Discerning Mama

Catholic stay-at-home wife and mother, discerning parenting choices, homeschool curriculum, culture, faith, and more.

First Week of School! We did it!

Maybe I’m foolish to celebrate, since I’ve been gradually introducing preschool lessons to Plegmund as we go, but last week was our first “official” week of preschool. I put official into quotes because I don’t have to answer to any state powers, thankfully. I simply choose what will work best for my son’s learning style, establish a schedule that works for him and for our family as a whole, put it together, and rock it out.

We ended up schooling 4 days last week. Yes, I know that most preschoolers only go 2-3 days a week, but their days are longer. I know that at this stage, Pleggy won’t tolerate longer lessons, nor should he have to … he’s not even 3. A 2o-minute lesson is more than enough. Perhaps you are wondering why I started him so early, if his attention span isn’t quite there yet?

Simple answer: he’s bored. He loveslovesloves to learn. He is eager and proud to show off all of his new creations and to recount each and every thing he learns. The Summer Reading Program at the library was a big hit with him (nb: love the theme this summer!), and he responded well to more formalized settings for playtime, craft time, and reading. I figured that he would be ready for our fun lessons, and that seems to have been a good call.


We are using Catholic ABC’s as our central curriculum. See the awesome angel Pleggy made? He loves the crafts that are themed with the letter of the week. Really, this curriculum works very well to prepare children for more formal, structured learning times. I’ve adapted their lesson plans to suite Pleggy’s attention span and our goals for his development. Here is how a typical day tends to go:

  1. Sing our opening song together, and end with a big hug.
  2. Sit together, put a cross sticker on his right hand, and begin our prayers.
  3. Introduce the letter of the week, and let him play with the letter bin (a sensory bin full of things themed with whatever letter we’re working on).
  4. Recitation … Pleggy repeats after me while we read a one-sentence Bible verse together.
  5. Read the short blurb about angels or the Divine Mercy or whatever we’re learning about that week.
  6. Work on the craft together.

The next day, we’ll work on a science project or a hands-on math activity together. It’s very important to save the craft or project for last because it helps me to keep him focused on the lessons at-hand.

Once we’ve been through the alphabet, we will do more advanced preschool work. I feel that this curriculum works to reinforce what many children already know, inspiring confidence as they work on social and emotional milestones, such as waiting patiently, listening carefully, or following directions.

To supplement the science (since Catholic ABC’s provides none), we are using the activities from Science is Simple, a wonderful book of activities and suggested stories to read. So far, we’ve enjoyed working with our container garden, playing with magnets, and we’ll soon begin to focus on the seasons of the year. I’ll share one of the seasons projects in my next post. It will be very easy for you to adapt at home, whether or not you homeschool!

For math, I’m honestly using fun, hands-on activities from Pinterest and from 1+1+1+1=1. Montessori-flavored activities seem best suited to my big boy. 🙂

So excited, and so enjoying the beginning of our journey. I know that everyday won’t be easy and full of fun energy. Some days, I may threaten him with mainstream schooling (hahahaha) if he doesn’t complete his phonics rightthisverysecond. But I hope to remember, always, these initial weeks … my amazement that it has all come together, that I am, indeed, teaching my preschooler and that he is (*gasp*) learning.

More Recommended Reading, Pre-K Edition

I’m delighted that we’re not dealing with drought conditions yet this summer, but the constant rain we had for a while made it difficult for us to deal with a two-part flood in our house. Yikes! First, the drip pan for the AC unit overflowed because it wasn’t properly set up (landlord fixed it); second, the washing machine hosted its own walk-a-thon one night, and while walking across the room, detached the feeder hose, which led to the laundry room and the office filling up several inches with water. Our rooms are now mostly back together, and I now have access to the desktop again. Hoorah!

In the meantime, we’ve enjoyed many, many books from the library. I signed Plegmund up with the summer reading program, and he’s really enjoyed the programming hosted by our local library, especially craft days. Some of our recent favorite books, all of which I highly recommend, are:

We’ll Paint the Octopus Red A wonderful read about understanding and appreciating children with Down’s Syndrome — I think adults will find this book as touching as children do. My husband painted a red octopus picture with Plegmund to further enjoy and discuss the story.

