Tiny Books and a Tiny Musician

Reading is important to me, and it’s important that my kids learn to read too. I understand the mentality of a lot of homeschool parents is “don’t force them; they’ll read when they’re ready.” I don’t necessarily agree with that mentality, but I know that it exists. Kids, by their very nature, are lazy (at least mentally). They’d rather play outside or watch TV than go to school. I think it just takes the proper motivation to get them to read. (For example, Grasshopper fought me tooth and nail on reading until it was no longer an option. Then he complained every day when it was time to read his book. Then we got him his trophy, and he suddenly starting reading everything in sight, including getting much faster at the pages in his novel. With that prize just waiting for him, he wanted it, and he wanted it bad.)

Those beginning stages of teaching children to read are often the hardest. That’s where programs like Reading Eggs or Reading Unlocked come in handy. Dragonfly (5) was able to read basic words (cat, hat, mat) since he was 4 thanks to those programs. A year later and he is very competent with his letters and sounds. But he lacks confidence in reading anything else. I don’t want him to fall into the trap of knowing all the phonics and still not being able to read. So when Will and I were out on an afternoon a few weeks ago, we found ourselves in Barnes & Noble. The “early reader” section caught my eye, and I started poking around there, looking at the options. Bob books are always a popular choice, and one we’ve used several times from the library with other kids. But then, on the next shelf down, I found a set of PAW Patrol books. Our kids don’t know much about PAW Patrol (they’re more into PJ Masks), but they know enough to recognize the characters even if they can’t name them. So I picked bought the box and brought it home to him. He was so excited! And that same day, he read the first book. He should have been able to read it on his own based on his skills, but as I mentioned, he lacks the confidence. I had him read the same book again the next day, and he did better. We’ve been slowly adding the books into his repertoire, and before long he’ll have read them all. From there, I am confident he will be able to move on to slightly longer books (Frog and Toad, maybe), and I fully expect that he will follow Scorpion’s footsteps and read his first novel and earn a trophy when he’s 6.

Bumblebee, on the other hand, is a bit too small to read yet. He does watch Dragonfly do Reading Eggs most days, though, and can recognize many of the letter sounds, so I bet he will be an early reader too (he’s 2 1/2 now). He does, however, play the ukulele!

Just kidding. Ballet Boy plays the ukulele and set up this picture. He tells me that the instrument was too heavy for Bumblebee, who kept tipping over every time he was left to hold it on his own. Ballet Boy had to snap the picture while supporting the neck of the ukulele and keeping his own hand out of frame.

Blessings,

Another Strange Brew sweater

When I made the “A-Maze-ing” sweater for Grasshopper last spring, he absolutely adored it. I really loved the way it looked on him, too. But a couple of months later, disaster struck. The sweater, which I’d made from non-superwash wool yarn, got tossed in the laundry, unbeknownst to me. I was horrified when I picked it up out of the basket of clothes from the dryer as I was folding them. It was much too small for him to wear any longer.

Silver lining is that the stitch definition is still pretty good, and the sweater now fits Dragonfly. It’s the tiniest bit stiffer than it used to be, but at least it still gets to be worn.

A close up of the motifs he chose. It started with arrows at the bottom, followed by waves, then the letter E (for his name). We topped the Es with a crown, and finished the sweater off with bold red triangles, or “Godzilla spikes” as he calls them.

But that left Dragonfly (5) with 3 sweaters and Grasshopper (8) with just one. Now that I’m out of my blanket and toy rut, it was time to make him a new sweater for this coming year! I decided to let him design his own design, since that’s the whole point of the Strange Brew recipe pattern. We looked at different motifs together, and he picked out the ones he liked best (that would fit into the number of rows for a sweater his size). I took him to Hobby Lobby to choose the yarn, too. I knew after making the Mickey Mouse sweater for Bumblebee that I didn’t want to use Big Twist yarn for another sweater, and that meant shopping somewhere besides JoAnn. While we were at the store, we looked at quite a few different yarns. Grasshopper knew that he wanted his sweater to be blue with red designs. He was willing to compromise a bit on that so as not to have it turn out too garish, but not too much. We examined at least 3-4 different blues before we found one he liked. Then we looked at the reds. Then we found a better blue (I Love This Yarn! in the color Chambray), which led us to other reds. He landed on a nice dark, supple red (I Love This Yarn! in Red Tweed), which compliments the blue marbled yarn very nicely – it’s not hard on the eyes at all.

