Wednesday, June 20, 2012

More Books, Please – Chapter Books

Have you ever heard of someone who would write the first of a series of blog posts in January, and then not write the second post until June?  I mean, really, who would do that?  Someone that disorganized should not have a blog in the first place.  Sheesh.


So… a while back I wrote about our poetry sessions at breakfast.  I haven’t done the best at keeping a poetry book around (we usually get them from our library, and somehow it’s hard for me to stay on top of…. kind of like blogging), so this has been an on and off thing for us lately.  M has actually been asking for poems in the mornings, so hopefully that will give me the motivation I need to pick something up, like this.

In this article about the importance of reading aloud to children, Andrew Pudewa points out that we sometimes forget about the importance of listening as part of communicating.  We teach children to read, write, and speak correctly, but we overlook listening. 

When you think about it, it seems obvious that language is learned by listening… the human brain is simply geared that way.  Children will learn to speak their native language by hearing it spoken.  They will pick up on correct grammar, vocabulary, etc. naturally.  Listening is the primary means of learning to speak correctly.  Reading is something that has to be taught, and communicating clearly can not be taught solely by good reading skills.

“In fact, it’s an interesting observation, but many children who become early readers, independent readers—good readers--often do not store complete and correct language patterns in their brains. Good readers read quickly, silently, and aggressively. They don’t audiate (hear internally) each word or even complete sentences. Generally, comprehension increases with speed, but speed decreases language pattern audiation because good readers will skip words, phrases and even complete sections of books that might hold them back. And to the extent that children don’t hear (frequently) a multitude of complete, reliably correct, and sophisticated language patterns, such patterns are not going to be effectively stored in their brains.” – Andrew Pudewa, One Myth, Two Truths

So it’s important to read good, quality literature aloud to your children, even if they are super readers! 

I want to share some of our favorite chapter books with you, and hope you’ll share yours in the comments section. 

I try to pick out well-written, wholesome, and developmentally-appropriate chapter books for us to read together as a family.  Think Little House on the Prairie types. :)  Although, interestingly, Little House doesn’t hold M’s attention yet… perhaps he doesn’t get that same little thrill from reading about sweeping out the house and airing out the mattresses as I did when I was little. :)  Maybe in another year or two? 

Keep in mind that audio books are an excellent way to get in some story listening too.  They are wonderful for car trips and quiet time.  We will read a chapter or two of our current read-aloud book at lunch and/or bedtime; then at rest time (when it happens) M listens to an audio version of a different book – sometimes he will keep resting in order to listen to an entire book (up to 2 hours!).  See – that makes you want to keep audio books around, doesn’t it?

Our absolute favorites:

I’ve noted the age that M was at when reading these books, just as a basic guideline for appropriateness.


        (age 4)

The Story of Doctor Dolittle and The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle, by Hugh Lofting (1920 and 1922)

The idea of talking to and understanding animals captured M’s imagination right from the start.  There are some hilarious parts in this book, and it is no wonder it is a classic.  Warning: some negative racial language is used, and you’ll want to read ahead and determine how you will handle this (edit?  read as is and have a discussion?).  It’s a shame because it is such a wonderful story.  I think more recent editions have been changed slightly to avoid this… I’m not a fan of editing classics, but in this case it might be for the best.  These are books that shouldn’t be left unread simply because of a few politically-incorrect sections.  You can also find these complete books online (ready to load to an e-reader) here, and there’s an audio version!


  (age 3) (This image links to a set of 5 of Burgess’s books, but there are a LOT more!)

The Thornton Burgess series about animals.  These were all written between 1910 and the mid 1950s.  Burgess wrote a couple of picture books, but his chapter books are what M loves.  These are actually the first real chapter books I read to M.  They are wonderful.  Some of these are available as online downloads, here.  These make great jumping off points for unit studies about animals, forests, and that sort of thing too!


(age 5)

The Enchanted Castle, by Edith Nesbit (1907) – full of magic, in rare places a bit dark… I found I had to edit parts that would disturb M.  Overall well worth reading.  M used the enchanted castle in his pretend play for weeks while we were reading this.  Download here.


(age late 3, 4)

The Littles (first published in 1967) – a cute series by John Peterson (look for the chapter books, not the easy readers!)


(age 5)

The Rescuers, by Margery Sharp (1959) – super exciting adventure.


(age 4)

Stuart Little, by E. B. White (1945) – funny little adventure and story about friendship.


