Thursday, January 20, 2011

52in52 #2 - God is Dead

I thought this was fitting for Secular Thursday...

My library online catalog allows you to schedule holds, so I can, for example, set up a hold now to be activated in May. When I hear of a book that sounds interesting but I'm not currently lacking for reading, I utilize this function, and schedule the book to pop up as a nice surprise at some point in the future when I've totally forgotten about it.

God is Dead by Ron Currie, Jr. is one of those surprises. I read a description of it somewhere, and it sounded interesting, but I can't for the life of me remember where that was. Probably some random homeschooler's blog.

So anyways, the book magically showed up at the library last week, and, after getting hung up on two other books, I decided to give it a try. It's 180 pages, and those pages are narrow, so it seemed like it would at least be a fast read, and it was, once I managed to get past the first chapter.

The premise of the book is that God becomes a mortal (this is apparently something he does from time to time) in the form of a Sudanese woman, and is killed, leaving the world godless. Most of the book focuses on individual and societal reactions to this crisis. It's rather Vonnegutian, full of thinly veiled absurdist allegory of our current society and what people choose to worship in the absence of God.

Actually, it's about as veiled as a 2x4 in the face. But it's a reasonably well-written 2x4, and I definitely felt some level of ironic discomfort reading the chapter about parents worshipping their children while simultaneously babbling to the baby about how perfect and smart and strong and wonderful she is (because, of course, such traits are totally apparent in a 3 month old).

A featured teenager observes, about clamming, "It was something he'd enjoyed, being united in purpose with his mother, being useful as something more than an object of adoration, carrying the great buckets of clams home by himself, with both hands." This seems a valuable observation.

I rather doubt I would have gotten past the first chapter, which has a very cynical tone, if it hadn't been for 52in52 and the obligation/motivation to finish something. But the book takes different voices from chapter to chapter, and, while the book overall takes a cynical viewpoint, it was varied enough that I got through it despite that.

So, overall, it had some worthwhile, though not particularly original or subtle, observations. I don't feel my time was wasted in reading it, though I doubt I'll be running out to recommend it to others, either.

Edit: Ironically, God Is Dead was stolen on the way back to the library.

I finished Five Children and It with the children. LemurBoy enjoyed it, anyways. LemurGirl always fell asleep. I enjoyed it, too - I never read it as a child, and somehow it always surprises me a little when old children's books are actually readable and interesting, but there were parts where I was laughing so hard that I had a hard time reading. It reminded me of an Edward Eager book, and I wouldn't be surprised at all to find that he was inspired by Nesbit.

LB also loved The Boxcar Children, which we did end up reading next. I didn't realize before starting that it's written in incredibly simple language, though that makes sense, since I remember reading it in first grade or so, and it was one of my first chapter books. I think we're going to try reading the second one together, taking turns.

We also finished The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook, another that I never read as a child. This was a "girly book" to read with LG. Somehow, despite being more into the whole reading thing than LB was, she has a lot less interest in listening to read-alouds, and has a tendency to fall asleep during our bedtime books (which is kind of the point actually, as that eliminates conflict over what music to listen to afterwards). So, I've been choosing "girly books" for her, and it's working. She refused to fall asleep while I read Milly-Molly-Mandy.

That said, though LB rolled his eyes when I started reading it at bedtime when we didn't have another option immediately on hand after finishing The Boxcar Children, he complained when I finished it that he'd missed some of the stories. I told him he'd be able to read it on his own very soon.

We FIAR'd it up by baking apple turnovers (complete with obligatory fraction lesson by measuring cup - LB is now figuring out addition of mixed fractions in his head) and making paper dolls. The kids now want apple turnovers tonight, too.

Now we're reading Otto of the Silver Hand for our bedtime Put-LG-To-Sleep story, which I decided on after reading someone else's 52in52 review of it. It's on the Ambleside Online free reading list for second grade, but we probably would have skipped it if not for seeing the review and realizing that it's set in the middle ages and fits right in with our history (our readings about knights and castles seem to be stretching out dramatically). He seems to be enjoying it, though he was relieved to hear that the next chapter FINALLY involves an actual kid. And it puts LG to sleep quite nicely.

Arithmetic Village

Let me start this by saying I rarely get into this whole giveaway thing. I don't like turning my blog/twitter/facebook into an ad for something that I'm probably not actually going to win, anyways.

(I will, however, happily submit pictures of my babies dressed in pink leopard print, even if the prize is nothing particularly exciting.)

