Learning Notes – Week of September 8th

Join us in the Guilt Free Learning Notes Linkup at Melanie’s blog The Wine Dark Sea!


Ah, a day of rest. I went to work to tend to my mice. David went to play with his grandpa, which involved the introduction of a Star Wars reader. He is now obsessed with reading the Star Wars reader, and when he has mastered it, Big Daddy has agreed to get him the next one.

It’s a small victory, I guess. But I suspect I may end up previewing a lot of bad extended universe novels for content.

The next hurdle will be to get him reading better quality stuff.


Today was a MoMo day. When I got home, I found that Mom had been dealing with the same sinus crud headache we have all been having lately, and hadn’t felt up to chivying little boys to do their work and he’d only done one page of his spelling workbook (out of four) and read a little.

So we sat down right then and there and finished his spelling work. He was aggravated, but kid, if you don’t do your work when you’re supposed to, you’ll do it when I find out that you haven’t done it yet.

I’ll grant, I’m not really happy with the beginning exercises of Spelling Workout, because sometimes it’s hard trying to figure out what the picture is supposed to be. So I can’t blame him all that much. We’ll see how it goes later in the book, we’re almost to the end of the picture and beginning/ending sounds section.

We also briefly discussed the distinction between wild, domesticated, and feral animals, spurred by a random comment of mine about feral cats.


I meant to start with Lauds, but I got distracted. Then we did about 2/3 of a spelling lesson and went to meet my mom at Sam’s. The vigil lamp is almost out of oil, and I can get a 5L jug of the good stuff at Sam’s.

As soon as we were home from the quick errands, I did say Lauds. It was still officially morning. I forbade David to interrupt me unless someone was bleeding or on fire, although he was very welcome to join me.

While we were out, I picked up a quad ruled composition book for David to do math in. And so we did some math when we got home. First we did left to right addition problems, then I switched it up and started giving him vertical addition problems. He loved the latter and wanted more, so I started teaching him how to add up bigger and bigger numbers. I’ve never heard anything quite like the delighted cackling noises he made during this lesson. When I showed him how to carry the ten, he actually burst into maniacal laughter.

After lunch, David finished his spelling, and then we moved on to history. Chapter 3 of Story of the World, followed by some perusal of the Eyewitness Ancient Egypt and a couple of laminated thingamagumies that came from the Fine Art museum gift shop when they had their Egyptian exhibit. One is Egyptian gods, the other hieroglyphics.

Then we tried doing some still life drawing with a lemon and a vase and a weird rock thing, but Raphael wouldn’t leave the objects alone. Too much life and not enough still for drawing.

We went to our parish after the day school let out to help distribute the CCE textbooks into the classrooms. I’m glad we went, because we were the only ones who came to help. And then we ran to a different grocery store because our regular one was out of andouille sausage and I needed it for jambalaya. On the way home we had our biology lesson, talking about what kinds of living things there were and how we could organize them into three main groups: Microbes, which were too small for us to see with our eyes, Plants, and Animals.

David was astounded to hear that human beings are animals. And he wants to come to work with me to look at Microbes in my microscope. This isn’t really feasible, but I’ve promised the eventual acquisition of a proper microscope for looking at Microbes.


And today, he did half of the math problems I wrote out for him (and had trouble with the two digit addition, but I was expecting that) and none of his spelling. When I got everyone home, I set David down to do his work, hopefully inoculating the very important lesson of ‘if you don’t do it when you’re supposed to, you will do it at the very first opportunity thereafter, even if you would rather be doing something else.’

On the plus side, when I reviewed yesterday’s history with him, he remembered the which color crown went with which Egyptian kingdom, and where they were located, and the shape of the Nile Delta, if not the name.


Raphael is clearly feverish today and had a second bad night in a row. And I absolutely had to go to work today, so Himself stayed home with the boys. No work happened. David was puckish today, which is a sure sign he’s next.


No school today. Boys were both sick, so I took them to the doctor instead. Raphael, who was feeling better, tested positive for strep. David, who is feeling worse, did not.

David did this weird thing where (it felt like) he tested positive for strep all the time as a baby, even when he didn’t have any real symptoms of strep. Then when he was weaned, this tendency tapered off. Now Raphael is doing it too. I wish I’d taken better notes with David.

Anyway, I’m not so thrilled with paying $60 of copays every time the boys get colds. And Amazon sells a 25 pack of strep tests for $40. So I will probably buy them and do the throat swabs myself, and only take the antibiotic requirer to the doctor from now on.

The specificity aren’t quite as good as the tests I could buy from Fisher Scientific, but the sensitivity is better, and for a home test to determine whether a pediatrician visit for Ab is in order, that’s actually preferable.

