Monday, December 17

Time for School

In January, we are going to begin some more formal schooling. Something more on the lines of a preschool style although still all very loose and unschooly. I decided to do this. One I need a plan or I flounder when Froggy comes looking for something to do. Froggy is clearly ready for more learning than we have been offering. Second Froggy is no longer reliably napping and we need something to do quiet in the house while the little girl I babysit for naps.

So here is our plan.

We are going to have a theme each week and do activities based on that theme. Our themes for January are Snow, Tu B'Shevat and Hands. We are also starting with a Nature Club which will meet once a month. I am still waffling on what do for Reading. We will probably use a combination approach mixing this and this and this.

I am setting up a learning corner in our playroom. I have been wanting a reading corner by the fireplace for some time now so we are moving some stuff around to get achieve all the goals. There will be a beanbag by the fireplace with a basket for books and on the wall next to it will be our learning poster and clipboard.
I made a monthly planning calendar which will go on our clipboard as well as our more detailed weekly plan and daily todo list - assuming I am ever that organized

It is such a nice plan. I wonder how it will survive the trenches.

Sunday, December 16

Book Review - Hanukkah

Hanukkah is over. I have packed up the menorahs and many of our decorations (though not all). I have photos to capture some of the memories and gifts to remind me of others. But much of the learning and sharing that has gone on has revolved around books so here is a book review to help keep those memories.

Chanukkah in Chlem - A silly picture book that Froggy enjoyed. While it does not tell the Hanukkah story it does talk about lights and miracles and oil. I found its character portrayal insulting not funny.

Grandma's Latkes - A modern story in which a young girl learns the meaning of Hanukkah with her grandmother. It is a longer, older story that we had to skip though for lack of attention. It is a good story that weaves culture and family in with the telling of the Hanukkah story. A big thumbs up for this one.

Sammy Spider's First Hanukkah - too dumb for even Froggy to enjoy

The Story of Hanukkah by Amy Eirlich - This is a beautiful but involved telling of the Hanukkah story for a mature audience. It is violent and graphic. The artwork is lovely but again violent. We will revisit this book in a few years probably when Froggy is 7 or 8.

Saturday, December 15


Sequencing -the ability to read a story and then place the events from the story in proper order.

According to educators this is a skill which requires much focus and active instruction time. Why I ask? Is this such a difficult concept for children to understand? I cannot believe that. Children easily learn that underpants need to go on before pants and socks need to go on before shoes. They understand things happen in order. Listen to the stories they tell and you will see that when the story is important to them they put things in order. The key is when it is interesting to them. I think the reason student in school have trouble is two-fold. First the story is presented quickly and only one time. Second the story is not captivating.

I might be mistaken and this concept may be more difficult that I realize for students. I have not yet tested my theories. I would love to hear from people who have experienced teaching this to their children.

Friday, December 7

Building a Library

We are enormous fans of our local library. It is reasonably close, has an extensive selection of boardbooks and picture books. They have regular programs like story hour as well as special programs at least once a month. We attend story hour each week and come home with lots of books. Froggy knows the all 3 branches of the local library and where to find her books within them.

All of this is a prelude to saying that while libraries are great and people should use them, I am realizing they are not enough. We are starting to purposefully build a educational library for Froggy. A couple of months ago someone offered me a complete set of Junior Science encyclopedia which I snapped up even though Froggy won't even be interested in looking at them for several years. And now we just placed a large holiday order on Amazon of books which either the library does not have or we felt are important that we need to own. We didn't get all we want. We started a list of books to acquire as we can.

Here are some of the ones we ordered as well as those that are top of our list. You may notice a theme of religion and the holidays, mostly because these are the ones not available at the library.
  1. Grampa and Me on Tu B'Shevat
  2. The Littlest Tree
  3. A Seder for Tu B Shevat
  4. Thank You, God!: A Jewish Child's Book of Prayers
  5. The Perfect Prayer
  6. Parenting as a Spiritual Journey

Thursday, December 6

Homemade Hanukkah

As a new family (Froggy is still considered new to the family) we are still working on our traditions. One tradition for Hanukkah that came from my family and is not likely to change is that each person receives a present every night. I want to keep this tradition without turning Hanukkah into a bevy of consumerism. So I have decided that atleast one gift each person receives will be handmade and we started that with my husband on the first night.

Every person in the house has their own menorah. This is a tradition from when I was a girl. I have a special pooh bear one and last year my mother got a special musician one for Froggy for her first Hanukkah. My husband has never had a special one, just the generic one that was mine from when I moved away from home. This year Froggy and I made him one out of Fimo. It was lots of fun to do a craft together and now we all have menorahs with meaning. I will try to post a picture of it once we get it off the camera. Despite him walking in while we were working on it we managed to surprise him which is very unusual. I think he really liked it. Candle lighting was kind of funny this year since both he and I got new menorahs as our presents for the night. Since the rule is candle lighting comes before any other Hanukkah activities, we lit generic menorahs and then moved the candles into our new menorahs after opening presents.

Froggy got to light her menorah as well. I lit the shamash for her and then held her hand while she lit the candle for the night just like my mom did for us when we were very little. One of the signs of growing up was being allowed to hold the shamash by yourself and then eventually being allowed to light it yourself.

