Counting and the Alphabet

16195557_10154270436273059_8844578467252457715_nLately, the Little Fox loves counting.  We’re counting the lamps in the bedroom, we’re counting our fingers and toes, we’re counting bites during a snack, or seconds while I hold my PT and yoga poses.  We’re counting anything and everything holding my son’s interest.

It’s not the first time he’s been interested in numbers, but it’s a resurgence with an intensity he never showed before.  As I mentioned in last week’s post, he started becoming interested again with the books One Nighttime Sea and Wizard of Oz Counting.

61tkzjdun2bl-_sx365_bo1204203200_One of his favorite things to count — his absolute favorite — is counting letters.  He especially likes seeking out the letters in his name (he learned to spell his name courtesy of a cousin who sent a wooden bench carved with his name in it).  He’s always looking for the As and the Cs.  Sunday night, I read the whole Animalia to him, slowly enunciating all the words.  We didn’t just count the obvious letters, but also those hidden within the art on each page.  Sometimes we went far beyond his knowledge of counting, but he did his best to repeat the numbers I said.  Some pages went up to 23 instances of the letter in question.

This combined interest in both numbers and letters has become an exciting way of integrating the basics.  Though we’d never push him to start reading or doing math so early, we absolutely support him when he shows such passion for something.  Since he’s so focused, I’ve even started introducing the concepts of addition.  When we’re counting letters or animals or some other items in a book, and the items in questions are split between the folds, I count the whole, and then count those on either side of the page and add them together.

For example, seven lemurs are spread across two pages.  We count them as seven together, and then I count four on one page, three on the other, and say, “and four and three makes seven!”

I don’t expect him to repeat this, but by simply talking about it, the concept starts to sink into his mind, so when he starts to focus on adding and subtracting objects in his world, these lessons will have laid a preliminary foundation.

Random ideas for things to count:

  • Legos, ponies, cars, figurines, or other toys they’re actively playing with
  • Sticks, leaves, rocks, shells, or other common objects found on a nature walk
  • Seconds (while doing something)
  • Peas, chips, grapes, or other food that comes in multiples
  • People or animals in an area
  • Fingers, toes, eyes, ears, bones, etc.
  • Shirts, pants, socks, or other laundry items while folding (socks are especially good for counting if they’re learning to fold their socks)
  • Dabs of paint, crayons, or other items with varied colors (also integrates color lessons)
  • Wooden beads, buttons, yarn pieces, and other craft items they’re using in projects
  • The tires on different vehicles (e.g. bicycles, tricycles, car, semitruck, etc.)
  • The limbs on varying animals (counting legs: zero limbs on snakes, bipedal humans, quadrapedal animals, six-legged insects, eight-legged spiders and octopuses; wings or arms vs. legs; etc.)

Another part to teaching and learning counting is the concept of zero, nothing, and none.  This is crucial to all levels of mathematics, although the basic vague understanding of it comes along often in a young child’s life when they’re told they cannot have something, or when they insist they want to eat nothing when they’re cranky with hunger.  Nevertheless, as important as zero is, we often don’t remember it in counting, which is why discussions about limbs, for instance, can introduce zero as a number meaning none.

Whenever your little one starts taking an interest in numbers or letters, it’s time to start playing number and alphabet games, and singing songs (e.g. Hickory, Dickory Dock, 10 little monkeys, the alphabet song, and so on.)  Another great resource are “Alligators All Around” and “One Was Johnny” by Maurice Sendak and sent to music by Carole King (these are two books found in Sendak’s Nutshell library).  And if you’re counting months, don’t forget “Chicken Soup with Rice.”  If your little ones are Seuss fans, there’s also Dr. Seuss’ ABC Book; it’s not my favorite, but my son adores it.




Books to Raise a Thoughtful, Soil-Loving Child

It’s my birthday, and since sustainable farming and getting kids gardening is close to my heart, here are my favorite books for young children that emphasize loving nature, gardening, and good old-fashioned dirt-worship.

