• Books,  the learning arts

    Book Friday…

    fridaybookpile (1)

    Art Friday has been a long standing tradition ’round these parts. Alas, alack, with all this medical fun, very little works in progress can be shared because, well, I have to start them first. Ahem. Very soon, I hope! But there is a second best thing. My friend Katherine and I started the #fridaybookpile on Instagram a few weeks ago and we’d love to have you join us. We don’t care where you share it, so long as you share it! Make sure you tag us! I’ll have a button for you to use on your blogs next week, if you’re interested. We share what we’ve been reading as a family each week, our school books and read alouds, our own personal reads. It’s a lot of fun to see what everyone is interested in at the moment. Hope you’ll join us on Fridays! What else could be better than my second and third favorite things, if you can’t have art?

  • wonder and inquiry

    Rhythm and grounding…

    readtome latin mathtracking ribbonflags

    Thought breeds thought; children familiar with the great thoughts take as naturally to thinking for themselves as the well-nourished body takes to growing; and we must bear in mind that growth, physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, is the sole end of education. – Charlotte Mason 

    I said the other day that I could not imagine our life right now without homeschooling. It truly provides us with a rhythm and grounding that we wouldn’t have otherwise. I continue to stand by that statement, but I’m sure you may be wondering how in the world it all comes together for us right now in the midst of these continuing storms. How do you learn together when the schedule is hardly ever predictable, or when one or more students may be too sick to “learn”?

    First of all, it isn’t easy. However, I know that my children are constantly learning and absorbing whether I am directing their learning or not, so I try not to stress too much when things get really whacked out. The environment I’ve built here is very rich. We have an extensive library of good, solid books that they can pick up any time of the day- books about nature, astronomy, history, biography, art. There are drawing materials available all the time. We have a microscope; we have lots of hands on manipulatives to work with- tangrams, popsicle sticks, clay, pipe cleaners, and the like. We recently added some magnetic blocks and an abacus. On any given day whether “proper” school happens or not, you will find the kids engaging with all of these things. While we’ve recently gone back to being tv-less during the week, my children also are allowed to access learning sites like Prodigy, Khan Academy, and others whenever they wish. They all love Prodigy, in particular, and will beg to play on it daily. It is a Pokemon style math program that challenges the kids’ skills while they battle- using their math knowledge. If our day has gone completely sideways but I have seen creative work in these areas, we’ve read aloud a book or two, and some children have worked online, I call it good and let it go for the day. Even if this is all they get during a particularly tough day, I know they received solid, good food.

    Obviously, I’d like a bit more structure to our “normal” school days, but it isn’t always possible. I’ve also found that many of the ideas for planning just don’t work for our particular situation. I used to be a plan the whole year or at least a semester type of planner- the smallest chunk of time I was willing to go was about six weeks. I learned very quickly as we all started here at home last July that my planning, while wise, just wasn’t granular enough for the needs of my children. In the long run we have generally accomplished what I originally thought we’d do, but in the short term, it seemed really outlandish. I would describe our planning as a cross between block scheduling and looping.

    With the exception of my eldest, none of the children could really properly work independently, and I had planned with that expectation at the beginning of the year. Aside from my eldest, none of them could really read or write in a way that would allow them to pursue their own interests. This was my first and absolute bedrock goal. July to January was spent rolling back to foundational skills and building confidence in those areas. I found that two weeks was as far as I was willing to extend my planning because the needs were constantly shifting. One child would make epic strides, another would struggle. I found two weeks was a small enough chunk that I had a plan but it was flexible enough to account for this.

    In the mornings, we have a Circle Time that includes Shakespeare, History (Story of the World: Modern Era), and a current read aloud based on where we are in History. We work through Montessori-style grammar lessons based on our Shakespeare memorization. Sometimes they help write the symbols on the large white board- sometimes they work independently on the sentences and compare notes. When that is done, we generally split into writing groups. Ben works off by himself using Writing with Skill (Well Trained Mind); Isaiah and Lorelei work with me using IEW Primary; and the youngest boys copy a sentence or paragraph from a white board that we’ve previously created (this comes from a section of IEW Primary as well). When I do my planning, I plan both this ‘chunk’ of time and our afternoon chunk. I order the library books for the next two chapters of History, look over and decide what grammar will be based on, what concepts I’d like everyone to focus on for writing.