Tonight we will introduce Froggy to latkes

Wednesday, December 5


It is beautiful out. When we left to go to storytime this morning, it was already snowing but not enough to be noticable. When we came out of the library, it was snowing fully and the snow was sticking on the greenery and cars. Froggy stopped just outside the door in total awe at this new stuff. I explained snow and we explored. She walked on the grass and left foot prints. We made snowballs and caught snowflakes on our sleeves. It was so joyful and carefree to be able to just take that time and enjoy her real introduction to snow (last year doesn't count cause she was too little to understand) even though we really were not dressed for it. The only regret is that since it was spontaneous we did not get pictures.

Saturday, December 1

Developmental Learning Factors

Developmental learning factors help show the steps that each child goes through as they develop. Each stage or path takes different amounts of time for each child. However, the fact that the steps are sequential helps determine the needs and challenges for each child. Ideally teachers will provide instruction in the "challenge" region for each child. Vygotsky calls this region the "zone of proximal development. It is the level of at which the best learning occurs.

In the early elementary grades that challenge region can vary immensely within a classroom. An adept teacher may be able to challenge the upper level and mid level students. But due to the outside pressures of the SOL and other standardized tests, they are often forced to present material above the challenge level and faster than the lower students can absorb. If a student has not yet reached a certain developmental level, they cannot master material that requires that skill. They must be allowed to work at and master the concepts appropriate for their developmental level to be successful. This is most important in the early elementary years when students are not only learning cognitive skills but also learning about schooling and how school works. The outside forces which push teachers and students on an external arbitrary timeframe create negative stress and build in many children an unnecessary dislike for school and a sense of failure in themselves.

Sunday, November 25

Thanksgiving Traditions

Froggy just turned two and this is our first Thanksgiving in our own house. My in-laws joined us for the holiday. That being the case traditions have been a tremendous focus of my thoughts and conversations for the past week. I need to meld two families worth of very contraditory traditions as well as try to create some special traditions for my daughter.

In my family, most of the traditions revolve around food and it is the woman's job (for good or bad) to make that food. I love our family traditions but I don't want my daughter to feel bound to the kitchen as the only way to special memories. But Thanksgiving and many other holidays are not the same without the traditional foods. And I love to make those traditional foods and teach my daughter to make those traditional foods. But while teaching her to cook, I try desperately to teach her that I cook because I love to cook not because it is a woman's job to cook.

As well, it is important to me that every holiday has traditions that do not involve food. This year we added a Thankful Tree to our holiday. It brings a bit of nature indoors and focus our attention on the meaning of the holiday. Each guest added one or more leaves to the tree showing what they are thankful for. Here is a picture of our leafy tree.

Friday, November 16

Phonics vs Whole Language

As an educator and a compulsive planner, I started investigating reading-readiness programs while Froggy was still a tadpole. There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to use a phonics program. The only question was which one. I looked at many many different programs over months and months before picking one, all before she turned one. Since it was clearly not needed for a long time, it got shelved and forgotten. Meanwhile as suggested, we purchased and played with letter puzzles and magnetic letters and an amazing toy, Fridge Phonics, which quickly became a favorite.

So time passed and Froggy turned 2. She knows her letters and the sound they make. She suddenly and unexpectedly (to me at least) starts filling in the words when I am slow completing a page in the book we are reading. So periodically, with some larger print books, I start pointing at the words as I read and deliberately pausing for her to "read" certain words.

She desperately wants to read and just because I have not explained thoroughly how phonics works and how the sounds go together does not mean she is going to wait. I did not intend to use a whole language approach or teach "sight" words (other than her name) but Froggy had other ideas and we will be using a combination of approaches.

I guess this is really what they mean by child-led learning.

Wednesday, November 14

Carnival of Homeschooling

The Carnival of Homeschooling I am Thankful edition is now up at Nerd Family. It is a nice preamble to the upcoming holiday. I enjoyed all the different things we are thankful for.

Tuesday, November 13

Learning Styles

I got an uncomfortable yet educational lesson in Learning Styles today.

When I was a classroom teacher, I tried to follow the prevailing wisdom of providing the students with several different types of assignments during each class period so that no single activity took more than about 10-15 minutes. I was horrible at it. Yet the students seemed to enjoy those classes more. So I kept trying. I would always come out of those days feeling horribly horribly frazzled. I thought it was because I was not sufficiently organized.

Today, as a student, I experienced the other side of the coin. In my class this evening, the professor moved from activity to activity switching between lecture, small group discussion, whole group discussion, and individual work. By the end of class, I felt raw. I cringed every time he started to introduce a new activity. The material is easy and fascinating for me. But the short time between transitions grated my nerves creating an unpleasant learning environment. Just as I became comfortable and relaxed in the activity, it was time to be done and begin something new.

An informal poll of the students during break and after class showed that they appreciated the varied activities. One student said "I would be bored otherwise".

I believe the same learning style characteristics that made me uncomfortable in class this evening made me uncomfortable teaching in this manner and that no level of organizational improvement would ever make this style flow.