The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono: A tale of a man, his walking stick, a sack of acorns, and a lot of patience.  Striking and profound in its message.  Translated from its original French.

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown: A curious boy creates a curious garden in a city that’s forgotten how to grow.  One of my top favorites for encouraging little gardeners.

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney: When I first read this book in a bookstore, I started to cry.  It’s an incredibly beautiful story about a determined woman and her view on the meaning of life.

We Planted a Tree by Diane Muldrow and Bob Staake: Families in different parts of the world plant a tree, and together find many uses for their trees. It’s simple story is told more through the pictures than the words; though both are charming.

Weslandia by Paul Fleischman and Kevin Hawkes: An inspiring story about a boy who loves to study, and determines that rather than attempt to fit in amongst the people who think he’s weird, he goes about starting his own society centered around a single seed.

Farmers’ Market Day by Shanda Trent and Jane Dippold: My son’s favorite book about going to the Farmers’ Market.  It’s a sweet story about a girl excited to get to the market with her parents and all the delights she finds within.

Two Little Gardeners by Margaret Wise Brown, Edith Thacher Hurd, and Gertrude Elliot: A Little Golden Book about two little gardeners who plant their seeds, tend their gardens, and harvest a feast to be savored through the winter.

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss: The classic book teaching us about species interconnectedness and protecting our local and global ecologies.

The Carrot Seed by Ruth Kraus: The famous book about a boy who plants a carrot seed and tends it despite all those around him who share their skepticism.  It’s a great book for teaching both optimism and patience.

A Leaf Can Be by Laura Perdie Salas: This book is filled with soft, colorful images supporting a poem about the many occupations of a humble leaf from shade to food.  The artwork in this book is charming and appeals to me on a heart level.

My Garden by Kevin Henkes: A whimsical tale of a girl’s imagined garden and the wondrous surprises she finds there.  From flowers that change color on a whim to chocolate bunnies who won’t eat her lettuce to planting seashells, she has strong ideas of what a garden should be.

Little Yau by Janell Cannon: This book should not be overlooked for gardeners who know that some plants are meant for healing.  Janell Cannon is a storyteller of immeasurable talent whose books all contain captivating stories and luscious artwork.  Little Yau is a follow up to Trupp, both young Fuzzheads, but in this book, Little Yau must use her training as an herbalist to heal her childhood friend.  If you’re not familiar with Cannon’s work, and also love herbalism, this is a great place to start.

100 Words

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s editors for American Heritage Dictionaries put together a handy list of the top 100 words they believe kids should know (e.g. be aware of and know the definition for) by the time they’ve graduated high school.  It’s a great yard stick to see how your own child (or you) fare, and a good challenge to learn the words not yet known or fully understood:

  1. abjure
  2. abrogate
  3. abstemious
  4. acumen
  5. antebellum
  6. auspicious
  7. belie
  8. bellicose
  9. bowdlerize
  10. chicanery
  11. chromosome
  12. churlish
  13. circumlocution
  14. circumnavigate
  15. deciduous
  16. deleterious
  17. diffident
  18. enervate
  19. enfranchise
  20. epiphany
  21. equinox
  22. euro
  23. evanescent
  24. expurgate
  25. facetious
  26. fatuous
  27. feckless
  28. fiduciary
  29. filibuster
  30. gamete
  31. gauche
  32. gerrymander
  33. hegemony
  34. hemoglobin
  35. homogeneous
  36. hubris
  37. hypotenuse
  38. impeach
  39. incognito
  40. incontrovertible
  41. inculcate
  42. infrastructure
  43. interpolate
  44. irony
  45. jejune
  46. kinetic
  47. kowtow
  48. laissez faire
  49. lexicon
  50. loquacious
  51. lugubrious
  52. metamorphosis
  53. mitosis
  54. moiety
  55. nanotechnology
  56. nihilism
  57. nomenclature
  58. nonsectarian
  59. notarize
  60. obsequious
  61. oligarchy
  62. omnipotent
  63. orthography
  64. oxidize
  65. parabola
  66. paradigm
  67. parameter
  68. pecuniary
  69. photosynthesis
  70. plagiarize
  71. plasma
  72. polymer
  73. precipitous
  74. quasar
  75. quotidian
  76. recapitulate
  77. reciprocal
  78. reparation
  79. respiration
  80. sanguine
  81. soliloquy
  82. subjugate
  83. suffragist
  84. supercilious
  85. tautology
  86. taxonomy
  87. tectonic
  88. tempestuous
  89. thermodynamics
  90. totalitarian
  91. unctuous
  92. usurp
  93. vacuous
  94. vehement
  95. vortex
  96. winnow
  97. wrought
  98. xenophobe
  99. yeoman
  100. ziggurat

