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July 2006

Now, Who Made this Mess?


If you've been following my blog, you can probably guess!

As you see here, painting is almost purely a hands-on experience for Earlybird. Paintbrush shmaintbrush! Notice the handprint on the wall? Paper shmaper! Thankfully, the paint cleans up pretty well (as does EB). :)

Earlybird has always been a very tactile child. He loves to soothe himself to sleep by rubbing his bedsheets. He loves to play with mama's hair and giggles at the feel of daddy's stubble. He loves exploring and assessing with his hands ~ sand, water, dirt, dough, paint. And then of course there's the little known and much misunderstood medium of macaroni and cheese:


Fork shmork!

Now, I feel it necessary to point out that EB can use a fork and does so quite well. But you know, what 4 yo can resist the ooey-gooey texture of Annie's Creamy Deluxe ...


... when it's smushed and squished between your fingers? And it's the nicest shade of orange, too. :)

So I'm thinking my Earlybird might just be a tactile learner. And if so, I'll need to find pre-K activities that will suit such a "handy" boy as he. Are there books - or entire curricula -- suited to this type of learner? A quick google search turned up this - but I need some more direction! I'd love to make the most of his strengths. If you have any ideas, please let me know! For now, I'm off to investigate! :)

Language, Learning and Love

Early this morning Earlybird ran out into the family room, jumped on the couch and said, "All done paint, Mama!" I looked at him in disbelief and repeated, "All done paint, EB?" He looked back at me as if to say, "Yes, Mother dear, didn't you hear what I just said?"

"Yeah! All done paint!" he reiterated. (And yes, we do painting here bright and early in the morning - he's not called Earlybird for nothing.)

I can't tell you how happy this makes me. A few months back his speech therapist and I worked very hard at every session (and dh and I did at home) to get EB to tell us he was "All Done" with an activity when he was, in fact, all done. He rarely cooperated with that request - he would just move on to the next thing. Sometimes he would say "Yeah" when we would ask if he was all done. But most times he ignored our language prompts - even the picture card showing the sign for all done.

And here today, without any prompting from me - no picture card, no reminder - he runs out from the kitchen, leaving his latest creation to dry on the island, and tells me matter of factly he's All Done. And not just All Done. All Done Paint, Mama. Four whole words, clearly said and fully meant - a sentence, is what I would call that. :)

Yesterday, Earlybird and I were reading books together on his bed. As I began to read Machines at Work for the third time, I suddenly felt EB's little hands on my face, turning my head towards him. Looking me right in the eye, smiling, he said "Ah uh oo, Mama." And when I (heart bursting) said back to him, "I love you too, Earlybird," using our sign for that phrase, he returned the sign and the sentiment once again! And then followed it up with "Big huuuuug!" holding me tightly in his arms. Oh the joy! The connection! The language!

Oh, the love.

This seems to be how EB's speech is coming out. He is using more words and phrases now, almost always unprompted. It seems to me that he is becoming more comfortable with language - forming it and using it - and as that comfort grows we can hear (and I think can expect) more wonderful interactions like these.

Sometimes his language is quite clear, and we know just what he means: All done paint, Mama. He was telling me clearly he was done with his painting for now and ready to do something else. Sometimes his language is unclear, and we work with him on his pronunciation, and try to piece together what he means.

And sometimes his language is unclear, but we still know just what he means: Ah uh oo, Mama. It was not a moment for correction; it was a moment for connection. There was no missing the love in this boy's eyes, or the love in his arms as he hugged me. At moments like these the language comes second, the love comes first.

Ah uh oo too, Earlybird.

Poetry Friday: The Lamb

In honor of Genevieve's upcoming Carnival for the Little Ones, my poem this week is The Lamb by William Blake. For more Friday poems, stop by A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy ...