We came home and chilled on various horizontal surfaces for the rest of the day. I can already feel myself coming down with whatever this is.


I’m sick. David is getting better. He (spontaneously!) read some Elephant and Piggy aloud this morning and played with his cash register. Raphael is still asleep. And really, we’re going to spend the whole day watching the Clone Wars cartoon, because what are sick days for?

I did mean to take more pictures for this week, and I think I did, but I’m too sick and tired to put them in the edition. Oh well, there’s always next week.

Learning Notes – Week of September 1st

I am so happy and grateful that Melanie has agreed to begin a linkup for her Learning Notes posts this year. Last year’s learning notes posts were always an encouragement for me, especially as our kindergarten year (seemingly) descended into tantrums, Netflix, and madness. They were encouraging because they were neither glossed-over perfection, nor overexaggerated chaos. Some things worked. Others didn’t. They were guilt free and collaboration encouraging. Occasionally, there would be a science question I could answer, and/or provide more information. Reading them was like having both a friend next door and spare time enough to talk everything over. This year, with so many of us linking up, I hope will be even better.

Join us in the Guilt Free Learning Notes Linkup at Melanie’s blog The Wine Dark Sea! The linkup widget isn’t working yet, but that doesn’t matter, because these notes are 100% guilt free! Just leave your link in the comments.


Not much went on today. We haven’t started school yet, and anyway it’s Sunday. We registered him for CCE after Mass today.

The rest of the day was spent either doing some chores at home, or over at my parent’s house, because my brother was in town, and that means Innovation marathon. (Which I won.)


We semi-officially stick to the school calendar here in the Geek Domicile, simply because Himself’s schedule is already bound to the school year so we might as well. However, I’ve laid down the law – we don’t start until the day after Labor Day. So today, we hadn’t officially started school yet.

David has, however, been going on for the last two weeks about how he ‘just can’t wait that long’ for school to start. And there’s been some Khan Academy going on, because I can’t bear to tell him ‘no, you can’t learn math in your spare time’.


Today, we rather eased our way into school. David did the first lesson in his spelling workbook and wrote an email to his abuela in the Valley. We’ve decided to just skip reading lessons entirely, in favor of the spelling workbook and dedicated time to read books. Today he read me two BOB books. I read some of The Wizard of Oz aloud. He played with Legos and helped me do laundry and pick up around the house. Raphael was needy and clingy all morning, and he could not tolerate David sitting on my lap.

Then we went out to Pappadeaux, where one of our D&D group is a manager, and she’s been nagging us to come eat on her sometime. Today was slow, so we did. David was offered the opportunity to pet a lobster, but he declined, much to her disappointment. He did taste the fried alligator, which has got to be educational. Raphael ate an entire cheese stick.

On the drive home, we discussed how David doesn’t like history because there is no punching heads. Obviously history is full of punching heads, but he declared that it was only interesting if he was doing the punching. I suspect this is just him in the afternoon droop and that we need to be sure to get as much done during the cooperative morning hours as possible.

Also, we wondered what species of alien Yoda is. David declared, in a tone of ‘duh, mommy’, that Yoda is a Muppet. Touché, son.

Fun fact, though. Yoda’s species remains unknown to the expanded universe.

In spite of the head punching objection, we read the whole chapter about nomads from The Story of the World Volume One. Except for the silly fake history bits at the end. David was suitably fascinated by the description of nomadic life and the transition to farming without needing those parts. I can’t even bring myself to read them aloud. They’re like the Belly Button Song from the Boyton book.

Then we did science, which today involved just discussing the properties of living things versus non living things, and the definitions of organic and inorganic. It is amazing the amount of information a child can absorb from a 5-10 minute discussion. Then he moved on to Math vs. Zombies, which would be a brilliant learning tool if only it would let you select a permanent difficulty level.

When Himself got home, David was prompted to tell him about the science and history he learnt. The result was a quite reasonable recitation of the definitions of organic and inorganic, and the statement that “nomads settled down to become farmers on the crescent moon.” Which is, honestly, better infomation retention than a lot of Himself’s former high school students, so I’ll take it.


This was the day I had been dreading, the true test of the curricula and schedule I had set up. David was packing up his work to do at my mom’s, while I was at the lab. He was to do the second lesson from his spelling workbook (Spelling Workout A), read two BOB books aloud to my mom, and that was it. Other than missing the last page in his spelling lesson, he accomplished it all quite gamely on his own schedule and initiative.

Here’s something I’ve learned about David in the last year. He wants to be in charge, very very badly. I’m already having more success this year than last year by letting him be in charge. Up to a point.

