Thursday, December 11, 2003

Christmas Preparations

I'm feeling a fair bit better about what's happening around here. We've had a bit more productive time, less sitting in front of the computer all day, less conflict over things like practising and tidying.

Fiona has cut three premolars in the past couple of weeks, so neither of us are sleeping terribly well at night, and I think that was sending me towards a bit of panic. But for whatever reason (not that we're sleeping better, but maybe just reduced expectations?) I'm doing better.

I've got all the Christmas gifts that need to be mailed into the post and most of the made gifts are finished. The kids and I have put by some Christmas baking. The kids have been drawing and painting, playing outside and playing creatively indoors.

Noah has been devouring easy chapter books for pleasure. His decoding is now easy enough to give him the fluency he needs to read longer books without fatigue. He is very pleased with himself and has joined the ranks of readers-in-bed. The Magic Treehouse and Boxcar Children books are all back on the main shelves and being loved all over again. Today when we were in Nelson, Noah mentioned that he can't not read any more. "I'm eating my lunch and looking around and the words on signs are just there, in my brain. I don't have to try to read them. They just come into my head by themselves."

Sophie can read a ton! Almost any word using basic short-vowel sounds, regardless of length, and some long-vowel words too. I first wondered a week or so ago when she read "Montana's" off a restaurant sign. I thought to myself "this kid is learning to read!" I posted in another thread about making a little book for her of words she can read. We sat down for 20 minutes and I wrote down a hundred or so words, and if she could read them we wrote them in her little book.

Erin has read the LOTR trilogy twice in the past 2 weeks. Now she's working on the Lost Years of Merlin Trilogy by T.A. Barron. We only have the first two; she's on her second time through them. Erin, Noah and Sophie spent about 3 hours one morning this week building a big snowman. It's considerably taller than the tallest of them and they were justifiably proud of it.

We don't have our rink started yet :-( . It's been either too warm or snowing. Today it's the latter. This week I met an unschooling family that is new to our area. They have 4 kids, ages 2-11 and seem really nice. For a rural village of 600, this is a terrific boon to us. We promised to have them up for some skating as soon as our rink is made. So far I've only met the parents, so it remains to be seen whether the kids "click" or not socially but the chances are pretty good, I think.

Monday this week was our regular Nelson routine, with gymnastics, grocery-shopping and piano lessons. Piano lessons were productive. Our regular teacher will be back next Monday. Sophie (all 5 years 0 months and 30 lbs of her) was asked to join the competitive stream at gymnastics. Egads! Noah was invited into competitive after last year's session. That wasn't so surprising to me... he's a boy (I guessed they wanted boys), had been attending for over a year, and was clearly very accomplished compared to the mostly older kids in his recreational class. I guess it was flattering for Sophie to be asked, but competitive at age 5, a mere 6 sessions into her gymnastics "career"? I don't put my kids in competitive situations, and the comp. stream practices on Thursdays and Saturdays, so it was a no-brainer for me. Still, I couldn't believe how quickly she was pounced upon. Maybe they need the enrollment?

For the past 4 years I've put together a CD of the kids' musical output as a gift to extended family. The first two years it was just Erin. Last year Noah was ready to play a few easy violin pieces. He hadn't really started piano, but he played some melodies for fun on piano too, and Sophie did a 15-second sampler of her violin skills (she'd just started practising violin a couple of weeks before). This year Noah has some pretty impressive piano offerings, including a couple of nice compositions, and Sophie has plenty of violin to play. Erin's piano tracks are partly collected... we have a couple more to do over the next week. In the past, finding a decent accompaniment for the violin stuff has been a challenge. I can do the simplest stuff, but by Suzuki Book 2 I'm starting to feel out of my depth on some pieces. This year we found a good accompanist for the first time... Erik, the substitute piano teacher, who plays so well, likes the kids, is an excellent and enthusiastic accompanist, and needs the money. What a luxury! Noah, Erin and I made a special trip to Nelson today in the middle of a snowstorm to spend a wonderful relaxed 2 hours chatting and playing with Erik and in the midst of it all catching enough good takes on the Minidisc Recorder. Chuck stayed with the younger two for 3 hours this morning and then my mom came up and stayed with them for the last couple of hours. Sophie apparently talked my mom's ear off the entire time she was here and read all hundred words to her out of her little handmade book.

After I collect the last of the piano tracks from Erin and Noah, and Sophie's Book 1 violin pieces (probably this weekend) I'll have to get started on the liner notes. These are always great fun for me, and this year we've got a colour printer. I compile photos, artwork, track listings and "biographies" of the kids.

Readalouds lately have been "Winnie the Pooh" (which of course we've read in the past, but it's been a couple of years), "Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger" by Louis Sachar (very weird and funny), "Eragon" (which we finally finished!), "The Golden Goblet" (author escapes me... set in ancient Egypt and very well-written and enjoyable) and we're about to start "The Thief Lord" by Cornelia Funke.

