Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Math ... because you have to

Jo does not like math. No, I take that back. Jo hates math. If given the chance between working on math or getting stung by a hornet, I really think it would be a big choice; at least, after you get the hornet sting over with, there's the silly loopiness of the Benadryl and mom is pretty likely to pull out the ice cream and make milkshakes. After math, well ... there's just the satisfaction of knowing you've got about 24 math-free hours coming.

We have, for the record, tried more math programs than any family has a right to have sampled. Thankfully, most of these came from my beloved cousin, who is a homeschooling mom to her own die-hard Math Aversion kiddos. Not paying for the programs has not made them any better, trust me. The promises ("painless facts drill!" "seamless skills!" "fun!") are equally as unfilled whether it's your $40 being forked out or someone elses.

For the record, we have tried Calvert, MCP, Math-U-See, Miquon, Singapore and Horizons. We have a small army of math CDroms, including QM Math, Reader Rabbit and Zoo Zillions. We have dozens of math games. While these are well-used and probably the best tools for teaching Jo, she tends to stay stuck on the same games, not advancing her skills at all. Horizons (now carried by SL!) has worked the best for us, although I still can't say that Jo has any real enjoyment of the topic.

So ... any stories of math morphing into fun out there? Anyone dying to share that one, elusive secret of turning math torture into math joy? C'mon ... I'm ready for anything!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Two doors down from us lives the most delightful little family. They have an adorable 3yo boy who talks a mile a minute and obsesses over balls and bikes. They have a 5yo girl who is about the sweetest thing I've ever encountered. They play beautifully with my dc. As a matter of fact, they've become about my favorite children to have over without mommas around because everyone plays with everyone and no one gets their feelings hurt.

They also just so happen to speak about a dozen words each in English.

Both of our families moved in about 3 1/2 years ago. We were fresh from the South and they were fresh from the way south, also known as Mexico. For a few weeks, the mom and I made huge efforts to gather in the common area and watch the children play. Pretty quickly, though, the language barrier became too much. The mother told me in broken English one afternoon that trying to talk with me made her "shy." Yikes! I had no intention of making her uncomfortable, but somehow I had managed, in my enthusiasm to have a friend in the neighborhood, to freak her out. I apologized profusely. She finally said that it wasn't me (thank goodness!), but rather, the problems of communicating with someone whose grasp of her mother tongue went as far as what Dora the Explorer had introduced on that morning's video. For her part, while I found her English to actually be quite good, she said she could only understand "tiny, tiny" of what I was saying.

Needless to say, the friendship never took off. I met a group of moms in the neighborhood, and she connected with a church of fellow Mexican nationals. While we wave at one another on our way to get the mail, we've rarely spoken in 3 1/2 years.

Somehow, though, the most amazing thing has happened this summer. Our kids, neighbors for most of their little lives, have discovered each other at last!

My older two children use Rosetta Stone Spanish, and my 4yo listens in and has a pretty decent vocabulary as well. I've picked up enough Spanish in the past three years to get by in a casual setting thanks to overseeing the Rosetta Stone and helping dh fund-raise at a Spanish-language only church near-by. In the meantime, the children down the street have gotten a few key phrases in English down pat--mostly things about Batman and Dora, but English nonetheless. Put all of us together and we can tell someone when their pelota es debajo de un carro or whether or not Batman can go in the water.

It's a start.

Jo, Atticus and Logan are so tickled with their newfound playmates (who like soccer as much as they do!). They've taken joy in comparing Mexico and Georgia, in riding their bikes at break-neck speeds and in kicking, kicking, kicking that football all over the street. It's absolutely contagious. Their mother has yet to venture out and watch them play this summer. I'm sure she is still uncomfortable with the idea of trying to labor through a conversation with me and is staying snug inside her house. But, you know what? I'm going to make a little gesture anyway. I baked some cookies this afternoon and we're taking them over for their family. Maybe the spirit of acceptance and love our children have kindled with one another is catching.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Cup Crazy

Apparently, I could have titled this entry, "How to Make Just About Anything Educational."

At our house, the main sport is football. No, no--not that football, the one with men in big pads doing set plays and patting each other on the tush. The other football: international soccer.

My husband's family is steeped in soccer history. Dh's great-grandfathers played in Germany and Hungary, respectively. Dh's grandfather picked up the ball in St. Louis, MO, where his sons followed in his kangaroo-skin footsteps. My father-in-law played on a Hall of Fame college team, continued semi-pro in young adulthood and finally became a coach. His brother played professionally, kicking against greats like Pelé in the short-lived U.S. league. By the time my husband's generation came on the scene, there was no question as to whether or not he'd play soccer ... just how good he'd be at it.

As it turns out, Dh is good, but not great. He played through college, but is now content to coach 6yo Atticus and his friends to victory on quarter-sized fields with mommies for cheerleaders. Does that mean that soccer isn't his passion? Not for a minute.

While DH is a sane, but passionate man 99% of the time, soccer is his 1% lunacy. (Actually, he's really only sane about 2% of the time, because that other part of his life is spent being crazy for JESUS.) Most people never see this raging weird-o ... but he's there.