Little lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed
By the stream and o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

Little lamb, I'll tell thee,
Little lamb, I'll tell thee:
He is called by thy name,
For He calls Himself a lamb.
He is meek, and He is mild;
He became a little child.
I a child, and thou a lamb,
We are called by His name.
Little lamb, God bless thee!
Little lamb, God bless thee!

And here are my three little lambs a few years ago ...


Bookworm at 3


Crackerjack at 2


Earlybird at 6 months

Has time really flown that fast?

I want this ...


... to look like this, and this!

Dh hung our bulletin board back up for me this morning and I'm itching to set it up like Theresa, Barb and Faith did theirs. Our version of "fridgeschooling" will actually take place around the corner from our refrigerator, but I think the idea will be the same. I'll keep you posted on the progress. :)

Oh, and while we're on the subject, I want our learning room to look like this. Awesome job, Cheryl!

Speaking of Art ...

We don't have to look too far to see where Earlybird gets his artistic nature. My mother is a wonderful artist - and we have many examples of her beautiful work in our home. I'd like to share a few here:







By the way, that lighthouse is painted on Earlybird's bedroom door - a gift from his Nana before he was born. :) As you might guess, we're awfully proud of my mum - and for so many things - but her art is truly a work of love she shares with us gladly!

Handwork for Little Hands

In the comment section of this post, Cici asked:

"Can you expand a little? What do you (or would your son do) with the small squares and circles of felt and the sheep's wool?"

O.K., below are a few more ideas for children's handcrafts! :) But first, a quick disclaimer ...

I am by no means an expert in this area. If anything, the reason I am concentrating so much on it is that I fear in the past I have fallen too short! With any child - but especially one with developmental delays - you look for the open windows, the pathways to learning. And here I have this crafty little guy, who, for all of his challenges, is good with his hands and joyously open to art experiences. How can I not make the most of that?

Some of these ideas are a bit beyond EB right now, but I'm including them because they may be just right for another child (and I plan to try them with my older two). My plan is to allow EB access to materials and projects that are comfortable for him, and slowly work in activities that will challenge his attention level. I will probably make up a very small basket to begin with - with just one or two items for him to handle. As he gets used to his basket, and as his patience builds, I will increase the number of materials inside as well as the complexity of the projects.

And one more thing ~ most of these ideas are not my own, but ones I have gleaned from wonderful craft books like The Children's Year, All Year Round, Earthways and The Children's Seasonal Treasury. Directions for craft projects of all kinds can be found in these books.


As with most natural materials, wool felt is wonderful to hold and work with. It is, however, more expensive than acrylic felt, so I try to be careful how we use it. Mainly, we will use it for small crafts and simple stitching practice.

I will ask dh to make a felt board and then the boys will make and use various shapes cut from felt to stick on the board ~ making up stories and practicing skills as they do (weather, letters, numbers, shapes, faces etc.). We'll keep the shapes we collect in small baggies and add to our collection through the year. The older two can draw the shapes themselves, then cut them out. For EB, who'll be learning to use scissors this year, I will provide pre-cut shapes in his basket.

(Note ~ the following felt crafts are for slightly older children who can handle a large-eyed needle.)

The older boys can stitch the felt with bright strands of embroidery floss or yarn and create their own designs. These "embellished" felt pieces could be the beginnings of small handmade gifts later on.

I also might take 2-3 squares of felt, lay them together and fold them in half; then, stitch up the side to create a small sewing book. Again, simple stitches can be made, and small felt shapes and buttons or can be sewn on for fun. This can be an ongoing project.

Small felt beads and buttons can be strung through with thread ~ bracelets and necklaces made this way would make pretty gifts, and at Christmas, add a jingle bell or two!

Another nice use for felt shapes is to make a small pincushion or soft toy. Cut out shapes (circles, stars, squares, hearts, leaves) in double, and stitch along one side, but leave a small opening. Stuff sheep's wool (or cotton batting) inside and close up your shape with final secure stitches. This would make a nice addition to your handwork basket (or Grandma's)! Before stuffing, you might also sprinkle the wool with a bit of essential oil or some crushed dried herbs.