Of Namings and Essays


Gaston (Photo credit: Max xx) — Not this Gaston, who is a cat, and has nothing to do with my article. But yay cats!

There is much going our family these last two weeks dealing with naming.  First, my partner began settling into the idea that this baby (I’m at 17 weeks) is happening, and we began making serious lists of names, none of which we seem to really agree upon (“No, we’re not naming him Gaston.  What don’t you like about Caelan?  Well, I’ve already decided, if it’s a girl, which I don’t think it is, we’re naming her Calpurnia Elizabeth,” and so on).  Second, a conversation with another homeschooled student led to a the naming of groups of youth, generally based on sex or gender, for which I’ve written a longer post on LiveJournal detailing said names and linking them to a feminist article I’d read just prior to the conversation, which sent off all sorts of triggers for me.

And it’s this article that makes me come to you, dear readers, for suggestions.  If you’ve been reading long, then you know we’re on our third year of the experiment of “Reading Selections” with my daughter and my friend’s eldest son.  This year, I’m having them focus more on argumentative essays and their analysis than short stories or poetry as I usually do.  While I have a couple of modern articles like the one above lined up, they’re primarily dealing with women and misogyny.  What I’m seeking are one or two strong arguments about the societal prejudice of adolescent males, somewhat along the same lines as the 12-year-old girl article.  Thus far, I’ve only found a story-like essay dealing with the Trayvon Martin tragedy and the perception of young men, especially of color.  So, please, if you have strong argumentative essays dealing with the common ways in which young men are perceived by society and/or authority figures, I’d love to read them.  Thanks!

Edwin the Super Duper Otter

English: A pair of otters.

English: A pair of otters. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Seattle Aquarium just published an ebook available for free either for your ereader or as a .pdf.  As a fan of otters, this is an especially adorable book dealing with self-doubt, and includes both charming illustrations and real life video clips from the animals at the aquarium.

Check out Edwin the Super Duper Otter and download learning materials for free!  ^_^


Mmm . . . now I’m hungry for a cake made of sea urchin, clams, and crab.  Nom!

Reading Selections 2011 – 2012

In my previous post, I promised I’d provide you with the list and links for the reading selections I gave to my students this past school year.  So, without further ado (dammit, now I want to watch a Shakespearean comedy again) . . .

November 2011:
This year, I’d decided we would focus more on poetry, hence the “How to Read a Poem” as the very first entry.

December 2011:

January 2012:
In January, I took us in the direction of their beloved genre: sci-fi, to discuss the surrealism in reading and enjoying poetry supposedly created by fictional characters.  We also discussed the reality of technology on the way we read, and argued (and laughed at) the many contradictions and heavy bigotry in Emerson’s famous “Self-Reliance” (it reads a bit like a less subtle Ayn Rand novel, really).

