Monthly Archives: September 2008

Newton and the Skate Park

Group of Four spent the last two sessions together working on their skateboarding skills.  When we first decided to schedule this unit I must admit I was apprehensive.  I wanted it for B7’s sake; he is very keen to improve, but I just didn’t know how it would pan out.  I wasn’t sure that the non-skaters would be happy and I had no idea who would do the instructing.  I needn’t have worried.  The mother of three boys was in charge and she did a fabulous job.  We met at a local skate park and spent the first hour of each session learning the physics.  She took us through Newton’s laws of motion, using the skateboards whenever possible.

During the second hour she had invited Kevin, a skateboarder with a passion for encouraging children and inspiring confidence.  He spent some time teaching everyone about the parts of the skateboards and took them through some basic maneuvers before encouraging them to try the ramps.  There were gentle slopes and steeper slopes and Kevin was there to guide, instruct, even hold their hands if they wanted.

I was amazed at the progress B7 made in the first week.  He took the low ramp with no problems and then with some initial help mastered the second ramp.  When we returned the second week he considered the steepest ramp.

Kevin encouraged and advised him.

I held my breath and he did it.   Again and again.  He wiped out and got back up again and did it again.

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Campaign Close-up

Friends of ours and fellow members of Group of Four welcomed an important visitor into their home this morning. The Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, was given a short cello lesson by B7’s friend J8. Mr Harper then used his new skills to accompany E12 as he played a fiddle tune. E, J and their brother M were able to chat to Mr Harper about their interests and music lessons. 

We were also able to experience an aspect of the current election campaign at very close range today when we were invited to the Conservative Headquarters to attend a policy announcement.  Mr Harper, announced three new initiatives to help Canadian families. One of those initiatives is to establish a tax credit on fees for children taking music, art or drama lessons.

We were present for the whole announcement and the question time which followed. The children listened to the Prime Minister outline the policy, which involved more than just the tax credit, and heard him field questions on a range of topics relating to the election. After the announcement he took a few minutes to meet each member of the three families invited. When talking to the children he asked them about their involvement with music and told them a little about his own piano learning as a young person. He also chatted to them about the instruments his son and daughter like to play.

It was great to be behind the scenes and see the large media contingent in action.  We were briefed before the announcement by one of the PM’s staff about what to expect and appropriate behaviour.  We were also warned that the strong lighting can get very hot and just last week someone fainted during a press release.    We had stood for twenty minutes or so and were just listening to Mr Harper answering the last question when I realised A12 was swaying beside me, I whispered to her but received no reply.  Not a moment too soon I put my arms out to steady her and maneuvered away to the side of the room, where someone picked her up and carried her to a chair.  As soon as she could walk we went off to a back room where she recovered.  That is why you cannot see either of us in the photos here.  Mr Harper did come back to the room with the rest of the families where A12 and I were able to speak briefly with him.

You can read the press release here or watch it here

Chore changes

After two years of rotating the chores, we decided to move back to a system where each person has the same chores each week.  I compiled a list of all the chores we needed to do on a regular basis and divided them into five groups of four chores.  We then took turns picking a chore from each group with a different person getting first pick each time. Some of the chores are more time consuming than others but we seemed to end up with an appropriate distribution. It is a bit soon to know whether the new system is an improvement but I feel that we are keeping up better than last year.  The real test will be when all the outside activities start up again and we are in and out of the house more.

I read about an interesting chore system on Pioneer Woman a few weeks ago and told my children about it.  The girls felt that they were a little old for a “Chore Store” but B7 thought it was a great idea (no surprise there).  When children did all their allocated daily chores they earned Mom money or Dad dollars, to spend or save for purchases at the Chore Store.  We have never paid our children to do chores, looking after the house is just part of family life.  My hope is that over time they will learn how to do all the household chores and see it as a way to serve the family.  However I do want to recognise jobs well done, so I might come up with my own tokens of appreciation.

One of the girls came by as I was working on this post and wondered why on earth I was writing about chores!  Why indeed?  I just want you to know it’s not all watercolours and international travel around here.

Group of Four paints again…

…this time with watercolours.  Our group resumed last week with a painting lesson.  I have an artist friend who is just wonderful at inspiring children to create their own works of art.  She came and spent a little over two hours introducing the group to watercolours.  We could have spent twice as long, it was such a great session.  The first project was simply to see what watercolour paints do when added to the wet watercolour paper.  The children were all encouraged to, “see the magic”, a phrase which has crept into conversation at our place several times since the lesson.  Watching the colours blend and bleed into each other was indeed magical.

After the completing the first experimental “painting” all the children tried creating colour gradations and then did a cloud and water scene. The finished paintings were as individual as our eleven children but all showing the beautiful effects of watercolour magic.

As one of the artists said, “I don’t usually like my paintings, but I love this one!”


Today the girls found out their results from the theory exams.  Both did extremely well with marks over 90%.  They were very pleased, Andrew and I were very proud.  A12 has to keep up the momentum now and work towards her Grade 2 theory exam next year.

I was excited to receive in the mail a magazine containing an article I wrote.  Homeschooling Horizons is a Canadian magazine and my article was about starting or joining a Co-op.

After lunch today, none of us were in the least bit excited to be joined by a mouse in the kitchen!  I am embarrassed to say I did my share of screaming and jumping out of the way.  Of course the tiny little creature was terrified as we all stood looking at it deciding what we should do.  Any time it looked like being brave enough to move we roared at it.    B7 had a few bloodthirsty ideas on how it could be dispatched; needless to say I didn’t go with any of them.

The good news

The good news is that when I saw the gastroenterologist yesterday, he had the results of my most recent blood test.  My ferritin level, which was 4 when I was diagnosed with Celiac disease, is now 82!  This is no doubt due to my three iron infusions so it will be interesting to see if I can maintain this level or continue to increase this level without further infusions.  I definitely have more energy than I did six months ago;  I even ran four mornings this week, and by the fourth it didn’t hurt as much.

More good news – we won our first game in the end of season playoffs last night 25 to 2.  The tournament runs through this weekend and the beginning of next week, then softball will be over for another year.

Doubling up

As I mentioned yesterday I am concentrating on drilling math facts with B7. In order to practice doubling  today, I made up a game. I often invent a game for B7 on the fly, sometimes they work, sometimes not. Today’s invention definitely worked, B7 even taught to A12 and played it outside of Math time!

This is how it worked:

  • You need a full deck of cards(jokers removed), blank paper and pencil for each player.
  • Deal each player 7 cards and place the rest in a pile in the centre, this is the pick up pile. The aim of the game is to end up with the most points. You receive points when you can lay down a double (two cards the same value Ace -10) If you have a picture card you can lay it down on your double and increase your points. A Jack means you can double your total again, a Queen entitles you to double twice and a King means you can double three times. For example, if you are holding two 6’s and a king, you can lay down the 6’s; this gives you 12 points. Placing the king on top means your score doubles three more times giving you 96 points.
  • If you have no doubles in your hand you pick up from the centre pile. You cannot lay cards down straight away after picking up, you must wait until your next turn.
  • Players add and record their score from each double they lay down and add them up at the end. The game ends when a player has laid down all their cards or when the pick up pile is finished. At the end if players have cards in their hand they add up their value and subtract it from their final score. Picture cards left in a players hand are all worth 10 points which must also be subtracted.

I was very happy with the amount of doubling B7 did and that he began to recognise patterns and calculations he had already done.  It’s nice when the learning and the playing are one and the same.

Glimpses of our school day

Not only did we manage to get up in time for school this morning, the girls and I went for a run before we began. Running is very much in the trial stage, today was the second day. We are only running about 2km, which took us 15 minutes this morning. I spent the last 5 minutes telling myself I must not give up even though everything hurt!

We began with a short prayer and bible memory time using the fruit bowl to help learn the Fruit of the Spirit verses. Then it was into Maths, the girls just opened up the beloved Saxon tests and got to work. B7 and I did not get out the text straight away; I have designed things a little differently for him, devoting more time to games, drill and activity sheets which will hopefully help him to memorise his number facts and tables. As the maths got harder last year he could understand the concepts but was slowed down by the calculations. We did much of today’s lesson orally, covering the first lesson in the text but without the laborious copying of questions into a workbook. I spent quite a bit of time searching through recommended online Math Games during the summer so I could supplement the drill with some shooting of asteroids and the like. It will take me more time to prepare this type of lesson, but I was very happy with today’s results and so was B7.

L14 has designed her own schedule this year, which we will tweak as the days progress. I think a couple of subjects may need more time allotted to them but time will tell. For the first time (other than violin) she is taking a class with a different teacher. We have heard excellent reports of a writing teacher here in Ottawa who runs a thirty week program, teaching a range of writing styles and techniques. She sends lessons, assignments and feedback to her students by email and runs an optional 1 hour class each week.

The rest of the day ran smoothly with Language not being too painful for B7, I read him a story that I found very strange, but which he loved. Although he complained about spelling and writing I was thrilled to see how much he had retained over the long summer break. This year he will join A12 in using Excellence in Writing, the program I have utilised to teach the girls factual writing over the last few years.  Reading other people’s ideas over the summer I became convinced that B7 should have his schedule by his desk so he can see how his time is divided up.  He referred to it often today and could see that the lesson times were not too long and there were BLANK spaces during which he could take a break.

A12 managed to get all her work done in plenty of time, so she accompanied me to the library to borrow a secret codes book.  Tonight she created a very authentic looking Secret Agent membership document on the computer. (Not that I have actually seen any secret agent membership documents!)

So there you have a few glimpses into our first day back at school.  As I suspected, now we are back at the books the real summer weather has arrived, 30° today and tomorrow!

Summer Daze

Today is the last day of the summer holidays, but it is definitely not the last day of summer. I keep telling people that summer could last another month or so yet. Wishful thinking, I know. I don’t know where all the summer days have gone. Even though we were only in China two weeks, it seemed to affect my whole summer. The weather also threw me out, it rained almost everyday through July and half of August. After the extreme heat of China the mild days here were pleasant but not the summer days we are used to.

On returning from China A12 and L14 threw themselves into studying for their music theory exams. For four weeks they spent large chunks of every day working, L14 did Grade 2 and A12 Grade 1. I think B7 found this a bit tough as he had already missed their company for two weeks only to find them always working on cadences, scales and Italian terms. They did take a break on the August long weekend, which included L14’s birthday, and we all visited our friends at their cottage in the Laurentians.

After the exams were finally over they both breathed sighs of relief and then realised there were only three weeks of holidays left. B7 and A12 went to a soccer camp run by SU at our church which they thoroughly enjoyed. Both came home each day hot, sunburnt and happy. L14 and I fitted in several games of tennis, some swimming and a little shopping. Throughout these weeks of theory and sport I steadily sorted and cleaned through many rooms of the house. I also spent hours planning for the coming school year.

As has been our custom since we came to Canada we went out for an “End of School Dinner”. We had not eaten out together since I was diagnosed with celiac disease so we decided to try one of the restaurants recommended by the Ottawa Celiace Association. It was Indian and the food was delicious. We all chose something to share and I was able to eat just about everything. I had prepared certificates for the children as I have in past years. The awards can be for excellent results, considerable improvement or consistent effort. I also had movie gift certificates for them each this year and they bought a cd for Andrew and I. As in past years it was a very enjoyable night.

We returned to our friends’ cottage for a week of swimming, kayaking, card games and more school planning (the mums of course, not the kids!) It was very relaxing, as it always is; the days were sunny and warm, the nights crisp and the company refreshing. Both families returned to celebrate H’s birthday, which was a fancy dress party. L14 made alterations to a “Queen Guinevere” dress I had made years ago and turned it into one of the Princess Bride’s costumes. A12 created an Arabian nights style costume to be Aravis from “The Horse and His Boy”. (I’ll try and post a photo tomorrow)

This past week has disappeared as I have tried to get the house to rights, attended several planning meetings and worked on details for the upcoming Stellae Boreales retreat. Tomorrow we begin a new year and according the levels here in Canada we have a highschooler, a junior highschooler and an elementary school student. I think everyone is looking forward to the year’s challenges, the first one being getting out of bed at a reasonable time tomorrow morning!