And this one’s made from acrylic yarn, so we won’t have any shrinkage problems this time.

 

Blessings,

Prom

Ballet Boy knew that there were a few things he was sacrificing by being homeschooled, one of which was every having the opportunity to attend Prom. He was okay with this (we’ve talked about it quite a few times); he knew that the trade off was so great that he was okay with the things he’d miss out by not attending a regular school.

Then COVID hit, and suddenly he wasn’t the only one who was going to be missing things. (In our state, which has been one of the hardest locked down states in the country, schools were closed for over 400 days except for Zoom. When they did open, it was only 1-2 days per week for 1-2 hours per day. Public school parents, as you can imagine, have been livid.) This meant that he was suddenly not “special” in his plight of not getting a prom. None of the kids his age would get one (he’s a junior this year).

A year on, and the virus has slowed considerably, thanks in large part to previous infections and vaccines (we were fortunate to never have gotten the disease and have now all been vaccinated except those in our family too young to qualify). Because the virus doesn’t feel like much of a threat anymore, our church decided to hold a Prom for the kids. Even though we found out about it pretty last minute (just 6 days before the event), we made a point to send Ballet Boy. He invited one of his dance friends, and they had a lovely time. They looked so good all dressed up!

I am thrilled that he got the opportunity to attend a high school prom after all, and I know he is too.

Blessings,

Fathers

The Homeschool Review Crew challenge this week is Fathers – rather appropriate since Father’s Day is coming right up here in the US. I’d like to take a small moment to honor the fathers in my life.

Dad

My mom and dad divorced when I was small, so I grew up seeing my dad the standard “every other weekend.” Because of this, his love language for us became gifts and experiences – the stereotypical Disneyland Dad. When my brothers (I have two – one is 2 1/2 years younger than me and the other 8 1/2 years younger) and I were small, this meant tons of camping trips, going to the amusement park, bowling and pizza, and movie rentals.

We grew apart during my teenage years, but I realized the folly of my ways a couple years on and clung to him later. When I was old enough to get married, he walked me down the aisle with tears (of joy) in his eyes. When I started having babies, he was always there (maybe not in person, but mentally and emotionally). He was a really great grandfather. I could always count on him to babysit in a pinch, even if he wasn’t the “best” at it.

I remember when Dragonfly was a tiny baby, we asked him to babysit so we could take the other boys to see Willy Wonka in the theater (one of the local cinemas ran it when Gene Wilder died). He had to call us before we’d made it all the home because the baby just wouldn’t stop crying. Dad was pretty stressed out, but he pulled through. (We were on our way home when he called, so it was just another 10 or 15 minutes of cranky baby for him.)

When Bumblebee was born, Dad couldn’t make it to the hospital (he’d moved a couple of hours away by that point), but I called him from the hospital to share the news. Telling him that we’d given the new baby Dad’s name as baby’s middle was one of the most touching things I’ve ever experienced. He and his fiancee both cried tears of joy on hearing that news. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that phone call (I hope I don’t anyway).

Last year, I lost my dad to undiagnosed cancer. He was a stubborn man who would never go to a doctor. My mom told me once that when they were still married and Dad was sick, that he made her go to the doctor and give his symptoms as her own in order to get the medicine, and then he’d take it instead of her. Crazy. He knew he had cancer (obviously not officially), but he was tough as nails to the end. I still miss him a lot, but things are easier now than they were a year and a half ago.

John

When my parents split up, I was just 5. By the time I was 6, my mom had remarried, and she and my stepdad are still married to this day. John was always a good provider for us. He worked really hard to support the family, and was never one that I had to fight with (“you’re not my dad”). He taught me to drive when I was 15, and a lot of the cooking I did in my earlier years came from his recipes too. He has been as much a father figure to me as Dad was. I asked him to join in the “walking down the aisle” duties, but he declined, not wanting to step on my dad’s toes on that special day. My kids call him “Grandpa John,” and I think he has definitely earned that title.

Will

My husband… He is an amazing man, and I don’t think I praise him enough. We got married very young, but have stuck together through thick and thin. You know in your wedding vows when you say “for richer or poorer”? We’ve been both! Fortunately now, we’re in a “richer” time in our lives, both financially and in family. He humors me through all of my hobbies, never being stingy on getting me supplies. He has always been supportive in our quest to keep our kids out of daycare. This means that we’ve been a single-income family for over 17 years. I know that’s been stressful for him before, but he never complained. It was important to him too.