    By this time, it’s nearly lunch usually. The children will pull out their Explode the Code (Ben works in a Spelling curriculum), and when they finish that, they will work through their next lesson of Math. (We currently use Math U See.) Whoever finishes first prepares lunch- that’s often Ben or Lorelei. The rest of us wrap up by the time lunch is ready.

    After lunch is when most of our one on one time occurs. I tutor Ben through Latin, Ben and Isaiah through Physics, and work one on one with Lorelei and Isaiah in reading and writing, and we do our All About Spelling work during this one on one time. We often work through and edit the writing we’ve done earlier in the day. All three of the older children will work through some Logic. I check in with Ben on all of his work and the projects he’s interested in, correct work, discuss interests and options. He works entirely independently and is often pursuing interests beyond what I’ve assigned him, which is absolutely as it should be! I love it. We are definitely reaching the stage where he feels more like a colleague in learning than a student, even though he’s only thirteen. I love some of the discussions we get to have. The kids not in conference with me are often are using Prodigy or Khan Academy during this time or reading.

    The younger ones are often playing during this time, but sometimes they’ll be working right with us at the table on their own little projects- drawing, building, threading beads. When the older children are done for the day, I switch off to our afternoon chunk. This often falls just before our afternoon tea time, which is roughly at three o’clock. We stop what we’re doing and clear the decks, put all the books and projects away (our school table is our dining table), and we have a small snack: cheese, fruit, and a cookie, usually. I found some strong yet small little mugs with plates from Ikea that is dedicated for snack time. They eat and I read- usually more of our current read-aloud- sometimes poetry.

    Afterwards, the younger boys and I (and almost always Ellianna) play math games and reading games. I base these games on what I see the children struggling with in their more formal work. Sometimes we count M and Ms or Cheerios by 2s, 5s, 10s, or play hopscotch, jump on vowel teams or play games from IEW Primary’s Phonics Game book…the possibilities are endless, but I’m usually focusing on a particular skill. The point is always PLAY. These I plan in two week chunks as well.

    This probably sounds intense (really? All day till nearly five?) but it’s work spread out over a whole day. We are very laid back. I’m sure we could buckle down and get all of that work done in two or three hours if we wanted to, but we all like to wander and change tack for a while, come back. With his Sensory Processing Disorder, Isaiah definitely needs breaks in between subjects to pause and absorb and the other children seem to benefit from the slow transitions as well. I don’t set a time limit on it, but I generally pull them back into the next subject or task when they start to get buggy with each other.

    So what happens when it all goes sideways, as it seems to do more often than not? Our basics without fail are Explode the Code and Math. Even if I’m at the hospital, my older kids can help my littles do their work. The last three weeks, for example, have been basically this, plus some reading aloud and a some writing work when we get a chance. They are still making steady progress. Benjamin continues working on his assignments- Latin sometimes has to take a back seat, as does Physics sometimes- but often Physics we can maintain because the boys read and then we discuss, often around the dinner table. We do the Physics related math as we can, often in the late, late afternoons. We use the Tiner series from Memoria Press.

    As things settle down, I will re-assess needs. If we’ve completely departed from my last two week plan (and I haven’t been able to keep planning forward), we start there and finish whatever is left there. Then I will reboot and plan the next two weeks forward. As this year has progressed, the older kids are starting to say, hey, I can do that with so and so, and so we’re not falling so far off the track when things get wackadoodle. I love that this is happening. When Isaiah and Lorelei are ‘teaching’ or playing the games with the younger ones, they are getting lots of wonderful reinforcement of areas they are weak in while boosting their confidence in what they know. It is so much fun to watch. Both of them are starting to own their educations and seeing their confidence in telling a younger student what thus and such is and know it for sure is just awesome. I really hate that this medical stuff really throws us for a loop, but there are always silver linings.

