An unbiased observation of Fatherhood

In discussing Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis with Fritz, we talked about how a “being” could not possibly observe any sort of law of human behavior merely by watching humans.  So, whereas, one might observe squirrels and say, “All squirrels gather nuts,” one could not say “All men are kind” or “All men kill” or “All men would try to save someone who was drowning” or “All men eat meat.”

The other kids tried to come up with some.  Katie suggested “All men drink water” but many people drink lemonade or soda instead, so that wouldn’t strictly be true.  I also discounted things like “All men breathe” since we’re not discussing life functions but rather life choices.  Squirrels, I suppose, might choose to not gather nuts…but they don’t.  Humans, though, routinely choose things that are not in their best interest, for good or ill.  Humans might not gather nuts or do any other activity which would prepare them for the needs of tomorrow or next month or next year.  But then other humans do, some to excess.

Great discussion.

Mary’s contribution, though:

“All dads drink beer.” 

Such is the view from her eyes.

Greener Grass

On Monday, Katie went to the local elementary school for some project that her Girl Scout troop is working on.  All the other girls in her troop were already there, of course, since they go there.  Katie alone had to be hauled in.

That night at dinner, she asked if she could attend that school.

“Um, no.”  I said.  “We’re moving in 3 months.  I don’t think putting you in a school for 3 months is beneficial to your education.”

She started crying.  I guess the other girls made school seem like a great place.  Plus, she has some ideas about what school would mean: she thinks it would be quieter than our home, she thinks it would be social and fun (but quiet?), she thinks it would be easier.

Because an easy A is better than an A earned because your mother made you do that problem over and over and over until you clearly understood and mastered the material and got it right.  She doesn’t know that even if she went to school, I would make her do the work over and over and over until she got it right.  Sorry, kiddo, I want you to get an education, one way or another.

“Do they have to memorize poems in school?” she wanted to know.  Right now she’s working on “Paul Revere’s Ride”, which is the most challenging one she has to do this year.  The other poems are much shorter and simpler.  She wants to go to school so that she won’t have to memorize poems.  Oh, the torture.  {sigh}

She’s also struggling with the history books, even the historical fiction.  “I want to go to school so that I don’t have to read books,” she declared.

We tried not to laugh out loud.  “Not only do you have to read books,” Fritz informed her, “you have to write papers on them.”

“They’re called book reports,” I said.  Our writing assignments are a bit different, and none are like the formulaic book summaries I remember from elementary school.

Her biggest complaint, though, seems to be the noise level in our home, mainly by those children who have completed their work or who have none.  Her attitude annoys me, because she is just as guilty of disrespectful shenanigans during school hours as anyone else.  But if anyone has any suggestions for effective sound-blocking headphones, I would appreciate it.


Fritz has no illusions about the tribulations of attending school.  For one, there are girls there.  Horrors.  Secondly, he thinks school is much harder than home.  Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.  I don’t think he would have to memorize or even read much Shakespeare at his grade level.  He wouldn’t have Latin.  But, yes, he would likely have other assignments, writing assignments, that would frustrate him, especially if his mother demanded more editing and re-writes than his teacher.

But clearly, one thing about home school is an advantage.  At CCD last night, the teacher asked the kids what time they get up in the morning.  Most were between 5 and 530 AM to catch that school bus and be in the classrooms by 7 AM.  Fritz doesn’t get up until 7 AM.  I’m a morning person, and I honestly don’t know how parents get their kids out the door that early. 

Better them than me.

And now, off to begin our day.  The kids keep hoping that mom will keep typing, but we have much to do in little time.  Moving will disrupt our year, but at least the kids won’t have to change schools.

Science/History class trauma

This happened weeks ago, but I’ve had these photos on my camera and finally downloaded them.

Katie was trying to find a quiet place to read her history.  This is quite a challenge here.  I’ve been to other people’s homes during school hours, and they are not as noisy.  I crave quiet students diligently reading, but that is not my lot in life.