Cook-a-Doodle-Doo Wonderful, vibrant tale, perfect for strawberry season. We enjoyed homemade strawberry shortcake while reading this lovely book.

A Gardener’s Alphabet Perfect for pre-readers and early readers, unless you’re more concerned with lower-case letters (these are all caps). At this stage, I’m just helping Plegmund build confidence and see the connections between letters, sounds, words, and what the words represent; he knows his lower-case letters, but we’ll focus more on those later. This book is beautifully illustrated.

Mortimer’s First Garden All toddlers (and adults) need to learn patience, and Mortimer’s First Garden  is a sweet way to discuss this particular virtue.  Nota bene: if you are a non-religious family, you may not appreciate this book, which refers directly to God and features prayer.


I need to catalog all of the different books we read, since we check out 4-7 books each time we visit the library. Not only do I want to remember these books for when Lothar is a little older, but I also need to compile lists for our homeschool portfolios. My husband and I discussed how important it will be to keep good records, even though they’re not yet required by our state. I’m sure that Common Core will change all of that. Sigh. Still, though, it’s little trouble to create yearly or semi-yearly portfolios to demonstrate what the boys are learning. I will keep both paper and electronic copies, via Evernote. Figured that would be best.

Would love to here how others keep track of their children’s learning!

So, you think homeschoolers are just ranting about nothing when they complain about mainstream education?

1. As a homeschooling mama, I can promise that I will never threaten my boys with “special needs placement,” if they don’t do as I ask, nor do I view special needs classes as punishment. Ugh.

2. I do intend to provide sex ed for my children, and I won’t just sit there and say, “Don’t have sex, or you’ll be like a used tissue.” I will NOT, however, teach them how to have orgasms when they’re five.

3. I want my children to be humans, not robots. They will be prepared for employment just fine … I do not need to destroy a natural love of learning, nor curiosity about what it means to be human, by shoving cruddy government documents down their throats.

To be fair, industrialized education was the original goal of public education, way back when, during the Industrial Revolution, so the Common Core is just moving right on ahead in that direction. When Great Britain had colonized India, they instituted national education to make the Indians more useful to them. That involved giving the Indians enough education to serve their British “masters,” but not enough to equal them. Ovid, Chaucer, Shakespeare, etc., were saved for the privileged classes, i.e., white, British citizens who had the money, if not the class, to afford private tutors and excellent schooling.

If knowledge is capitol, then what does it mean for us, here in the USA, that the authors read by students in private academies will barely receive any attention in the public schools? Of course, there are far more compelling reasons to read Johnson and Austen, than that they are cultural currency … they help us to understand ourselves, our neighbors, our leaders, and our lives. I suppose that is too distracting, too individual … is that it, maybe? That we’re to keep our blinders on, like good carthorses, and just pullpullpull that plow, responding to the reins held by our politicians?

Where is my mother?

Romance fiction is easily dismissed by those who do not understand it, so what happens when you have a work of Catholic romance fiction? Imagine how much such a work would be misunderstood, and by how many.

My purpose is not to explain how the Catholic faith works, nor to make romance readers out of everyone. I simply want to explain a key feature in much romance fiction that puts it into dialogue with a phenomenon experienced by many of us Catholics, especially women: motherlessness.

I used to read a lot of paranormal romance and urban fiction, such as the Sookie Stackhouse series and the Anita Blake series. I lost my taste for both, for different reasons, but still enjoy Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan series. All of these, and many others, focus on characters whose mothers are dead, undead, or incompetent. Since this  trope is widespread in the general romance genre, I’m going to presume there are reasons for this, chiefly, that romance fiction can serve a moral purpose. If, in real life, our mother figures are unsupportive, distant, or no longer living, then we may well turn to romance fiction as a sort of “how-to” guide to finding true love. I may well be accused of overthinking this, because plenty of readers will say, “But I’m close to my mother! I just read romance for fun!” This might very well be true. But please … think seriously and critically of the advice your mother gave you about love and dating. Did it help you avoid situations that you really didn’t need to experience (pre-marital sex, casual sex, etc.)? Did it help you look at men as potential future husbands, instead of as “fun guys to date?” Be honest. Many, if not most, would have to say that, no, they did not receive the guidance necessary to make strong, positive choices about dating and courtship before marriage.