    Because of the steady, incremental work we’ve done in reading and writing skills, all of my students can now read and write independently. As Spring comes on I think we will begin to include some more of our favorites like nature study and formal art and composer studies. These have all been happening on their own, essentially, but I think we will begin more formal studies now that everyone feels a bit more solid. I’m looking forward to it- if the medical shenanigans can calm down for a while. Josiah’s next big surgery will be mid-April, so we have a bit of a break to breathe for a bit and focus solely on our learning.

    This is a post in the continuing series, Wonder and Inquiry.



  • wonder and inquiry

    Wonder and Inquiry: Special Needs Resources

    resourcesThis is by no means a complete list, but it’s plenty to fall down the rabbit hole with:

    Best Laid Plans: When Anxiety Throws You For A Loop (article)

    When Your Child Has Sensory Processing Disorder (article)

    Little Kids With Big Worries (article)

    Homeschooling Children with Sensory Stuff (article)

    Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child

    The Simply Classical Forum (Memoria Press)

    Cheryl Swope’s blog

    Visual and Auditory Processing Definitions

    Homeschooling A Struggling Learner Resource Center (HSLDA) 

    Using Sensory Integration Strategies to Improve Handwriting (article)

    Homeschooling with Dyslexia (Blog)

    Reading Aloud to Kids with Special Needs (RAR Podcast) 

    Raising A Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child With Sensory Processing Issues

    Simplicity Parenting

    The Soul of Discipline 

    Playful Learning


  • wonder and inquiry

    Ordered minds…



    The winner of the Restful Teaching series is—-

    Sandi Meyerhoff


    Andrew Kern tells the workshop at one point in his young education, he picked up Euclid’s geometry and read the first line, which is “A point is that which has no part.” I and all the other workshop participants all looked up at him with a sort of an expectant, “well?”, maybe even- “so?”. After a breath’s pause, he says, “it took me five years to truly understand that line.” He goes on to explain how it didn’t just affect his understanding of mathematics and geometry, specifically, but also theology and a thousand other things. It takes a while to learn a truth and fully, completely understand it- when the eureka! moment hits and we see not only what we are learning but many other related truths.

    This reminder is something I really needed to hear that day, and I continue to remind myself of it daily. Learning is on a child’s own time table. 

    This becomes all the more true when you have the privilege of teaching children with special needs. Some of those eureka moments come after incredibly long battles for the child. Years. Sometimes decades. It takes so long sometimes that we forget what we’re aiming at and lose hope and wonder why we’re going over that idea, again.

    The Circe Institute is very quick to point out (you’ll find this reflected in most Classical learning communities) the dignity of the human person, and that we are all on this journey of learning- to take our dis-ordered thoughts and find order for them. The idea of learning is not limited in any way. We can all embark on the journey. Even though on the surface the ideas of Classical learning look difficult and hard to reach- Latin roots, anyone?- an education rooted in wonder and inquiry and contemplation will open worlds to anyone willing to try.

    I loved how Andrew described what teaching the languages of math does, when I think about my sensory processing kid- he said: 1) it is healing to the mind, 2) it helps develop a habit of seeking out harmony, and 3) it will moves us from being materialists (concrete thinkers) to being able to entertain abstract ideas (faith is the evidence of things unseen). Well, when you put it that way, no wonder it is my owly boy’s favorite subject.

    Here’s where the nitty-gritty comes in. My twelve year old has some pretty significant processing delays due to the Sensory Processing Disorder. (Think of a internet browser window with dozens or hundreds of tabs open and how slow your computer gets as it “thinks”- except on a human kid level.) Part of teaching Isaiah is teaching him in basic terms (completely unrelated to learning) how to close some of those browser tabs and up his operating memory. Sometimes this is coping mechanisms. Sometimes this is tools like gun muffs that deaden the sound input. On the learning level when it comes to math, Isaiah is exceptionally brilliant and is always thirsting to know more and understand more. His processing delay holds him up. He ‘gets’ the idea, but it often takes him a long time to calculate. He can give you an answer (that is usually right) but would be hard pressed to spell that out in mathematical language, so it’s hard to tell if he really understands the concept or if he is just guessing. We’ve had to find a happy medium between him doing it all in his head and spelling it out for others to check his work. Personally, I think he completely understands it and probably far better than I ever will, but I have to teach him how to express what is in his head, especially in mathematical and scientific languages, so that he can communicate with others who are like-minded.

    At the moment, he struggles in a profound way with the multiplication tables. It’s not that he doesn’t understand the concept- it’s that he can’t remember/re-gurgiate the products in a timely fashion. He literally has to recalculate each factor every time. So how does this work for a kid that is more than able to work with extensive fractions and understands basic pre-algebraic concepts? We fudge a bit. He’s allowed to have times table in front of him at all times. (We don’t allow a calculator yet.) He skips the extensive processing lag he’d have if he was having to calculate the products all the time. We hope in time that we’ll bump over this hump in his working memory and he won’t need such a concrete tool in front of him all the time. Meanwhile we work both backwards and forwards. He pursues and drinks in the upper level math as much as he wants, and we spend about twenty minutes each day working on the basics, slowly filling in the holes, increasing his autonaticity and processing in each area. In standardized testing, he blows the curve because he will be both exceptionally strong in some areas and incredibly weak in others, reading at ninth, tenth, and even post-high school levels in some areas, but in others rating no higher than first grade. To note- those things he is most deficient in are processing-heavy concepts. Right now we use Math U See Epsilon to guide his higher level learning (although he has been known, like Mr. Kern above, to pick up Euclides and others in the Great Books of the Western World that we found at Goodwill, like Plato and Aristotle). When he works with me for his ‘basics’ we basically play. (I highly recommend it!) We play different math games. Sometimes we try to stump each other. I am usually presenting games that apply to a specific area that he needs process speed-up practice. We work on his multiplication tables once or twice a week. Right now we’ve been playing games that remind him of place value and patterning concepts because that is what I’ve assessed he’s weakest in at the moment. Since he has come home in July I have watched a steady improvement in his processing speed all around, and I will continue on in this approach. There are literally a billion different free math games to be found on Pinterest and even more for a few pennies on Teachers Pay Teachers. Just search the concept you want to work on. We also play chess, and he is fast getting better than I. (Oh, the degradation! Heeee.)

    The same could be said for both he and my oldest daughter, who was diagnosed with dyslexia last year in regards to writing and reading. Both have global delays. Isaiah’s is caused by unregulated sensory input and Lorelei’s is related to the flip flopping that the dyslexic brain likes to do. They both have “too many tabs open” in their language and writing browsers, but the tabs are open for different reasons. We use All About Spelling for formal work, but we don’t stop with the program. I give them both extensive multi-sensory approaches to their spelling lists each week. Writing in scented salt is a favorite of Lorelei’s (so cheap and not quite as messy as sand!). We use both big (three foot wide) and small (10 inch) white boards to write and I encourage them to both write BIG and small. Writing big usually crosses the mid-line of the body, helping to solidify connections in the brain. Writing very small increases focus. Sometimes Isaiah hops out the word or moves his body side to side as he spells a word. Writing in the air is popular too. And, it should be stated, I don’t teach like this just for my special needs learning kids, I teach like this for all my kids in all areas.

    Our language work increasingly looks like play. We primarily use Montessori “games” or work boxes. (Again, Pinterest search is your friend!) Currently all of my children save my oldest are working in the Primary Arts of Language (PAL) curriculum from Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). This program is fantastic and is particularly fantastic for children with special needs. If you buy nothing but the Phonics Games book, you have made an excellent investment. To this day one of the kids favorite games is Mugs, which is one of the first games in the book and one of the most basic. You feed him bones with letters on them, saying their sounds as you feed it through his mouth. (I’ve adapted this as time has gone on to use sight words that all the kids should recognize automatically, especially Isaiah and Lorelei.) They giggle so hard, every.single.time. They work and they laugh and they learn! The PAL books (there are two, one for writing and one for reading) guide you as a teacher through a series of lessons and ideas. As it stands right now, my middle two boys are using the program basically as written, and I don’t tweak much of it. They are currently working in Part II in both Reading and Writing books.

    My bigs (Lorelei and Isaiah) use the general concepts presented in Part III in Writing (they don’t use the Reading book), and we use excerpts from the My Book House series to practice. Right now we are working on writing a creative story, so over the last month we have been forming our character, place, and main outlines to refer to as we begin to write the story using the concepts we’ve learned from Part III. Because it is hard for them to write, we take it slowly. Two or three sentences are usually the max, though we have been slowly building to a whole section of an outline or a paragraph worth. For them both, I will immediately back off or begin to scribe for them if I sense frustration or shut down. Scribing is important for them both. They’ve truly understood how to form their thoughts and can speak them aloud. When it comes to writing, the processing slows them down to a point that all the fun and joy of creating and sharing thoughts disappears. So again, we work both forward and backwards- scribing allows them to work “on-level” and get their ideas across, and we work carefully and slowly on building writing stamina and skills.

    Lorelei has gained so much confidence in this area (as opposed to the heart-breaking tears last year) that she will often write her own little stories and ideas in notebooks I have always available on our shelves. Sometimes she asks for help spelling a word, but she is often holed up on the window seat scribbling away. That is incredibly heartening for me to see! Even writing something as long as a paragraph last year would result in tremendous frustration and shut down because she was struggling SO much with syntax and spelling.

    For all my children, we are using the Montessori grammar “shape”concepts coupled with the lines we are memorizing from Shakespeare.  Each type of word has an associated shape- a pronoun is a tall purple triangle, an adjective is a large blue triangle, a noun is a black triangle. And when you need the best, richest, most loveliest examples of how words can fit together, there is a reason Shakespeare is Shakespeare. The prose is incredibly well crafted and gives them plenty of meat to feed upon. It’s absolutely a game to “solve” the sentence first, picking out the shapes they think fit with the words. I will take the grammar farther with my eldest, often diagramming the sentence with him to illustrate the ideas further and often comparing it to a Latin form (as he is also taking Latin) , discussing why Shakespeare chose to use iambic or short verse or prose for that particular line and how it changes how the line falls on the ear. I usually do that later, as it overwhelms the younger kids.

    The point I’m getting at here is that we use as many great embodiements as we can find to illustrate what we are learning, we make it as multi-sensory as possible, and we keep trying. I had already begun to lean this way in my thinking before taking in the workshop, and hearing Andrew and Matt speak only further solidified in my mind that I was on the right track with teaching my special needs kids. We keep working on ordering our minds, trying fresh and new each day, building bit by bit with careful steps- and I can truly see how their mastery is increasing. On a standardized test they are still going to be very weak in some areas, but it doesn’t matter to me at all- I know they are working towards their best and they will get there- on their own time.


    I will have a post for you later this week full of some great resources for teaching special needs children.


    This is the eighth entry in the Wonder and Inquiry Series.



  • collecting stories,  the mothering arts,  wonder and inquiry

    Second star to the right…


    I’m sorry for slipping out right in the middle of a series. Josiah had some complications with his cecostomy tube that necessitated a late night emergency department visit Tuesday night and subsequent admission on Wednesday morning. Amazingly and gratefully the surgeons were able to get to him early in the day on Wednesday and fix things and we got to come home. It was certainly unexpected. I ended up being awake for over thirty hours due to our normal day on Tuesday plus the ER for 13 hours and so on. By the time I thought I’d get to curl up and rest at the hospital, they were releasing him. Needless to say, I don’t recommend it. It definitely sent our week spinning about!

    I plan to draw the winner of the Restful Teaching series tomorrow, February 2nd. Every comment on any of the Wonder and Inquiry posts is an entry- I will also grant entries for shares on social media (please tag me so I can see it). You have until tomorrow to enter!

    The series itself will not come to an end, but I will draw the winner. To be honest, I feel as if I’ve moved a bit fast and crammed a lot of information into a few posts which probably feels overwhelming. Coincidentally, I felt the same way leaving the workshop. It was a good way to make one’s brain hurt, so much to think about and consider and contemplate- but it is a tremendous lot to take in. It has taken me three months to even begin to “narrate” what I’ve learned! So, I’m going to apply the brakes a bit and have a post a week dedicated to the Wonder and Inquiry series and return to a more eclectic mix of posts so that there is time to digest and talk together. Above all, I’d love for it to be a conversation- what we’re all learning on this journey: what pitfalls we’re struggling with, what we’ve found to go well, our favorite resources. I’m not just standing on some box here, jabbering. (At least, I hope! 😉 )

    I was thinking about this path we’ve chosen during the crazy pre-dawn hours in the ER. (It was so slammed. That pneumonia/cold virus hit very hard in our area and it was certainly reflected at the ER. So many little ones, struggling to breathe! The nurses and doctors were run near ragged.) We were pretty sure that Josiah was going to be admitted, so he stayed awake at first, even though it was creeping past his bedtime. I usually bring a small collection of things to entertain him, but he was interested in none of it- he wanted to do math homework, of all things.

