Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Directed Art

We just had my mom here to visit, and when I showed her the Ed Emberley art books that dd5 has been enjoying for the past few weeks, she said "Oh, you've got her doing directed art." That's the first time I've heard the expression. According to my mother, directed art is where you teach the child what elements (shapes, in this case) to put together in what order to get a desired art result. When you just let young children create whatever without guidance, those who haven't learned (or at least figured out) specifics of what to do to get a desired result are at a loss.

I've read a lot about direct instruction, but I'd never before given much thought to art as something where direct instruction can be utilized. Art just seems to be such a "free-spirit" kind of subject. But I can certainly see why a child might enjoy art more when given specific instruction and tools to get a satisfyingly good result. Is it possible that one of the reasons that most modern art, especially student art, leaves me cold and underwhelmed is that they aren't being taught much technical mastery of the skills necessary to convincingly express an object, an emotion, etc.?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Flu tests

I and dd5 got flu tests yesterday just to be sure what we were dealing with--negative for both Flu A and B! Yay! That means, since she's no longer feverish, that we get to enjoy our weekend instead of confining ourselves to our home.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Yesterday when I picked dd5 up from school, she was sitting at a table in the computer lab complaining that her head hurt. The teacher said she hadn't hurt herself in P.E., and the "mom touch test" indicated that she had a fever. I got her into the car and before we even drove away from the school, she vomited her lunch and afternoon snack all over herself. She's thrown up twice since. Both she and dd2 had a fever through much of the night, although dd2's fever responded very well to medicine and she's been a happy camper all this morning. Dd5 is still pretty listless and seems to be just waiting to lose her breakfast.

Why is this blog-worthy? Because my children might have "swine flu", more correctly known as H1N1 flu. Dd5's sudden fever would especially fit the swine flu symptoms. We know that a family was in church Sunday who had a son suffering with swine flu recently. I'm all for being generally churchgoing folks, but I wish they'd decided to stay home. There are many pregnant women, including myself, at church, and we are at high risk for serious complications from swine flu. If dd5 has swine flu, my chances of avoiding it are very slim.

We'll see how the day goes....at least it's not the weekend....yet.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Our fault

Dd wet her bed just before 10 p.m. tonight, and it wouldn't have happened if we had remembered to have her use the toilet before we put her to bed. She was so sad. This was her first accident in months. We parents rightfully take all the blame for it, but it doesn't change the unfortunate fact that her favorite stuffed animals are now in the washing machine and unable to be her bedfellows tonight.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sugar? Really??

I've been reading through a book called Do-It-Yourself Medicine, written by Ragnar Benson and published by Paladin Press in Boulder, Colorado. In the chapter on stitching wounds, he states that after washing out the wound with Betadine, "[if] available, treat with Betadine ointment, mastitis medication, tetracycline ointment, or common powdered sugar." Say what? Powdered sugar as an antibiotic? A quick Google search on the subject didn't turn up any substantiation for this as an effective use. Why would sugar help keep infection at bay?

Here comes autumn

This is our weather forecast for tonight:
Mostly cloudy. Chance of rain showers in the evening and overnight...then chance of snow showers early in the morning. Lows 32 to 38. North winds 10 to 20 mph. Chance of precipitation 30 percent.
Did someone forget to tell Mother Nature that it's still September?!

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Tonight I saw a local college's production of the play Proof by David Auburn. Having been transitioning between hemispheres around the time the movie version with Gwyneth Paltrow came out, I was unaware of the existence of this play/movie. I enjoyed the math jokes, felt for the main character's struggles, and appreciated the discussion of mathematicians' drive to achieve and worries about being unable to do so. I was also impressed by how well the college students put on this play, especially in light of the fact that they just started their academic year three weeks ago!

I look forward to seeing the movie version now--Anthony Hopkins, Gwyneth Paltrow, and less swearing!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

In praise of parks

Dd4 is about to become dd5 in just a few days! To mark the event, we invited her enrichment class cohort to join us at a park for a pizza picnic lunch today. Such a (relatively) easy way to have a birthday party! :) A park comes with a playset or two already, hence no need to rent a "bounce house". Cleanup is perfect--throw everything in the big park garbage can and don't worry about the cupcake crumbs on the ground because the wasps are already coming to scavenge. Shade is provided by the trees. And everyone has fun without the need to plan elaborate and/or costly activities! Hooray for parks! Guess I might end up voting for the local mill levy increase this fall....