I am glad to be teaching one student where we can negotiate our own pace without external requirements or influences.

Nutrition - toddler

Many parents (I hope) know that good nutrition is important to babies. But frequently when our children become toddlers, something gets lost. A recent study showed that 2% of children under 2 eat French fries daily and 24% eat hotdogs daily (Fox, Pac, Devaney, & Jankowski, 2004). As well, most preschoolers consume soft drinks regularly. I find those results shocking. Birth to 2yrs is the time of maximum brain growth. We are supposedly a culture that prides itself on intelligence and fast paced thinking but we are crippling our children’s ability to get there. Multiple studies have shown that children who receive the right nutrition from birth to 7 scored higher in quantitative thought and expression, reading, and vocabulary 10 years later (Pollit & Gorman,1994; Pollit, Watkins & Husaini 1997) .

Our society is crippling itself with poor nutrition. We have programs to help the nutrition of our school-aged children, as lame as it is. We have programs to help the nutrition of infants and provide formula to moms who need it but cannot afford it. There is no help or education for parents when the children are toddlers or preschool. Making low-cost or free nutritional supplements and parent education available for these children has become my new political agenda. I am not by nature a political person but this issue has motivated me. I am in the process of learning how to affect change in this area.

Saturday, November 10

Children's Questions

I love books that help me answer the questions my toddler asks. She asks questions that my scientist mind wants to answer with richness and depth. And I will someday. But I know these answers are not age-appropriate and she won't understand them. So I hunt out fun books that help me explain in honest yet simplistic terms to her the answers she wants. Our latest discovery is When the Wind Stops to explain why it gets dark at night. It is a bit complicated for her sense of space but I think with repeated readings, the ideas will sink in.

Tuesday, November 6

Lets get moving

Learning starts early, earlier than most people credit. It starts with brain development. Since sensory input and moter development in the brain are heavily linked, the entire field is called Sensory-motor development.

Unbeknowst to most people, a critical component of this system is the vestibular system of the inner ear. It controls movement and balance. It also influences the other sensory systems. Most of the development and building of this system occurs from birth to 2yrs. New research among scientist show that a lack of stimulation to this system can lead to dozens of learning problems. Early motor stimulation can help provide better attention, listening skills, reading scores and writing skills.

So how do we provide stimulation? Through movement. Even simple movement such as rocking. Recent studies show that most children do not receive enough stimulation. Babies are now spending so much time in their carseats (even when not in the car) that they are not getting the stimulation they need to develop properly.

What is an answer? Babywearing! Not only does it provide the bonding time and closeness and lead to a happier baby. Now it also leads to a healthier baby who is more able to learn as a child.

Multile Intelleginces and Learning Styles

In class today, we discussed Multiple Intelligences and Learning Styles. According to the Multiple Intelligence indicator in So Each May Learn, I am a well rounded person who excels in both interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences. This comes as no surprise since I have always been described as a people person and I am very comfortable with myself and others.

Silver describes Multiple Intelligences as the what of learning and the learning styles as the how of learning. If I am following what this is saying is multiple intelligences indicates the way our brain works like a more detailed IQ while learning styles indicates study techniques and how to process material. Using that description, I can see where knowing the learning styles of your students and helping them understand their learning styles is important. According to text, I am a sensing-feeling learner. This makes perfect sense especially when compared with the MI results. I wonder if such a correlation exists for most learners.

How do teachers use this information on learning styles? One option is to make sure that each topic is addressed in multiple manners to reach as many learning styles as possible. Another option is to give students choices of activities or assessment techniques so that they can choose one that meets their learning style. Should teachers force or encourage students to work in learning styles in which they are not strong or comfortable? While using intelligences besides the dominant one encourages growth and better proficient like a skill, there in no evidence that using an uncomfortable learning style benefits a student. This would argue that a teacher/school should present material that requires the student to engage in all of the various intelligences but that assessments and assignments should be offered as options so that the student can choose a learning style that is comfortable.

No class room teacher or public school is ever going to be capable of doing that. They may be able to address the different intelligences (although even that is getting lost in budget cuts and the deluge of information required to be presented) but most classroom teachers don't have the time or resources to allow students to choose their own assignments or assessment often let alone consistently.

As a homeschooler, I can. I can provide the interdisciplinary tie ins that engage the less used intelligences. I can provide field trips and presentation techniques that focus on different intelligences in alternation. And I can structure the assessments to my child's particular learning style

Wednesday, October 31

Today's Lesson - Mi She Berach

This morning during breakfast, we learned that my husband's sister, who is already on super high level chemo, found another lump. Not good news. Froggy was sitting in my lap when I got news and felt my concern. So I took the opportunity to teach Froggy a new prayer - Mi She Berach. She knows her daily prayers - Motzi for meals and Shema at bedtime. I explained to her that Aunt L has a big booboo too big to kiss and make better so we need to ask G-d to help her feel better. And the way we ask G-d for things is through prayer and there is a special prayer called Mi She Berach that we use when we want G-d to help someone feel better. Then we prayed and sang the Debbie Friedman song. Later while swinging at the park, she asked to say MiSheBerach again so "G-d make Auntie L feel better".

