Archive | February, 2011

Fuel for Life

21 Feb

I was thinking of this poem I stumbled on a few months ago that resonated with me. I thought you should hear it.  Here it is, read aloud by its author, Amber, who you can hear more from at The Run Amuck.


See Mommy Read

14 Feb

I have spoken before of needing to do some catch-up to really earn my English degree.  A while back, someone asked me what book has most influenced me.  I thought about that question for a very long time and couldn’t answer, which led me to the question, “What books have I read?”  So I made a list.  Then I began a list of books I need to read or, in some cases, re-read because I’ve forgotten the entire thing.  Since a friend was asking for reading suggestions, I thought I’d share.  I tried to keep it more classic.  I’m sure there are all kinds of great contemporary books, too, but I figure I need the basics first.

What’s on your list?  What book you’ve read has most influenced your life?

Update 11/7/11: I’ve made some progress on this list during 2011, so I got to cross some off. Yay!

1.       David Copperfield

2.       Great Expectations

3.       Moll Flanders

4.       Wuthering Heights

5.       Moby Dick

6.       The Old Man and the Sea

7.       Emma

8.       Iliad

9.       Odyssey

10.   All Creatures Great and Small

11.   Bleak House

12.   War and Peace

13.   Diary of Anne Frank

14.   For Whom the Bell Tolls

15.   House of Seven Gables

16.   Gone with the Wind

17.   The Good Earth

18.   Murder on the Orient Express

19.   Candide

20.   Les Miserables

21.   1984

22.   Huckleberry Finn

23.   Tom Sawyer

24.   Scarlet Pimpernel

25.   Little Women

26.   Out of the Silent Planet

27.   Perelandra

28.   That Hideous Strength

29.   The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

30.   A Horse and His Boy

31.   The Silver Chair

32.   The Last Battle

33.   Pilgrim’s Progress

34.   Paradise Lost

35.   Three Musketeers

36.   Gulliver’s Travels

37.   The Fairie Queene

38.   All Shakespeare

39.   Vanity Fair

40.   Don Quixote

41.   Heart of Darkness

42.   Crime and Punishment

43.   Madame Bovary

44.   Tess of the d’Ubervilles

45.   Brave New World

46.   Atlas Shrugged

47.   Doctor Zhivago

48.   The Aeneid

49.   Count of Monte Cristo

50.   The Bell Jar

51.   The Invisible Man

52.   Lord of the Rings trilogy

53.   Le Morte D’Arthur

54.   The Once and Future King

55.   Sherlock Holmes

56.   Three Cups of Tea

57.   A Thousand Splendid Suns

58.   The Great Gatsby

59.   The Importance of Being Earnest

60.   The Prince

61.   Plato’s Republic

From Douglas Wilson’s Classical Education and the Homeschool

62.   A Day in Old Rome by William S. Davis

63.   A Day in Old Athens by William S. Davis

64.   The Iliad by Homer

65.   The Aeneid by Virgil

66.   Hamlet

67.   Macbeth

68.   Much Ado about Nothing

69.   Pride and Prejudice

70.   Holiness by J.C. Ryle

71.   The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs 329

72.   Fair Sunshine by Jock Purves

73.   Finding the Faith by Douglas Wilson

74.   How to Be Free from Bitterness by Jim Wilson

75.   Credenda/Agenda magazine

76.   How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler

77.   How to Read Slowly by James Sire

78.   The Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayers

79.   Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning by Douglas Wilson

80.   The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis

81.   The Discarded Image by C.S. Lewis

82.   An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis

83.   The God Who is There by Francis Schaeffer

84.   On Secular Education by R.L. Dabney

85.   Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

86.   Christianity and Classical Literature by Charles Cochrane

87.   On Christian Doctrine, Book IV by Augustine

88.   Ideas Have Consequences by Richard Weaver

89.   The Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory

90.   Introductory Logic by Douglas Wilson

91.   A Rulebook for Arguments by Anthony Weston

92.   The Art of Reasoning with Symbolic Language by David Kelley

93.   Introduction to Logic by Leonard Copi

94.   Logic by Gordon (Haddon) Clark

95.   A Concise Logic by William Halverson

96.   Rhetoric by Aristotle

97.   Ad Herennium (Cicero?)

98.   Institutio Oratoria by Quntilian

99.   Lectures in Sacred Rhetoric by R.L. Dabney

100.                        Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student by Edward Corbett