Sheep's wool

I have a small collection of plain sheep's wool I've been itching to use, and I'd love to add some colorful wool roving to our collection. The wool we have now was bought online, but once we had a batch of raw sheep's wool (quite raw it was too - we got it straight from a sheep farm we visited). We washed and "carded" the raw wool into a soft pliable wool. We never did get around to dying and spinning it - maybe next spring. Come to think of it, that was a really fun rabbit trail  - I'll have to post more on that later.

In the meantime you could get a small amount of clean wool and use two small wire brushes (as found at the pet store) to card the wool. Small bits can be rubbed between palms to make "yarn." (Or perhaps try out a drop spindle. Ask at local yarn shops about this.) Pure, soft sheep's wool is truly lovely for little hands to play with. It can be fluffed out into a ball, or twisted into shapes - and it can also be used to make imaginative scenes on the felt board. Kind of like painting with wool. :)

You can also offer a small amount of wool (colored would be nice here) and a few pinecones and let the children pluck out bits of wool to "decorate" their pinecone "trees."  A walnut shell, with a small bit of wool tucked inside would make a soft cradle for a tiny doll or small "seed friend." (Seed friends will have to wait for a fall post!)

Wooden beads

Plain or colored wooden beads are fun to string along with thin strips of leather or pipe cleaners (knot one end to make it easier). You could also use pipe cleaners and beads to craft little people - perhaps clothe them with bits of felt and fleece.


Soft balls of colorful yarn can be used for so many crafts. Before fall I will take the boys to the yarn store and let them each pick out their own color skein of yarn. Using children's needles (plastic or wooden) you can stitch with it on burlap (secured by a small wooden hoop) or on a plastic cross-stitch canvas.

You can also make pom-poms and attach a jingle bell for fun (these make cute Christmas present embellishments). At some point this fall we'll try to make yarn dolls. And fingerknitting is something I plan to teach both Earlybird and Crackerjack to do, while Bookworm would like to learn how to knit properly.


A small ball of beeswax is lovely to smell and mold with, but can be hard for little hands to manipulate. EB does have strong fingers, but he'd soon lose his patience I think. I may still place a small ball in his basket so he can feel it, smell it and play with it a bit. And rolling sheets of beeswax into candles would be a fun activity one week - especially if we're talking about bees! (September is National Honey Month!)

So there are a few more ideas for the little ones' crafts! I'd love to hear what you enjoy doing for handwork ~ drop me a note!

Artist at Work

This little boy would eat, drink, sleep and breathe arts and crafts if he could:


He's 4 and a half and this will be his first year of "preschool" at home. I'm still tinkering with his master plan but one of my biggest goals for Earlybird this year is to provide him with as much opportunity for creative expression as I can. (The other is to provide lots of time in nature.) He has a lot of sensitivities to chemicals, dyes and strong scents so I have to be very careful what he gets into. And at this age, art is very much about the getting into. :)

I am so grateful to Elizabeth and Donna Marie for their wonderful posts about children's art materials, for they have given me a great head start! While I work on our own "back-to-(home)school" shopping list, I am also pondering the when, where and how of our art. Off the top of my head:

~ I'd like to have a space devoted to creative work. We usually "craft" at the center island, but I need to protect the counter surface better. Oil cloth, perhaps?

~ I need a convenient storage system - containers and shelves - for our supplies. I don't really want the materials "out of sight" (and "out of mind"), but somewhat out of EB's line of vision. Otherwise it will be all art, all the time, all over the place.

~ I'd like to have a schedule for weekly art - flexible but dependable - so that if, for example, it's Monday, we know it's painting day (see below).

~ I'd like to have opportunities for "free art" as well, but in a way that is easy to maintain (i.e. crayons and paper are always available but the glitter is under lock and key).