If you look at the first link for “Ode” you’ll find a scrap of handwritten text.  Why give them that for their assignment?  To prove my point about the importance of learning both cursive and symbolism.  Neither child had practiced much cursive writing, and thus, it was nearly impossible for one and difficult for the other to decipher English text, simply because of the method used to write it.  Given that they both seemed heavily focused in areas where decryption and an understanding of handwritten materials may be important to them in the future, I figured it was a good idea they start exploring it now.

Atwood’s poem here plays heavily on a common theme in many of the Grimms’ fairy tales where maidens were often relieved of their hands, usually for something their father, brother, or husband did.  As part of this month, instead of completing standard projects, I asked them to search for the poem read on air on NPR’s Writers’ Almanac on the day, month, and year each one was born, and to reflect on whatever feelings or thoughts the poem inspired.

*My friends’ poems are not available for public viewing at this time.
**The December poetry selections were the following: “Toward the Winter Solstice” by Timothy Steele, “Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind” by Shakespeare (from As You Like It), “Winter: A Dirge” by Robert Burns, “A Leaf from the Tree of Songs” by Adam Christianson, “Lord of the Dance” (traditional), “Reflections on a Scottish Christmas” by Johnny Cunningham, and “An Old Man’s Winter Night” by Robert Frost (a cousin).

Dead Air

My apologies to the 24 people who follow this blog.  March saw us madly dashing around trying to get ready for Norwescon, which we attempt to attend every year.  This one was our biggest — my daughter had worked hard on a costume of her creation to enter into the masquerade competition (and won, second year in a row), and I got a chance for professional critiques of my writing in THREE writers’ workshops — and was immediately concluded at the end of the weekend with frightening news that my mother, only 56 years of age, was heading to the hospital, unable to speak properly and spouting impossible and paranoid things not at all like her.  She had been ill for a few weeks, but her mind had been fit beforehand.

A week later, I was on a plane to Germany, because her condition had seriously worsened.  I arrived an hour too late, my mother passed away on April 16th of an infection she contracted while in the hospital.  Since then, our homeschooling experiment has been bumpy at best, and it’s taken a high toll on both my daily living and my daughter’s ability to focus on anything but her art.

It’s almost two months now, though it feels like days since it happened.  She was an extremely generous, loving, and creative person, and her husband, my daughter, and I are all still reeling from the shock of her sudden absence in our lives. Of the three of us, I’m pushing hardest to avoid allowing my grief to consume us.

Betsy Content Bogert Moelders
Dec. 7th, 1955 – Apr. 16th 2012

That being said, I’m going ahead with a plan I’d had rattling in my head for the last few months.  I’ve talked to my daughter and my friend’s eldest about the almost-two years of Reading Selections I began with them, where it’s taken them thus far, and whether they feel other children would benefit from it.  So, starting in September, I intend to take on new students in a casual environment — a handful of children in the homeschooling group — and give them a more polished and practiced form of this literary critiquing group we’ve been having so much fun with.  I’ve watched my daughter’s awareness of what she reads deepen, her insight into the subtle working of the world around her awaken, and my friend’s son’s critical analysis take on greater nuance.  They’ve become more considerate of the media to which they’re exposed through choice or accident, and I’m so proud to see my daughter’s own test scores in reading and spelling jump far ahead of where she’d been when she was in institutionalized schooling (and flagging) — she’s finally proficient at her approximate grade level!

I went back through this site’s archives and saw how there was nothing posted for the last “school year” of Reading Selections.  Tomorrow, I will attempt to sit down and post the list, complete with the links I can find of sources for the readings we did from September through March (our work stopped when my mother died), so anyone interested in what they’ve been reading, or who are looking for recommendations, can provide the same materials to their own home students.

What I’m most enjoying at the moment in our schooling adventure is how they’ve both taken to this summer’s reading selections project.  Their assignment is to choose three books: one fiction novel (not graphic novels/manga/manwa/etc.), one non-fiction book on a subject they find interesting, and one collection of a single poet’s work*.