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Carnival of Homeschooling

This week's Carnival of Homeschooling is up over at Dewey's Treehouse. Go see!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Two languages are better than one

Guest blogger (my husband):

DW enjoyed the intelligent adult conversation she had at a gathering of an acquaintance of mine. I was certainly glad to see her enjoying herself, while I mainly watched the children and hung around my colleagues. I kind of wondered whether they joined me out of discomfort in the other room or if it was kindness to me...

As topics turned, we talked a little of dod's (dear oldest daughter) school arrangements. Naturally, one of my colleagues had nothing disparaging to say about homeschooling or the fact that we're trying to get our girls to be bilingual, though they seldom actually speak German. Hrm.

So here are my reasons I want my girls to be bilingual:
  • Knowing two languages makes life more fun.
    • Daughter's friend: "What did they say in this non-subtitled movie?"
    • Daughter: "Oh, he just said X with a terrible accent. He's definitely NOT German."
    • Daughter's friend: "Wow, that's so cool that you speak German!"
  • It makes that pesky language requirement in school either obsolete or fillable by a third language.
    • "Ha ha! I already speak two languages, so my other class this semester is college canoeing!"
  • Cool resumé filler.
    • Languages: English, German.
  • Broadened travel horizons.
    • Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein! (plus other places where Germans would be more welcomed than US folks)
  • Easy way to throw off telemarketers.
    • dod: "Hier bei Familie X."
    • telemarketer: "Congratulations! You qualify for the platinum card!"
    • dod: "Ich hab' gar kein Interesse daran, aber möchtest Du etwas schönes von mir kaufen?"
    • telemarketer: "Does anyone there speak English?"
    • dod: "Eigentlich schon. Aber das möchte ich Dir nicht zugeben, oder?"
    • telemarketer: "Um, okay. Goodbye!"
  • Bilinguals tend to do better in school.
    • Must be all those extra linguistic neurons.
  • Sort-of-secret language from strangers and others around us.
    • [In public]: "Siehst du den Mann da? Sein Hund hat keine Nase!"
    • "Dann wie riecht er?"
    • "Furchtbar!"
  • It's so cute when little children speak foreign languages.
    • Really, it is!
  • Linguistic family bonding!
    • "In this house, we obey the rules of der neuen Rechtschreibung!"
  • People who speak with accents are just generally more attractive.
    • This one needs no explanation!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Photo fun

Dh checked out an Apple computer from work that has a built-in camera and the Photo Booth program. It takes photos and videos and applies all sorts of great effects to them instantaneously. Our daughters' favorite effects are Earthrise (they pretend they're in outer space) and Mirror (they address themselves and make themselves into conjoined twins). My favorite part is hearing forty minutes of contagious laughter as they play on the computer with Daddy.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Pan de Yuca

We loved eating yucca rolls (pan de yuca) when we lived in Ecuador. It has been sad not to find any frozen ones for sale here like they have in Ecuador. So today I made them from scratch! I used the recipe on the back of the yucca flour/starch we found at a local Latino market:
1 lb. queso fresco (grated)
1 cup almidon de yuca/yucca flour
1 slightly beaten egg
1 tsp baking powder
1-2 tablespoons water (just enough to make it so the dough sticks together)

Stir it all together to get a dough, make your rolls with the dough (about 20 or so of them), and bake on a slightly greased pan in a 375F oven for about 20 minutes (until the rolls are golden brown).
Easy and yummy! I think I'll use less cheese and water next time, though, because mine came out flatter than I remember them.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Knowledge Deficit

I just finished reading The Knowledge Deficit by E. D. Hirsch, founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation. It was only 124 pages long, so don't be scared to pick it up and read it. Hirsch hammers repeatedly on his main point: gaps in reading skills in higher grades (where they are testing reading comprehension, not just decoding) are due primarily to knowledge gaps.

I'm basically convinced by his arguments, although I do think that schools need to continue to dedicate some time to analysis of what is read in order to develop critical thinking skills. In my experience, focusing solely on fact-accrual leads to "smart" people who don't know how to think things through and express their arguments clearly.

Now to apply some insights gained from reading this book to teaching my daughter--1) Keep reading to her, lots, and expose her to intelligent and interesting books (not those lame leveled-readers that are boring). 2) Cover many content fields and try to stick with each field for more than one book/video at a time so that she is able to focus on an area of content knowledge for a while. 3) Teach her anything that interests her, even if I didn't "study" it until high school (obviously, teach it at a level that is appropriate for her). 4) Expose my children to higher-level vocabulary in context and rarely use slang with them. 5) Find good meaty source books for learning about history, science, art, etc.; formalistic inquiry-based and/or nonsubstantive textbooks will not help her develop much subject knowledge.