Enter the World Cup.

In case you live under a rock (or in America), right now the world is smack dab in the middle of the culmination of four year's build-up in the soccer-crazed community. I, for one, am thankful every day that my dh is not crazy about U.S. sports because frankly, if he expended as much energy on say, your average baseball season as he does on international football, I think our marriage wouldn't have survived very long.

But, blessedly, the Cup comes only once every four years. And during that 6 week period, my husband becomes so consumed with soccer that he literally plans his life around the games. And guess what that translates to? Yes, that means that the lives of every person in our family begin to center on soccer.

Since I have essentially four year's warning, I'm able to prepare somewhat. For the last Cup, when our kiddos were 4, 2 and newly birthed, I figured, what the heck, let's try cuisine from each of the countries as we watch the games. This is my attempt to stay connected to the goings-on, because while I can now spot an off-sides attack and know the difference between a yellow card offense and a red card offense, soccer just isn't the intoxicating elixir for me that it is for my husband. I choose the role of help-meet in his soccer La-La land, as in, "Honey, can I bring you some chips?"

So the last Cup was the one that we learned to love a Brazilian bean stew (still popular in our house), sampled an African peanut dish (no longer on the menu) and made crepes for breakfast one morn (why not?) The kids loved it, and while I don't think they learned a lick of anything other than how long it takes for dried beans to soak, it enhanced their World Cup experience somewhat.

This year I was determined to mine the Cup for every bit of educational value. The kids are older, after all, and frankly, they don't need a primer on ball skills or penalty shots. I think Jo could ref at this point, although she hasn't worn a jersey since an ill-fated season when she was 4 and attempting to play in the Georgia heat. Atticus already plays, and while he enjoys it and understands the game, he hasn't yet found his groove--which I'm thinking is goalkeeper. We shall see in a year or two. Then there's Logan, who has ball skills--and tricks!--that leave both dh and I wide-eyed in wonder ... as in wondering where he learned that.

At any rate, the Cup stretched before me like a huge blank-slate of educational opportunity. I dug in. Within the past few weeks we have learned about Ghana, Ecuador, the Netherlands, Argentina, South Korea and the other 27 countries (including the U.S.) that have been competing. We made flags, counted how many countries have sort of bird on their flags or in their crest (you'd be amazed), counted how many speak Spanish, French, English or something altogether different. We've been riveted when countries have gone head to head in games that have pitted them against their long-time colonizers, we've cheered for countries whose teams display outright devotion to God.

We've had fun.

And while I've known all along that I was meeting my goal of tying the business of school with the pleasure of soccer on some level, I really didn't think my kids had learned anything that earth-shattering. Until today.

Our church's kid's program this summer is focusing on missions. We know the family that gave today's presentation on Chile. Imagine our surprise when, as we picked our kids up after service, we were met with, "Your kids are amazing!" How do you not answer that with an agreement? ;-) Anyhow, when I asked why she thought my little ones were so smart, she said, "We've done this for three services now, and not one child has known anything about Chile. But this time, as we got started, we asked, 'Does anyone know where Chile is located?' And Jo and Atticus raised their hands and found it on the map." I smiled and said, "Sonlight."

"Well then, " she continued, "we asked if anyone knew any of the history of Chile. And Jo told us about Magellan and Pedro de Valdivia founding Santiago, the capital of Chile. And Atticus told us about the war of independence from Spain. So I said, 'Does anyone know anything else about Chile?' and Logan said, 'Yes, they speak Spanish and they're not fielding a World Cup soccer team this year.'"

So I guess I really can't complain about being a soccer widow. My children, after all, are learning.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Cast

I met a lady IRL who reads this blog (talk about a surreal conversation with a stranger!) who had just one comment: "I have no idea who your kids are! You really need to call them something."

When I pointed out that I do call them something, she said that letter and number combinations do not count. What she wanted was some insight into who they are, and a way to instantly recognize what kiddo I was talking about.

So, after some pondering, I decided that she was probably right. I mean, anyone can have a dd8, right? But if I call my dd8 Dorothy, you get an image of her in your head. (And no, my dd does not have ropey braids, talk to scarecrows or sing to her little doggie Toto.) Why not come up with a call name for the wee ones, something more personal than dd8, ds6 and ds4. Something that speaks a little bit about who they are. So, without further ado, I give you...

Ds4--Logan If you've never encountered the X-Men series (movie or comic book form), this one will mean very little to you. My little brother collected these comic books as he was growing up, and I made a point of reading them alongside him as an attempt to span the 7 year gap that separated us. As a result, I really enjoy the big Hollywood movies on the characters. Which brings me to Logan. Logan is the X-Men Wolverine's real name. I was tempted to call my boy Wolverine for the purposes of this blog, but it really only covers one side of his personality--the "I feel no pain, I can do anything, get out of my way 'cuz I'm gonna do that thing I'm looking at" side. But that doesn't really give a full picture of my 4 year old. He is also an amazingly complex little man who broods over things others have long since forgotten, will fight fiercely for those he loves and problem solves in ways that leave his older siblings and me standing gape-jawed at his prowess. So Logan he is: part wild man, part bad boy, part guardian angel, part genius.