101.                        Rhetoric in the Classical Tradition by Winifred Horner

102.                        Defense of Classical Rhetoric by Brian Vickers

103.                        Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin

104.                        Back to the Basics by Hagopian, Wilson, Jones, and Wagner

105.                        The City of God by Augustine

106.                        Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

107.                        The Defense of the Faith by Cornelius Van Til

108.                        The Westminster Confession of Faith and Shorter Catechism

109.                        Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul

110.                        Putting Amazing Back Into Grace by Michael Horton

111.                        Building a Christian Worldview by W. Andrew Hoffecker

112.                        Doctrine of the Knowledge of God by John Frame

113.                        A Christian Worldview Declaration by Olasky and Schlossberg

114.                        War of the Worldviews by Gary DeMar

115.                        Epic of Gilgamesh

116.                        Plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles Euripides and Aristophanes

117.                        History by Herodotus

118.                        The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides

119.                        The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans by Plutarch

120.                        Various dialogues of Plato

121.                        Nicomachean Ethics, Rhetoric and On Poetics by Aristotle

122.                        On the Nature of Things by Lucretius

123.                        The Annals and Histories of Tacitus

124.                        The Apocrypha

125.                        The Antiquities of the Jews and Wars of the Jews by Jospehus

126.                        Metamorphoses by Ovid

127.                        Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

128.                        The Didache

129.                        On Incarnation by Athanasius

130.                        Letter to the Corinthians by Clement

131.                        Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius

132.                        The Inferno by Dante

133.                        The Prince by Machiavelli

134.                        Cur Deus Homo by Anselm

135.                        Aquinas: Selected Writings (ed. Robert Goodwin)

136.                        The Qur’an

137.                        Ecclesiastical History by Eusebius

138.                        Meditations on First Philosophy by Descartes

139.                        In Praise of Folly by Erasmus

140.                        The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther

141.                        Commentary on Galatians by Martin Luther

142.                        Utopia by Thomas More

143.                        Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

144.                        Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion by David Hume

145.                        The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

146.                        Magnalia Christi Americana by Cotton Mather

147.                        Lectures in Sacred Rhetoric by R.L. Dabney

148.                        A Defense of Virginia and the South by R.L. Dabney

149.                        The Foundations of Social Order by Rushdoony

150.                        Historical Theology by William Cunningham

151.                        The History of Christian Doctrine by Berkhof

152.                        Pilgrim’s Regress by C.S. Lewis

153.                        Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzche

154.                        Idols for Destruction by Schlossberg

155.                        Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen

156.                        Postmodern Times by Edward Veith

My Reminder for Today

10 Feb

This one’s going on the playlist.

Spelling Soup

10 Feb

This is just a cute little idea Mustard Seed came up with on her own that can make spelling class a little more enjoyable.  After she had had an opportunity to study her word list, I was quizzing her.  She decided that she would “stir the pot of alphabet soup” as she spelled the words to me and only put in the letters needed for the words.  One of the words was “still,” so for that one, she pretended like her spoon was stuck.  Since I know she likes it and it takes advantage of her bent for acting things out, I will definitely do this with her again.

This game requires no supplies or preparation (other than the child having some familiarity with the spelling words), yet apparently it is the kind of thing that captures first-graders’ attention.  You got it straight from the horse’s mouth!  If you did want to add something to it, I found a tub of cheap foam letters at Michael’s.  I suppose you could actually fish for the right letters, drop them in a real pot or bowl and stir them with a real spoon!  Either way, just encourage your child to ham it up.  If “frog” is on the list, they could pretend like it keeps jumping out of the pot or something silly like that.

Couch to 5k Running Plan Keeps Mommy (Kind of) Sane

10 Feb

Me in November finishing a 5k...barely! Pretty, no?

Homeschooling moms require heaping helpings of sanity, amiright?  Yet do you ever feel guilty, with all the other things on your plate, about exercising?  Or maybe you don’t, but you’re just too busy/tired/hate exercise too much to do it?  To tell the truth, me too; however, I want to share a very helpful resource with you.  It’s the FREE Couch to 5K running podcast. from the UK’s National Health Service.

I have never really been a person who enjoys exercise.  I envy those who do.  But I got to a point where I felt that I really needed to take charge of my health.  I have thought that many times and then failed to do so. A few months ago, I started the Couch to 5K, and though I’ve mentioned before that this is my second time starting it, I think there are a few reasons I have been successful this time.