The same is true with Catholicism. Many of us are desperately reclaiming our cultural heritage. I hear more and more women (and men) of my generation ask questions like, what is a novena? what is a rogation day? why should I wait until Christmas Eve to put up a Christmas tree? what do you mean the Easter season is after Easter? isn’t that Lent? how do I teach my children to venerate the saints? how do I help my children to grow strong in their faith? how do I help my children to avoid the dating mistakes I made?

The answer might very well be partly answered by Catholic romance fiction. One recent example is Angela’s Song, by AnnMarie Creedon, who some might recognize as a writer with the website Catholic Sistas. Creedon has written a compelling, thoughtful novel that features a young widow who painfully learns just how much her marriage had really suffered. Although she tries to cover this pain, and the pain of her husband’s sudden death, with too much volunteer work, she soon must face the truth and work to overcome her pain and to forgive herself. These are real and difficult struggles that real and good people face in their lives. We may not often discern them, because personal pain is often quiet, especially when borne with dignity.

Angela is, like many romance characters, motherless (her physical mother was distant when alive, and had passed away before the novel’s action began). But because this is a Catholic novel, she is mothered through daily rosaries and other devotions, and her faith grows stronger throughout the novel; likewise, Angela makes stronger and more positive decisions. She becomes her future husband’s equal, whereas before her prayer and faith journey, Angela and Jack would have been unequally yoked, had they begun dating when she wanted to. Some might argue that Jack is controlling, but what Jack was actually doing was leading Angela to her mother: the Roman Catholic Church. Before Angela can be ready for a true marriage, one literally made in Heaven, she must reconnect with her Mother.

This is a phenomenon that many of us can share, given how divorced we are from our Church. A false sense of freedom, brought on by a false understanding of Vatican II and general selfishness and sin, has led to a great loss for us, the loss of discernible faith practices, of discernible teachings. If our parents do not teach us what the Church teaches, and our priests ignore it, our religious educators eschew it, and our Catholic schools set it aside for government money, then what results is a severely impoverished population of Catholics.

While Angela’s Song is not the Big Answer to the Big problem, it is part of the answer, and that is an excellent start. If we immerse ourselves in literature that portrays good people seeking to be excellent, we find better characters with whom we can identify; even better if they are practicing Catholics, and can gently educate us about our faith and cultural heritage. To become stronger in the faith, individually and collectively, we cannot just be Sunday Catholics. We need to live our faiths daily — why not do so, enjoyably, by reading Catholic romance fiction?

Free Catholic Planners

I don’t very often do this, but I thought the idea was simply brilliant and wanted to share that Sanctus Simplicitus is currently hosting a giveaway of their forthcoming Catholic planners. Follow the link above for more details about the planners and the giveaway. Now why do I say the idea is brilliant? Because I was actually thinking about doing the same thing myself! Love that they will save me the time, though, especially with a round-the-clock nursing infant and a toddler who believes that he can surpass Tarzan. 🙂

Hope that everyone is having a wonderful week. And please don’t forget to look more into Core Curriculum issues . . . I called my senators last week to ask them to help defeat a nationalized curriculum, and outlined why I believe it is important for them to do so.

And if you’re a new homeschooler, like me, please feel free to comment and share. I would love to hear how your beginning stages are going, too! Seasoned homeschoolers are obviously always welcome to share tips and memories! God bless, and have a lovely night!

Common Core Problems

Weeks ago, I’d published a blog featuring useful links for homeschoolers; among those links was one for the Common Core. I had found it helpful to browse what I thought most pre-schoolers were doing so that I could get a grip on things before beginning to design our own curriculum.


That was before I learned that the Common Core is actually quite similar to the problems that I was having with the common syllabus when I was a graduate student and a lecturer. In both cases, the planning sessions and hype had indicated that standards were merely being developed to be certain that teachers didn’t veer too far off into unrelated territory. Of course, I can get behind that. It’s a common enough problem, especially in places where mentoring, professional development, and education/training requirements aren’t exactly stringent.