The back deck was too hot and sunny, so I suggested the front porch which remains shaded until afternoon.  And so she went.  Not too many minutes later, she returned, a bit startled.  Apparently, a snake had been on the roof, stalking a gecko.  Apparently, he caught it, but in the process lost his balance on the roof and so the two came tumbling down, landing right in front of her.

After but a moment’s pause, we all jumped up to go see.  I took one look and went to get my camera, which was on B&W (I did not realize this until it was over).

There was a snake, with a gecko hanging out of it’s mouth.

snake on porch railing post

zoomed in

We stood, not 18 inches away, and watched the poor gecko in his last moments.  It was horrifying, in a detached, scientific sort of way.  The snake, in the middle of eating, was terrified by the looming figures of 7 people lurking over him, but he was a bit busy and couldn’t move.  As soon as the last of the tail was swallowed, the snake took off.

Back in the house, Jenny cried.  I held her tightly.  This is why I am not a biologist.  I hate this stuff.  I’m not fond of creepy crawly things at all, but around here, as long as they stay outside, the geckos are kinda cute.  We even consider them our friends.

Last Week of Summer Break

I almost might complain that school begins around here next week, except that school ended before Memorial Day and it’s too hot to do anything else.

I will complain, though, about my calendar, which I just filled with piano on Mondays, Scouts on Tuesdays, CCD on Wednesdays, and ballet on Fridays.  Still left: flag football.  We should find out this week if that will be on Mondays or Thursdays with games on Saturdays.  I hope hope hope it’s on Mondays.  It would mean the boys can go to fencing on Thursdays, and it would mean that I would have one free afternoon/night a week, because if Bill doesn’t take them to fencing, they don’t go.

Fritz is the only one enrolled in CCD.  The rule at our parish is that you must attend CCD the year prior to the year you receive a sacrament (here or at another parish).  I brought Fritz’s report card showing he was enrolled in what I called a “private, Catholic distance learning school,”  where he received an “A” in religion class.  Unfortunately, though, our last name isn’t exactly common, so the parish secretary, who may not know my face, knows who we are, and knows we homeschool.  She might even remember telling me a year and a half ago specifically that homeschoolers must enroll in CCD. I’m sure she’ll take her case to the pastor, and I can’t say what he will decide.  But he likes Fritz, he likes our family, and it doesn’t hurt that the boys are altar servers.

Anyway, all these extra-curriculars begin the second or third week of August, severely limiting my ability to go to the beach on random days.  I guess I should take them one day this week.

Big Successes

With 4 kids gone this week, I set as a goal to get most everything ready for next year’s school year.

For the record, we’re not completely done with this year.

But I really want to enjoy my summer and not have school planning hanging over my head all July.  So, I have sorted and inventoried my books, made lists of what I need to purchase, and, best of all, done the lesson plans for all 5 students for the whole year.  This is a tedious job.

Everybody has their own system, but, for me, what works is a weekly checklist of all the assignments.  Yes, quite often my students are shuffling through multiple pages when they get behind in certain areas, but it really helps us to see how much we have left to do.  I use Mother of Divine Grace with minimal substitutions, so I just plop those lesson plans into an Excel spreadsheet.  Then I print out all 32 weeks and take it to Staples where they will spiral-bind it for a small fee.  Last year I printed the 32 weeks on 16 pages, but I didn’t like that, so I’m back to 32 pages.

The younger grades are, obviously, a bit easier to do since I saved the files.  It’s the oldest child whose lesson plans take the most time.  And I finished that this morning – WOOHOO!  I am doing a victory dance.

If you use MODG and would like to have these checklists, I will happily share my hours of labor with you.  I have through Grade 8.  I make no guarantees of accuracy, or promises that you will like my abbreviations.  Some subjects still require you to look at the syllabus, and I may have added or subtracted things (for example: piano practice is on the top beginning in Grade 2).  But the spreadsheets are able to be edited.  Let me know if you are interested.

