superdad once I told him a bit more of the back story (i.e. Lady Russell is much more one dimensional in the movie than she is in the book; one doesn't really get any sense of why Anne would respect her opinion as much as she does) but the movie was charming. Beautiful acting, lovely sets and scenery and a wonderfully told tale.

I'd advise reading the book first, but if you're not an Austen fan or just plain don't like reading, I still would recommend not skipping this movie.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Barnes and Noble: Summer Reading in the Magic Tree House

Here's a summer reading program I can get behind; it culminates in a free book! Here are the rules for Barnes and Noble's Summer Reading program:

1. Read eight books (of your own choosing).

2. Use a Summer in the Magic Tree House Reading Journal to track your reading.

3. Take your completed journal to a Barnes and Noble between May 29th and September 2nd, 2007.

4. You'll receive a coupon for a free book (there are some limitations, but it still sounds pretty good).

Madeleine is very excited and plans to win two free books (the maximum allowed).

Friday, June 08, 2007

First Grade Wrap-Up (almost)

The end of the school year is always so, so busy, and most of what Madeleine's class, and tangentially me, are busy with never seems really academic. That's acceptable though, since I'm a pretty laid back kinda gal. I'd rather they just be plain done with school two weeks earlier but, in place of that, I think the roller skating, various parties for this and that and trips to Dairy Queen seem reasonable.

I've been fortunate enough to be able to chaperon two field trips this month, volunteer at their class picnic, attend their class poetry party and walk along with the class to Dairy Queen. It's been busy, but it's been fun.

Some highlights follow.

First, Madeleine's class Poetry Party, featuring original compositions. Madeleine wants to compose her own post featuring her original poem though, so it won't be featured tonight since, as I write this, it's past the future Poet Laureate's bedtime.

The walk to Dairy Queen. Even messy Hank (see the ice cream all over his face?) and tired Elisabeth (she fell asleep in her stroller) got to tag along on this adventure. It was well over ninety degrees and humid the day Madeleine's class set forth and the ice cream seemed to begin melting before the first graders reached for the sticky cones from the Dairy Queen employee. However, after depleting Dairy Queen of its 2007 napkin supply, all was well.

We're almost there; the school year is almost over. They have today and Monday left, and then summer. It's been a fun year, but who doesn't look forward to lazy days of summer?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Trader Joe's Discoveries

Nothing is better than easy, delicious pre-made food, right? Dash on over to Wisconsin Cooks and revel in my latest Trader Joe's discoveries. I promise, you won't regret it.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Kite Flying

Last Friday the clouds were thick and black, burgeoning with rain. They were moving east, quickly towards our house, and the distant rumble of thunder was growing louder. At that time there were ten neighborhood children playing outside. After the first clap of thunder that number was reduced to three: Madeleine, Hank and their friend M______.

Most rational people hear thunder clapping in the distance and see an impending storm and they make their way to shelter, like seventy percent of the kids in our neighborhood did. What did Madeleine, Hank and M______ do? They went and got out their kites. Yes, kites, the very same instrument used by Benjamin Franklin to help show the link between lightening and electricity.

Following is a video of the three brainiacs "flying" their kites up and down the sidewalk in front of our house. It's too bad the sound quality is so bad because all you hear is my stupid, too loud laugh and not the impending doom of thunderstorm. Even though these three are oblivious to it, it's there, off in the distance, threatening to break free at any moment.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Financial Fitness

I hate to talk about money on my blog. I mean, what a boring topic, right?

But I saw an interesting article linked off of Yahoo! and I just wanted to share because it was something Superdad and I started doing, on our own, well over a year ago and it's made a huge difference how we save and spend money.

Here's the basic premise of the article (which is pulled from the article):

Step 1: Figure out how much cash you need to cover a week's worth of gas, groceries, entertainment, dinner on the town, breakfast at McDonald's, books, music CDs, cosmetics, gifts -- the whole gamut of casual expenses (Supermom aside: we do it a month at a time, but whatever) .

Step 2: Be honest. Don't deliberately overestimate so that you're sure to have enough cash to get through the week.

Step 3: Set the anticipated amount aside and don't use debit or credit cards.

Superdad and I started realizing at some point last year that it was absurd that we weren't saving more than we were. But why weren't we? We decided to switch to cash for all our expenses (groceries, diapers, gas, etc.) instead of our ATM cards and instantly, almost as if by magic, we were and are are able to save a lot more. Honestly, I don't even really know why.

Well, actually I think I might. Superdad and I are both absurdly miserly and it's a lot harder for us to spend cash when we know there's only a finite amount than it is to whip out a debit card which seems to have endless reserves when you're not staring at the balance every time you make a purchase. It's easier to be cheap at the grocery store when you realize you only have a set amount to spend that month. Or to put back oh-so-cute sundress for Elisabeth at Target when you realize your clothing allocation is running low. And you'll find it even easier to tell your spouse that they can't afford to go out for steak with the boys once again... oh, wait, that wasn't hard before. But at least now you'll have a fresh, new excuse instead of the tired (but true), "Honey, the kids are driving me crazy.".

Sorry, I know the article is not terribly interesting, but neither is balancing a checkbook or paying bills, but those activities are essential elements of remaining financially fit, so go read the article.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

We've discovered a new, fun activity that everyone in our family seems to love as much as our old, comfortable and much sought after major movie nights: major book nights (in case you're wondering, the addition of the modifier "major" to any of our activities simply refers to the presence of popcorn).

We've been reading Ian Fleming's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as a family for a week or so now and last night we only had a few chapters left so we gathered every spare blanket, pillow and sleeping bag we could find, made a cozy nest in our living room and popped popcorn. We all settled in for an evening of adventure consisting of flying cars, gangsters and two brave children. And, to add to the ambiance of the evening, just as we all covered up and settled in we heard a loud crack of thunder and a storm made its way into Milwaukee throughout much of our major book night.

The book, if you haven't read it, is wonderful, and really lends itself to being read aloud. Both big kids thought it was a really exciting (and scary!) book and didn't really want it to end. Madeleine was disappointed, after it ended, to discover that Ian Fleming only wrote the one children's book (but, as the creator of 007, he wrote lots of adult books).

I'd highly recommend the book as a family read aloud since there are aspects that appeal to both boys and girls and Fleming's words seem to be created for a suspenseful, exciting story to hear, as well as read.

Friday, June 01, 2007

No Blog

I'll be gone today, all day, so no blog. On my agenda? A first grade roller skating field trip and picnic. Instead of blogging I'm upping my caffeine level so I can handle the day.

Have a nice weekend, everyone!