Tuesday, October 30

Making Learning Meaningful

Using the learning is what makes it stick for me. I need to see it in action. It needs to be relevant to my life and real. I am teaching my daughter. The lessons I learn teaching her are some of the most powerful lessons. Lessons I learn by way of personal problems stick more quickly than lessons learned from a teacher or from others. If I need to learn something to be able to do what I want to do then the learning will stick.

For example - I learned to properly build a fire on a camping trip when my partner forced the issue. I had previously coasted through trainings, through demos, and teaching girls with basic skills and shadowy knowledge. Out in the field I would let me program aides build the fire because they were "faster". On this trip there was no one else willing to do it. It was me or freeze. I am now competent if not fast.

Tuesday, October 9

My Research Question

In my class we are preparing to do an action research study which means investigate in depth on aspect of our teaching.

My research question is roughly what is the most effective method to help a non-reader "break the code" to become a fluent reader. Is one phonics system better than another? There is one system that does not teach letter names but instead has 40 "symbols" which are letters or letter combinations which supposedly represent the 40 different phonemes of the English language. Is this method better than other phonics system? Where can I find some research to guide me? All I seem to be able to find is by the author or proponent of the system and thus biased.

A second part to question is when you are teaching phonics how can you tell if you are properly pronoucing the different phonemes or help a student who does not seem to be hearing the difference between two similar phonemes?

Tuesday, October 2

Assumptions and Beliefs

According to Lynn Fendler, a major criticism of reflection is "the degree to which [it] serves to reinforce existing beliefs rather than challenge assumptions." One way to avoid this is to make a list of the assumptions and beliefs prior to reflecting so that they are front and center.

Here are some of my assumptions and beliefs

I believe that all children are born with a desire to learn.

I believe that most children lose this desire to learn through poor or regimented instruction

Children learn what they live

Learning must be active

The mind can only learn if the body is cared for.

Potential is a product of belief

Tuesday, September 25

Reflective teaching

In class, they keep drilling on how important it is to try to see the experience through the eyes of your student. For me this is easy. I can always tell where my teaching hit home and where it missed by what my daughter says back to me. It may take several days but it all comes out eventually. Sometimes it shows very clearly the topics we need to revisit while others it gives proof to the lesson learned. Our big miss of late "Mommy has booboo in big girl panties"


Most people feel that a little one's babbling is meaningless. It is not. It is their way of processing a new and interesting world. If one takes the time to listen to a child's solitary babble without commenting or interferring, one can learn much about how the child views the world, what importance he places on the events in his life, his hopes and expectations. None of this is to say that one should not talk to and with children but also give them time to themselves and listen quietly from the outside.

Wednesday, September 19

Moods and learning.

"How much people can learn at any given moment depends on how they feel at that moment about the task and their ability to do the task. When we feel powerful and competent, we leap at difficult task. The difficulty does not discourage us; we think 'Sooner or later I am going to get this' At other times we only think,"I will never get this, its too hard for me, I was never any good at this kind of thing, why do I have to do it," etc. Part of the art of teaching is being able to sense which of these moods the learners are in." [emphasis added] Holt,50

A public school teacher may be able to sense the mood of her learners but ehr ability to react to that is fairly limited and more limited is her ability to react when there are several different moods. Homeschooling makes this easy. As a parent, we are more aware and attentive to our children's every mood. As well we are more in touch with what is likely to affect that mood. Lastly we are not under the constraints of SOL and someone else's timetable. If the child is stuck with a subject we can change and do something differently or put down school altogether and take a field trip. When the child understands this freedom, he does not feel as pressured and is able to find the competent mood more easily

Wednesday, September 12

Works For Me Wednesday - The Learning Tower

We don't normally buy big expensive toys for Froggy and I justify this by considering it a piece of furniture. My passion is cooking and since Froggy was born I have been waiting to be able to share it with her. Now we can. She can reach the counter, see in to the bowl, stir with me and even help me crack eggs. Technically it is an early birthday present for her but we could not wait to start using. She is not even 2 yet and we really cook together on an almost daily basis. We purchased the additional play components for it and maybe one day we will take them out of the box but for now we are having too much fun being eye to eye

For more Works for Me Wednesday ideas visit Rocks in my Dryer.

Thursday, May 31

Critical Reflection

In his book Becoming a Critical Reflective Teacher Stephen Brookfield discusses what it means to be critically reflective as a teacher. He defines reflection as hunting down and examining the assumptions we have. This is a definition that makes sense and provides a concrete model to follow. His examples though seem extreme and unrealistic. He sets up a serious of "common sense" examples that he then disproves. For instance, "It's common sense that teaching is essentially mysterious, so if we try to dissect it or understand its essence, we will kill it." Does anyone really believe that let alone think it is "common sense"?

Obviously not all reflection is critical, so what makes reflection critical? According to Brookfield, two things. First is to "understand how consideration of power undergrid, frame and distort" the processes and interactions. The second component is to "question assumption and practices that seem to make our teaching lives easier but actually work against our own best long term interest."