But the books from Arithmetic Village strike me as totally adorable, and a good fit for LG, who prefers to wear her "butterfly fairy" wings all day. And I suspect LB would like them too, though he might not admit it. And I'm a bit of a curriculum junkie. So I'll enter. And you, my utter millions of followers, can enter too, at Secular Homeschooling.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Thoughts of the week

LemurBoy caught on to reading in a bigger way the other night. I'm pretty sure he jumped a grade level in the course of an hour. He started figuring words out from the context and then seeing how the letters fit together to make the word. Then he started trying different possible pronunciations if the first one he tried didn't make sense.

All things I've been trying to teach him for the past two years. Something suddenly just clicked.

He still has a ways to go before he's really an independent reader, but now I feel that there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

This happened two days after I checked out Phonics Pathways from the library, but before I actually did a lesson with him. Magic book!

I need to figure out what I'm doing about handwriting. LemurGirl is 4, and very motivated to write, but holds the pencil in her fist and forms the letters all wrong. Intervention is obviously needed before bad habits are set. The italics curriculum doesn't really seem appropriate for her (It encourages waiting until 7 or so to start, and really seems designed for older kids), and it isn't particularly working well for LemurBoy as-is, either. I like the italics, so I may try editing it into something that works better for us.

The latter two thoughts remind me of my third one. LB's sudden cognitive leaps with reading, the feeling that we're spinning our wheels and not making much progress with Math Mammoth, and the handwriting thing make me think that we need to start making our curriculums work for us, rather than the other way around.

So... LB is days away from finishing the first half of HOP level 1. However, realistically, he already knows most of the second half. He needs more exposure to the associated sight words and some of the phonemes, but there's really no reason to keep plodding through on the parts he already knows well. So I'm running him through the workbook review at the end, and checking to see where he's actually having trouble. We'll do those sections, and all the sight words and stories. Then we'll probably do the same with grade 2.

With Math Mammoth, I'm going to say that we're done with the in-depth addition/subtraction stuff, and move on to another topic, but try incorporating 5 minute speed drills to get the facts down a bit more. I like that it teaches different sorts of mathematical thinking, but I have a feeling it's confusing and boring him, which is causing us to get hung up.

With italics, I'm going to cut and paste (perhaps literally, with scissors and glue) a letter formation guide, print out a copy of the alphabet, and have them go over that for a few days, then move on to the copywork, rather than keep going with the individual lessons. LB tends to get hung up on details and forget what he's doing when I try to do CM-style "quality over quantity" lessons, so I think I'm going to drop that idea.

LG says, while I was preparing dinner:

]00=7ou'u,kklk aa

Things I want to buy:

* Pencil grips
* 3-hole punch
* Math Mammoth 1-6
* SOTW 3
* Laser printer

Printer probably isn't happening any time soon, unless we happen to find one used. The rest will. But I REALLY want a printer I can print stuff on with less concern about cost per page, especially with the Math Mammoth stuff.

One of my friends back in our old town is thinking about homeschooling her boy, who is right around LG's age. Darn the timing. I referred her to my old homeschooling group, as she was afraid that all the local homeschoolers were Christians who taught Creationism. Far from it, thankfully.

Book reviews ain't happening this week. I have three books started. One I like, but it isn't the type to rush through. One is part of a series that I've read the rest of, so I feel kind of obligated to give it a shot, but I'm not really in the mood for it. The third sounded like an interesting premise, but so far isn't particularly compelling.

That's ok. Some week when I read multiple books will undoubtedly come along. These things tend to ebb and flow for me.

And I've placed a few objects of utter fluff on hold to help ensure this.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

52in52 #1 - Long May She Reign

Reviews? I have to actually write something about what I read and think things out and have an opinion and all that? Ah well, I suppose that justifies it's inclusion in a homeschool blog...

Long May She Reign by Ellen Emerson White is the fourth book in a series about Meg, the teenage daughter of the first female president of the United States. The first three books were published in the 80's, and the fourth in 2007. "Updated" versions of the other three were released around the same thing - I couldn't tell you if there were any changes beyond the inclusion of modern technology (complete with awkward references to rating all the girls on the whole Face Book).

In the third book, Long Live The Queen, the protagonist is kidnapped by terrorists, suffering serious physical and emotional damage. The fourth book further addresses her recovery, physical and emotional (White seems to enjoy writing PTSD), and her first semester away at college.