Unstandardized Testing

For the 7th year in a row, I have mailed off my children’s California Achievement Tests for grading.  As always, I have mixed feelings.  And, as always, I have new and different feelings.

First off, none of my children are likely to 99th percentilers.  Or 98th.  Or even 95th.  In fact, if the first digit is a 9, I will jump for joy.  Years ago, this bothered me greatly.  I always scored at the top of standardized tests, and I went to (gasp) public schools.  Surely, my children, who are quite bright, and who have a teacher with a fabulous mind and a true love of learning and who only wants the best for them and gives them one-on-one tutoring, surely, these children should be top scorers. 

But my children are not me.  And I have to accept that.

I also have to accept that, quite likely, those public schools I attended prepared me for those standardized tests.  That they taught to the test, as they say.  I won’t do that.  And I see where the curriculum I use does not address topics like grammar to the extent these tests require in the younger years.  Years ago, that bothered me.  Now, I realize that a 4th grader not knowing what a predicate is, is really no big deal.

Unless you want good scores on the standardized tests.

I tested Fritz and Billy beginning in the 1st grade, because Virginia law demanded it.  That’s ridiculous.

Katie and Jenny began in the 2nd grade.  This was Jenny’s first year, and I should have skipped it with her.  Georgia law doesn’t require it, and she is not yet a good reader.  Her frustration was expressed in large sweeping scribbles on one page of the test.

Fortunately, I was able to erase them.

Like every year, I went through and made sure that all the bubbles were nice and dark.  This is the first year, however, where I did not check the answers.  Why did I check the answers in the past?  The results don’t tell you what they got wrong, so I wanted to see where the issues were.  Why didn’t I do it this year?  Apathy…time…experience that it just doesn’t matter.  Maybe I’m just getting old and lazy.

Like every year, I made sure that there were no excess or stray marks on the pages.  Unlike every other year, I didn’t give the full verbiage about how to take the test: When you see a Go On at the bottom of the page, it means go on to the next page.  When you see a Stop it means it is the end of the test.  You may go back and check your work.  Please sit quietly until the time is up.  Do not talk to the other students.  Do not throw spit balls at the teacher.  etc, etc etc. 

I also left out the part about not making any other marks on the page.  My boys played connect the dots with their answers.

You should have seen my head hit the table.  Really?  I asked them.  Didn’t you know any better? 

I guess not.  The marks erased.  Mostly.

My final thoughts are this.  I think standardized testing is a good idea for several reasons.  It does give you an idea of what other students at the same grade level are learning.  It does serve as a benchmark if you use the same one, year after year.  And it does give the kids practice in taking this sort of thing so that when it really matters (SATs and ACTs and those sorts of tests), they are comfortable with the format.  This year, my 3 older students happily took the tests as a break from their other school work.  They’ve finally relaxed and don’t see the testing as onerous.

But…I also recognize the limitations of standardized testing and sympathize with teachers who are judged only on the basis of the results they get (especially if they have students who play connect the dots on their answer sheets).  I oppose states mandating testing of homeschooled children in years that public school children are not tested (as Virginia requires it annually, but the public schools only do them every 3 years or so).  And I empathize with other moms, like me, whose kids are fair-to-middling on these tests and who feel shame or worry that they aren’t a good enough teacher.

School Day

On the way home from a visit to our favorite local ice cream place…

…and I have to stop right here and gloat mention that I’ve had my heater turned off for more days than I can remember and the windows open wide, even at night…

…a visit which commenced at a time at least one hour prior to the end of the local elementary schools’ day, Jenny asked me if my mother had made me do schoolwork

I told her no, that my mother made me GO to school  And then I came home and did homework all.night.long.

She was surprised that I hadn’t been homeschooled.  My mother worked, I explained. 

“What did your dad do then?” she wondered. 

They have no idea how lucky they are.


These guys paid us a visit on Valentine’s Day.  I don’t know what they are.  My bird experts are all unavailable right now.  We love living in this part of the country partly because of all the different birds we get to see.