Brookfield refers to our classrooms as "contested spaces" and discuss all the power struggles that occur in all classrooms whether they are acknowledge or not. These power struggles are a huge part of the reason we chose to homeschool. These power struggles are not only between student and teacher but among the students. It is a battle with assumptions and social norms. My first teaching assignment was in a very homogeneous school system where maybe 2% of the population was not "redneck". This is the system where I listened to one of my students (an 8th grader) tell me that there were no Jews in Virginia so telling jokes about them wasn't offensive. I knew I could not allow a child of mine to go to school system that bred such close-minded opinions.

One good point that Brookfield makes is "critically reflective teachers will make sure that they find some way of regularly seeing what they do through their students eyes." I think in some ways this is easier for us as homeschoolers and in other ways harder. As parents we know and understand our children better than a public school teacher could ever hope to so getting their perspective is easier. At the same time that closeness also makes it much much easier to "assume" we know how they see things. We need to not assume but ask.

Brookfield repeatedly instructs teachers to get inside the heads of their students as a check on how the methods are working . Sure! Great! That is an important and wonderful idea but it is not likely to happen for a public school teacher. That requires a build of trust and understanding that takes more time than a teacher with a 120 students has in 9mths. This is yet another reason to homeschool.

Apparently, critical reflection is also the"recognition of hegemonic assumptions." Hegemonic assumptions are those that seem "natural, preordained and working for their own good" but which are really bad and serve a "powerful minority interest." I certainly would want to analyze and identify these assumptions. Unfortunately, no indication is made as to how to identify these and distinguish them from ideas which are indeed natural and working well.

One of the reasons many parents homeschool is that, unlike a classroom teacher, they can cater to their child's preferred learning style and help them learn. Brookfield condemns such practices stating that "letting people stick with what comes easily to them is a form of cognitive imprisonment." The truth lies somewhere in the middle. We must challenge our children and help them stretch their minds but we should also present information to them in a way that makes sense for them.

"Critically reflective teachers ... know methods and practices imported from the outside rarely fit snugly into the contours of their classrooms." It is the rare experienced homeschooling parent that has not modified a store-bought curriculum or pulled together several different philosophies to create a personal plan for the year. It appears that more homeschooling parents are critically reflective than classroom teachers. Which came first? Do we choose to homeschool because we are critical reflective people by nature and this shows us the importance or does homeschooling lead one to be critically reflective out of necessity? I believe it is the former and this may be an interesting problem to research.

Brookfield criticizes what he calls "the 'meeting needs' rationale" Used in a public school setting it can be a justification for lowering standards or set up an impossible standard. Yet it is important and a common motivation for homeschooling. The parent with unlimited time and more varied resources can meet the different needs of their children, however many that may be. For the homeschooling parent "meeting needs" is not an impossible standard but a daily fact of life.

In closing this particular section, Brookfield lists several reasons why critical reflection is important. My reaction upon reading them was "Duh!" His wording is different than how I might say it but to me these are all obvious. I think again that is because we are already critical reflective thinkers.
  1. It helps us to take informed action
  2. It helps us develop a rationale for practice
  3. It helps us avoid self-laceration
  4. It grounds us emotionally
  5. It enlivens our classroom
  6. It increases trust

Wednesday, May 30

Assimilation and Accomodation

Why does a toddler call all four legged animals dogs? Assimilation. Understanding the process of assimilation and accommodation as described by Piaget was like a light bulb going off for me. Suddenly I understood what was happening in the Froggy's head. As an educator, we are repeatedly told that we need to "link to prior knowledge" so that whatever we are teaching makes sense to the student. Why is that important? Accommodation.

Back to our example of the toddler just learning the world. Toddler repeated comes in contact with furry four legged beast which is given the label "Dog" Through the part of language development / learning designated assimilation, the toddler is able to make the a connection between the label and the item presented. The toddler then uses that label for anything else that meets that general description. It takes accommodation to allow the child to see that a cat is different than a dog or a horse is different than a cow or that not all women are momma. Accommodation is much harder as they need to learn what the distinctions are while still making the connections.

Eventually as we grow, more of our learning becomes accommodation style and assimilation falls by the wayside. We "link to prior knowledge" and understand.

Tuesday, May 29

Guided Reflection Protocol

What implications does the GRP have for your practice and your continuing development as reflective educators?

A step by step protocol for reflection is extremely helpful. A concrete guideline is useful for linear thinkers. The group dynamic makes the process tricky for me. Many of the problems I encounter and reflective moments are not times I am looking for external analysis. For those times when one wants or needs external analysis, the protocol is an effective method of ensuring that an action plan is created and that the reflection leads somewhere rather than being an opportunity to vent. It is not clear how the step 4 of Part One (What are the implications for my practice) is supposed to differ from Part Two (Possible Future Action).

Although the protocol is designed to be used in a group setting, it is possible to use it as a solitary individual and accomplish the same objective. It offers a framework and a guideline which can be useful. Instead of getting lost in the problem and spinning in circles , the framework provides a mechanism to document the problem and move forward.

The key to reflection is to make it useful. The possible future action section of the protocol ensures that a dedicated user of the protocol, be it group or individual makes the reflection useful.