I'm thinking our week might look something like this:

Mondays:  Painting

  • Due to EB's sensitivities (and his penchant for using his fingers), we use a Lyra Natural Watercolor set (pictured above). The colors are produced from plant extracts. His current set was a Christmas gift, and now most of the pots are down to nubs. I'd like to try to make some colorful homemade paints for him, like those described at Martha Stewart and by Elizabeth.

Tuesdays: Modeling

Wednesdays: Coloring/drawing

  • Long-lasting Stockmar Crayons are made of beeswax, and as Elizabeth and Donna Marie point out, their colors are beautiful. I'd like to make a felt pouch for storing both block and stick crayons. (Anyone know a good pattern?) We also like Ferby Short Pencils for little hands. And of course there will be paper - lots of paper. :)

Thursdays: Special Craft

  • This will be a seasonal or liturgical project. Many ideas will come from our Little Saints Preschool Program (ex. Nativity Bells) and the Earthways book (ex. pine cone birdfeeders). If I am really organized about it, I'll work out a weekly craft schedule so I can make sure we have the materials on hand, and even prepare in advance.

Friday: Handwork and/or Baking

  • EB loves to work with his hands and with all different textures. He's a very visual/tactile learner! We'll all be doing more handicrafts this year (I hope!), so I'll make up a small handwork basket for EB too - filled with soft colorful yarn, a knitting tower, lacing cards, small squares and circles of felt, and soft sheep's wool ~ I love this sheep measuring tape! I'm turning over some ideas for woodworking too (for all of the boys).
  • Baking together on Fridays is a cherished routine we need to get back to. How fun it would be to begin with the sweet simple story of the Little Red Hen ~ then grind some grains (perhaps just for the experience if not for the wheat), and make up a simple bread dough for pretzels or breadsticks. There's a wonderful recipe in Earthways and Martha Stewart Kids. I'll try to post the recipes at Harvest Home soon!

*And before I wrap up, here are two of EB's latest creations:


Fireworks at Night


Green with Blue

We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.  ~Stacia Tauscher

Wrong Pole, Wrong Decade!

Well, it seems I was a bit "off" on my facts yesterday ~ but only by 30 some-odd years and thousands of miles! :)

My grandfather's cousin, pictured in my previous post, did indeed travel on a polar expedition - but not with Peary in 1908! Nope - wrong decade, wrong side of the earth! My distant relative was in fact with Admiral Byrd on the '39 expedition to the South Pole!

We're still gung-ho on a future unit study of the poles, though. I'm thinking we'll look at the North Pole in November-December (the arctic tundra, Inuit people, Santa Claus) and the South Pole in January-February (sled dogs, penguins, glaciers). It so happens our homeschool support group holds an annual Heritage Day in January, and I think this bit of family history would make a fun presentation! :)

Family History = a Future Rabbit Trail

My parents came back for coffee after Mass this morning and my mum brought some old family pictures to show us. Most were from the early 1900s and showed my grandmother and her brothers and sisters (there were 9!), her parents, grandparents and the old family home.

It was really neat to see these snippets of family life - our family's life - from so long ago. It was also neat to see a few faces that looked familiar - familiar because of features passed down to the little boys standing beside me. :)

This photo in particular caught our attention:


This is a picture of my grandfather's cousin (and his dog) who were part of the Peary expedition to the North Pole in 1908!

Well, you can just imagine the gears spinning madly in my head right now! I realized I know little about the Pole expeditions but this picture (and its backstory) has fueled a new curiosity ...

We have too much going on to jump down this tempting rabbit trail right now, but it will be on our fall agenda to be sure! I'm thinking round-abouts Christmas, a North Pole unit would be just right. :)

When You Take Your Children Shopping ...

You'll get donut crumbs in Daddy's car.

You'll apply your AC Moore coupon to a stuffed turkey vulture for your 6 yo who simply loves turkey vultures.