  1. I earnestly asked God (and keep asking Him) for the willpower to keep on going with it–and to not be afraid, when people ask me, to SAY that that is the first reason.
  2. My attitude.  Instead of thinking of exercise as some option that I could do if I really want to be good to myself, look great, or achieve my goals, I’m now looking at it as my duty.  For some people, that might actually sound like more of a drag, but to me it’s not.  I need to have the nice, swift kick in the pants of realizing OTHER PEOPLE COUNT ON ME and my body is not my own to just trash!
  3. This one is purely mechanical: my shoes.  My old ones are worthy only as puppy teething rings or as part of the CIA’s sophisticated repertoire of terrorist instep torture devices.  My new ones are…ah…dreamy…
  4. Last, but certainly not least, is that I had the good sense to find myself this free podcast.  It has some pretty good, though not mainstream, music on it, and this very nice lady named Laura tells you when to walk and when to run so you don’t have to be trying to read your watch as your wrist joggles around every 60 to 90 seconds  because that’s just so uncool, especially when, at the very beginning of the program, after just 90 minutes, your lungs feel like they’re full of atomic gases and you’re heaving and wheezing.  Much better to have your snazzy little earbuds in and just go out there and do your thang with ease and simplicity.

I know that the above description perhaps does not make you want to embark on a new fitness program.  I get that.  But truly, I have painted you a nice little mental picture of me at Week 1.  Now I am at the longest Week 7 that history has ever known (but I’m not quitting), and I could probably run the Week 1 times without even having to think about my breathing.  That’s amazing to me.  If you have been considering a really fuss-free way to get fit that requires only a small time investment, I would really recommend downloading those podcasts and giving C25K a try. (I don’t think your mp3 player has to be an iPod to listen to it.)

Aside from the practicalities of how to get your exercise, I’d also like to offer a bit of motivation.  I said that I changed my thinking about exercise from something dispensable to something absolutely indispensable.  If you don’t get dinner on the table or do school consistently, the consequences will be pretty immediate.  Don’t trick yourself into thinking that because the consequences of not exercising are gradual and long-term that they are not just as dire.  Here are some thoughts that motivate me:

  • Children learn by example.  If I want my daughter to enjoy the health, energy and emotional well-being that exercise can bring, I have to lead her toward that by doing it myself.  I have a lot of influence right now over what her health will be like 20 or 30 years from now!
  • I want to be around and in good health to see my grandkids graduate from college, God willing.  To live that long is something extraordinary, and it requires doing something other than the ordinary thing that people usually do.  Some things within my control that can help me get there are keeping up a pattern of physical activity and good nutrition through the years.
  • Exercise affects your mood.  It causes your body to produce dopamine and lowers stress hormones.  That means that if you have a tendency to lose your temper or get the blues, exercise can help you with that.  I look at that as spiritual warfare, and anything that can help me win it, I should do.

In the past, I had thought of all the usual things: I want to look cute and slender, want to look good if I run into ____, want to prove to somebody I can do it, and, well…half of them had to do with cute clothes.  But those things failed to hold my attention or my will when it came time to get out there and exercise again.

Have you thought about WHY you want to be in great shape?  What are the thoughts behind that desire?  Are they enough to get you to the finish line?  If not, what is?

9 Strategies for a Reluctant Reader

6 Feb

I think every homeschooling mother lives in fear that her child might not learn to read–at least new ones.  Reading is a building block for every other kind learning.  It’s a very obvious mark of whether a person is educated or not.  It’s also largely a miracle.  Perhaps there is not so much mystery to it as we suppose, but anyone who’s every watched a person go from not being able to distinguish letters from any other kind of picture to being able to take in complex and nuanced ideas via a code of such “pictures” knows it’s just as miraculous as the fact that we learn to talk at all.


And it’s left up to us to make sure this miracle happens.  Nothing can get you quaking in your boots as much as pondering that responsibility.

Some kids seem to pick up reading easily and, on top of that, love to read.  Others pick it up easily but see it as drudgery.  Their ability to read seems to shut off like a light unless they’re reading anything but their favorite material.  And then there are those kids who seem to struggle through everything related to reading.  To those moms, it may seem as if the miracle just isn’t happening.  The latter two scenarios can be very frustrating for the parent and leave her at a loss as to what the right course of action is.

I feel very fortunate that Mustard Seed has not struggled much with reading, but we have had moments when things were difficult.  My experiences with her have taught me some about what works and doesn’t work for getting a child to read.  Also, I had the pleasure of hearing a talk given my a reading specialist last year, who had some interesting things to say about the process of learning to read.  I found them interesting both as a mom and a linguist.