This will be the new home for a journal I am required to keep for the class I am taking. I chose to place it here because I feel it melds nicely with the original purpose of the journal which is our journey in homeschooling and the class journal is a reflection on teaching styles and methods and what learning about those. All the new journal entries will have the tag of journal.

Unexpected Lessons

I suddenly find myself needing to teach a lesson I am not prepared to teach. I need to explain death to my toddler. Our 8 year old puppy has been in the hospital since Thursday. Froggy does not even understand where she is currently. How can she possible understand that she is never coming home. Simple answer she can't. Still I need to try. She needs this opportunity to form a basis. I can not damage the trust we built in our relationship by lying to her. Children learn by building associations and each exposure lets them make connections to prior learning. She has no prior learning to connect this to so it won't make sense but it will give her something to build on the next time there is a parting of any kind in her life.

Tonight, we will go to visit Tatiana to say goodbye. Froggy will come in and visit then her Daddy will take her out and I will stay with Tatiana while she goes to sleep. When I come out I will need to explain to Froggy why Mommy is so sad. Froggy understands emotions and these emotions and seeing the emotions of loss may let her make those connections that provide understanding and learning.

Wish me luck

Monday, February 5

Works For Me Wednesday - Playdough

Today we made playdough. I much prefer the homemade playdough rather than store bought for a variety reasons.

  1. I know what goes into it. Just like the food Froggy eats, I like to choose the least processed ingredients as possible to avoid preservatives and chemicals even if they are supposedly non-toxic.
  2. It is much less expensive.
  3. It is better for the environment because there is less packaging
  4. And lastly it just feels nicer to me, a smoother more pleasant texture.

I have tried several different recipes, both cooked and uncooked. The recipe I like best for durability and texture is the following simple cooked recipe.

3 cups flour
3 cups water
1.5 cups salt
3 tbs oil
6 tsp cream of tarter

Pour all ingredients into a medium saucepan. Stir constantly over medium heat until mixture pulls away from the sides to form a ball. Turn out onto wax paper. Knead for 2-3 minutes until mixture is smooth. Store in an airtight container.

For more Works for Me Wednesday ideas visit Rocks in my Dryer.

Sunday, February 4

Toddler Games

Ahh the joys of finally having a toddler. We discovered a new game. Last night Froggy walked back and forth between Mommy and Daddy. With admiring parents across the room from each other, Froggy wanted nothing more than to walk. The game was hers. She chose it and continued it several times when we thought it was over. The confidence is coming. The parents job - stand her back up after each fall and hold her long enough for her to get her balance. We laughed and laughed and laughed.

Birthday Bests

I am not uber-crunchy but I still cannot abide waste. As the Not Quite Crunchy Parent noted earlier this week, it is birthday season again. In our playgroup, we are mostly first time parents of infants and toddlers still building our birthday traditions. The one tradition I knew I wanted before Froggy even became an tadpole was that the birthday cake must be Poppop's Chocolate Chip Banana cake. He would make it for me and my sisters every year growing up. The Froggy may not get to meet Poppop in person but she will learn of my love for him.

Here are some of the ideas being batted around

Take a picture of your child with each guest. Get duplicate prints when getting the film developed. Use one copy as a postcard for the thankyou card.

Request that people only bring gifts they have made - Personally not one of my favorites. While I am inclined to be craftsy I can see this scaring lots of the invitee.

Place all birthday money into a savings account for college - We are doing half of all gift money regardless of occasion.

Take a photograph of the child by the same landmark (mailbox was the suggestion) each year to see the child grow. Not having a mailbox we chose our lightpost.

Thursday, January 25

Harvest Soup

In honor of Soup Swap day, here is one of our favorite soups

Harvest Soup

2 bay leaves
6 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 leeks, whites only, washed and thinly sliced
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pound butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pear, such as Bartlett or Anjou, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch cubes (optional)
10 cups Chicken Stock
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup milk

Wrap bay leaves, fresh thyme, parsley, and black peppercorns in a piece of cheesecloth, and tie into a sachet with kitchen twine. Set aside. Heat butter and olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks and onion, and cook until soft, about 20 minutes. Add garlic, and cook 2 minutes more. Add potatoes, squash, and pear, if using. Cover, and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add sachet, chicken stock, salt, and black pepper. Bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Cook until vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes. Remove sachet, and discard. Puree with an immersion blender until smooth. Add milk. Bring soup just to a simmer over medium heat. Taste, and adjust for seasoning. Garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, January 24

Tu B'Shevat

The latest announcements from my shul reminded me that I need to hurry up and start getting ready for Tu B'Shevat. I wanted to make this Tu B’Shevat special as it will be the first we celebrate as a family. Technically its not the Froggy’s first, but the last year went by in a newborn lack-of-sleep fuzz, and so we didn’t do much for some holidays.

Tu B'Shevat is the 15th day of the Jewish month, Shevat which this year corresponds to

February 13th on the Gregorian calendar. It is the "New Year" for trees, and heralds the coming of spring for me. For many years, when I was not affiliated with a synagogue,the January influx of garden catalogues said its time for Tu B'Shevat and garden planning. Every year on Tu B'Shevat I try to plant something. Growing up in South Florida, it was easy. In Boston, it meant starting seeds indoors. This year in Virginia, with the mild winter we are having, I am debating trying to put something in the ground.