    Math!? I wondered at this at first, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. He is at an age that he understands exactly what is going on when we get to the ER, that there will be pain, and eventually (a loonnnng eventually, in most cases) they will fix the discomfort and pain and we’ll get out. But there is never really an answer one way or the other as to the timing of things. The only identifiable characteristic of these hospitalizations for him is their very uncertainty. And he’s also at an age that he is falling madly in love with math- with numbers- with the very language of it, the certitude that this and this is always that and if you do this the number always does that. When I saw it that way, his late night craving for math made sense- his way of controlling the uncontrollable. It made me think of the Apollo 13 movie and Jim Lovell’s wife saying to him that when he was on the far side of the moon [on a previous mission] she vacuumed the living room floor over and over until they made radio contact. The ways we find to cope.

    Later on in the wee smas, they wanted a contrast dye x-ray of his port and tube. He had been asleep for awhile, angry and groggy. I hated waking him up. He began “coming to” as we were passing from the ER into the Radiology ward, which is decorated in an undersea theme. There are fish, dolphins, manta rays, coral, and a bunch of other things painted on every surface. The windows are even shaped like port holes. He looked about and asked me if I thought that Professor William Waterman Sherman would have seen creatures like this on his trip [across the Pacific before he crashed on Krakatoa.] The tech of course is giving us quite a funny look, a bit lost. I answer Josiah that I thought maybe he might have seen the bigger ones looking down from the balloon, but he wouldn’t have been able to see the smaller ones. At this, the tech is looking at us both with a positively quizzical look on her face.

    I sheepishly explain to her that it’s from a book we’re reading together, called The Twenty One Balloons. “It’s a made up story about a guy….”- Josiah cuts in and starts telling her the story. He continues telling the story as more techs and a doctor file in, sucking them all into the story as they work. It completely distracted him from the not-so-fun stuff, and when he got a bit queasy from the dye process, he compared himself to the Professor, who at one point makes the mistake of breathing in yucky gases from the volcano while riding a balloon airy-go-round. [You’d have to read the book!] He had the whole room asking him what happened next, at which he gave his classic joyful grin and said, “I don’t know, mommy hasn’t read it to me yet!”

    More than one tech remarked on his recall of the story, and one even said, “Now I have to go find that book! I want to find out what happened next!” They all asked me how he could remember such an involved story. I just shrugged my shoulders, because it’s not like I make a regular practice of having them narrate. We use narration within an Institute for Excellence in Writing framework, but I do not require them to narrate everything they read to me. I was impressed myself! He was remembering details I had already forgotten.

    Later, after he had been released and we were headed home, I got stuck in traffic due to some boffin DOT workers. He said (with perfect comedic timing, I might add) “what fools these mortals be!” in his best dramatic voice. The line is from Act 3, Scene 2 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of Shakespeare’s comedies. We’ve been learning small sections using How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, and this particular line has sort of become a running joke in our family, each kid putting his own spin on how Puck might of said it. I’m including Ellianna’s below because it is just too cute! But it was just so funny! His sense of humor lightened the frustrating situation. I was on hour thirty one of no sleep at that point and it made me laugh so hard I cried.

    A video posted by Joy (@artoftheeveryday) on

    For such a difficult time and a particularly long, wearying week, all these moments that happened with Josiah were such shots of encouragement to me. I’m so grateful we have this family well of stories and culture to share in the hard moments.  This path of wonder leads to moments of joy. I can keep on keeping on when things get difficult if there are moments like this to be had, even in the most unlikeliest of places and hours! Second star to the right and straight on till Morning! 

    This is the seventh entry in the Wonder and Inquiry Series.