You'll learn new and interesting things about your hair, for example, "it really doesn't look pretty with that weird green thing in it." (a.k.a. a scrunchy)

You'll discuss the reasons why someone would possibly want to smoke a cigar, within earshot of someone actively smoking a cigar.

You'll discover the automatic hand dryer turns on no matter what part of your body you stick under it.

You'll try all the free samples offered at the supermarket, when you normally just say "No, thanks."

You'll avail yourself of the Tums in your purse.

You'll wish you hadn't let your 11 yo peruse the birthday cards alone. (Note to self: Skip any card that starts with "Hey, Big Guy!")

You'll while away a long wait in line turning around magazine covers.

You'll play a quick game of tag at the post office.

You'll get home an hour later than you'd planned, with three extra grocery bags, a car full of crumbs, and two happy children in tow.

More about Tree Blocks

Jennifer asked about the tree blocks shown in my Nature Play & Stories post so I thought I'd talk a bit more about them. First let me just say I love them - perhaps even more than my kids do! I love their look, their feel, and their possibilities ... We've had them for a few years now and at one time we had a whole natural building center set up in the corner ~ tree blocks, shells, stones, pinecones, and acorns, etc.

Our set was purchased at Magic Cabin, but they are available atTree_blocks many online stores. Google "tree blocks" and you'll see what I mean. (Add in "Waldorf" and you'll get even more.) When I did so, I happened upon a company called, plainly enough, Tree Blocks that makes a whole Math Kit of Wooden Blocks - very intriguing!

Alternatively, you can also make your own set simply enough. (I say simply, though truth be told I've never tried). In Toymaking with Children, there are directions for making homemade tree blocks (as well as for knitted animals, dolls and playstands etc.). And here is an excerpt on tree blocks from a favorite nature activity book of mine, Earthways:

"Toys from Nature: The Indoor Playspace":

"Gradually begin to use more natural materials in your home and classroom. With the children's help, gather stones, shells, pine cones, anything that nature offers. Carefully wash and dry the stones, and sort other objects into appropriately sized baskets.

Bring in a few small branches and logs. Set up a woodworking bench, and let the children help you saw them into slices. These make excellent building blocks, and offer a wide variety of building possibilities, often more challenging and interesting than building with the more uniform square and rectangular blocks. Drill small holes in the sides of some of the smaller "blocks" and insert small dowels or sticks into the holes to make fences.

Someone who knows how to use a chainsaw could cut you a whole basketful of these natural blocks in no time. Make them of varying lengths and try to cut them fairly flat, although those with slanted cuts offer interesting possibilities too ... Sand and wax or polish the blocks if you like, or just use them as is. Over time they will develop a lovely patina."

I'm not sure which sounds like more fun - making them or playing with them! I highly recommend this book - we have done many of the activities in it and I even used it to coordinate a "Little Sprouts" program for the 4-5 yos in our homeschool group's cooperative. :)

And you know, Jennifer's question has inspired me ~ I'd been hoping to do more handcrafts with the boys this fall and there happen to be some fallen birch trees out back ... Blocks made from this wood would be beautiful and would certainly inspire some wintry stories!

Here's another tip from Echoes of a Dream:

"There are a number of characteristics which are important to observe in selecting wood at its source. Look for branches without any splits. Old branches rather than "green' wood are preferable since green wood is moist, stringy and inclined to split unless a coating such as beeswax is applied to slow its drying time. Leave branches with pin prick holes alone since the worms in them pose a threat to anything made of wood."

Older children could work together on such a project and perhaps give small sets to younger siblings at Christmas.  Hmmm ... time to start a file on autumn handcrafts; I'll have to think on this some more. :)

Poetry Friday

This has been my favorite poem since I was a young girl. Strangely enough I first heard it in that old children's holiday special Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown. Humble poetry beginnings to be sure, but I loved it nonetheless. The words sounded like music to me, even as spoken by Linus. :)

In high school I memorized it, in college I dissected it, and recently it inspired the name of my blog:

Sonnets From the Portuguese, # 43

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
    I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
    My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
    For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
    I love thee to the level of everyday's
    Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
    I love thee freely, as men might strive for Right;
    I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
    I love thee with the passion put to use
    In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
    I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
    With my lost saints,–I love thee with the breath,
    Smiles, tears, of all my life!–and, if God choose,
    I shall but love thee better after death.