To mark how special this year is I am creating our own Tu B’Shevat seder. There are several good samples available. Most follow a pattern similar to the Pesach seder. Some focus on the numerology of the date using 15 different types of fruits/nuts whiles other focus on the seven species. We are modeling ours after this one. I chose it for its simplicity. I love the beauty and imagery of this one and may well use it or parts of it when Froggy is older and willing to sit longer. We also like this one because of the actions it includes.

Here is my prep list:

  • Obtain 15 different types of fruits and nuts - five from each of the following three categories. I chose the specific 5 I did with a mind towards what my family would eat, what was available locally and the seven species.
    • 1) fruits or nuts with an inedible outer shell and an edible inner core: pineapple, coconut, banana, kiwi and pomegranate.
    • 2) fruits with edible outer flesh and pithy, inedible cores: olive, date, peach, apricot and persimmon.
    • 3) fruits which are edible throughout. Here no protective shells, neither internal nor external are needed. The symbolic fruits should be eaten entirely and include: strawberry, grape, fig, raspberry and blueberry.
  • Obtain red and white wine
  • Plant a tree in Israel in Froggy’s honor
  • Obtain seed starting materials to plant with Froggy on before the seder
  • Obtain and learn classic Tu b'Shevat song, "Atzei zeitimomdim"

I also want to share two of my favorite child-friendly TuB’Shevat links Babaja News and Torah Tots.

A Toddler

Froggy is now officially a toddler. She is walking on her own. She started walking Monday evening. She is not really brave enough to walk on her own but if I stand her up and only take my hands away once she has her balance she will walk towards me. She walked approximately 10 steps as I kept backing up. She even took 3 steps from the table to the chair all on her own without prompting. Now I just need to help her gain more confidence.

Homemaking Meme

I saw this at Lindsey's this morning, and had to jump in!

Aprons – Y/N?

Yes – I own one but I never remember to wear

Baking – Favorite thing to bake:

Cookies – all different kinds. I love to experiment.

Clothesline – Y/N?

No, I miss having one since we left the farm. It is great for airing blankets and drying quilts.

Donuts – Have you ever made them?

No. My mother-in-law made some here during her last visit and left the recipe but I haven’t been brave enough to try them yet.

Every day – One homemaking thing you do every day:


Freezer – Do you have a separate deep freeze?

Yes. It is great for freezing fresh summer produce for access during the winter months. It was critical for holding all the suppers I made up during the end of my pregnancy that we lived off for many weeks when Froggy first came home.

Garbage Disposal – Y/N?

Yes – thank goodness.

Handbook – What is your favorite homemaking resource?

Ironing – Love it or hate it?

I hate it! I only do the absolute minimum I must.

Junk drawer – Y/N? Where is it?

Nope. Junk is everywhere.

Kitchen: Design & Decorating?

I wish. It is what it is. Small and less than ideal for one who loves to cook as much as I do.

Love: What is your favorite part of homemaking?

Being able to see Froggy grow everyday all day long. Knowing that she is getting the best start in life possible.

Mop - Y/N?

No – floors get cleaned on hands and knees the way my mother did. I tried a mop and the floor never seemed clean to me.

Nylons - Wash by hand or in the washing machine?

Washing machine. I don’t wear anything that can’t go in the machine.

Oven - Do you use the window, or open the door to check?

Open the door. I can’t tell anything through the window.

Pizza - What do you put on yours?

Crab and fresh mozzarella and homemade sauce. If it were only me, I would add mushrooms or spinach or some other veggie.

Quiet - What do you do during the day when you get a quiet moment?

Blog, do schoolwork, eat lunch.

Recipe card box - Y/N?

No! Most of my recipes are either in cookbooks or on the computer.

Style of house -

Split-level Which means you enter into the stairwell. The bedrooms and formal living room are upstairs. Downstairs is the kitchen, dining room and family room. It was built in the 1970's and is part of a quiet neighborhood of similarly styled homes.

Tablecloths and napkins - Y/N?

For Shabbat, holidays and when there is company.

Under the kitchen sink - Organized or toxic wasteland?

Pretty much organized. We cleaned out all the toxic chemicals as part of babyproofing.

Vacuum - How many times per week?

Only about once a week. The only room with carpet is the family room. I sweep or wipe down the hardwood more often.

Wash - How many loads of laundry do you do a week?

A LOT! We do diapers alone about 3 times a week.

X's - Do you keep a daily list of things to do and cross them off?

No. On a work weekend I will make a to-do list and I make grocery lists or errand lists

Yard - Who does what?

We are still working on this one. I do weeding and planting and trimming the bushes. Mowing and filling the bird feeders is mostly Dad’s job.

Zzz's - What is your last homemaking task for the day before going to bed?

Put Froggy to bed. Once she is finally asleep (usually between 10pm and midnight), the day is done and I get to relax if not fall immediately asleep myself.