When I was discussing the book with LemurDa, he commented that it must have been rushed to press before Hillary Clinton was eliminated from the primaries, and I can't help thinking there's likely some truth to that. I think it probably could have been cut by a third (of 707 pages), and still been effective. There were some parts where I wasn't really sure what message the author was trying to get across. Is she horribly selfish for not finding out all the nitty gritty details of her dormmate's lives like Good Friends Are Supposed To? Or are they typical media-obsessed jerks who can't comprehend that a high profile person under tremendous stress and in constant severe pain might, perhaps, be a little less than capable of being their most intimate best friend? Or is the point supposed to be that she's hiding her pain so well, in her political-savvy manner, that they don't realize that she has more to worry about than her RA's secret past (I don't consider that a spoiler, as there's rather heavyhanded foreshadowing in that direction) and joining them for dinner in the cafeteria?

The interaction between the dormies didn't really strike me as authentic (at the same time as they poke fun at movies for portraying dorms inaccurately), but that could be because I was kind of a loser in an a weird dorm (the "quiet dorm", which was full of people who were either antisocial or forced into it by their parents), so maybe I don't have the right perspective on that.

Her distress over considering offering sex to her kidnapper in exchange for safety strikes me as perhaps a bit overblown, given that she doesn't seem at all conservative or adverse to casual sex for any reason beyond political expedient. This isn't to say that someone couldn't be totally into casual sex and still be upset at being coerced into it it, but it still seems odd as a focal point of extreme angst given her overall attitude.

Homosexuality seems almost shoved into the book as a way of saying "Look, I'm modern and liberal and not written in the 80's!". GLBT content does not bother me. I wish there was more of it in YA and mainstream lit... included in a non-token, non-issue manner. But here, completely out of the blue from the other books, Meg claims that she is "totally straight... so far, anyways", her best friend starts making remarks that could be interpreted as heteroflexible, she has a dormmate who is ever-so-prickly about being a lesbian (about which Eminently Liberal And Ever Political Meg doesn't bat an eyelash), her mother hires a gay man for some top position, and even the president's sexuality is called into question, if jokingly. I cracked up at that point, as I'd commented to LemurDa shortly before that I expected they were going to out the president next.

But really, a lot of this is nitpicking. It wasn't an unenjoyable book - I enjoy Meg's sense of humor, and the relationship between members of the first family is fun to watch. The view into life in the White House and under Secret Service protection is fun (though how accurate, I couldn't say). And the series is oddly timely, with the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords.

And I eagerly await the 5th book where Meg and Preston finally get together. She is going to write that book, right? It's totally been foreshadowed since the first book.

Next book (perhaps. I may end up starting another before finishing it): April Fool's Day by Bryce Courtenay. I'm still reading Five Children and It with the kids, and it looks like that will extend through most of this upcoming week. We'll probably start The Boxcar Children after that.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Where we are at the semester

LemurBoy is really starting to take off in reading. This has been a big focus, so that he'll eventually be able to work a little more independently. About a month ago, he decided he actually liked doing Hooked on Phonics. He could read everything in the K level. He knows many of phonemes taught in 1, but was very slow, and not great on the helper words, so we decided to start there. With a month of nearly every day work, he's about 1/4 of the way through level 1, showing great improvements in fluency, and starting to read things voluntarily, pick up words from context, and things like that.

Somewhere around the same time, we got the Leapfrog Code Word Caper movie, and LemurGirl, who only recently turned 4, started writing every word she could think of, with a surprising degree of accuracy and only thoroughly understandable mistakes. "Jessuc" for "Jessica", "Cyute" for "Cute", "Bab" for "Baby" - that sort of thing, So I pulled the Kindergarten Hooked on Phonics out, and she's zooming through that, entirely of her own initiative.

I found our Explode the Code workbooks, and both kids are doing a few pages of that a day (LB on level 2, LG on Level 1), and seem to enjoy it.

We haven't been doing Progressive Phonics, though I still love it, because at this point, it progresses too slowly - he easily understands the sounds of the various phonemes, but is slow at the actual process of reading, so the amount of practice included makes it tough to get through (come to think of it, that's the exact problem we're having in math, too). I've been considering making an amalgamation of the intermediate level books to get through it without quite so much review, but haven't gotten around to it. Also, I haven't felt like spending the ink/paper to print out it out.

LB is working on Math Mammoth 2A, and I'm finding it a bit frustrating. We're covering regrouping, which I taught him last year, and the "Do it this way, now do it this way, now do it this way" business seems like wheel-spinning to me, and I think kind of confuses him. Or maybe it's giving him a deeper understanding, or at least setting the stage for such. I'm torn between throwing up my hands in the air in disgust and going back to winging it or going and buying the full 1-6 e-curriculum. I think we'll give it another semester - a lot of 2B seems to be topics we should be able to zoom through, so I don't think we'll be endlessly bogged down as it feels now.

I don't think we did the Beestar exercises after the first week, and I haven't signed him up for the next semester. I think I'd rather just get through the Math Mammoth rather than adding more in.

We got Penny Gardner's Italics book to work on handwriting, and were doing it with some consistency with LB without great results. I don't blame the book. I try to follow the CM idea that they don't have to work on it for a long time, but that what they do should be as perfect as possible. Quality over quantity. However, LB gets so wrapped up in doing it right that he forgets what he's doing and writes the totally wrong letter or something.

Then, shortly before Christmas, he took out a pad of wide-ruled paper with a manuscript writing guide on it and wrote the alphabet, uppercase and lowercase. Perfectly. Then did so again several times over the next few days, in much less time than it generally took him to labor over the copywork I had him doing before.

I don't know - I'm tempted to tell him to try to stop worrying about perfection and just do the whole page and see what happens.

We're going through Story of the World 2 at our anticipated pace. I may spread out some of the upcoming chapters over a few weeks (we normally do 1 week per chapter) because there's just so much possible supplemental reading for some of them, and I think he'd be happier continuing history through the summer, anyways.

(Alternatively, perhaps I'll stick with the current schedule and start Vol. 3 as soon as we finish 2, in hopes of getting through 4 before the start of 4th grade. LG will be in 1st when LB is in 4th, and I think I'd prefer just to go back to Ancients rather than either having them on separate tracks or starting LG with Modern History.)

I discovered a wonderful feature of our library online catalog - I can schedule holds in advance! So I have all our supplemental reading scheduled for retrieval from the library for the rest of the year. It totally rocks.

We've been doing a lot of the classic read-alouds included in the AO schedule, as well as supplementary books corresponding with our history, and LB has enjoyed most. We tend to read them all at once rather than spreading them out over the course of weeks or months as is recommended. We manage that with some, but are too impatient on others!

LB got a loom (the Harrisville Easy Weaver) for Christmas, and has been weaving up a storm. He also got an mp3 player for Christmas, and has gotten really into audiobooks, so he's been listening to many of the suggested books while he works on his weaving. He's also doing woodwork with LemurDa, and has expressed an interest in learning woodcarving after seeing our housemate do it. And jigsaw puzzles. Do those count as handiwork?

Science continues to be unschooled. LB has expressed interest in doing nature studies again, but israther less enthusiastic about the idea of actually going outside to do them.

I hope to incorporate Song School Latin with both kids as soon as it's in the budget, because it feels like DD has gotten to the point where she could be really receptive to it.

On that note - I'm a little surprised to find it's actually easier to work with two kids than just LB! Especially with LG being so motivated. It's occasionally a bit problematic with neither of them being able to work fully independently, but in general, it seems to change the dynamic in a positive way, and both LB and I are a bit more motivated to take the lessons seriously.
I started this blog a year ago, with the intention of keeping a better record of our homeschooling activities for family, friends, and my own records. It didn't really work out the way I'd planned. Same could be said of life in general. When I'd started this blog, we'd discussed moving, but hadn't decided anything resembling specifics, and I'm not sure Nevada had even come up in conversation. I thought I'd passed the hardest semester of nursing school, and had no clue the last one was going to kick me in the posterior. And another baby certainly wasn't in the plans, yet there she is, nursing away as I type.

So maybe this year, without all that school, pregnancy, and moving eating up my attention, I'll actually post something.

I'm planning to do 52 Books in 52 Weeks this year. I managed 54 books last year (that I wrote down, anyways) despite school and all, so I'm not anticipating the reading being an issue. Writing reviews? Probably moreso.

First up is Long May She Reign by Ellen Emerson White. It's a YA book, but at 707 pages I won't feel guilty about t.hat

The first three books in the series were written in the 80's. I read the third, in which the protagonist, who is the daughter of the first female president of the US, is kidnapped by terrorists. Never read the others, as my library didn't have them. The fourth book was published in 2007, and, after moving, I discovered our library system had all four, so I'm now (re)reading the whole series.

The first novel-length read-aloud of the year for the kids will be Five Children and It. We read the first chapter last night, and LemurBoy seemed to enjoy it (LemurGirl, as usual, quickly fell asleep). I'm not counting our read-alouds towards the contest, but would like to keep track of them anyways!