(Written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, between 1845 and 1846)

*For more on children's literature and poetry, stop by Big A little a and A Chair A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy. :)

Nature Play & Stories

We're working on Earlybird's room today where we keep some of our favorite playthings. Many of these toys - puppets, gnomes, tree blocks, and animals - are used for acting out stories of all kinds: fairy tales, adventuresome epics and nature lore. Very often the pirates and knights join in, and matchbox cars, legos and dinosaurs are not out of the question. Here are a few recent scenes:


This was a gnome farm ~ elfin treehouse ~ troll forest story combination ...


Here is the tale of the Three Billy Goats Gruff in action. If memory serves, the troll made a quick getaway in that canoe.


This was escape from Night Mountain; the wooden bridge and unsuspecting wood folk became imperiled by flowing lava ...


Here is the beaver's dam; looks like he got creative with his building supplies.


And this is the owl in his enchanted tree (immersed in lava).


A giant pet hedgehog keeps watch over the gnome's vegetable garden. Didn't you know all gnomes keep hedgehogs as pets? ;)


Behind the Teetering Bridge is the Henhouse, Beaver Pond and Old Oak Tree.

So that shows you some of the nature play the boys conjure up - now for a bit about the nature stories we weave. I particularly like to use the animal puppets for telling stories from nature - a kind of continuing chronicle of life in our own Riverwood. Here is central casting (a mix of stuffed animals, finger puppets and Audubon birds):



And though I've gotten away from it lately, I plan to revive our storytelling this year as part of our nature study "curriculum." I find Earlybird and Crackerjack respond so well to this type of playful learning. Stories are a wonderful way to re-visit our nature study, inspire creativity (it's very much a group effort) and stretch our imaginations! This year we'll try to keep better record of the stories by writing them down (and perhaps sharing them here). We enjoy this activity all year round, but especially in the fall and winter when we're more often on the inside looking out.

Since it's been a while since stories were part of our routine, I'm a bit rusty. I'm sketching out an outline of possible story ideas for the months ahead - which will be fine-tuned by the changing seasons, weather and current backyard events. I also draw much inspiration from wonderful pictures books like these:

And while picture books are an important part of our learning, stories of our own making are great fun and fondly remembered. I get a lot of ideas from a gem of a book called Storytelling for Children. Here are a few other nature puppet resources:

I'm excited about this project, and the boys are too! Yesterday we acted out the Red-tailed Hawk crashing into the window and all the songbirds and squirrels scurrying into the bushes. This really happened! Of course our story went on to tell how this particular hawk was really a misunderstood herbivore ... ;) Sound intriguing? As you can see, our stories often straddle the fence between the real and fantastic - but they are always well steeped in the nature around us!

Stay tuned! :)

Spot Check: The Corner Counter

I'll be participating in an upcoming fun project over at 4Real so get ready for some kitchen photos coming your way! :) Here's the first space I tackled, the counter to the right of the stove. My kids call it "Mama's Special Counter" because it always has my stuff all over it - but truly there aren't too many places in our house where my stuff isn't, so let's just call it the corner counter. And here it is:

Before (or after I took everything off and cleaned it thoroughly):


After (it all got put back in much better order):


Sadly, there's nothing bubbling away in that dutch oven, but the point is there could be. And what's behind those cabinets you may wonder? Well that's for me to know and you to (maybe) find out! Seriously though, they're filled with a jumble of things (Pyrex dishes, Kitchen Aid parts, birthday candles, bubble solution and stamps). I hope to get them cleaned out soon - and to make better use of the cabinet doors. I'm inspired by an idea I read about at Enjoy the Journey (a neat new blog I've been reading) to use this space to post important household information such as calendars, prayers and a dosage chart. I might add emergency numbers (like Dominoes) and CPR directions. I'll see what I come up with and will post about it later!