However he’s hit a wall on Math vs. Zombies, and complains constantly that level 3 is too hard. And it is too hard for him. I need to just buy another composition notebook and write out math problems for him to drill with the days he’s over at MoMos.

I did have him review the history and science on the drive over to MoMo’s. He had the same slight difficulty with organic and inorganic, but this time he declared that nomads made villages in the grass crescent. I think he’s having trouble with the word fertile. It’s a new word and so he doesn’t have a context for it yet. It’s a nice intersection between the history lesson and the science lesson though!


I was at work all day again today. He did part of his spelling lesson and was required to finish it when we got home, much to his displeasure. Laziness is beginning to assert itself, and I knew it would. Oh well. He did do his reading aloud.


Today was our homeschool group’s annual Mary’s Birthday / Beginning of School party. First Friday Mass at a local parish, followed by play time, picnic, and a cupcake rosary at a local park until about two.

We did not make Mass that morning. We got going too late, and we needed to stop at the grocery story for picnic supplies anyway. So we did a couple errands, then went to the park for the party.

David volunteered to say one of the Hail Mary’s in the decade of the rosary that we did. This did not end well. He hates performing, doesn’t know the Hail Mary that well, and is prone to stage fright. But he insisted, so I let him find out the hard way. Poor little son. Actions have consequences though.

After the park, we went to the library. David signed up for his very own library card, and checked out a bundle of books.

Then we went home, where naps were taken and playing took place, but not much more school.


This was an extra busy day. First I had Catechist Orientation, so I was busy from 8-1. Then I had to go to work and inject mice, so we all bundled into the car and while I was in the lab, Himself took the boys to the natural science museum to renew our membership and see the dinosaur exhibits. We were renewing our membership in advance of the fossil wash that the museum extension in Sugarland is holding in two weeks.

After I was done, we drove up to the Co Cathedral for the annual Mass of Blessing for Homeschoolers. David and Raphael proceeded to be as badly behaved as humanly possible. So instead of going out for Tex-Mex, like we had originally planned, we went home, and I cooked the boys migas while Mike went out and picked up Tex-Mex for the adults to consume after the boys were in bed.

David was devastated by this, but again, actions have consequences. And the consequence of behaving badly in Mass is that mommy and daddy don’t really feel like taking you out to dinner anymore.

Token Effort

Taking a leaf from Erin of bearing blog‘s book, I am considering starting a token economy of my own. Earlier this year, David started getting an allowance. It’s a modest allowance, a weekly $5, but as an exercise in fiscal responsibility he also became responsible for providing his own weekly dollar for the collection basket, and his own library fines.

It’s worked out quite well. Other stolen ideas from Erin include David’s cooking lessons, lessons in how to work the washing machine, and lessons in how to change a diaper. In fact, apart from some early enthusiasm for Khan Academy, all school this summer has been very oriented towards home economics. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s led me to an observation about David (and myself).

David is only interested in doing the chores he finds novel and exciting. He’s an enthusiastic, energetic helper for these chores. But boring things, like picking up the toys and books or putting his socks and shoes away, remain a constant struggle and source of conflict.

And eventually the bloom will fade. Cooking dinner, doing laundry, all the necessary bits of housework he finds so exciting and grownupish, will become boring and "not fun", and therefore in his mind optional, because he "only wants to do things that are fun."

At the same time, he’s a big help when he will something (without whining). And as I ponder some possible rearrangements in work and home life, I know that his help will only get more valuable. The big question is how to keep it.

This is where I think the token economy will fit into our family. By tying the chores he does not want to remember (or do) to his allowance, maybe I can reinforce the idea that tasks he does not find fun are still a necessary evil.

Like Erin, this is a work in progress, and will probably be modified at the beginning of each month, to fine tune it. Here is is how I envision it starting out:

1. Everyone age 6 and up will receive a jar of 30 tokens. Himself and I will have as well as David. This will hopefully serve the dual purposes of reassuring David that this is fair, and that our participation will encourage Himself and I to be less sloppy ourselves. We are all terribly messy people, but the reforming energy never lasts.

2. We will each have slightly different lists, tailored to our individual bad habits – things we regularly forget to do, or hate and actively avoid.

3. No ‘fun’ chores are allowed on an individual’s list.

4. Tokens will be a dollar apiece.

5. When to take tokens will is the tricky and undecided part. For instance, I want David to stop leaving his shoes in the middle of floors/halls/stairs/etc. But he’d go negative if I took tokens away whenever I tripped over his shoes. Erin does a once a day inspection, but that won’t curb the shoes in the middle of the floor issue if he picks them up at the end of the day. I may have to work my way up on this one.