Here is a good "money quote" from The Knowledge Deficit:
Breadth of knowledge is the single factor within human control that contributes most to academic achievement and general cognitive competence.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


While dd2 napped today, dd4 and I played a couple of games: Chutes and Ladders and Warte und pass auf. Both games helped her practice counting, and it was rewarding to see how in just a week she has figured out how to change left-right directions in Chutes and Ladders as required by the ascending numbers. In fact, after dd2 woke up, dd4 "taught" dd2 how to play the game with her. What a great way for both of them to practice counting!

Monday, September 7, 2009


Fatigue is a terrible thing. I still remember my zombie days after giving birth to my second child. Thinking straight is so hard to do when one hasn't had enough sleep. Not to mention driving straight and talking straight. And it's very bad for interpersonal relationships.

This morning we got up much earlier than usual so we could go see the hot air balloons launch at Colorado Balloon Classic. It was fun and impressive, but now we have a day of fatigued Mommy and children ahead of us. About an hour ago, I lost my patience with my dd4, who kept pestering me to help her make a boat pop-up. I thought I'd already done what she asked and instead of "seeking to understand", I raised my voice at her and told her to leave me alone. Then dd2 damaged dd4's work in progress, and tears and frustration erupted from both of them. Mother really does set the tone of the home. I realized what I'd done and apologized, explaining I was tired and shouldn't have yelled. With some more tears, dd4 forgave me, and I helped her make a new pop-up boat. I even got into the crafting mood and made a pop-up pumpkin patch for dd2 to play with. Now the two are sharing their pop-ups with each other. Whew. Learning moment for me. Early naps today for all!

Sunday, September 6, 2009


I'm hungry. But I just ate! Long enough ago that my stomach should have been able to get the message to my brain. I guess I'm still pregnant. :) I think a German pancake for dessert tonight sounds pretty tasty, as well as high in protein.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Calm down now...

Now that the Department of Education has fixed its offending materials for teachers (seriously, kids should be "helping" the President? How'd that slip through?), can we all calm down now about President Obama's speech on Tuesday? Even if a parent didn't vote for him and disapproves of just about everything he does as President, he is still the President of the United States. Let him give his short, inspiring speech. A lot of children do need to hear something like that, and to many children he is a hero. You can always "countereducate" at home later if you deem it necessary.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Not a lot of substance

Dh recently surprised me with two older edition (1997) elementary school science curriculum books, An Elementary Insights Hands-On Inquiry Science Curriculum K-1: Living Things and 2-3: Habitats from Kendall-Hunt Publishing Company. The emphasis is decidedly on encouraging children to make predictions, classify, and record observations and there is not much learning of the "why" behind what they're observing. (This is not a sensible approach, in my opinion, for I think that little children are interested in learning the actual reasons for things and that they are still too ignorant to make intelligent predictions. Shouldn't the beginning school years be when children are learning foundational facts and principles of science rather than being asked constantly to make guesses which are often wrong?) I was disappointed at the dearth of actual science content in the books. For example, K-1: Living Things (one of five modules for the K-1 age group) is over 200 pages long but has just a seven-page information summary at the end of the manual. 2-3: Habitats has only three pages of science background for the teacher. The K-1: Living Things manual's "Learning Experiences" are as follows:
  1. Using Your Senses
  2. A Walk Outdoors
  3. Planting Bean Seeds
  4. A Walk to Look for Trees
  5. Tree Shapes
  6. Leaf Shapes
  7. The Needs of Living Things
  8. Observing Animals
  9. The Needs of Bean Plants
  10. Inferring and Comparing the Needs of Living Things
  11. Planning a Terrarium
  12. Gathering Material and Planting a Terrarium
  13. Collecting Animals for a Terrarium
I've already covered most of this material and more with my four-year-old. We have a small yard with a garden, she had me plant her some bean seeds in a cup (her initiative, not mine) a couple of weeks ago, and she is always bringing home some leaf or pine cone. Then there are the nature videos and books, the frequent family walks, the trips to the zoo, our goldfish, etc.

If this book is an example of the breadth and depth I'm expected to cover in kindergarten science with my child, I've worried for nothing. After all, just this afternoon, we talked about platelets clotting in her nose capillaries (she had a bloody nose, probably from picking it) and researched the Kuiper belt on the internet (she had picked up a book about Pluto and was "reading" it to me).