In neither case was this the reality. In both cases, heavy restrictions have been placed on what teachers can do to respond to the actual students they are teaching, in real life. What may look good on paper to a few individuals rarely bears out to be solid, general practice.

While I was still teaching at the university level, I was forced to use the common syllabus, in spite of having developed a highly-successful, well-reviewed and well-received syllabus that was engaging, responsive, and prepared students for other writing classes, as well as for writing in their other classes and in a work environment. Under my original course design, we spent hours and hours discussing transferable skills, and I’d actually made sure to develop real-life writing assignments that were based on assignments required in other college classes and in real work environments. My syllabus also required that students consider a real audience: an actual professor who teaches their classes, the local mayor, the president of their dorm, etc.

The common syllabus directed students to address a fantasy or unknown audience, such as a Creative Services Marketing Director (huh?). The descriptions for each assignment were so poorly written that I couldn’t tell what was being assigned. So, I rewrote them. And I tweaked the page requirements to resemble something more reasonable for college freshmen. The required textbooks were awful, the homework largely consisted of mindless busywork, and the papers were poorly-conceived and poorly-structured.I canceled half of the homework assignments, and maintained only those that were focused on building skills relevant to the major assignments or to the course objectives. My result: a lean, mean writing syllabus machine. The final result: I was not on the “rehire” list for the coming terms, in spite of how well my students actually learned to write, and how well their knowledge transferred to other classes. I brought it on myself, but it was worth it. 160 students were harmed a little less than their peers.

Quality is not the goal, you see? Control and sameness are. That’s safe. That’s easy. That’s easy to measure. A monkey could teach those classes.

And professors in other departments sure noticed. Gaps in knowledge are easy to fix; critical skills — Socratic thinking, engaged inquiry, masterful writing — are not. Professors in other disciplines were losing valuable time to teaching basic reading, writing, and research skills to these students.  Students suffered, professors were furious. Still, the department maintained that their common syllabus had been a great success, even publishing a paper to pat themselves on the back. This time would have been better spent revising the syllabus to be responsive to criticism and changing needs. But that would have made entirely too much sense.

The creators of the Common Core will do the same. Mark my words.

Our family did not set out to homeschool so that we could create worker bees for industry, nor obedient little government drones. We want our boys to be thinking, vibrant, engaged, and moral people.

Common Core cannot do that for us. Only we can.

Typing With One Hand

A few weeks ago, we welcomed D. into our family, via repeat c-section. I had more surgical complications than foreseen, plus his jaundice required extra care, so we were in the hospital a few extra days than we otherwise would have been. But we are both healthy, safe, and growing stronger by the day.

Both of my boys are sweethearts. They have different ways of expressing it.

T. was born with his eyes and mouth wide open, ready to laugh deeply and to find new sources of delight and curiosity. If a toddler can do bear hugs, that’s T. He grabs onto us with fierce love, and does not let go. He kisses you rapidly, as if he will win a prize for the most kisses to land on your cheek in 60 seconds. He laughs riotously, tells hilarious stories, makes up all sorts of nutty jokes, and races from one thing to the next. It’s exhausting, yet, but inspiring. He teaches me, daily, that I could pursue my own passions with, well, more passion.

D. is quiet, calm, pensive, yet intense. He wants nothing more than to chill out on my chest or in my lap, and will happily sleep while I chat with friends and family. He barely frowned when our pediatrician cut off the little bit of his cord stump that kept catching on his clothing. He makes eye contact with me, and does not look away for anything. T. can shake all of the rattles he wants; if D. is looking at Mama, that’s what he’s going to do. He has silly faces and noises he makes when he’s ready for playtime, but they’re more restrained than T.’s expressions. As I’ve said before about MANY a person: still waters run deep. He is teaching my husband and I to calm down a little, in spite of T.’s recklessness and wild pursuit of all.things.awesome.

My apologies for not having posted in a few weeks. The last few weeks of pregnancy were so painful, and my bedrest restrictions had greatly increased. The time I could still spend sitting up safely and comfortably was spent with T., in order to give him as much of my attention as possible. As it was, I felt like the worst, most neglectful mother on Earth. He’s fine . . . I know he is. And I am fortunate to have a loving, devoted husband who is also a loving, devoted father. Not only did he do MY work (i.e., laundry, cleaning, cooking, baking), but he also gave T. even more attention than usual, which is saying something.

I am working on some new material for posts, largely having to do with the Common Core. I have been greatly enlightened in the past few weeks, and will be sharing what I have learned with you all so that you may make some important decisions, whether or not you currently have children. Regardless, I cannot promise a regular posting schedule, but I will try to at least post new material every other Thursday. We’ll see what happens!

In the meantime, here is a somewhat washed-out photo of the boys holding hands. Believe it or not, D.’s jaundice was waaaay worse than that!



Homeschooling Curriculum Resources: Pre-K

Last week, I promised a list of some of the sites that had helped me through the curriculum development process. I won’t go into exhaustive detail about each one, because I really and truly believe that you need to spend time working through the process yourself. Back when I was a graduate teaching assistant, I remember frantic teachers running around, begging for a lesson plan to help with semi-colons, or something to help them teach the difference between ethos, pathos, and logos.

If all teachers thought and taught the same way, that would be great! But simply mashing up what others have done, and trying to present it to your own students, is a bad idea. That, and these requests usually came in around 20 minutes before their classes were to start. Oy!

If you have not gone through the research and discernment phase yourself, then you won’t have a very thorough or strong understanding as to WHY you are doing what you are doing.

You risk poor delivery, alienating your child from what you are trying to teach, abandoning one curriculum after another, wasting time and resources, in an attempt to find something, anything, that fits; finally, you risk abandoning the homeschool project altogether, having not given yourself or your child a fair chance. Please do not do this to yourself or to your child — you both deserve better. You both deserve a healthy, happy, productive, and loving shot at this.

Of course, if you have to abandon the project, that’s what you have to do. There is NOTHING wrong with that. It won’t work for everyone — and it may not work for us. Only time will tell. But I also believe that investing the time into this discernment means that you are also discerning, before you even begin, whether or not you are committed to homeschooling. If you can’t interest yourself in reading up on different methodologies (Montessori, Classical Education, Charlotte Mason, Unschooling, etc.), then homeschooling may not be for you.

Sure, you can order a pre-packaged curriculum that others have approved, but how can you be certain that it will work for your personality and temperament? Your children’s learning styles? How will you be able to navigate its various components, and to make the necessary adjustments?

I do not mean to make any great pronouncements on who is and who is not allowed to homeschool — I mean to make it very clear that this is hard work, and that you need to be dedicated to it before you even begin.

Here are a few helpful sites to get started:

Successful Homeschooling: This is one of the first websites I devoured during my early research. Approaches, learning styles, organizational strategies, everyday survival tips, and more can be found here — very well-organized and easy to navigate. Warning: don’t start reading this until you have a free hour or so. You’ll really get into it!

PBS Parents: I made a new note in Evernote (lovelovelove) to copy and paste each and every category of development listed here, as well as the various traits for each category. I then made a separate note, and spent time assessing T.’s abilities in each area. For example, he’s years ahead in literacy, but is behind in mathematics abilities. For each trait requiring more attention, I copied and pasted that into the new assessment file, and wrote down notes and suggestions as they occurred to me and as I discovered through various other resources. This helped me to see clearly where T. needed my help the most, and helped me to better focus my curriculum search.

Core Knowledge: A wonderful range of resources, including a sequentially appropriate and coherent curriculum, learning objectives, assessment tools, and more. This will really help you create a sort of benchmark as to where you stand in your own homeschool development. Perhaps you can even use many of their materials yourself! I am finding it useful for keeping me organized and focused, rather than attracted to all of the sparkly possibilities that homeschooling can provide. It serves as a useful reminder that I need to build a good foundation now so that my children may build upon it, that each day’s plans need to have A Point. In short, I see this website as a sort of partner in my own efforts. Lots of free materials to download. We like free!

HomeSchoolReviews: Exactly what it sounds like! Parents weigh in on many of the popular curriculum choices out there, as commonly found at homeschool fairs or on various homeschool materials websites. Not every book or curriculum has a review, and, yes, you WILL be frustrated because the reviewers aren’t providing full, professional reviews that speak EXACTLY to your concerns. 🙂 But it’s a good start, and can help you avoid wasting time reviewing materials that simply will not work for you and for your children.

HSLDA: The Home School Legal Defense Association is a must . . . we all need to be members, once we’re committed to homeschooling and/or our children hit the mandatory education age in our respective states. They provide legal assistance and protection, in the event that local school districts or government agencies overstep and try to (illegally) infringe on your right to determine your children’s education. They also have a lot of articles and ideas on how to begin and to run your own homeschool. If you are a secular homeschooler, a number of the materials won’t apply to you. Please don’t be discouraged, though — enjoy the materials that DO help, and be sure to avail yourselves of the organization’s protection. I hope you won’t need it, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Finally, they also provide detailed state-by-state details about paperwork, testing, record-keeping, and other such information that you need to be legal and responsible as a homeschooling parent.

Mater Amabilis: Whether or not Charlotte Mason-style education (with a Catholic twist, no doubt!) is your style, I recommend checking out what they have compiled for the various grade levels. Their notes and organization were very helpful when I was writing my own program of study for T. We love the literature selections, too.


Please, if you have specific questions, need help finding certain resources, or have suggestions or resources to add, use the combox or contact me! I’d love to hear about everyone else’s journey, too!


Fun tip: If the weather is foul where you are, whether too hot, too cold, too wet, or too dry, bring the garden indoors, and let your little one dig away and help arrange flowers, herbs, or whatever you’d like to grow into a variety of pots. Your child will LOVE having his or her own indoor garden, and you can help it grow together!



Curriculum Choices and the Preschooler

Roughly a month has passed since I last posted, and I have to apologize. A lot has been going on, as I’m sure was the case for everyone, given the holidays. A few extra things going on for us, though:

1. The third trimester pain kicked in, pretty hard-core for me, and I was nonfunctional for days at a time, with a good day here or there in between. I had an OB appointment right after Christmas, so I just prayed that I would be all right for Christmas itself. I was. The long and short of it is that I could go into labor at any point. Signs are pointing that way. We’re trying to make it to week 37, at least, but I’m praying and striving to make it to week 39. My doctor is taking good care of me, and my husband is taking even better care. My bed rest time has had to increase, which has left me less time for blogging since I have a desktop.

2. My husband’s Spring Semester kicked in, and he also has his first-year review as a new, tenure-track professor going on. His evaluations, letters, and documents are all in order and look wonderful — just time-consuming to compile the portfolio according to committee standards, which is only fair. Just extra work for him. Luckily, I was able to dig up some nice, professional separators for his binder. Saved us a few bucks, so I’m glad that I didn’t yard sale EVERYTHING we owned.

3. T. begins preschool work officially this Fall. Of course, we’re doing a little bit now, mostly to get used to the process together, and I’m so glad that we have. I have more insight into his learning process than I would have, otherwise, so selecting appropriate materials has been easier than it would have been. The two big areas that I had to focus on were religion and science, bearing in mind that T. is a very, very active boy, who is eager, curious, and who loves to learn, but . . . yes, he’s very active. He needs a lot of hands-on activities, or else he goes ballistic.

For religion, I have chosen the Catholic Icing curriculum, and have selected several acceptable children’s Bibles. T. will get to choose which of the three he wants. I believe that having some choice is extremely important.

For science, I selected Science Is Simple. And, while he certainly does not NEED a science set, I want to encourage his love of science by giving him something special that is just for him.

We have been focusing on one alphabet letter per week, using that letter as a theme for other learning activities. With the letter ‘A,’ for example, we learned about ambulances (and took a virtual tour of an ambulance, and got to see the lights and hear the sirens — whoohoo!), ants, and alligators, and we learned the song, “The Ants Go Marching One By One.” While reading, we focus on the letter and its various sounds. The various worksheets, crafts, poems, and other activities are free from DLTK, and many other cute videos featuring children’s songs are available on YouTube (check them first for offensive advertising). This is a good age to incorporate movement with song time. “I’m a Little Teapot” is one example of an easy song-and-dance for preschoolers to learn.

Everything else will come through our steady diet of reading, courtesy of our local library, which has an excellent selection of children’s materials. T. enjoys Spanish-language stories, and we’re fortunate that the library stocks those, as well, to supplement our home collection. History, culture, holidays, nature, and more are favorite story time themes.

I’m contemplating using some things from Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready, but have not had a chance to review it and am not sure it wouldn’t be too much to deal with, on top of everything else. The phrase “embarrassment of riches” comes to mind. Will have to think about that one! In the meantime, I’ll compile links to some of the materials that helped me make the choices I did when selecting appropriate curriculum materials. While different materials can and will work for you and your children, having some basic guidelines is very helpful, even if you disagree with them completely! At least you’ll know more about what you DON’T want. 🙂


                           T. is playing Mad Scientist with baking soda, vinegar, food coloring, and water, in various combinations.

Recommended Books: Christmas Edition (pre-k)

I may have mentioned before that our son, T., has been memorizing books that we read to him on a regular basis. Wonderful to see him sit down, and recite the lines on each page — I figure that this is building pre-reading confidence, and sometimes encourage him to read to D., who still lives in Mama’s belly. Since he is building confidence with shorter and easier stories, I’ve been selecting more advanced literature for him from our own shelves and from the library. The Mother Goose treasury I was given as a child is a new favorite, as are the following, which we discovered at the library:

The Little Fir Tree (Margaret Wise Brown and Jim LaMarche)

  • A young fir tree grows alone in a field, and wants nothing more than to belong to something bigger than he is. He soon gets his wish, by helping a young, house-bound boy enjoy his Christmas celebrations more thoroughly.

One Cool Friend (Toni Buzzeo and David Small)

  • Excrutiatingly proper Eliot discovers that he has more in common with his father than he ever could have imagined, when he takes a penguin from the local aquarium and brings it home to care for it.

Coal Country Christmas (Elizabeth Brown and Harvey Stevenson)

  • Young Elizabeth shares her Christmas celebrations, which involve a trip back to Coal Country in Pennsylvania, where her grandmother and other relatives still live. Living is harsh there, but nothing can take away the warmth, faith, and love the family feels for one another.

The Christmas Promise (Susan Campbell Bartoletti and David Christiana)

  • A young girl and her father find themselves homeless during the Great Depression. As Christmas approaches, she wonders if her father will ever be able to find work and a safe, warm home for them. The ladies at one of the missions teach her to pray, which she does regularly. Her prayers are answered after their adventures take a seemingly hopeless route.


OK, OK … the penguin book has NOTHING to do with Christmas. It is, however, a warm, sweet story about unexpected similarities between a father and a son … the adventure is appealing to children (who HASN’T wanted to create their own indoor ice skating pond?) … the lad has impeccable manners … and we’re doing a winter animals theme right now, so the book was an excellent and lucky find. We’ve been focusing on reindeer, penguins, animals in hibernation . . . nothing captures T’s imagination quite like animals do.

In addition to watching short videos about the animals, reading about them, and talking about them, we also learn quick, easy facts (like what they eat, what sounds they make) and make simple crafts featuring the animals. DLTK’s websites have become a favorite resource for us. A variety of coloring pages, premade crafts, instructions for self-directed crafts, songs, poems, and more are available here. It WILL take a while to plow through the pages to find what you are looking for. Here is a link to activities featuring penguins, for example: Penguin Activities. We’ve also found fun things to do for Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, and more. We keep a stack of coloring pages ready at any given time so that T. always has something to do. And several times a day, he will ask to color. A few times per week, we will do a more involved activity, which he loves. He sometimes wants to do the same activities a few times, too. He feels such pride in his creations, and loves seeing them up on the walls in our kitchen, taped to his bedroom door, and given as gifts to family and friends.

The key to enjoyment and learning? Do the activity WITH your child, not for him or her, and praise specific actions they are taking. Example: “Oooh, I like where you decided to put the white circle. Where are you going to put the orange square?” These are productive and help build confidence and delight. The goal is to help your child fall in love with learning, and to get into encouraging, productive habits as a teacher — all from an early age. This is true whether your child attends a mainstream school or is educated at home. Regardless, you are your child’s first and most important teacher. Big responsibility, but loads of joy!