So far, my tentative task designations are as follows:

tidy bedroom: dirty laundry sorted in the hamper, clean laundry and toys put away, bed made
no socks or shoes lying around downstairs
hang his towel up properly after his shower

tidy bedroom and bathroom (my stuff)
no socks or shoes lying around downstairs
dinner mess cleaned up and the dishwasher running

tidy bedroom and bathroom (his stuff)
no dirty dishes floating around the house
(still thinking about #3. He wants tidy garage, I’m not sure if that’s enough on the daily radar.)

This project will actually tie in nicely to our Civics curriculum this year. We will be focusing on good family citizenship, and working together to keep the house picked up and livable is a good project! The rest of August is a dry run, to get us used to the individual tasks and checking each night, then we’ll start in September.

Curriculum Inflation

School starts again soon, and I’ve been procrastinating on another project by putting together David’s curriculum for this year.

Texas is a great place to homeschool. There are only three requirements. One, it must be a bona fide curriculum. You can write it yourself – there’s no list of approved curricula – but it has to contain actual content to be studied, not fluff to pass them on like a high school football star. Two, it must be visual in form. Three, it must contain the five basic subjects of reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics, and civics. That’s it. No minimum required number of instructional days. No reporting. No testing.

That being said, I hew fairly closely to the TEKS standards, out of sheer convenience. They are a convenient rough guide, if not for what is objectively developmentally appropriate, then as a relative measure of what his peers are up to.

But the TEKS aren’t perfect. In fact, when I dug right down into them this week, what I noticed bothered me. There are 11 different general subject areas in the TEKS standards. And over 50% of them are fluff.

Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Languages other than English – these five are all actual subjects that are actually being taught. The other six? Health Education, Physical Education, Art, Music, Theatre, and ‘Technology Applications’. Or as I like to call them ‘Listen to Your Mother’, ‘Play Outside’, ‘Color’, ‘Sing with Mommy or Dance with Daddy’, ‘Imaginative Play’, and ‘Screen Time’.

Of this fluff, Health Education is a blatant parenting substitution. Physical Education is inept lip service to the idea that kids need to move more throughout their day. And I’m at a complete loss as to why screen time is considered a separate subject area since it’s best learned when you’re using it to do something else.

I would feel different about Art, Music, and Theatre, if they were actually teaching those arts. But they aren’t. A full 1/4 of the topics that are considered essential knowledge and skills for six year old children are devoted to the kids’ own self expression, not to acquiring information or developing actual skills. And this drives me crazy.

Does expression have a role even in early education? Sure. How much of a role it plays in education at a particular age is a matter of legitimate debate. But either way, self expression is the end goal of education, not a subject matter to be taught. And it’s certainly not three subjects.

The Little Oratory – Chapter 1: The Christian Life

We have a ‘man of letters’ reading club on Facebook now, and I’m doing series on The Little Oratory that I figure may as well be cross posted here. I’ll be going through it chapter by chapter every Tuesday.

In the introduction, the authors talk briefly about why they’re writing this book. How, as converts, they don’t really know HOW to live as catholics in all the inbetween times of life, and how none of their cradle catholic friends seemed to know either. This book is the distillation of what they’ve discovered about living as catholics in all those inbetween times.

It starts with a chapter about what the goal of Christian living actually is. Before we can ask how to do it, we have to ask what it is we’re meant to be doing. The title is The Christian Life, but it’s really about how we manifest the Christian Life in the world.

The answer they offer is the liturgy, which is the work of the people of God. To bring it into the home and have it sanctify our fractured times. They mention the LotH briefly, as a way to join in the liturgical prayer of the Church, but the main emphasis is on how participation in the liturgy transfigures us, brings us into communion with God, and then sends us out to the world. What we are meant to be doing is manifesting the light of Christ to the world.

The rest of the chapter is about this evangelization. The Way of Beauty is briefly discussed, and the inherent attractiveness of the Gospel. It ends with hospitality as an especially important method of evangelization, and the introduction of the family oratory ("house of prayer") as a powerful tool to help us.

So my thoughts: It’s a frustrating chapter to read, it floats from topic to topic in a way that makes sense while I’m reading, but I find hard to summarize. And it doesn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. But I still think it’s helpful to take this reminder of what the Christian life as the starting place for growing your devotional life instead of the lists of devotions and sacramentals and cultural accretion you find everywhere else.

I had very much the same experience with the lists, only lacking plenty of catholic friends nearby in similar states of life, I had turned to the internet for the answers. (Fisheaters.com was so especially unhelpful here, that I repeatedly gave up in disgust.) So, while this first chapter is dry and erudite and frustrating to read, I like the content and message quite a bit. I had to fumble my way towards the understanding of what I was supposed to be doing, and all of what I learned the hard way (and quite a bit that I haven’t internalized yet) is right here.


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