(But please don't ask me about that drawer.)

Step One: Check

As I announced rather exuberantly last weekend, the ed. plan has been written, printed and mailed to the superintendent. Step one in the new homeschooling year process gets a big old check!

Now it's on to the fun part: the list-making, the book-sorting, the desk-building, the schedule-setting, the folder-filing, the binder-filling ... if you homeschool, you know what I'm talking about! We live and breathe this stuff! :)

And right now, all that "stuff" is spread out all over my dining room table, LOL! But before I get into all that - here is a general overview of our school year ahead:

First of all, may I formally introduce my "students?" Bookworm just turned 11, Crackerjack will be 7 next month, and Earlybird is 4 1/2. Generally speaking (and give or take a subject area or two) we will be covering 6th grade, 2nd grade and Pre-K.

Earlybird: The general approach will be Charlotte Mason with a therapeutic touch of Waldorf here and there. For weekly instruction, we'll be folllowing the Little Saints Preschool Program while drawing on Oak Meadow too. I considered FIAR, but I already have Little Saints and OM in the house, and I think both will work well with Earlybird. For all his delays, Earlybird knows his ABCs and 123s (and shapes and colors etc.) and his fine motor skills are at a second grade level! So I think lots of good books along with lots of fun handcrafts will be right up his alley this year. I also plan to use Small Wonders: Nature Education for Young Children for hands-on nature study along with nature-themed puppet stories to inspire imagination (language) and wonder. I'll draw on all these resources to write up a weekly plan for EB. And along with all this gentle home instruction, he will attend weekly occupational therapy, speech therapy and a language-based social skills group.

Now for the older two:

Math: We'll continue with Saxon Math this year. Some find it repetitive and dry; I find it reliable and thorough. Most importantly, my kids do well with it. And a lesson a day keeps mum's panic away! ;) But to keep things exciting, we'll be reading fun "living math" books (like those suggested by MacBeth and Julie at Living Math) and putting into practice lots of real-life math too (cooking, carpentry and money all come to mind). I won't be leaving that all to the willy-nilly either. Before too long I'll have a detailed plan for which books and activities we'll read and do, and when.

Language arts: To begin with, there will be reading - lots and lots of reading. Aloud and independent and even on tape. We will be a family immersed in language and literature! :) Using lists found in Real Learning and Honey for a Child's Heart, I'm compiling my own book goals for this year - another future post - and we'll follow up these reads with narration, dictation and copywork. I hope to make some lapbooks this year too and by some I mean more than none, as was the case this year. For phonics, grammar, spelling and composition we'll be using materials from CHC. I continue to be so pleased with all our CHC purchases - they are beautifully made, CM-compatible and richly infused with our Catholic faith.

History: My favorite! This year we'll be rooted in Europe, focusing entirely on The Middle Ages. We'll begin with the year 400 and work our way towards the Renaissance, ending roughly around 1600. The boys are very excited about this - especially Crackerjack who loves knights and dragons! And yes, I promised a rabbit trail into the legend - and science - of dragons. ;) Last time we studied this period, we were following the SOTW. This year I'm making up my own unit study using the Kingfisher History Encyclopedia as a spine - or a timeline and resource for topics - and drawing deeper ideas from all kinds of places like the 4Real Forums as well as of course, zillions of library books! (We have a fair few ourselves too.) I will also look through Bethlehem Books and Emmanuel Books for valuable titles to add to our list.