When our oldest son was eligible for Kindergarten, sending him to public school was never even something we talked about. Even though sending him off to school would have made things easier (I could have gone back to work), it was as big a priority for Will as it was for me (maybe more so) to keep the boys home for school. He was always willing to help me try to figure out what homeschooling should look like for our family. We spent many hours together in Lakeshore Learning Stores, going over different curricula and workbooks when the teens were small. Now that we’ve got a younger crop of sons in the early years of their homeschool careers, things are different. But Will is always excited to hear from the boys what they “learned about in school today.”

Without him, I can’t imagine what my life would be like. I know it would be different, but there’s no way it would be better. I am thankful every single day for my husband – the father of my children.

Head over to the Homeschool Review Crew website for other people’s takes on the theme “Fathers” today.

Blessings,

Crochet Amigurumi: A Lesson in Gauge

Because I knit garments, I know the importance of gauge. I don’t worry too much about it when I crochet because I use crochet almost exclusively for things where gauge doesn’t matter (toys and blankets). When I made a pink elephant a couple of months ago, using the same pattern designer as all the toys I made last year (Jess Huff), it felt a bit small to me. I’d given away all of the toys I made last year (it was really nice having gifts for my kids’ friends’ birthdays all year long!), so I couldn’t compare it to any of those. But just in case I was right and it was too small (maybe my gauge had gotten tighter over the past year), I made a dog with a larger hook size. For the dog, because Jess Huff doesn’t have a dog pattern, I used her “Benedict the Bear” pattern, but swapped the ears out for those from Sarah Zimmerman’s “Dash the Dog” from the book Crochet Cute Critters.

The dog felt pretty good as I was making it. The size was really nice – more what I thought I was expecting when I had been making the elephant. But when I finished him and then got the elephant out to compare the two, I was really surprised at just how big the difference was. I wasn’t so clueless as to expect them to be the same size, but the difference between an E hook (3.5mm) and an H hook (5.0mm) was drastic! And it really goes to show just how important gauge can be when you’re making something where it matters a whole lot, like a sweater.

A few things to keep in mind as you’re crocheting amigurumi toys, though. While a bigger hook will give you a bigger toy, which can definitely be preferable sometimes, it does that because it makes bigger stitches. This means that if you go too big (without sizing up your yarn too), you could end up with holes in your project where the stuffing can poke out. This is definitely not ideal, especially if you’re going to give the toy to a child. It’s best to follow the recommended hook size that the designer has listed in the pattern. Because gauge doesn’t matter for toys (as I mentioned before), it’s likely that the designer has chosen that hook size on purpose to work with the stitch count and make a nice-sized toy. I learned this by “overriding” a recommended H hook in a few patterns last year in favor of an E hook to make sure I had tight enough stitches. Those toys, while *fine*, were a whole lot smaller than I expected or liked. An H hook with size 4 yarn is fine for toys. The stitches won’t be too big (unless you crochet really loosely). I wouldn’t recommend going any bigger than that, though.

If you plan to give the toy to a young child (under 3), you should crochet or embroider small eyes instead of using safety eyes. While I don’t normally have trouble with my safety eyes, they’re not not foolproof. If your safety eyes do fall out, I’ve found that a dab of hot glue works wonders with reinstalling them. (Obviously they can’t go back in to a finished project.) Just put a little bit of hot glue onto the post of the eye and poke it back in. The glue will adhere to the poly-fil fibers and stay put quite nicely.

Have you ever been surprised by your knitting or crochet gauge?

Blessings,

Book Reading Trophy

When our teenagers were younger, we made the decision to reward them after they’d read their first “big book.” This was defined as either a biography or a novel, age-appropriate. Ballet Boy, who was 8 at the time, read a really old copy of Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans that we’d gotten at an antique store (I believe it’s a first edition from the late-1800s; you can get an updated copy from Amazon in paperback for $7.95 or on Kindle for free). Scorpion (then 6) read Charlotte’s Web. When they’d finished, we got them each a trophy that reflected their interests, which at the time were Ancient Egypt (Ballet Boy) and knights in shining armor (Scorpion). They still have both of them.

Now Grasshopper is (finally) starting to read more. He’s about 3/4 of the way through his first big book: Holes by Louis Sachar. He’s always been a huge fan of audio books, and has listened to all of the Wayside School books (except one… keep reading). He really enjoys Mr. Sachar’s writing, and when my husband asked me who Grasshopper’s favorite author was it was an easy question to answer. Will then proceeded to get onto the Barnes and Noble website and order a signed copy of the newest Wayside School book, Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom. Grasshopper is so excited to get to read the book that he’s really pushing himself to finish Holes. And in the process, he’s gotten to the point where he’s reading everything he sees from street signs to billboards to cereal boxes. It’s really rewarding to see him finally care about his own literacy!

