Author Archives: Mindy

Personality Embedded in Schoolwork

I have always delighted in the reality that each of my children are individuals (even my identical twins). That said, it has been an absolute pleasure to see that individuality come through the boys’ schoolwork.

Henry is an oldest child. Thus, it was no problem for this oldest child to recognize the need for order, neatness, and–dare I say it–perfection in his workbooks. Here are Exhibit A and Exhibit B.

Samuel, on the other hand, is combination engineer/artist. He is constantly drawing and creating. Thus, it was no surprise to see all of the doodling and embellishing take form while he’d wait for me to help him with something in his workbook. Here are some of my favorites:

(The giant climbing up the hill)

(The man so freakishly happy that he needed arms to express just how happy he was)

Evidence that Mom was taking too long explaining something to Henry.

(My favorite, the robber who needed legs to be able to get away with the cash)

In his defense, Sam is developing some nice handwriting and can make it through a page without doodles, if need be.












I knew it wasn’t just me!

In browsing the lovely interwebs for ideas for summertime fun, I stumbled on the ol’ grow a sugar crystal idea. You probably don’t remember, but we attempted this as a science project once. (Scroll to the bottom of the post for the crystal part.) What I failed to record here on the blog was that six weeks later, we still didn’t have crystals, just a two-inch layer of sugar at the top of our cups with sugar solution below that. I dumped the contents down the sink and chalked it up to not having a saturated-enough sugar solution. But I was still curious enough that I tried the experiment again on my own. Still no go. Four weeks and it looked pretty much the same, only this time, it was growing mold, too. In much the same way that making a good chocolate chip cookie eludes me, I figured this was one science project I’d never succeed at.

I still read this article, though, just in case there was something I’d missed. The only note-worthy piece of information was the 3 cups sugar to 1 cup water ratio (another vague detail in Mudpies to Magnets). But right below that were some troubleshooting links. Of course I clicked on those! And discovered….HUMIDITY is a project killer! That, and it’s likely that our solution cooled too quickly. Now I know for next time.

Meanwhile, I’m still really glad it wasn’t just me being a doofus and messing up an easy science project. Because I’m sure there will be plenty of other opportunities.

Reporting on Reading

It’s been two months since my last post, and I don’t think I can adequately convey the sense of the miraculous change that has happened in our home as it relates to reading.

My boys are reading.

My boys are readers.

My boys are anxiously taking turns with our easy readers so they can complete various Summer Reading programs…ON THEIR OWN. Honestly, this one surprised me to no end.

It is all just awesome.

I feel very grateful for the inspiration I received to help me structure our second attempt at learning to read. It all came together so much better than what I was coming up with on my own.

Seeing their progress on their sticker charts with the object of their desire at the top really kept Henry and Sam going. Slow and steady was the name of the game. Their enthusiasm for reading grew as they neared their rewards. I overheard them talking about what they wanted to work toward for their next chart, which of course, made me smile, because it meant that they intended to continue in the learning process.

Sam reached his goal first. He ended up getting Nitroblast (a bad guy) instead of Stormer (a good guy). There were a lot of brother negotiations involved, but part of it had to do with Henry having his birthday about a week before they finished and buying Stormer with some of his birthday money. They were both happy with the way things worked out.

Henry finished a few days after Samuel and ended up with Evo instead of Fire Lord (he wanted Fire Lord for his birthday more than he wanted it for the reward chart).

By the time we finished these charts, it became apparent to me that we were more than a little behind on our Explode the Code books. Since I felt strongly that we needed these as reinforcement for the things we were learning in Reading, we decided to structure the next incentive chart a little differently.

Incentive Chart #2 was 100% ETC (Explode the Code). I calculated how many pages they each had left in their workbooks and told them that this time, in order to earn a sticker, they had to complete four pages of their ETC. 4 pages = 1 sticker. The reward would be a $5 gift card at Target, where they could buy whatever they wanted. Henry caught onto a subtle difference with this chart early on. With the first incentive chart, he got 1 sticker/day of reading, regardless of how much he read. This new system didn’t say anything about what he was required to do (or be limited by) in a day. He quickly got in the habit of doing 8-12 pages (2 or 3 stickers) a day. As a result, he finished his chart almost ten days ahead of Sam.

Here’s the happy reader:

The kids were anticipating a trip to Target with Dad this weekend, so Samuel hustled and finished his last 16 pages yesterday.

His $5 gift card went toward two new Transformer toys.

The current state of affairs brings us to another incentive chart, the purpose of which is to get Henry through ETC Book 2 and get Samuel into ETC Book 2 so that I can begin the Silent E section of “Ordinary Parent’s Guide” with Henry and Consonant Blends with Samuel. Henry is working toward a box of Jawbreakers and Sam a King-sized Twix. I’m not entirely sure how much longer we’ll need incentive charts to keep us going, but I couldn’t keep up with the expectation of Bionicles. Too expensive! A gradual weaning process is my hidden agenda here. 😉

All in all, we are all very happy. The boys are feeling more confident with their new skills and I smile from ear to ear when I hear them sounding out words on signage, boxes, stores, merchandise, etc. We are on our way.

More thoughts about reading

When a topic rankles your soul unrelentingly, consumes any thoughts you may have in your “free time” (kid-free), is a subject of much prayer and fasting, and you start having inner dialogues to argue and justify the aforementioned thoughts, it’s pretty much futile to just wait patiently, no matter what you told yourself earlier.

Such has been my life with Henry and reading. Or non-reading.

To avoid rehashing all of the inner dialogues, here is my grand conclusion:

Unreadiness is not the same as unwillingness.

If Henry were truly not ready to read, then we would not have completed the Kindergarten level of Hooked on Phonics in four months. He would have struggled with identifying letters, most likely wouldn’t have known the sounds they make, and would have had a difficult time connecting the dots. This was not the case for him.

Which led me to realize that when you’re five years old, Legos are more important to you than learning to read. Duly noted. Who wants to do hard things, ever?

Time for Life Lesson 105.

We started tackling reading again this week. But my approach has been modified. This is the recipe I’m trying to follow right now:

  1. Change in curriculum. Now we’re using Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading. I believe it’s working for Henry because he doesn’t have the pressure of a brightly colored book waiting to be read. That was the part he would balk at before. In this new book, the stories are encapsulated in the lesson and are illustration-free. So it works. This change is working for me because I felt there were too many holes in the logic and sequence of the Hooked on Phonics program. I like the systematic and very thorough approach in Parent’s Guide.
  2. Set a timer. I’ve been setting an egg timer for 10 minutes when we sit down to work on reading. If we finish the lesson, great. If not, no biggie. Ten minutes keeps it from getting big and overwhelming for Henry.
  3. Lots of positive reinforcement. I didn’t praise him enough in Round One. I’m trying to find one thing he did well in each lesson and sincerely compliment him on it. I’m trying to stress less and laugh more. We have lots of High Fives and hugs.
  4. Reinforce lessons learned. Again, learning from my mistakes the first time. Once he mastered something, we would just plow on. This time, I’m using Explode the Code Book One to reinforce the things he already knows. It feels “easy” to him, so he feels successful.
  5. Incentives. Hooked on Phonics had a sticker chart. That was fun. We could see our progress and be excited about it. Overall? Not a big enough carrot. Now Henry’s working toward a Lego Bionicle toy that he wants. He still gets the daily sticker for doing reading, but he’s a leetle more motivated to sit down with me for our ten minutes of reading now.

(I am clearly not a 5-year old boy. This does NOT motivate me!)

Once we had the Bionicle chart on the fridge, Me-Too (a.k.a. Samuel) wanted in on the gig. So he’s working toward this guy:

(Seriously? What happened to chocolate as a motivator?)

He’s doing great. I started him at the beginning of the Parent’s Guide and we flew through the review of consonants and vowels. We’re two or three lessons into the short-vowel sound words, and he makes it quite clear that he wants to do this himself, with no help from the teacher! I think reading will come much easier to him than to Henry.

I feel much better with this change in course. We can all do hard things, and the one thing I can’t wait to teach my boys is how awesome the feeling of satisfaction is when you conquer a mountain. Wish us luck as we climb.

The Skirt Experiment

Last Monday, I found this gem of a blog post from Courtney on Latter-Day Homeschooling about the “Mom Uniform” and the image I portray by the way I dress. Simply stated and loosely quoted, she decided that she was going to make people think (herself included) that motherhood was the absolute best job in the world based on the way she looked and the countenance she carried.

I found myself smiling and nodding the whole time I read her post. With the help of two awesome friends, I broke out of the “Mom Uniform” (mine was solid color T-shirt and a pair of jeans) over a year ago and since then have had a blast redefining my Mom Style. I daily reap the benefits of looking and feeling my best. So I completely agreed with her.

But skirts. I hadn’t gone there yet.

And I had plenty of cute ones in my closet, too, just waiting for the Sunday rotation, my mood, and the stars to all align.

I immediately decided to try the uncharted world of skirts. So last week was “Skirt Week.” One skirt a day. Here’s what I learned:

  • Striking the balance of cute/casual in a skirt was harder for me than I thought it would be.
  • Yes, flip-flops go with skirts better than with yoga pants, but they don’t go with ALL skirts. I felt like one day, the skirt and flip-flop combo I tried gave me a stereotypical look I wasn’t going for.
  • I already knew this, but it was fun to be reminded: You can do everything/anything over the course of a normal day in a skirt.
  • I loved feeling pretty!
  • While introducing skirts immediately extended my wardrobe, it also gave me great urges to shop. I have a list now of pieces that would make skirt-wearing a more frequent occurrence if I had them. Dum dum dummmmm….
  • Who knew that the hubsters approved of this project 100%? Guess I don’t show enough leg on a regular basis.

Before I started The Skirt Experiment, my primary motivation for wearing make-up, styling my hair, and making a little more effort with my wardrobe was so that people wouldn’t look at me and think, “Oh. Homeschooling mom.” It’s not that I’m trying to hide the reality that I homeschool, or that I bake all of our own bread, make our laundry detergent, or stopped using shampoo months ago. I just thought it would be more fun if I could do all that plus look happy and–dare I say it?–normal.

But thanks to “The Mom Uniform,” I also realized that my motivation behind looking like I’m enjoying my journey as a mom was to send the message that I am. I love being a mom. I love teaching and nurturing and laughing and playing with these four wonderful little children I’ve been blessed with. I just want to look as happy as I feel.

It may seem silly to say this, but skirts took that happiness up a notch.

Bring it.

STOP! (in the name of love)

Given the watchful (minor) anxiety I’ve had with Henry and reading (even though, as previously stated, I know it will all work out okay), when I walked outside the other afternoon and saw this, I was elated:

The boy was busily engaged in creating a parking lot for all of our bikes and scooters and ride-on toys. He spelled STOP without asking me how! My anxiety immediately eased and I absolutely loved the moment and basked in his creativity.

We finished Hooked on Spanish!

We liked putting those final stickers on our chart!

I’m not really sure where we’re going from here, but figure I have until our next school year starts in July to do some research and figure it out. Ha.

Just wanted to throw one more picture in of the Fearsome Foursome, just because it’s cute. The little girls are all about photo ops in their new tutus. They don’t know Spanish yet.

Ruminations on Reading

I remember clearly the afternoon last summer when Henry quietly tiptoed into my bedroom and whispered, “Mom, can you read to me?” We were on vacation, Dad and Sam were already sacked out on the couch for some afternoon zzz’s, and I was in the process of tucking the girls in for their naps when Henry tried to unobtrusively catch my attention.

“I can’t right now, honey. Can you read to yourself while you wait for me?”

Whisper-sob. “But I don’t know how to read!”

After I finished with his sisters and we were able to cuddle on the couch with the books of his choice, I remember asking him if he wanted to learn how to read and promising him that I’d teach him how as soon as we got home.

And literally a week after we returned home, Henry held me to my promise. So I dug in my closet and came up with the Kindergarten Hooked on Phonics kit I had purchased on sale at some earlier date.

It looked simple enough. An intro to a word ending page, a review page, and then a story or book to reinforce the ending just learned. A sticker chart to mark his progress. A CD to guide him through it if he didn’t feel like being coached by Mom.

I had complete confidence in the program. We were making great progress. Henry started to balk a little at the longer review pages, but we’d try to make games out of them to keep things fun. Then he started to balk at reading time during school time. We were SO CLOSE to finishing that I pushed and bribed a little to get those last few stickers on the chart before we’d take a negotiated break.

He was really doing well, so I was surprised at his vehement “I hate reading and I’m never going to read again!” reaction a week following the completion of Kindergarten reading, when I suggested starting the next level. So I backed off a little. Kind of confused. Not sure where to go from here. But definitely not about to push it while he had such strong feelings.

That was early December.

Since then, I’ve been grateful that we’re educating at home. Very grateful. If we were in the public system, regardless of how he felt about it, he would be expected to keep up with his peers and the lesson plans. He would be set up to develop a major dislike of reading, perhaps one that he’d never get over.

I’ve also been grateful that we can try different things until the spark is ignited again. I’m grateful that we can take our time with it. If he’s not ready to read for another year, it’ll be okay. If he’s not ready to read for another four years, it’ll still be okay.

The funny thing is, it’s just the act of sitting down with a book and asking him to read that makes him park his heels. He doesn’t have any qualms about other reading-type activities. He still loves to have us read to him. He likes it when I give him words to spell while I’m cooking dinner and he can figure out how to spell them with the letter magnets on the fridge. He still likes his handwriting workbook and learning how to form the letters correctly.

So I have confidence that the reading will come–in his time, and on his terms, maybe, but it will come.

I just want him to enjoy reading.

I found a book at the library this week called “I Don’t Like to Read” by Nancy Carlson. A little mouse named Henry doesn’t like to read. The first half of the book was almost an exact mirror to our Henry. In fact, he kept saying, “I say that!” or nodding as we read. The book ends happily, just as I know our story will end, too.

I’m so glad this journey is happening at home.

A Valentine’s Day Tradition

Wasn’t one of the best parts of elementary school the Valentine’s Day party and valentine exchange with your classmates? There are so many little nuances of this ritual lodged in my brain. For example, it was completely acceptable to sign a valentine “Like, Mindy” instead of “Love, Mindy” if you didn’t particularly like someone. When preparing the valentines, it was necessary to dump the bag of candy conversation hearts on the table and pick out exactly the right ones to put in the envelopes going to your closest friends. And the boxes we’d decorate took weeks of planning and decorating. There were always a few kids who had the coolest boxes–the box decorated like an actual mailbox, or the box decorated with a paper fringe. The box beautifully decorated with doilies and hearts. The box that looked like a robot.

Alongside the sadness I’ve felt that the old tradition of delivering valentines via the “Knock and Run” method has died, was the horror with which I discovered that the sacred valentine’s boxes of yesteryear have been downsized in importance and are now found in the $1 bin at Target.

I dunno. Was it just me? Were valentine’s boxes a big deal only at my elementary school?

Needless to say, it was with great happiness that I received an email from one of my go-to gals, inviting us to join in a Valentine’s Day homeschooler’s party. There would be crafts, cookies to decorate, and valentines boxes to fill with valentines that had been painstakingly prepared in advance.

Who says that homeschooled kids miss out on all the fun?

I combed through the closet for empty shoe boxes and sat down with the boys to help them catch the vision of the “art project” we were about to embark on. They were on board quickly, and we spent a delightful afternoon cutting, constructing, taping, and Exacto-blading. Here are our finished products.

I know the kids had fun, but I doubt they had as much fun as I did. I had a blast brainstorming ideas with them until we were able to come up with just the right thing for their boxes, each of which is representative of things they are passionate about now. There was a lot of excitement as we created, and I loved watching their faces as their boxes started to come together. And I LOVED watching their faces as they carefully carried their boxes into the party. They were so pumped.

We may not ever deliver cards to our neighbors by knocking and running, but as long as we can find people willing to come to a party, we’ll have a chance to build some memories while we decorate our shoe and cereal boxes in preparation for it.

Listen to the Sounds of the Body

As alluded to in my last post, we had a fun science project with Grampa recently. It definitely comes in handy to have a doctor in the family.

The jist of this project was to have the boys trace their body on paper, and to guess which different parts of their bodies would yield some sort of sound when listened to with a stethoscope. Then they got to actually use a stethoscope on the different parts of their bodies to test their hypotheses.

It was amazing for us to discover how noisy our bodies are. Once we all got the hang of learning to use the stethoscope (yes, there is a small learning curve), we laughed and had a lot of fun trying to describe the sounds we heard in our innards. For the most part, the boys were pretty accurate guessers. There were only a couple of body parts that didn’t make any sound when they thought they would.

Thanks to Grampa, for finding time in his busy schedule to spend the evening with us and let us use his high-tech equipment. 😉 It was a fun project.

Nope, no noise in the nose!

Fake recording our data (I asked Henry to pose for the picture but he neglected to take the cap off the marker to make it entirely believable)

NOW we’re talkin’!