A couple of weeks ago Noah expressed some interest in the Singapore Math program. Erin has been using it for a couple of years. I've had the Miquon books available for my kids at the earlier levels, but didn't have Singapore except beyond the 2B level. Noah, who has a ton of math smarts, simply didn't seem to be moving along in Miquon the way I expected. It wasn't getting him fired up. He was seldom interested in doing formal math. That was fine with me. But he looked at a Singapore 3A book we had from when Erin worked through it and decided it looked "fun and easy". I had him do bits of the placement tests, because I figured his working level was probably more like 1B. But he tested out a solid 2A or a weak 2B. So I ordered the 2A/2B levels for him, figuring we'll use 2A for review and to adjust to the program and fill in any holes. We've had it for 2 days and has done 7 exercises and is really enjoying it. So far so good. It definitely seems to be his kind of math program: clear and logical and bare-bones with a nice presentation. Sophie's continued to do a couple of pages a week from the end of Miquon Orange. Erin, who was enthusiastically finishing up the stuff she'd skipped over previously in Singapore 5B, has given up on math for December, it seems. Okay. She's got other stuff on the go... lots of reading and crafts, most of it very private and self-directed. And she's been relatively easy from an interpersonal standpoint during the last week or two. That counts for a lot around here.

Today started with the snowy 90-minute-plus drive to Nelson, the accompaniment session, lunch and then the drive back. This afternoon is practising and a bit of play. We're having supper at grandma's house, followed by the annual ritual of a sleepover by the older kids after they help her decorate her Christmas tree. So Chuck, Fiona and I will have a quiet evening together. And then Fiona will keep me up all night again :-). Ah well.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003


I'm feeling like we're being very unproductive, so it's definitely time to start observing and documenting what's happening in a bit more detail.

Right now the three kids are improvising together on the piano. Sophie's got a bass vamp going, Erin is playing a chromatic sequence in the middle of the piano, and Noah is noodling some odd arpeggios up in the upper register. They're having a hoot.

Today was an orchestra day. Erin got a chance to play her Haydn piano concerto movement with the string orchestra accompaniment. She really really enjoyed this. In the past she'd always rather stay with the violins in string environments, rather than sticking out as a pianist. But she's quite confident and comfortable in the orchestra now and was happy to be the "star soloist on a different instrument".

This morning Chuck and I had to pick up a sofabed for my mom at a local catalogue store outlet and move it into her house. We paid Erin $5 to run interference with Fiona for the 45 minutes it took to heave it into and out of the truck and get doors at mom's house off their hinges and back on again. Erin and Fiona came with us on our errand. We let Sophie and Noah stay home alone together. I gave Noah clear instructions about using the phone if he needed to, about looking out for Sophie and about not taking risks. He did very well. He was dying for the chance to use the phone... he's really taken with the phone lately. So when the phone rang at my mom's I knew it would be him. He just wanted to tell me that he might want me to help him with one of his piano pieces later when I got home. Okaybye. .

Sophie got sick while we were gone. When I came home she was quietly sobbing in her room with a puke bowl. She'd retreated there without letting Noah know she wasn't well. It didn't seem likely that she had been worried about being at home alone, or that she was lonely, but I wondered anyway if that was it because it had come on so suddenly in the 45 minutes we were gone. But then she spent the morning vomiting bilious stuff. So she really was sick. But by lunch time she had an appetite and felt a good bit better by the afternoon.

Noah and Erin were outside on the driveway hill sledding with the new snowsled for about 4 hours. Erin had trouble doing her piano practising because she kept wanting to sight-read through the new Grade 6 repertoire album. She did some practising, but skimped a lot.

I hope we can get some of the things on our "to-do" list done in the next few days. Gingerbread houses, the rink set up and flooded, some Christmas gifts made, maybe get back at some math games, historical fiction, painting, crafts. We shall see. I feel myself getting frustrated and short-fused about the aimlessness and wasted time... I feel the clock ticking down towards Christmas and want all my ducks in a row before then. I think I'm spending too much time on the computer myself. That's part of it. The laundry is piling up, the toy room is a mess. These are my issues, not the kids'.

Monday, December 01, 2003


Town day. Gymnastics and piano lessons with "Eric", the substitute. Eric worked both kids a good bit harder than he had the first time they met. Good, productive lessons. We had extra time at lunch after grocery-shopping, so I read a chapter of "Eragon" aloud to the kid on a bench in the mall. We bought fixings for gingerbread houses. Erin has discovered the Neopets site and wants to join a homeschoolers' guild. We talked a bit about the fact that the site serves a marketing purpose and decided that so long as she was aware of that, the educational value was worthwhile. So I printed out the parental permission form to give her access to message boards. She'd love to spend hours a day on the neopets site. Fortunately we have a dial-up modem, a single phone line and a dad-guy who needs access to the phone line when he's on call. That will hopefully keep things in balance.