Friend’s son has chosen:
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
Content by Cory Doctorow
Death and Transfiguration: Poems by Kelly Cherry

Daughter has chosen:
Sky Village by Nigel Ashland
A Druid’s Herbal for the Sacred Earth Year by Ellen Evert Hopman
A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson

After reading their three selected books, they are to find common threads, themes, or a single key subject within each of them and create a project based on that element.  They’ve both started reading, and they seem to be enjoying themselves!  I can’t wait to see what they come up with in September . . .

*I decided a single author’s work is more definitive of an individual voice, where as a selection of poems from various authors, usually compiled on a theme (e.g. feminist poetry collections, horror poetry collections, etc.) would dilute the process of seeking a shared connection between the three books.  If one of the books is already a cacophony, it can be hard to make the three books together create harmony, to tie them together.

Project: April & May Reading Selections

April’s review of March reading selections included performance art on the part of friend’s son.  He took There Will Come Soft Rains, spent hours drawing the house as he saw it from the description using various architecture examples from web images, and then . . . he took us outside and lit it on fire.

He wasn’t entirely comfortable with the pictures I took before, during, and after, as he pointed out that he was making a statement about the loss of human civilization as described in the story.  He added that it took him hours to make it and only minutes to destroy it; he had intended to leave no record behind of all his work. He did, however, give me permission to show the end photos, but not the before image.

My daughter chose Kate Chopin’s A Pair of Silk Stockings and provided a sensory experience.  She made a box into which each blindfolded person placed their hand to find something new.  She included a stocking to stroke, a glove to touch, a wine cork to smell (we could have freshened it up a bit, as the scent was all but gone), and a piece of Blanxart dark chocolate to taste.

We discussed each story as usual, and I let them each lead the discussion of the story they chose for projects. In the end, it was Longing to Die of Old Age that won out on discussion time, as there was a lot about food security, community, and mortality that they wanted to talk about.  Before heading off to their swimming lessons, I assigned them the following . . .

April Reading Selections:

So then last week, we got together to discuss the above stories.  Both of them had chosen the Ticktockman, because, you know, this is just a fun story, even if it has a classic Ellison ending.  Both of them had created pictures of said Ticktockman.  A. handed me a two page short story in his composition book to show the perspective of a young boy whose father’s time runs out, and showed me the picture the “boy” had drawn.  Daughter had a pair of watercolor paintings, a before and after, of the Ticktockman and his association with the Harlequin.

When I saw what was presented, I said to A., “I was expecting a jar of jellybeans from you, or something,” and he said, “oh, right,” and stood on his chair.  A moment later, his fingers having unsealed the plastic baggie attached to the ceiling I’d failed to notice, we were pelted with hailing jelly beans.  His brother helped “clean up” by gathering them all and stuffing them into his mouth.

We covered the story, I read the poem about Paul Revere, breaking it down because some of the events mentioned needed clarifying for Daughter, and then a sober review of The Shawl.  I kept that one brief only touching on the exact events going on in the story that were poetically detailed so as to avoid ambiguity.  We agreed it was dour, and the moment I mentioned Dahl’s story, both of them laughed with relief.  They loved it (yay!), and thought the whole thing very clever.  We detailed more about Harlequin, and decided after a quick recap of Rip Van Winkle that the story was rather boring and could be shortened to anecdote or old WB cartoon.  I did point out some of the cultural notes that were important in the story (current location, mythology, the culture of the people who had colonized the area, and relations to other stories/authors in their readings).  I pointed out, too, that as a young nation, our legends and folktales are only now becoming myth in our collective minds; Rip Van Winkle, Paul Bunyan, and Johnny Appleseed are just some of those that have fallen into the hands of animated comedy and parody and pretty much out of everyday discussion.  Except among homeschoolers and “history” teachers it seems.  😉

Then I announced that the following were the last selections before a reprieve for summer.  Well, not really a reprieve, but a shifting of gears.  Taking a page from formal school teachers, I’m giving them a book reading project, but those details will come in June.