  (age 5)

The Boxcar Children, a series by Gertrude Chandler Warner (First published in 1924) – there are so many books in this series you will never run out of anything to read!  These are about adventurous children who love to work and are always polite, and they solve mysteries. :)  Exciting and character-building at the same time.  These also come as audio books, complete with voices for each character (check your library).  There is a more modern series about these same children (different author), which are also very good, but we prefer the originals. 


(age 5)

Understood Betsy, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1916) – great story about a little girl learning to be independent (if you are a fan of Montessori, you will love this book!)  Download it here.


(age 4)

Hank the Cowdog Series by John Erickson (1982).  There are a LOT of these also.  Hank does not have the best grammar, but he is hilarious and we all laugh at these books. 


(age 3)

Beatrix Potter books (published beginning in 1902) – wonderful stories; you can download them here, and some are available as audio downloads. (age 3)


(age early 3)

The Complete Tales of Winnie-The-Pooh, by A.A. Milne (1926) – very loved, gentle stories about childhood.  Great vocabulary too!


(age 5)

Mary Poppins, by P.L. Travers (1934) - this is what we are currently reading, and there is a whole series to explore.  These are magical and imaginative, and much better than the movie (which M has never seen)… although the movie is great too, don’t get me wrong!  I’m so glad we found the books, though!

Which chapter books does your family love to listen to?

Have a beautiful day!

Nicole :)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Kindergarten Blues

We are looking into registering M for kindergarten this fall at the private school associated with our church.

I can not stop crying.

A little word of advice to any husbands out there:  If your wife is very, very pregnant, and her first child is also getting ready to start kindergarten – this might be too much for her, especially if she is unsure that this is in his best interests.  Don’t send her out to get info, tour schools, or sign registration papers on her own.  She just might not be able to force herself to do it.  Regardless of how much you might think you are on the same page, there is no guarantee that a mama in this situation is not going to just flip to another page or switch to an entirely different book altogether.  And if she’s pregnant, don’t expect to get many coherent thoughts out of her when she’s in the middle of crying.  She might be the most practical, articulate, logical-thinking woman on the planet, but when you’re talking about taking her heart of our her chest and handing it over to someone else, you are not likely to get the most objective of responses.

I’m just sayin’.

So.  I’m not sure what I want the point of this post to be… maybe it’s just an opportunity to vent (code for: ramble on and on while I indulge in self-pity and defensiveness), or an attempt to think things through on virtual paper so I sound a bit more coherent than the usual “wah, wah, sob, sob… my baby!” that I’ve been doing of late.  If you can stick with me, your comments are welcome!

First of all, I believe with all my heart, that parents have a very serious God-given responsibility when it comes to the education of their children.  It is such a serious responsibility that they need to take time to figure out what their own thoughts, beliefs, and philosophy of education are, and then diligently seek out the best way of giving their child this sort of education.  It’s more than just saying, “Well, he’s six years old now, time to go to school!” and then sending him off.  It’s more than basing the decision of where to send him on something as simple as “do they have half-day or whole-day kindergarten?” or “do the start and end times work for our family and transportation?”.  These things might be important, but really, they shouldn’t be the whole basis of decision. If we are going to be held accountable for the education of a child’s mind, heart, and soul – and we are, I believe – then we’d better be pretty darn serious about the details of it.

(I am talking here, of course, about parents who have a choice in educating their children… unfortunately so many parents do not.  Thankfully we find ourselves in a current situation where we are able to choose to send M to a private school, public school, or home school.  I know the fact that we have a choice is a blessing in itself, but there’s still a responsibility to make the best choice possible.)

So, if and when we have thoughtfully (and prayerfully) made the huge decision to delegate this responsibility of educating our children to someone else, it’s our right to know what that someone else is going to be teaching them, the style of teaching, and various other things. 

I was disappointed to learn that the particular school we are looking at uses computers and other screen technology, quite often, to “teach” 5 and 6 year olds.  I just don’t see how this is the best way for children of such a young age to learn.  Why is everyone impressed with technology in schools?  Does it help the child learn to think or is it simply glorified worksheets and busy-work?  Isn’t it likely that most small children will become so enamoured with the computer itself that the actual learning of the material will take a back seat?  And shouldn’t children be doing more hands-on learning activities anyway? Any technology they learn now will most likely be obsolete by the time they need to prepare for a job.  I just don’t get it, especially given the damage (yes, damage) that this sort of impersonal education can do to someone of such a tender age. 