WFMW Vegetables

As almost every parent has at some time, I have been having a real hard time getting veggies into The Froggy. Hence this weeks WFMW. Carrot Pancakes. The froggy loves them and it gets veggies into a child who would not otherwise get them. Here is the recipe:

2 cups pancake mix
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp clove
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 cup shredded carrot

In a bowl combine the pancake mix, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. In another bowl, beat eggs and milk. Pour into the dry ingredients. Stir just until moistened. Stir in carrots. Pour pancakes onto griddle. (I make silver dollar size pancakes) Turn when bubbles form on top. Cook until second side is golden.

Look for other WFMW tips this week at Rocks in my Dryer .

Tuesday, January 23

January Musings

This week's Carnival of Homeschooling is up. It is January Musings. There are over 45 entries this week. So go take a look and share in the good advice.


I am writing this up because I know her doctor will ask at her 15mth checkup.

Verbal meaningful words (ie more than just parroting)
momma (frequently pronounced mamba)
baa (her word for sheep)
mmbo (gymbo)


She understands lots. She points to her nose, head and mouth if you ask her to. She will roll the ball to Lion but not me. She loves walking with her Pooh walking toy but still is not walking alone. She holds her feet out for you to put her socks or shoes on.

Saturday, January 20

How cruchy are you

I am not usually one to pass along quizzes but I thought this one was just too cute.

I scored a 92 - pretty crispy.

Tuesday, January 16

The Beginning

When does homeschooling start? Many, even some experienced homeschoolers will answer 4 or 5 years old, when the child would otherwise start public school. I disagree. It starts when the family decides to homeschool and for many that may be at birth. We are all our children's first teachers. Why should homeschoolers who are so focused on teaching their children discount these early years? Just because the child can't read or write and is not receiving formal lessons does not mean the child is not learning or that parents aren't teaching.

So let's not pretend our littlest learners haven’t started yet. Let us rejoice in their learning as much as we rejoice in the boy who finally masters fractions or the girl explorer who must identify every type of flora and fauna. And let us chose to encourage that learning deliberately.

So what are we already doing to help these fledglings prepare to take flight? First and foremost we are talking to them and reading to them. As well, any time they are watching us perform tasks or just move around they are learning from us.

Is there more? Yes. I want to share a great book I recently discovered. It offers weekly activities that help foster development and learning without being "school-like". As a first time parent, it gives me new games to play with my little one. If one week's game is not interesting we don't play it as often. If it is too simple, we may modify to make it more challenging. If it is fun and challenging, we keep playing it for weeks on end.

Another recommendation I have to share from our experience is sign language.

I hear of so many parents searching out foreign nannies and taking their toddlers to an immersion program where the toddlers learn a language the parents can't speak, everything from Spanish and French to Chinese and Finnish. Why do they say they are doing this? "It helps the brain development for the child to be bilingual." Unfortunately for them, studies have shown that a child is only truly bilingual if both languages are spoken fluently in the home. And as well if you are going to teach a second language, it would help if it were one that facilitates your child actually communicating.

Sign language has those advantages and one more. If you take the time to learn to sign yourself, you can teach the child signs not just at the same time as verbal language, but actually faster. The child learns to manipulate his or her limbs and hands before they learn all the complex tasks necessary to form words. So you can communicate with your child earlier and easier. Sometimes just a little communication can make all the difference between crying for (what seems like) forever, and a contented child.

Saturday, January 13

Calling All Jewish Homeschoolers

I know there are homeschoolers out there who are Jewish. There must be. Yet it seems all the blogs I find are Christian or Catholic. And while some of these blogs are wonderful and I read them faithfully, they do not offer the sense of community I am looking for. They cannot give a perspective on when a child is able to learn the different blessings before me or how best to teach the Sh'ma.

Please if you are a Jewish homeschooler or know of one, comment below or link to this post or let me know somehow.

Rule of Six

I was inspired by Lissa's Lilting House sidebar what she called "Our Rule of Six: Six Things to Include in Your Child's Day". I rearranged the order and added explainations for the what the rule means to us.

Six Things to Include in Your Child's Day:

prayer - We start and end our day with the Sh'ma. We are trying to add the blessings before meals as well.
imaginative play - free play, time to explore indoors and out.
meaningful work - the froggy's work is play but this is different than the imaginative play. This is guided play where we build her skills and help her grow.
good books - Both free "reading" and being read to and seeing me read for me.
beauty (art, music, nature) - Nature and music are easy for us. We are working to add more art.
ideas to ponder and discuss - I left this one in because I feel it is important. However our conversations are one-sided at this point in time. This is a reminder to me to have those conversations one-sided or not.

Friday, January 12


in·ves·ti·ture [in-ves-ti-cher, -choor] –noun - the formal bestowal, confirmation, or presentation of rank, office, or a possessory or prescriptive right, usually involving the giving of insignia or an official title.

In Girl Scout parlance, it is the ceremony by which one formally becomes a Girl Scout.

And with that we have my investiture as a blogger. My first official post.

Why become a blogger you ask? To record and share our journey in raising the froggy. To hopefully give back some of the wisdom I gain through other blogs. And to create a Jewish presence in all the Catholic and Christian homeschooling blogs.