Note that this was taken during school hours and all the children saw them.  I never got to see interesting birds while I was at school


And then this morning, Katie came running in from the backyard where she was reading her history book in the sunshine (note: I did not get to read history books outdoors on beautiful mornings while I was in school to announce that there was a wounded bird in our yard.

“Leave it alone!”  That was the first thing I shouted.  “Get back to your math!”  That was the next thing, directed at the boys who had sprung from their seats.  Unfortunately, there was someone at the door, and in my absence, they all ignored me.

It was a goldfinch.

Here are my children doing schoolwork

Yes, that’s a bird in Katie’s hand.

He is pretty cute.  But his eyes kept closing.  I don’t know what was wrong with him. 

Normally a bird would be wide eyed and shaking like a leaf.  And not in a child’s hand.  Even a cute one.

I made Katie put him down by the back fence.  He blends in really well.

I zoomed in so you could spot him.

I love my camera.

Thank you, honey.

Anyway, I shooed him through the fence so the dog couldn’t get him.  Or the children.  There is overhead cover at that spot, so I thought he’d be protected from the hawks we often see.  A short while later, Katie said he was gone, but she felt that a particular goldfinch she saw flying around was him.  Perhaps.  I hope so.  He may just have been dazed, perhaps he flew into a window and needed a rest to recover.

Or maybe somebody’s cat got him.  Don’t want to know.

Don’t you just pity my children their oppressive school conditions?


After a busy weekend doing nothing much eventful (exception: I did meet Rachel Balducci and have her sign for me her book, How Do You Tuck in a Superhero?), we have settled into our boring school routine.  Since Bill was off last Thursday and Friday, we didn’t do a full week’s work then, and the running around from the weekend plus a cold/fever virus that half of us are fighting has everybody feeling drained.  My kids think the best solution on days like that is to watch an entire season of The Dick Van Dyke Show

Unfortunately, their mother/teacher/slave owner thinks doubling up on the grammar and Latin lessons that were dropped last week so that we’ll be caught up to where we should be will make us all feel better.  A sparkling clean house is also a cure-all for most ailments in my world, but I’m not going to push it.

So onward we trudge.  We need to do only 5 weeks of school before the end of the calendar year to be halfway through the school year.  The kids don’t know that we’ll probably take at least 3 full weeks off for Christmas and going into January.  That downtime will be worth all the long days now.

Keeping me laughing

“Peter,” said I to my son, “remember this picture?”  He glanced up from something he was coloring and nodded.  “Do you remember what is on the chair?”

The picture by Van Gogh is called The Chair and the Pipe because it shows a chair with a pipe on the seat.  Peter, though, never seems able to disassociate the artist from the picture and whenever he sees a Van Gogh (any Van Gogh), thinks only of the details he has learned about his short, tragic life.  So what does Peter automatically reply in response to my question?

“An ear.”

Inspiring Creativity

My kids all love to draw, as long as the subject matter is their choice.  Drawing is a significant part of my school curriculum, especially in the younger years, and my children always resist the drawing assignments.  It’s not so much fun to draw what somebody else wants you to draw.  (Can’t say I blame them.  I enjoy writing, but assign me a topic, and I will procrastinate and complain as though it is near torture.) 

Usually, the children opt to copy a picture, because it helps to have someone else’s vision for what to do.  That’s if they like the picture.  But if they don’t feel comfortable drawing sheep, for example, and the Bible picture or Aesop’s fable or poem illustration shows sheep, my little students will dig in their heels and insist that the assignment is too hard.  Fortunately, by 2nd grade, they get over this, generally because they now have 2 more years of experience in drawing.

Also, fortunately, if you are the 5th student and your mother has kept all the drawings (done in bound blank books) that your older siblings have done, you have a wide variety of illustrations to peruse until your muse inspires you.  At the very least, it helps to know that they too had to do the same work and they managed, somehow. 

I knew there was a reason I kept that shelf full of drawings.