I’m a big believer in intuition and instinct… and intuitively I have a problem with government telling my family that we must now send our child away for several hours a day for the next 13 years in order to educate him.  (By the way, I’m not crazy for thinking this way – there were many parental protests when schooling first became compulsory in Massachusetts in 1852.  Little by little those voices were ignored and quieted and now society simply sees this as the "way things are”, but compulsory schooling and our current system of schooling in institutions is a pretty recent development.)  Let me be clear – I am pro-learning!  Learning is what childhood is all about.  Learning takes guidance and direction by someone… but ideally that guidance and direction is geared towards the individual child – his abilities, needs, interests, etc.   Individuality – the dignity of each person’s uniqueness – is highly disregarded in today’s society and nowhere more so than in schools where children are lumped together and taught the same thing at the same age - things decided by people who do not even know them.  Teachers do their best to get to know the children and help them learn, but there are so many handicaps blocking their way that it’s difficult for even the best teacher to achieve this for each and every student.

Anyway, back to government being involved… I was happy to learn that our potential school has developed and uses its own curriculum… and then disheartened to learn that this coming year they are switching over to state standard curriculum and will be doing state standardized testing as well.  My heart sunk at this news.  And the person hosting our tour wasn’t able to give me the names of any of the curriculum that will be used (it’s weird, apparently, that a parent might want such precise details of what their child will be learning).  Perhaps the teachers themselves would be able to give me more information, but I’m not sure we’ll have the opportunity to be in touch with them about this before making a decision about registering.

Standardized testing leads so often to “teaching to the test” instead of really focusing on helping each child learn.  I’m not a fan, at all, of such things… or homework or multiple choice questions or a host of other things either, if you really must know. :) 

Learning to think… this is what we need more of today.  Andrew Pudewa makes a beautiful statement in his talk about Freedomship Education (which you can download here), in which he discusses a classical education – developing character, knowledge, and skills - the kind of education men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and other great men early in our country’s history had (before compulsory schooling).  Andrew Pudewa says:

“We want to raise children who know how to think, and who have the knowledge, the wisdom, the character, and the skills to be able to speak the truth in a world of liars during a time of crisis.”

(This is a great talk to listen to, by the way… he also talks about the history of compulsory education, it’s real purpose [which is not teaching our children to think on their own], the problems with standardized testing, multiple choice tests, etc.)

So, where does one find a classical education today?  There are one or two schools around that would provide this for M, but they are e-x-p-e-n-s-i-v-e!  And at least one of them is for older children only.  Thomas Sowell, an advocate of classical education, points out that parents seem to be more qualified and capable of giving their children a good education than professional teachers:

“It is common for ordinary parents, with no training in education, to homeschool their children and consistently produce better academic results than those of children educated by teachers with Master's degrees and in schools spending upwards of $10,000 a year per student-- which is to say, more than a million dollars to educate ten kids from K through 12.

Nevertheless, we continue to take seriously the pretensions of educators who fail to educate, but who put on airs of having "professional" expertise beyond the understanding of mere parents.” – Thomas Sowell, “Amateurs Outdoing Professionals”

Sowell discusses all sorts of educational problems in early elementary schools in the first part of his book, Inside American Education, if you are interested in a good summer read.

So here I am, where I’ve been a million times before, as you long-time readers know – face to face with my admiration of homeschooling.  It comes down to this… wanting peace for my family.  And the idea of homeschooling brings me more peace than any of the other options I’ve considered.  And I’ve considered them very, very hard – praying that God would either give me peace about sending M to school, lessen my desire to homeschool, or just out and out give me information to prove me wrong.  The opposite of all of these things has been happening – I feel less peace about sending M after learning more about this particular school, my desire to homeschool is growing, and all the information I’m finding is making me more and more certain that conventional schooling is not the road to go down for the best education for M.

The heartbreaking part of this is that with current circumstances (my husband has reservations about this, and I do feel he should have the final say so we can be sure we are doing the right thing) I have to be open to the idea that this is not God’s will for our family at this point in time.  But I feel so conflicted about doing something I don’t believe is the best for my son, thereby not being the best mother I can be and am called to be.  What’s a mama to do in a situation like this? 

Here’s the idealistic little picture in my head of a unified education, where learning is not a separate activity, done somewhere else, among other people, but as part of the whole of a child’s life:  a child in a one-on-one setting, with a nurturing grown-up’s arm around his shoulder, teaching him to read, to solve math problems, to love God, to love his neighbor, to learn about the wonders of nature via science, to learn about the creativity in his heart via art lessons, to learn about history, music, chores, being polite, everything under the sun (!)… along with a lot of affection, firm discipline, encouragement, guidance in all things related to mind, heart, and soul, all in a real-world setting of family and community (versus an artificial environment where everyone is the same age and treated as if they are all at the same developmental stage)… a holistic education of the entire individual, by someone whom God has placed in a position to really know and understand and deeply love that particular child – the way He loves that child – as an individual.