Blessings,

One More Story (review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

Reading aloud is a magical time for many families, but there are times when it’s just not possible. Those times are the basis for One More Story. They’re here to help get your kids some literature time when you just can’t for one reason or another.

One More Story is available as a website or an iOS (Apple) app. For ease of use, I downloaded the app to my iPhone and our iPad. This way there was no issue with trying to remember log in credentials every time it was time to use the program.

When you first open the app (after the very first time, when you have to log in), the bookshelf is the main screen. You can easily choose a book to read, or have read to you, and off you go. It’s really that simple.

There are currently 87 books available, and each one has original music composed by Robby Merken, who used to work for Sesame Street. There are 30 different narrators, so this keeps the books fresh. You’ll find many different types of books here, but they are all high quality stories. Some are well-known (The Snowy Day, Stellaluna, and Pete’s a Pizza, for example), and others are not (Kiss the Cow and Sidney Won’t Swim). All are good.

There are two options for using the app: Read Aloud or I Can Read. In Read Aloud, the app does all the reading to your child, along with the original music I mentioned before. You can choose to have the pages turn automatically, or do so manually. In I Can Read mode, there is no music or narration. Children do the reading all on their own. If they don’t know a word, they can tap on it and the app will read it aloud to them, which helps to build confidence in reading.

We had a lot of fun with this app. My little kids really enjoyed the audiobook aspect of it (they love audiobooks!), and having the original illustrations to go with the music and narration was a nice bonus from the typical audiobook they’re used to.

You can connect with One More Story on Facebook or Twitter.

Make sure to head over to the Review Crew website for more information and links to other reviews as well.

Blessings,

Mickey Mouse sweater

I’m finding myself following a similar knit/crochet schedule as I did last year! I spent the winter making blankets, then did a few toys in the spring (I have a post planned for showing off some of those in a few days), and now I’m working on kid sweaters.

Using the Strange Brew sweater “recipe,” just like I did last year, I made a sweater for Bumblebee, who is 2 1/2 now. I didn’t end up liking this one as well as other things I’ve made recently, but my son really likes it, so that matters a lot more than me liking it.

To create the design on the sweater, I first printed the Strange Brew planning worksheet from Tin Can Knits. I drew out the words first, because I knew I wanted those to wrap around the bottom and I prefer to knit sweaters bottom up whenever possible. When I finished knitting the words and the body, and attached the sleeves to begin the yoke, I took a pause to create the yoke design on my worksheet. In the tiny size of 1-2 years, there are only a few rows of yoke design allotted, divided into 3 sections. The shorts and the Mickey Mouse head were easy enough to sketch out, but the middle portion was a bit trickier. I wanted to do the gloves, but I just didn’t have the stitches available. Instead, I went with a paper-cutout-doll style design. What I mean is that I did a sort of “body” with the arms all connected the entire way around the sweater.

For this sweater, I used JoAnn Big Twist yarn in the colors Medium Gray and Varsity Navy. I really love this yarn for crocheting, but I didn’t love it for a knitted sweater. I’m not sure what it was about it, but it just felt… “cheap,” if that makes sense. But again, Baby loves the sweater, so I’m okay with it.

Blessings,

Cross Seven Musical Memory Tool (review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

It’s no secret that one surefire way to make memorization easier is to use music. Cross Seven has created a program that utilizes this fact with their Cross Seven Ventures – Homeschool Musical Memory Tool. My younger kids and I have been practicing some of the basics in a variety of subjects with this program the past few weeks.

Cross Seven is divided up into weeks, and from there into individual subjects. Each week has a series of short videos, and the videos give little songs to help children memorize different things. You can use the website for accessing the videos, or there is also a Roku channel so you can put it right on the TV, which is what we did. Each morning after breakfast, I’d turn Cross Seven on for a little while and we would work our way through the subjects I wanted my kids to work on memorizing. We focused primarily on geography, grammar, and science. There are loads of other subjects included, too, though: Scripture, history, Latin, math, hymns, and timeline. Grasshopper thought the Latin was rather interesting, but I didn’t push it too much because that’s not something we’re focused on in our family.

The songs, as I mentioned, are quite short. Each one is only 1-2 minutes long, which is perfect for small children. It gives them the important information without much else. For example, in the geography song that deals with the continents, it pretty much just lists the continents and oceans to music. There aren’t a lot of extraneous lyrics. This keeps things super streamlined.

We did the grammar songs as a supplement to our regular grammar curriculum, and the short songs helped Grasshopper (8 years old) keep track of the different types of words he’s learning – nouns, verbs, adjectives, et al. It really helped him to focus on the different types of words, as well as giving him hooks to hang information on (what a noun is, for example, not just its name).

There are also quizzes available, but I didn’t worry too much about those.

I found the Cross Seven program to be quite popular with my children. I was a little surprised, to be honest, because the songs are so very short and don’t have any “extra” information in them. It’s quite literally just listing the things to music. But it really works! Just a few times through each song and my 8-year-old was singing along. That tells me that the method is sound.

Make sure to read more reviews on the Homeschool Review Crew website, especially if you’re interested in learning more about the quizzes we didn’t utilize.

Blessings,

 

Benjamin Franklin (YWAM biography review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew. 

We are no stranger to the Heroes of History series from YWAM Publishing. I read two of them with my older kids when they were younger (C.S. Lewis and Jacob de Shazer), and now I’m reading a new (to us) one, Benjamin Franklin: Live Wire with Grasshopper (he and I also read Corie ten Boom last year). The biography reads like a novel, and that’s part of what makes the Heroes of History series so good. You’re getting great history without it feeling like a history lesson. 

The book, like all of the YWAM biographies, starts with a “chapter one” that would be better named a “prologue,” not a “chapter.” In the case of Benjamin Franklin, we first meet him during the famous kite-flying experiment when he proved that lightning was a source of electricity. In chapter two, we are thrust backward in time to the time of Franklin’s youth and then move forward from there.

In the book, we learn all about Benjamin Franklin’s troubled relationship with his father, and how he didn’t want to work in “the family business” (soap- and candle-making). We take a trip across the Atlantic with young Ben as he travels to London on official business with the guarantee of the governor of Pennsylvania, William Keith, only to find out that the governor was a swindler when he got there – Keith didn’t send Franklin with the paperwork required to purchase the printing equipment he was sent for. This setback left Franklin in London for over a year, scrambling to get the printing press so he could bring it back to America.

A few chapters later, we learn all about Franklin’s civic “duties” – how he developed and created the very first fire station, library, and hospital in the colonies. In his position as one of Pennsylvania’s VIPs, he met many inventors who inspired him to explore science himself. Both Grasshopper and I found these chapters (the science ones) quite interesting. It was fascinating to read about how, before they fully understood electricity, the scientists would put on “magic shows” where they shot sparks out of their fingers (and other places) to impress the crowds. One time, Franklin himself was planning a show in which he used electricity to kill a turkey for the town festival (they planned to eat the turkey at the festival), but something went wrong and he ended up electrocuting himself instead! He nearly died that day.

Benjamin Franklin retired from his printing shop in his 40s, and from that point forward he focused a lot on his scientific pursuits, as well as continuing to be a “mover and shaker” in the Pennsylvania colony. He was made the postmaster general, which gave him quite a bit of power. He personally guaranteed the bonds that were used to pay for the French and Indian War (though he was able to recover those funds from the government). And he went back to England.

This is the point where Grasshopper and I are now (we have 4 chapters left in the book to read). Because we’ve been reading about 3 chapters a week, we’re not quite done, but we should finish it up by the middle of next week, if not before.

In addition to the book itself, YWAM offers complete study guides for all of their biographies. Benjamin Franklin: Live Wire is no exception.  The unit study guide follows the same outline of the other unit studies, having students explore key quotes from the topic. In the case of Benjamin Franklin, there are a few quotes from he himself, as well as some from other notable scientists (Sir Isaac Newton, Aristotle), politicians (FDR), and authors (Ralph Waldo Emerson). On their surface, the quotes don’t seem to apply to the book, but when you discuss them and dig deeper, you can see the relevance.

There’s a guide for helping students create a display (poster-style) using the information they learned in the book. There are lots of reading comprehension questions, split up by chapter. And then there are options for expanding the study to include subjects beyond reading/literature and history. Overall, the study guide is a very good way to turn a simple book into a much more intense learning experience, especially for older children.

I am the only one reviewing Benjamin Franklin this time, but there are lots of other YWAM biographies being talked about on the Homeschool Review Crew website this week. Click through to find out more!

Blessings,