1.  Don’t push too early. It’s important for kids to learn to read.  The sooner they do, the more information they can learn using reading as a tool.  Schools expect children to be reading with a fair degree of fluency by the end of first grade.  A lot of people take this to mean that if a child isn’t reading well by 7, it spells doom and mental retardation.  Actually, studies show that there is a much bigger window when it is normal for kids to learn how to read–like up to 9 years old.  They also show that the process is highly dependent on the development of certain parts of the brain.  Until that development occurs, learning to read will be a lot like a bird smacking up against a window over and over again.  Not fun.  In some kids, that happens around 5; in others, it’s not until 9.  In a school setting, the pressure is there to make sure everyone is acquiring the skill on the same time table.  Why?  Because they have activities planned for the future that require everyone to be able to read.  If a student can’t, he won’t be able to participate.  In that case, they have to label the student “behind,” but behind with respect to what?  Well, it would appear that it’s not so much “behind” with respect to normal neurolinguistic development but rather “behind” their expectations.

So, what then, do we just let learning to reading happen spontaneously?  No! Read on.

2.  Teach reading every day. Particularly when your child is reluctant, it’s important to work on it every day.  This helps them remember the concepts better and get more practice at it.  Emotionally, this can be hard if there’s a big battle every time you ask them to read something.  Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mean to say you have to browbeat your child for 30 minutes every day.  What I mean is that you have to get in some kind of exposure to reading–even if it’s 5 minutes–every (week) day.

3.  Keep it short. The more trouble you’re having, the shorter you should keep it.  The idea is for them to love reading.  If that means you teach them only 1 phonics concept and then read aloud to them and have them only read one or two words out of the text, be content with that for now.

4.  Let them read what they like. Do you read accounting books for kicks and jollies?  I thought not.  Yes, they have to learn that there is reading for pleasure and then, there is reading for important (though dry) information.  I think that distinction can wait until they are more fluent in reading.  It’s enough right now just to get through a sentence and understand it.  Interest in the topic is a huge factor in motivation to read and in comprehension of what’s been read.  Now, the Charlotte Mason mob may come get me for saying this (and the good Lord knows my stomach is turned by a Tinkerbell or Barbie reader as much as the next girl) but if they’re willing to read “fluff” and they throw themselves on the floor in convulsions when you give them the classics…well, just to begin with, a little bit of that cotton candy literature isn’t going to kill them.  If your child is into horses, go get a very simple horse book.  Loves Fancy Nancy?  Ok, then.  Got a thing for cars?  Indulge it!  You will keep them immersed in the classics with your reading aloud.  Sooner or later, they will figure out that a Barbie reader can’t hold a candle to a Laura Ingalls Wilder book in terms of story line.  They’re not stupid.

5. Be very patient. I’m just going to go ahead and say, from experience, that yelling really doesn’t improve reading skills.  There you go.  Now that’s out there.  Do with that what you want to.  It is so frustrating when you KNOW your child knows how to do something.  They just did it a minute ago.  If they would stop telling themselves they can’t, they would see the answer immediately.  You know if they really felt like it, they would do it.  It really feels like something personal and willful.  Whether it is or not, there is a fine line between pushing a kid to work or reprimanding her for not applying herself and taking those things beyond the point of what’s useful.  My advice is that if you have to go too much more beyond, “I want you to try because I think you really can do it,” then I think the best thing to do is to use the rest of reading time to read aloud to them.  This way, they don’t think they’ve “won” a battle not to do their school work and they still get reading exposure in.

6.  Play reading games. If you have to abandon an outright reading lesson and move to reading aloud to them, or if reading has become so emotionally charged that you need to take a break for a few days, sneak the reading in in very small increments.  Have them read the titles of the chapters only.  Or the first sentences.  Have them read only three-letter words.  Go outside to play with sidewalk chalk and then start “spontaneously” writing things on the sidewalk.  Your child will be curious.  Write something like fun and silly, so they’ll be pleased to decode it.  Have them try to read signs while you’re out–no pressure!

7.  Use the phrase “Sound it out.” sparingly. I am a big proponent of phonics as a method for learning to read, as opposed to the whole language method, but one thing that surprised me when I went to hear the reading expert speak–and yet, made perfect sense–is that phonics accounts for only about 50% of the way people decode words and meanings.  This is especially true in English, where we have influences from so many different sources (Norman French, Latin, Teutonic languages, and adopted foreign words, not to mention things like the Great Vowel Shift in England itself).  It can seem to a beginner like there are as many exceptions as there are rules.  Does that mean the rules are worthless, as we hear some people say?  No, it just means they are not the only piece in the puzzle.  Kids have to have strategies for figuring out meaning other than simply sounding words out.  One strategy is that they constantly compare the word they are trying out to a database of vocabulary in their minds.  For example, a child comes across the word “wind”.  (So far, even you don’t know which way to sound that out, do you?)  It needs context.  If it’s part of the sentence “The wind was blowing,” your decision will be different than if the sentence were “We need to wind the string around the pole.”  One pronunciation absolutely would not make sense in each context.  Another example could be “towel”.  Perhaps the sentence says, “Johnny dried off with a towel after getting out of the pool.”  Your child says “TOH-well”.  A question I frequently ask Mustard Seed is, “Hmm…have you ever heard of a word like ‘TOH-well’?  No, well have you heard of anything similar that would make sense there?”  She checks it against her database and quickly comes up with towel.  Again, this is not to say that phonics is unimportant BY ANY MEANS.  What I’m saying is that not everything can be solved by sounding out, and we should encourage other strategies that will work hand-in-hand with phonics.  In other words, phonics is a MUST-HAVE base, but it needs to go with other things.

8.  Read aloud to them!!! When a child is struggling with or refusing to read, reading aloud to them can feel like letting them get away with something.  Like you’re babying them.  In a way you are letting them get away with something, but that’s okay because you will win in the end.  First of all, you should read to your kids until they’re in college.  Got that?  College.  After a while, they better read to you, too.  Why?  You’re not supposed to be doing it after a certain age because they can’t read.  You should do it because having someone read to you is pleasurable.  It brings the words on the page alive.  It creates an explicit, spoken-out-loud, literary community in your family.  I know a couple without children, for example, that reads novels to each other on the weekends sometimes.  I want to be like them when I grow up.  The last thing we ought to do when a child is struggling with reading is take away the only kind of experience with books that is pleasurable to him.  Having a common “cultural capital” of literature between you and your children is a great thing and keeps them with one foot in the door of literature as a function of their relationship with you, even when they would otherwise feel like giving up on books altogether because of their struggles.

9.  Let them read to dogs. Did she just say that?  Yes, she did.  There have been other studies–yes, more studies–which I will not be able to cite!–that show that kids who read to dogs improve their skills more than kids who only read to people or to themselves.  They think it’s because dogs will pay attention and yet not judge or correct if they make a mistake.  Our library even invited dogs in for kids to read to!  How cool is that?  Also, neurolinguists theorize it has something to do with the dogs being so stinkin’ cute.

Some Sage Advice

6 Feb


Recently, I had the opportunity to visit one of my mom’s teachers.  I went to the same school as she did, and saw this teacher regularly in the halls, but the closest I got to being taught by him myself was one or two math tutoring sessions.  He was a great teacher.  Not the kind that’s all warm and fuzzy and gives stickers and pizza parties.  The kind you’re terrified of.  The kind that inspire Chuck Norris-style rumors of toughness and mercilessness.  Perhaps no one ever got out of his class with a Certificate of Undeserved Self-Esteem, but not too many got out without understanding math like the backs of their hands.

He’s in his 80s now and no longer teaches.  It turns out he has lived a fascinating life, which would be not just a post but a novel unto itself.  My mom got in touch with him recently, and he invited us over to visit, where it was really something to see this alleged ogre spoil Mustard Seed with ice cream, Sprite, and chips, and then take down his wooden figurines of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza to delight her!

He asked about her schooling, and I, of course, told him we homeschool.  Saying this to someone who was a private school teacher for something like 30 years—and a strict disciplinarian—I wasn’t sure if he would approve.  He didn’t seem surprised, though, and he offered me these two pieces of concise but valuable advice:

1.       To learn people need REPETITION, REPETITION, REPETITION.

2.       To be a good teacher, you have to have discipline.  “I’m not talking about discipline of the student.  I’m talking about discipline of YOURSELF!”

This comes from a very respectable teacher who got great results with the worst and worst-behaved students in the school for years, so I place a real premium on his counsel.  If those are the two elements into which he distills the art of successful teaching, I’m going to focus on those and see if I can replicate his success.