And, to me, that sounds like a mother doing the work God has given her by entrusting these little souls to her and her husband. 

I have to wonder if, when God created families, He thought it would be best to take the children away from their families several hours a day in order to educate them – or did He place them in their particular families with the intention that education would, for the most part, happen there?

And it’s an idealistic picture, yes, I know that.  And I’m pregnant and emotional, and not the best at dealing with reality right now – yes, I know that too, which is why I’m thankful to have a more objective husband.  But I’ve been on this road for 5 years now and looking back I can clearly see how this dream has developed and blossomed in my heart and maybe my current state is just an honest admission of what I’ve wanted to believe and say all along.  Barring any major change in our circumstances, having a baby will keep me at home for another 5 years.  I’d love to have both of my chicks nestled under my wing (I’ve had to let too many of them go too soon – maybe that is part of this too?), all of us learning together… and there are some practical and financial advantages as well.  Taking advantage of homeschool groups would be a large part of this too; I have no desire to suffocate my children or prevent them from being part of a larger community.

Am I being too overprotective?  Too controlling?  Hm.  Perhaps.  But I do know that someone is going to be in control.  If M goes to school, the system will be in control of what is being taught; teachers will be in control of whether he is learning as well as how he learns (so often you hear, “teacher wants us to do it this way, not that way, despite the fact that that way might be correct too, which I’d have to say undermines the intelligence and authority of the parent who might be just as correct); other children will be in control of his socialization (social skills should be taught by mature adults and older children, I firmly believe), and their actions and words will control, at least in part, how his personality develops – monitoring may be done by an adult, but the real learning of social skills will be taught by his peers.  It seems to me that if someone is going to be in control of these things, and we know someone must be, that someone ought to be the parents.

Some quotes that sum up my feeling about this “overprotective” issue:

“If you were going to grow tomatoes in Canada, you do not take the tomato seed and go outside and stick it in the ground, do you?  No.  What you do is get a little cup, maybe several little cups, and you carefully select and control the soil, control the amount of water, light, and heat it gets.  You don’t do all this, then stick it outside in the back of the pickup truck behind the barn.  You keep it inside on the windowsill or in a greenhouse area and you carefully control all the elements around that little seed as it grows.  You know where it needs to go, but when do you do that?  You do it when the plant is tall enough, the trunk is strong enough, the roots are deep enough, and you know the place where you are going to put it is safe enough, you take that seedling and put it outside where conditions are not under your control anymore.  There are going to be variables, but at least that plant has been prepared adequately to handle those variables.  When it all comes together you get a great plant because you did it all when the roots were deep enough and the stem was strong enough.” – Steve Moitozo – from 10 Myths of Socialization (free audio download)


“We are not home educating because we fear the world.  We are not building an impenetrable fortress within which we will shield our children from the onslaught of the enemy.  Rather, our goal as Catholics is to nurture our children, like young plants in a nursery, so that they will stand tall for Christ.” – Kimberly Hahn – Catholic Education: Homeward Bound

There.  Venting done.  For now. ;)

I am simply unsure of where to go from here.  I pray for the strength to trust that all things will work out for the best, despite the possible heartache of.going against my convictions… it’s a tough place to be for this mama.


Monday, June 4, 2012

Catching Up… a rambling post that you should probably skip if you value your time

Hello there, friends. :)  I am back from my fall off the edge of the earth.

I *just* remembered that I have a blog.  And that I have a lot of unfinished projects pertaining to said blog.  And that it’s always after I prematurely announce said projects (migrating printables to new site, opening Etsy store, upcoming blog posts, etc.) that life takes over and everything is left half done.  Sigh.

Will I ever learn?!

I have not forgotten that I am pregnant, although I may be in denial about how much energy it takes to grow a baby and how having a body twice its normal size can considerably slow a person down.  And I may have forgotten once or twice that I have a husband and son.  Apparently pregnant me is not all that big on reality… preferring instead to escape into a good book or barring that, escape by being just grumpy enough to scare everyone away for a while.

I have been about as stellar of a wife and mother these past few months as I have been a blogger.  

mother's day - kissing baby (M kissing Baby – my view from above… this happens all the time, proving that M is much, much sweeter than his mama, and that I do not deserve such a blessing.  I love that boy.)