Ds6--Atticus My middle child is nothing if not a champion for the cause of justice. He also has an uncanny ability to see inside people and approach them with just the right blend of humor and love. He knows when you're hurting, he knows when you need a hug, and he always, always knows when someone needs Jesus ... and he doesn't hesitate to share Him. I was especially drawn to the name Atticus for my 6 year old because, in the book "To Kill A Mockingbird" Atticus' character is revealed in layers. That's my son. He seems like the bookworm, but it turns out he's a sharpshooter. Who knew?

Dd8-Jo This was a hard call--my daughter could have easily been Jo or her big sister Meg from "Little Women." She loves proper things, things that appear on the surface to be in keeping with the way she things they ought to be. So clearly, she's Meg. But she also has a spirit that is irrepressible, so lively and joy-filled that it runs over sometimes. She is a reader, a writer and a creative heart. I figure that bit of Jo-ishness rates as more engaging than her Meg-ishness. So Jo she is.

Hopefully as you read about our family's adventures, these names will give you a few more cues into who we are and where we're coming from.

And if nothing else, the kind reader here in WA will be happy. ;-)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Camping, and other things we'll laugh about later

This past weekend was our family's summer kickoff--which is something of an oxymoron considering that in WA, it is no where near summer, and we homeschool year-round anyhow, so ... what's to celebrate?

Anyhow, being the hearty souls we are (or thought we were), we've planned a camping trip each year about this time to revel in the not-quite summer weather and ensuing break. Simple enough, right?

Now, my husband and I are not idiots--at least not on paper. Dh has more degrees than you can shake a stick at (and one remaining student loan to prove it) and I, myself, have a couple of BAs under my belt. Too bad there really are some things that no one can teach you. Common sense being among the most valuable of those, obviously.

Our plan on Friday was simple: wake up, watch the first World Cup match, pack the kiddos into the car and journey up to our favorite camping spot, where we'd stay until Sunday afternoon. On our agenda was some quality time on the rocky seashore, s'mores over the campfire, a little fishing and a few trips out in our trusty canoe.

Unfortunately, our plans had started falling apart long before Friday morning. As mentioned earlier, I have been in the grips of a terrible fatigue for a couple of weeks. This has meant that keeping my sunny attitude has become more of a chore than usual, and keeping up with my daily responsibilities has been nearly impossible. I have been leaning quite heavily on the Lord, and He is certainly bringing me through. A camping trip, though, had started to sound like an exercise in terror. Not the best way to start out the festivities.

Also working against us was a particularly nasty intestinal virus that swept through our family Thursday night. Without being too graphic, let's just say that we knew that it was a good thing our campsite was near the public bathrooms; no doubt someone would need them, if things kept up as they were.

But still we soldiered on with our plan.

Friday morning dawned gray and gloomy. Frustrations seemed unusually high in the house, with my oldest two children being told to stay away from one another, period. DS4 was also in a foul mood, seemingly going out of his way to trip people who walked past and "accidentally" use other's names in ugly-sounding rhymes. By the time my dh lapsed into his Deutschland football-induced coma, I was pretty well certain that we'd be waiting another day before casting off to our camping trip. But wait! Maybe I forgot to say that out loud? Dh certainly didn't notice it, because as soon as the game was over, he flipped the t.v. off and ordered everyone to the van ... without noticing the red lasers coming from my eyes or the tears on the children's faces.

But on we went. I look back now and wonder why the Lord didn't just string a huge banner across the windshield of my van saying, "STAY HOME!!!"

I could tell you tales about this camping trip that would curl your hair. I could wax poetic for hours on the words that came out of dd8's mouth as she pouted and huffed, or the way that ds6 pushed his brother off a log on purpose and watched him fall three feet to the ground, or the way ds4 spun so fiercely that he nearly fell into the fire not once, not twice, but three times.

But I wouldn't want to scare you away from camping, so I won't go there. ;-)

At one point in the trip, I literally dropped to the ground laughing so that I would not cry. See, I know the children I saw this weekend, but they certainly were not my little brood. Oh, no--they belong in some twisted sitcom where the siblings bicker over things as if sticks meant life or death and the serving size of a marshmallow actually is indicative of a parent's love and affection. No other way around it, folks ... this weekend, my kids were B-R-A-T-S.

Needless to say, we left the campground early. At 9:30 Saturday night, dh and I officially hit critical mass and strapped the kids into the van, loaded our belongings and headed home. The kids cried and fussed and whined, acting as if they had been denied some essential experience and we were just being ogres.

As we pulled out of the park, dh and I looked into the backseat to see our three children with heads flopped over, mouths agape and eyes, blessedly, shut. The little demons had fallen asleep almost as soon as the engine was started. Left in their place were our beautiful little angels, who we hadn't seen in three days.

The ride home was peaceful. Dh and I whispered back and forth about the upcoming events of the week and what we needed to do when we got home. We had a giggle a minute, I tell you. Driving in the dark always has been one of our silliest times for some reason.

But one thing we didn't laugh about: the camping trip. Because while it will some day be fodder for some great tall tales, it really isn't funny ...yet.