May Reading Selections:

Dorothy Parker

Image by anyjazz65 via Flickr

*I tried to find three selections without a man-hating theme, because honestly, I love Dorothy Parker, and I want A. to have a chance to enjoy her, too without feeling constantly attacked.

Projects: March Reading Selections

Run around the cone three times.

The Obstacle Course

Both children chose Harrison Bergeron for their projects, and while my daughter opted to make her own “handicaps” that she might have to wear in Harrison’s world, my friend’s son, try to replicate the feeling of being placed under such restrictions.

My daughter learned papier mache techniques, made an “ugly” mask over an aluminum foil mould made from shaping it around her face, and then when the paper had dried into the shape she’d chosen over the course of a few days, she painted it in acrylic paints.  I gave tips where necessary and acted as an assistant occasionally.  She also put on a pair of broken headphones that hooked around her ears to simulate the device that would buzz in her ears whenever she had deep thoughts.

Younger Brother = Guinea Pig

My friend’s son set up an obstacle course and created his own handicaps with the intention of having each person run through twice–once without the handicaps, once with–and his hope was to see if we all ended up with similar completion times with the handicaps than without.  The obstacle course involved running three times around a traffic cone, race forward, kick the second cone, stand on a “platform” (in this case, a collapsed yard goal) and throw a wiffle ball into a bowl on a windy concourse.  When the ball finally reaches its destination, each person had to catch the ball, and then complete a problem on the white board.

He created a weighted bag filled with books that needed to be worn across the chest, a pair of old glasses smeared with grease, and headphones attached to an iPhone that played a soundtrack he made that repeated on a loop; it was filled with creative commons sound effects that were disruptive and came every 15 to 20 seconds.  He said he’d send it to me to share on the blog, so it’s forthcoming.  🙂

Squirelflight’s Ugly Mask

We discussed the other stories.  They both had trouble with Brer Rabbit, and mostly because of the dialect it was written in; we talked about why an author would choose to write an entire story (and not just the dialogue) in something outside of “standard” English, its intent as an oral story, and how it would sound if a native of the dialect read it out loud to us instead of me in a halting manner.  We talked about abolitionists and feminists and how the latter was left behind by the former, causing divisiveness within the feminist movement since the nineteenth century. We even talked cyberpunk.

With little time left before we needed to get out for the kids’ swim class, we wrapped it up, and I showed them the very light amount of reading for March, but with the expectation that they’d get their projects done by the start of April.  I also told them I left out two essays that went together with one another and the sandwiched February/March months that squeeze in African American History Month and Women’s History Month all in one neat chunk, sort of a two month minority marathon to be ignored by public schools the rest of the year.  They both looked at me with gratitude that I hadn’t saddled them with another one of my diatribes.  Ahem.  I’ll save it for another time.  😉

March Selections are as follows:

Projects: February Reading Selections

Once again, I’m remiss in getting this posted on time, but my schedule has changed significantly, and I’ve still not found my rhythm.

My friend’s son challenged himself to draw in response to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and he came up with three very different portraits in ink:

MLK Portraits in ink, property of A.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Portraits in Ink: 1 & 2

Portrait in Ink, propert of A.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Portrait in Ink 3

My favorite is the second one.  While the first and third look nothing like MLK, Jr., the second one could be interpreted as an abstract portrait, which was in line with the art classes I started teaching both older children a couple of weeks ago.  Perhaps, though, if he’d remembered MLK’s mustache, it might bear a closer resemblance.  😉

Squirelflight decided to use the 18 rules in Mark Twain’s “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses” as the basis to writing her own short story.  While she spent hours every day for almost a week pounding out hen-pecked keys, the format was all in a block and almost unreadable.  She is currently editing her piece by hand, complete with editor’s marks I taught her, so she can reformat the story for our next session.  Speaking of which, here are the selections for February:

Previous Reading Selections: