Thursday, February 26, 2015

Under contract

We are selling a house. It's the one we moved from a while back. It is stressful selling a house, even a starter home. Today we signed a contract with a buyer. Now maybe I can be less preoccupied about house-selling and spend fewer wakeful hours thinking about it when I'd much rather be asleep.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Homeschool Carnival

The Carnival of Homeschooling for the month of February is up here. The carnival recently switched from being weekly to being monthly, so there are a lot of submissions. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Fine line

My maternal grandmother died last week, and I was just at her funeral yesterday. She had a good, full life, and we celebrated it as a large extended family, glad that she could be reunited with my grandfather, who passed away 8 years ago.

Today my mother called to talk for a while. She started worrying aloud that the the workers at the hospice care had shortened her mother's life by giving her too much in the way of sedatives and pain killers.

Here's the thing. My grandmother was 96 years old and had severe Alzheimer's. She broke her hip in a very painful way a week before she died. She had been eating less and weighed approximately 75 lbs. when she died.

What could the hospice workers have done differently? She was clearly in decline and in great pain. I'm sure they knew that the pain killers would likely speed up the date of the my grandmother's passing, but is it humane to deny her the pain killers for that reason only?

I feel for hospice workers and family members who must make decisions about pain relief for someone near death. They walk a difficult path, treading a fine line between acting in a way that could shorten a life and permitting a person to suffer great pain. I pray they may always act with wisdom and charity, for even an ancient grandmother is valuable and worthy of thoughtful consideration.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Subtracting Negative Numbers

Dd10 and dd7 are starting to learn about negative numbers. Not because we've reached them in their math books. (Although, actually we have. Many of the "temperature" problems they do in their math worktexts require them to find differences between positive and negative numbers. It's sneaky, BJU Press, but I love it!) They overhear me talking about negative numbers during tutoring sessions with the teenage boy I tutor.

On Friday, I spent nearly an hour trying to help him see and internalize why subtracting a negative number is the same thing as adding the absolute value of that number. No matter how I approached it, he seemed to view it as some kind of mathematical black magic and not based on reason or reality. There are many ways of explaining why 3-(-2)=5 (this blog post has a few good ones), but nothing seemed to convince him. This is a big problem because he is currently working on line equations at school and has to be able to calculate the slope of a line when given two points on the line. It's difficult to correctly calculate "rise over run" if you can't properly find the differences between x- and y-coordinates that aren't all positive.

The last explanation I tried seemed to work. He is comfortable with the definition of zero and with the algebraic rule "If a = b, then a + c = b + c." So I showed him a brief version of this proof:
______________________________________________
x - x = 0                    (0 is always what we get if
                                 we subtract a number from itself)

(-x) - (-x) = 0            (ditto above)

                       Now add x to both sides of the second
                       equation, which we can do because of
                       the rule "if a = b, then a + c = b + c."

(-x) - (-x) + x = 0 + x

Which, because of the commutative property of addition (order of addition doesn't matter), is the same as...

x + (-x) - (-x) = 0 + x

Which simplifies to...

x - x - (-x) = 0 + x

Which simplifies to...

0 - (-x) = 0 + x

Which is the same as...

- (-x) = x
------------------------------------------------------------
And there you have it. Two negatives make a positive.

He now believes it and is properly applying it.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Boarding School Dragons

My children have been reading books about dragons recently. And sculpting and drawing dragons. Oh, and frequently dressing up like dragons.

A couple of weeks ago, I took the two oldest to a game store--the kind with D&D dice and books, little known board games from Germany (why do Germans make up so many board games?), and battle figurines--where we browsed for a long while. Then they started asking if they could play Dungeons and Dragons. They're a little young for such a complex game, so I found them a simpler role playing game instruction .pdf available for free. Dd10 read a bit of it, and then they stopped talking about playing D&D.

But the idea hadn't left them. They just didn't want to play someone else's game. They have now made up their own game. They call it Boarding School Dragons. It has a game board that began as only 6 pieces of paper that they had drawn on to form their playing surface. They have since expanded it to be double that size; I think they were influenced by this Horrible Histories video comparing Alexander the Great's military campaigns to an ever-growing Risk-like game. They have made their own game pieces, their own gold (paper) coins, and who knows what else. They made up all their rules*, and at the end of each session dd10 has to record what is going on in the game so they can pick it up again the next day.

Boarding School Dragons

It is amusing to see them--dd10, dd7, and dd5--so earnestly involved in creating and playing their game. It is also gratifying to me, for they happily entertain themselves after the schoolwork is done and when they could be watching videos instead.

* Dd7 hates to lose games. When they play store-bought games, she sometimes stops playing when she does poorly. I suspect she is tweaking the rules while they play to allow herself to get the outcomes she wants and the other two children let her because they are all having so much fun.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Partial Payback Time

I've been tutoring the son of a friend for a few months now. He has attention issues and lots of gaps in his algebra and fraction skills. For 4 days a week, my children have had to be super-quiet during after-school tutoring sessions so as not to distract him and dinner has frequently been delayed and a bit "thrown together." But I felt strongly that I should try to help this boy with math so it doesn't become a stumbling block to him in his eventual career. Both of his parents are health professionals. He wants to work in genetics and has a lot of curiosity and memory for the things that interest him. He has a lot to offer the world, but he'll never get there without overcoming his math woes.

He recently took a mid-year assessment test, and he has gone from "unsatisfactory" to "partially-proficient" in math since autumn. He's gone up 19 points on a scale that usually sees 5-10 points growth over the course of an entire school year. We still have a lot of work to do, but these are very encouraging test results. To quote Lina Lamont from Singing in the Rain, "our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."

It's at times been a sacrifice for my family, but I'm glad they've been part of this project this year. I expect they'll take from this 1) a great appreciation for not being behind in math themselves, 2) a conviction that service to others is worthwhile and rewarding, and 3) a realization that extra effort is required sometimes in life.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Scratch that bit about "toothless"

Last post I praised my baby's toothless grins. No longer. She has a tooth. Now she can actually bite into those bagels and pear slices that she has only mouthed and gummed up till now.

Isn't it amazing how the ability to wield even one sharp, hard item can change one's life? Teeth, knives, axes, scissors, etc. I really doubt that life--free of metal implements--was really less stressful 10,000 years ago as was recently claimed by a participant on a prehistoric times reality TV show.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Crawling

My baby can crawl now. She was working her way up to it for weeks, often backing herself under furniture and yelling for help to get out. She's more content now that she is mobile enough to reach much of what she wants to touch and/or mouth. I love her wide, toothless smiles. :)

I always put her to bed in her crib, but sometime during the night she cries, and then she often ends up with me in bed for the rest of the night. If I leave my bedroom in the morning before she's awake, I have to keep an ear out for her because if she wakes up and lies on the bed too long without being fetched, she can move herself off the bed. It's not super high off the ground, but it's still best to avoid a fall. If you haven't been around a newly mobile baby recently, there's a distinctive "thump-waughh!!" sound they make whenever they fall.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Slavery unveiled

I'm not normally a fan of either Obama. You can probably guess from reading my blog that I would have voted for the other guy.

BUT I am so pleased with Michelle Obama for not wearing a veil recently in Saudi Arabia. Yes, I know about the importance of local customs and diplomacy, but sometimes a statement needs to be made. Saudi Arabia is a place of modern-day slavery, and its imprisonment of women is one of the most glaring manifestations of that. It is entirely appropriate for someone of Michelle's heritage and past to make a statement that she won't go along with an outward symbol of that slavery.

In the USA, we tend to think of Saudi Arabia as a place full of rich Arab, Muslim men because that's all we ever see on TV or in magazines. (Ironic that they won't show female hair out of some claim to holiness while Saudi males are burning up the internet and their satellite dishes downloading naughty stuff. Remember what they found on Osama bin Laden's computers after his death?) While it's certainly run by such, other people live there, too.

Obviously, there is the entire female population, which is trapped within walking distance of their homes unless a male drives them--and, yes, that includes situations of life and death--and forced to swaddle themselves in the Arabian heat lest they become too worldly. The "religious police" take that dress code so seriously that they forced girls to burn to death in a fire rather than be unveiled in public.

Then there is the enslavement of migrant workers by the Arabs, who are extremely racist. A friend who worked in Kuwait said that the Embassy of the Philippines there had cots in its hallways to take in Filipina migrant workers being raped and/or abused by their Kuwaiti employers, a common problem throughout the region.

Freedom of religion--not remotely, not even for other Muslims. Freedom of movement--only for male Saudi citizens. Equal treatment before the law--what law? Seriously, there is no uniform penal code.

If it weren't for Saudi Arabia's oil, the civilized world would shun it. Despite the newness of fracking as a technology and the understandable hesitancy of environmentalists to embrace it, I am very pleased that it has helped weakened the power of the Arab countries over the USA. Now if only we could get thorium reactors online....

Monday, January 26, 2015

Eating paper & a homeschool morning

Why does my seven-month-old love to chew paper? Is she lacking sufficient cellulose in her diet? She delights in sitting on my lap and pulling papers out of the desk drawer so she can chew on them. Just now, she creeped (mostly backwards, as she hasn't figured out forward motion yet) around my chair and under the low table beside me, where she is happily trilling as she--oops, never mind, she just bumped her head and the happy trills are gone--seeks new paper and plastic toys to stick into her mouth. I have soggy, ragged pieces of paper all around my feet.

Dd2 is playing with her Duplo blocks and zoo animals. Dd5 was just climbing on a bench to get into my "off-limits-to-the-toddler" shelf and came down with a pencil compass, which she announced she will use to make circles. Dd7 is playing with a tricky/magic worm instead of reading about the human body in her Core Knowledge book like she's supposed to be doing. Dd10 is reading from the encyclopedia about the Punic Wars and narrating to me the main idea of each paragraph.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Twins...sort of

Last night I noticed that dd7 had been growing again. In fact, I put her next to dd10--who is not a short girl--and realized that they appear to be the exact same height now.

How did I get "twins" 2.5 years apart? I know children grow at different rates, but isn't it a bit extreme for a seven-year-old to be handing clothing "down" to her ten-year-old sister?

Still, the realization that they share so much DNA yet still are quite different in some ways is a valuable one that ties in with our biology studies for the next few weeks. We will be focusing on genetics.

UPDATE: One of the biology topics we studied today was sexual vs. asexual reproduction. Afterward dd10 did her 1/2 page of Bible reading, which coincidentally was the story of Lot's daughters getting their father drunk and using him to impregnate themselves. She couldn't bring herself to narrate a summary of her reading. What a pity Lot couldn't just clone himself after his wife perished.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Displeased

My baby's fever is now mostly gone, but she has developed a rash. Normally, this wouldn't be a cause for too much alarm. Just rest, fluids, watchfulness, making sure there wasn't too much detergent residue on her onesies, etc. Unfortunately, I also get to worry about the possibility of measles.

While the odds of her having measles seem pretty low, they're a lot higher than they should be because of 1) the trend to refuse vaccinations and 2) the recent measles outbreak that started at Disneyland. While Colorado has only had 1 reported case from the Disneyland outbreak, that was a woman who sought treatment at a hospital near our home. We regularly go to the supermarket closest to that very hospital. My baby is old enough to sit up in grocery cart seats but not old enough to have received the measles vaccination.

Measles was essentially eradicated in the US in 2000 except for imported cases, but now it keeps spreading domestically because not enough Americans get vaccinations for themselves or their children. I disagree with most reasons to refuse the MMR vaccination, especially in light of Wakefield's fraud, and I'm very displeased that there is a chance that my baby could have contracted a preventable disease that is known to kill or seriously injure many.

UPDATE (1/19/2015): No worries about baby. Her rash is disappearing quickly. After consultation with Dr. Internet and experienced siblings, we have concluded that she had roseola.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Fasces

Today my children made a fasces, a bundle of sticks with an axe in it that has been used as a symbol of government power for thousands of years. Here's a picture. (Rubber bands are a very useful invention.)
Fasces

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Sick baby

My seven month-old baby is ill. I think it's a cold because she's been snotty. But she definitely has a fever. That means lots of holding and nursing. She's still pretty active, so we just keep monitoring her and taking her temperature once in a while. I'm fairly sure she's not too badly off--she just energetically turned towards the TV screen when the opening song of Dr. Who came on.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Belief vs. Faith

In German, the word for "faith" is "Glaube." In German, the word for "belief" is also "Glaube." Somehow in English, we've ended up with two different words for the same concept: the act of believing, or accepting that something is true. So "faith" often gets treated like an inert noun, a bit like "church" or "religion," while "belief" retains more of an apparent connection to the verb "to believe."

I think it is unfortunate that the English word "faith" isn't obviously linked to an action verb. Faith is a choice, a voluntary acceptance of something that isn't proven to everyone to the point of being considered a "fact."

This subject is on my mind because yesterday, some very bad men thought they acted on God's errand when they slaughtered the staff of a satirical magazine in France. They appear to have acted on three main beliefs: 1) Muhammed was a Prophet so holy his face can't be drawn, 2) any disrespect of Muhammed is blasphemy that merits the harshest punishment, and 3) God approves of them forcing adherence to their own beliefs in brutal ways.

Addressing these beliefs in order and attempting to do so within a framework acceptable to faithful Muslims, 1) Muhammed was drawn by good Muslims for centuries. The Quran does not prohibit drawing Muhammed. Only some hadith do, and they, unlike the Quran, are not accepted by all Muslims. If Muhammed was the last prophet, as Islam claims, then who cares if some imams a while back came up with a new restriction on permissible illustrations? Those imams don't speak for anybody but themselves because they are NOT prophets.

2) Disrespect of a cherished individual or object can be emotionally painful to see and hear (I personally never will watch The Book of Mormon musical), but it doesn't justify violence in response. Even if one follows an "eye for an eye" retributive philosophy, disrespect only justifies more disrespect in turn. Disproportionate punishments--such as execution for a mere verbal insult--is something most of the civilized world considers barbaric, and people are not bound by a book--the Quran--that they don't believe in.

Which leads me to my last point. 3) A religious movement, such as the Taliban or ISIS, that violently forces others to submit to it is an abomination in God's eyes because it removes the opportunity to choose to believe. When God--who has not even given us indisputable evidence of his very existence--tells us to believe in him, he is giving us a choice: to accept him or to not accept him. The ability to choose for ourselves is what makes faith meaningful. There is no such thing as forced faith in the same way that rape cannot be termed an amorous encounter. For that reason, I reject and oppose any interpretation of Islam/Christianity/LDS doctrine/etc. that uses violence to force others to follow it. Such violence removes the agency of a person to choose to follow God, thus destroying faith and enslaving others. (And yes, that criticism applies to some followers of the Pearls almost as much as ISIS.) Good Muslims choose to submit to God according to the teachings of Muhammed. Many people do not choose to submit to Muhammed's teachings, but they must be given the opportunity to make that choice without their survival being under threat or else the choice TO submit (i.e., Islam itself) is made meaningless. I hope that faithful Muslims promote religious movements that do not make a mockery of their own beliefs.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Orthodox Christmas

We've been temporary host parents for a Russian-speaking exchange student for the past three weeks. As one might expect for a sixteen year-old girl during the holidays, she has been homesick. Today is Christmas per the Orthodox Church calendar, and I let her skip school to go celebrate Russian Orthodox Christmas at a nearby church. She got to be at an Orthodox worship service, talk to many Russians, and eat Russian food at a potluck lunch. When I picked her up afterward, she looked the happiest I've seen her since we met her.

This afternoon she showed us many pictures of her family and continued be very happy.

It often takes leaving home to realize what we cherish most there.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Musical Drapes

A New Year calls for a fix to our aging draperies. Our house is half a century old, and some of the window hangings appear to be nearly that old. So I bought a couple of panels of new drapes yesterday and since then have been in the midst of swapping curtains around, picking and sewing hems, and getting a head full of dust.

The front living room curtains--custom made from J. C. Penney long ago--are being refurbished. I cut off damaged parts on the ends and sew new edge hems. Hang them up again, and I hopefully get five more years before I have to worry about them again. I'll probably sew new ones then; I like the substantial formal curtains of yesteryear, at least in our formal room.

The old dining room curtains have damaged lining halfway down, so I'm cutting them in half and turning the tops into bathroom curtains. The old bathroom curtains were homemade by the previous owner and are falling apart, so I'll wash that fabric and use it for scrap material for my children.

The new dining room curtains were actually stolen from my husband's den. He didn't realize what nice drapes he was never using anyway. He now has a pair of blue floral curtains (hemmed up greatly because he doesn't care if his drapes skim the floor, which has important papers and computer boxes piled up on it) covering his den window. The blue drapes come from our bedroom, and I've never liked them much. They're not super girly, and they bring out the wheaten color of the den carpet. He might end up using them for decades....

Our bedroom got the new ivory/gold drapes. They could use an ironing job, but I'm waiting to see if taking a shower this afternoon helps them un-wrinkle magically all on their own. Sadly, the gold drapes, though lined, let through more light than the blue floral drapes, so I dug into our material cache and found some very dark blue, thick upholstery fabric that I will turn into a blackout (blue-out?) curtain and hang under the gold drapes.

Finally, I will trash the terrible drapes in our master bathroom. They have awful stains from water condensate that collected on the old aluminum window over the course of many winters. We installed a double-paned, vinyl-framed window in that bathroom this summer, so now I'm going to use a lovely turquoise sarong fabric from Thailand that I've kept safe for 7 years to make a pretty new set of curtains.

(No, our window treatments don't sing. The title of this post is a reference to the game of "Musical Chairs.")

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Cold outside, warm inside.

Apparently, dd2 thinks it's summer inside. All this lovely money we're spending on natural gas to heat our home has made her think that it's warm enough to run around most of the day with just a diaper on. As a result, she has a cough that is taking her forever to get over.

Tonight she came to me--mostly naked, of course--with a shovel and pail and said she wanted to go to the park right then so she could play in the sand. Over and over I said, "No, it's dark and cold outside." She just didn't get it. Elsa may sing that the cold doesn't bother her anyway, but here in real life, little princesses need to stay warm and get healthy!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Boxing Day Plumbing

I spent all afternoon and into the evening installing a new bathroom faucet. It took a long time because I also had to install shutoff valves on the pipes coming from the wall and use a hacksaw to get the old faucet drain assembly off the sink. So messy! Why did I bother to shower this morning? I'm just going to have to go wash my hair again after scraping so much icky stuff above my head.

The faucet, sadly, is faulty. It works fine right now, but the aerator doesn't sit straight due to something internal being bent or something. I've emailed the company, which has a reputation for fine faucets to uphold, so I'm hopeful that they will send me what I need to fix this. But I'm still disheartened that I'm going to have to do some more work before this repair job is done.

Never, ever expect that a DIY project will be speedily accomplished. That way you won't be too disappointed when it takes far too long.

Update (12/28/2014): I went to Home Depot yesterday and exchanged the faucet. I think I'm done. Now to install the other faucet and drain in the two-sink vanity!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Crazy Easy Homemade Yogurt

I make my own yogurt now. I thought doing so would require the hassle of wrapping canning jars in towels and putting them in a cooler overnight, but I found a much easier way online that has given me good results every time.

Here are the steps:
1) Heat a gallon of milk* in a pot to the point that it starts to have little bubbles around side and forms a skin on top.
2) Discard the milk skin and pour the milk into a cold crockpot liner (the ceramic part).
3) Let the milk cool down for a while. It should be warm but not burn your finger.
4) Mix in about a cup of yogurt starter.
5) Put the glass lid on the crockpot liner.
6) Put the crockpot liner, milk, and lid (all together, of course) in the oven.
7) Turn on the oven light (must be an incandescent bulb because you need its heat).
8) Let the yogurt incubate overnight in the warm oven. (DON'T TURN ON THE OVEN. Just the oven light.)

Voilà!. Yummy homemade yogurt for minimal cost. It's going to be runnier than the stuff from the store because you don't add pectin, but who needs solid yogurt when you're going to be mixing it with muesli or granola or using it in recipes like naan?

By the way, I make no guarantee that this will work in everyone else's kitchen. If your oven light isn't warm enough, if your crockpot liner is thicker than mine, etc., you might just end up with gross milk in the morning.

* I like to use whole milk. It makes thicker and tastier yogurt.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Drapes

We moved into a new-to-us-but-fifty-years-old house two years ago. The woman who lived in it before us had lovingly cared for the same drapes and carpet for at least thirty years. The pretty living room drapes (still on working traverse rods!) are starting to fall apart despite my attempts to mend and patch. It is finally time to get new drapes.

This is not a simple matter. Nowadays, there are five different common ways to hang drapes: tab top, rod pocket, grommet top, pinch pleat, and back tab. I personally like our traverse rods, and since they are hidden by wooden cornices, I could theoretically attach nearly any kind of drapery top to the little plastic pieces--half of which are ancient and brittle and will need to be replaced--and get the benefit of being able to open/close the drapes quickly and without touching them. I like the fullness of pinch pleat drapes, which is what we currently have, but the selection available in that category is not very good.

Do I try to sew my own drapes? It's theoretically pretty easy. Hem big rectangles of fabric, then, if I'm feeling particularly ambitious, pinch together at the top for pinch pleats. But this is my living room I'm talking about! I don't want my sad sewing skills to be responsible for curtains with iffy hems that make me cringe for the next decade. For if I buy 20 yards of fabric (I have to do two windows), even at bargain basement prices, that's a lot of money, so I won't just toss them unless they're truly dreadful.

I'm hoping for some good post-Christmas department store sales in the drapery departments this year.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sycophant

An interesting etymology fact is that sycophant, which currently means "insincere flatterer," originated as a Greek word for a false accuser. False accusations could be very harshly punished in the ancient world. Some Mesopotamian laws made death the penalty for false accusations of certain crimes.

Why punish a false accuser so severely? To discourage false accusations, of course. False accusations tie up the legal system and harm the accused, particularly if the accused is wrongly found guilty and especially if he is executed due to the false accusation.

Recently the magazine Rolling Stone published an article alleging that a rape occurred at a UVA fraternity, and now it appears that the allegation, which resulted in university action against all the fraternities, was most likely fabricated. What punishment does a person in our modern world merit for making a false accusation of a serious crime such as rape? I certainly don't think it should be death or even imprisonment (since prison is reported to have a lot of actual rape culture going on, I disfavor prison in general if a different punishment will be as effective at crime deterrence), but there should be some sort of punishment. A fine. Community service. Something. Not only is bearing false witness against one's neighbor a violation of one of the ten commandments, it transforms our criminal justice system into a weapon against innocents. Defending one's self from criminal charges and dealing with the social and work fallout from such charges are not trivial considerations. I think sycophants, in both the ancient Greek and the modern sense, should suffer social opprobrium for their dishonest actions. And where that dishonesty has done harm to our justice system, the justice system should mete out an official, substantial penalty.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Sleep Training

My almost-six-month-old has regressed when it comes to getting enough sleep recently. I haven't been diligent about giving her naps in her crib (too often she ends up napping in her carseat near the family hubbub), and she's now old enough that it's time she had regularly scheduled naps. How did nearly six months pass already? Also, I've slipped back into getting up in the night every two hours instead of letting her put herself back to sleep. She used to sleep for 4-6 hours for at least one stretch at the beginning of the night, but she's stopped doing that. It can't be due to hunger, for she eats a lot, including milk (of course), rice cereal, puffs, and pureed fruit. We are both very tired. It's starting to interfere with my daily activities. So we are doing a little "sleep training," which consists mostly of me NOT getting up every two hours when she cries out. Here's hoping she's a fast learner!

Update (12/7/2014): And it turns out she is! We got a six hour stretch of sleep last night. :) I'm going to help her love resting her head on her crib mattress by getting her a chenille crib sheet for Christmas. (As the fifth girl, she doesn't need any toys under the tree!)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Reading Progress

Dd5 and I took a break for a couple of weeks or so from reading lessons. They weren't much fun, for she wasn't remembering some simple things such as the word "the." This afternoon, we finally had a formal lesson (#43 from Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons), and she did much, much better than either she or I anticipated. Where did this pleasant progress come from?

I think we owe it mostly to the Leapfrog Letter/Talking Word/Storybook Factory videos. Those are a terrific resource for children just figuring out the letter-sound code and how to apply their new knowledge. We own some Leapfrog letter fridge magnets, so dd5 and dd2 have been playing with them after watching the videos.

The concept of digraphs has started to really sink in for dd5. Previously she would see "sh" and say "ssss""hhh" nearly every time no matter how often I reminded her that "sh" says "sh." I suspect a few minutes of looking at this old toy, which we just had sitting around in a toybox, helped her realize that it's OK not to break the letters apart when looking at certain letter combinations:

Kiddicraft alphabet toy with 4 of most common English digraphs
The technical name for two letters representing one sound is "digraph." The most common consonant digraphs in English are "ch," "sh," "th," "ph," and "wh," per this phonics website. Note that four of those five digraphs are presented to the children on the Kiddicraft toy pictured above. How great is that! And it's not a fancy-schmancy electronic toy, so I don't have to worry about it running out of battery power. Even the hornbooks used for centuries didn't explicitly teach digraphs.

Traditional hornbook example, sold by Plimouth Plantation
Sadly, the Kiddicraft Flip-up Learning Center is only available used, but if you want one, it appears on eBay sometimes for a reasonable price. I think I found ours at a local thrift store a few years ago.

(I make no money from product placement in my blog posts. I'm just sharing things that I've found helpful.)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Not usually a sign of child abuse

I know two different young mothers who have had neighbors think that they might be abusing their children because they have heard small children yelling for extended periods of time from these mothers' homes. I can only imagine that the worrying neighbors were childless and thus ignorant of some basic childrearing know-how: some children are extremely noisy and contrary sometimes and most children throw tantrums at some point. Not all children, certainly, for temperaments vary widely. Moreover, some children have diagnosed issues such as autism or ADHD that go along with uncontrollable tantrums.

I don't take child abuse lightly. By today's standards, my father was unquestionably guilty of child abuse. He spanked repeatedly and harshly--even quite young children--and sometimes with hard objects. We lived in terror of his arrival home after work because if anything was messy--a common condition of a house with many young children and a busy mother who was rather uninterested in cleaning--he would often yell at and possibly spank the first child he lay eyes on. (Ironically, he didn't realize why we ran from him and would sometimes ask, "Where is everyone? Why isn't anyone here to greet me?" Sad, isn't it? He was abused as a child, too.)

When I look at signs of child abuse, I don't see "children scream a lot" listed as a sign. Sure, parents screaming a lot can be emotional abuse. Also, age-inappropriate or sudden tantrum behavior can be a danger sign of abuse. But, in my experience, mere "children scream a lot" is a fairly good indication that the children are not being directly subjected to abusive behavior because the children do not live in terror. Let me say that again for emphasis. They don't live in terror. Living in an abusive situation is living in terror. It's the opposite of the security and care that a child hopes for and should be able to expect from his or her parents.

My father successfully terrorized us into being model children (at least, when he was at hand). We didn't throw tantrums. He would have never put up with us screaming for long periods of time. A harsh spanking would have put a stop to that kind of behavior right away. We were meek and scared and obedient. The neighbors suspected that things might not be great at our house, but the signs of abuse were not obvious. We were even forced to end spanking sessions by telling our father that we loved him, yet under those desperate words of love, gasped out to make the spanking end, were hurt, frightened children who temporarily hated yet quietly did as commanded.

So, well-meaning neighbors of the world, please keep looking out for the children you know. But please be aware of the probability that young children screaming for what sometimes seems like forever is more likely an indication that they feel comfortable enough to yell at their parents than it is a sign of an abused child living in terror.