The first 4 to 5 months I was miserable and somewhat depressed – for a variety of reasons:

  • Going cold turkey off of all caffeine
  • Going off my tiny little sleep helper (and mild anti-depressant), also cold turkey
  • Hence, not sleeping!  (A big one for me, just look at my blog title.)
  • All day “morning” sickness and fatigue
  • Lack of activity because we weren’t sure how much I should be doing (I was on some sort of bedrest my entire pregnancy with M… and strict bedrest – no sitting up, lying on left side all day – the final 3 months)
  • The messy house that resulted
  • The lack of social interaction that resulted
  • Beating myself up for not being totally joyful despite all the above circumstances – what kind of mama am I if I’m not happily sacrificing anything and everything for a new baby?  (Now this is NOT at all what I would say to someone else in the same situation – sacrifice is sacrifice and not pleasant by definition – but this is what I said to myself… because I am crazy that way.)

I was given the okay to do more about a month ago (we are currently at 29 weeks), and things have brightened up since then.  We did take a trip to Missouri to visit my family prior to that (in which I did nothing except sit on my mom’s couch and eat home-cooked food), and since being given the okay to do more I’ve felt better.  But I can’t do all I want to – I get tired!  I’m huge and I move much, much more slowly!  I’m temperamental and emotional and you’d be surprised at how much time goes by during a good crying session, or how much time the endless apologizing takes up!  My feet swell up in the middle of productive times and I have to go lie down and put them up instead of actually accomplishing something – curse those feet of mine! 

But, I’m back on caffeine and that makes things a little better.  No sugar, no salt, hardly any carbs (I’m borderline gestational diabetes, and have had some bouts of high blood pressure)… so you are not going to take my one cup of weak coffee away from me.  No.

Maternity clothes have been the bane of this entire pregnancy.  My tummy will tolerate no elastic.  Frankly, it complains about anything other than ultra-soft woven cotton or knit fabric.  So, dresses would be my friend, wouldn’t you think?  Except they are so expensive!!  And the ones from when I was pregnant with M fit my expansive middle okay, but there is no space, at all, for the girls, if you know what I mean.  Or, as M says, pointing a wiggly finger in the general direction of my chest, “those round things that have gotten so big”.  (Indeed they have, M, and thank you for noticing.  But please stop trying to cop a feel every time you stand next to me in church.) 

SO… I have been sewing up a storm, and neglecting everything else.  Snipping tight-busted-dresses into halves and making them into soft-waistbanded skirts, altering other skirts so they have soft waistbands… sewing some things from scratch, and even drafting my own patterns.  Whew.  The energy that was going to go into creating baby things for my store (and my baby) has been re-directed into a desperate attempt to clothe my growing self.

I’ve learned a lot, and have been frustrated a lot, but I have a working wardrobe and that is what matters.  A wonderful friend sent me a fancy dress and two extra skirts plus a couple of t-shirts, and I think I am set until the end of this here thing, unless we have cold weather because I have no pants that fit.  But I’m not thinking about that. 

Busy, busy, busy, I’ve even made two pairs of dress pants for M, which he decided to outgrow within 2 weeks, thankyouverymuch. 

Wanna see some of what I’ve been up to?  Of course you do!

collage-001 Starting at the top, going to left to right:

  • cotton dress, fully lined, made from a maternity pattern which had to be altered 10 times in order to not look like a tent.  However, I LOVE how it turned out.
  • quick dress I made from a t-shirt and cotton fabric – no pattern, just wrapped that fabric around my waist and gathered it to the t-shirt – love this one too!
  • no pattern skirt made from soft, soft microfiber fabric with a knit waistband – sooooo comfy
  • another comfy skirt made from a dress I cut in half, with another comfy waistband.
  • skirt from my friend that I altered to have yet another knit waistband (can’t see it in the pic, but it’s a wonderful long, soft, slinky skirt.
  • shirt from a pattern that I altered to have a gathered neckline – so cute and simple, and LONG enough to cover my tummy; why are maternity shirts never long enough??
  • another long shirt made from the same pattern as the pink dress
  • an attempt at capris – fully lined – from a pattern I drafted myself using measurements.  They are far from perfect.  Pants are a hard thing to get just right.
  • shorts sewn from another pattern I drafted myself – love them.  Flat-front waistband with elastic in back, I wear these every day.  They really need to be washed.
  • A little nightshirt for M from the softest knit cotton ever.  Also drafted this pattern myself – with raglan sleeves, which were super easy.
  • Current project – more shorts for myself
  • Next project – maybe a dress, maybe another top
  • brown dress pants for M
  • black dress pants for M

And all of that within about 3 weeks.  Are you impressed?  :)

Hope you are having a wonderful spring/ beginning of summer!

Have a beautiful day!
Nicole :)


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