As I outlined in our ed. plan, our topics will include: the Vikings, the Crusades, the Medieval atlas, castles and cathedrals, craftsmen and guilds, knights, chivalry, heraldry, monks and monasteries, peasants and feudal life, the plague, Robin Hood and legends, dragons, costumes and armor and the saints of the Middle Ages. We'll set up a timeline on the wall, and the boys will be keeping a big history notebook ~ a Book of Centuries ~ filled with their work and reflections. I'm very excited about this and feel our history will infuse much of our family life this year!

World Cultures, Current Affairs and Geography: Our focus this year will be on the lands of Europe - the countries and cultures, and life of yesterday and today. In additon to the globe, the world map and atlas, we will also use Uncle Josh's Outline Maps for hands-on activities and DK Geography of the World for detailed information. As we go along we will read folk lore and fairy tales from the English, the German, the French and the Irish (among others). And in December we'll take a look at Christmas traditions around the world.

Keeping up with world events and local affairs is an important part of our family life. And I'm grateful we have the time together every day to observe and discuss what's going on. To this end, I present the boys with age-appropriate clippings from The Boston Globe, the local papers, and newsmagazines such as Time and Newsweek. We used to subscribe to Time for Kids but now I find it just as easy to cobble together a selection of articles from the aforementioned resources as well as online kids news sites like New York Times Student Connections. Last year we just filed the clippings, but this year we will save them in a notebook along with a comment or two by the boys at week's end. At the end of the year we'll have quite a nice record of the year that was - a year in review!

Science: We're always doing some kind of science around here (a lot of it nature study), and while that surely won't change, our studies will focus on earth science this year. This is another area I'm planning myself, though I got a lot of ideas from The Well-Trained Mind and the 4Real boards. Topics of study include, but will not be limited to (LOL, I typed that in as a matter of habit!): local flora and fauna, formation and structure of the earth, geology, paleontology, astronomy, weather and climate, hydrology, oceanography, seismology, glaciers, soil science, volcanoes and caves. Now does that sound cool or what?

As with history, we'll be using lots of resources, but the ones I named in the plan are Comstock's Handbook of Nature Study (natch), The Kingfisher Science Encyclopedia, How the Earth Works, How the Universe Works, the Lets-Read-and-Find-Out books and the Magic School Bus books. Then there are all the great magazines we get like Night Sky, Ranger Rick, Dig and National Geographic. And let's not forget the ever-dependable Dover coloring books! They're a staple in our homeschool!

I'm still working out the scope and sequence of our study - the specifics of what will be studied when and how - but soon it will all take shape - and then through the year it will all be recorded in our science notebooks.

Creative Arts: Most of our art and music study this year will revolve around the Middle Ages: Medieval architecture (castles, cathedrals), stained glass, tapestries, illumination, bookmaking, music and instruments of the M.A., costume, heraldry, feasts and festivals of the M.A. We'll be perusing the Macauley books, as well as a few art books by Sister Wendy Beckett (The Duke and the Peasant and Book of the Saints). We'll take a page from Design Your Own Coat of Arms as well as Hands-On History: The Middle Ages - and prepare some medieval foods - perhaps a whole feast! Field trips to a castle and an armory are on the docket as well.

Foreign Language: I was all set to order Learning Spanish with Grace when Bookworm informed me he really really wants to get back to our French lessons. So it's looking like French it will be. :) I took French for several years (high school and some college) but was thinking it would be better to start the boys with Spanish and go from there. I don't know where I got that premise, it just seemed a good idea at the time. Obviously my decision was not set in stone! I haven't decided what we'll be using yet - I'll guess I'll go search at 4Real. :)

When I asked Bookworm why he wanted French so badly over Spanish, he said, and I quote, "You know how you said you thought learning Spanish would be easier for us? Well, that's precisely the reason I want to do French, I like the challenge."

Now, who can argue with that logic? ;)

So there it is in a nutshell (and sorry it got to be such a large nut!). These are the educational plans I submitted to the superintendent this year (expanded upon and personalized greatly). We have a whole plan for faith formation too - but that will have to wait for another post. (I think this one is long enough!)