The process whereby a child learns to read continues to fascinate me. Three months ago, Noah, who had just turned seven, demonstrated great progress in learning to read. But he was not yet a reader. Back then, he did a good job of making his way through his simplified, beginning readers. But just now he read to me Curious George Gets a Medal, with its much more advanced vocabulary and structure, and he read fluently, nearly effortlessly, and with great expression.
Similarly, in the time between two years, four months and two years, seven months, Joy's language abilities have exploded. In that time she has made the transition from two-word phrases to full, mostly clear communication, including correct use of pronouns. Amazing.
There are advantages and disadvantages to large families, but surely one of the greatest is the example of older siblings. I'm certain Joy has no idea that her youth should hinder her keeping up with her big brothers and sister. Her size, maybe: Jonathan executed a neat vault over the porch railing, and Joy announced that she was not going to follow suit because she would get hurt. Quite fearless, as a rule, she knows the difference between courage and foolishness.
Quote of the Day, from Noah: "Grandma, I think you're old enough to wear tie shoes now." To which I responded, "I'm old enough now to choose to wear Velcro shoes because I like them better."
Bedtime. It's been a long but fun day.
Once again I apologize for the lack of meat in recent posts. I'm intensely involved in a couple of projects with deadlines, and when that happens, other things requiring sustained thought get put on hold. It's not that I haven't had any opinions lately!
Our choir anthems for Sunday, September 29, 2013: Holy, Holy, Holy (Robert Clatterbuck, Hope Publishing Company, C 5470). No YouTube video, so the link takes you to the anthem on sheetmusicplus.
And I Choose You (Deboarh Governor, Beckenhorst Press, BP1789). I only wish we could have had Janet playing the oboe part!
These two are what the choir did; there was also a wonderful soloist, but I don't have his music to enter. What made this service special is that in addition to being regular Sunday worship, it was also a wedding of one of our choir members!
There are plusses and minuses for this not-so-common practice, but one difference I thought particularly wonderful was that despite all the usual pomp and circumstance for a wedding, it was crystal clear that this service was not "all about the bride." Nor the couple. It was a joyous sacrament taking place in the midst of God's people worshipping him as usual (almost).
Oh, and the reception was catered by our very own Chef Jessica. We are fortunate to have her in charge of many of our church meals, and if I ever need a caterer here I know exactly where I'm going. Not since Heather left Ascension in Pittsburgh—she served there under a deacon who was a professional chef—has church food been so amazing. (I really, really like church potluck dinners. But Chef Jessica serves the most amazing Middle Eastern food!)
Voting closes in about an hour, I'm afraid, but it's worth a try. You can vote for them all; probably multiple times, but I don't like ballot-box stuffing.
Correction: Voting closes October 13; it was submitting the stories that had to be done by today. But vote now anyway; you'll be surprised how soon a week will pass!
Thank you for your votes in favor of getting the cousins together!
Seats for Switzerland is a contest run by Swiss Airlines for uniting separated loved ones. To win, you must tell a convincing story and be chosen by a combination of voter participation and judges' decision. You also have to be a resident of Switzerland, or you can bet we'd have written our own stories. Instead, we're publicizing those of the people we want to be reunited with. Here's is the link to Joseph's story, where you can cast your vote for him. (It's easy; you only need to provide your name, an e-mail address, and agree to some non-threatening "terms and conditions.")
Y'all know I generally don't like the "vote for me in this contest" idea—but this is for our grandkids!
I'll publish links for the rest of the family when they're up, so you can vote for them, too. :) Thank you, thank you.
Better Than School by Nancy Wallace (Larson Publications, 1983)
Child's Work: Taking Children's Choices Seriously by Nancy Wallace (Holt Associates, 1990)
These stories of the education of Ishmael and Vita Wallace have been high on my list of favorite books since our own homeschooling days. Recently I re-read them both, confirming my suspicions that the Wallaces—flying by the seat of their pants in an era when homeschooling was almost unheard of, and often illegal—discovered many of the principles now refined in Project-Based Homeschooling.
The last time I read about the Wallaces' struggles with onerous regulations and imperious school boards, I noted how blessedly out of date it was, for although there are still those in the United States who would make homeschooling illegal again if they could, for the most part homeschoolers here can rest in the knowledge that the right to direct the education of our own children is recognized in all fifty states. This time, however, I read those parts of the books with renewed interest, since Switzerland, while much more advanced than the U.S. in some areas, is woefully behind us in this. Some of the Wallaces' experiences and arguments may turn out to be relevant, or at least to give inspiration.
Don't you just hate it when you read an inspiring story from the past and have no idea what happened to the characters in subsequent years? With Vita and Ishmael, at least, that question can be answered by visiting their Orpheo Duo website.
Here are a few, somewhat random, quotations. You really need to read the books to get a good sense of the story, however.
Walking into the meeting knowing that we had a majority [of the school board] on our side was a lot better than not knowing what to expect, but I guess I really wanted more than that. I wanted the whole board to admit that we were doing a terrific job with our kids and to be interested in our approach to education. After all, there was a lot the public schools could have learned from us. What disturbed me the most was that not only were two of the board members completely uninterested in what we were doing but they seemed to want the kids to go to school no matter what. When I wrote about this to John Holt, he responded with some very insightful remarks that I'll never forget. "One of the saddest things I've learned in my life," he said, "one of the things I least wanted to believe and resisted believing for as long as I could, was that people in chains don't want to get them off, but want to get them on everyone else. 'Where are your chains?' they want to know. 'How come you're not wearing chains? Do you think you are too good to wear them? What makes you think you're so special?'" (BTS, 114-115)
I need to ponder this a lot more. I think I've just been struck by lightning.
From Jen at Conversion Diary: "The Mental Neat Freak."
When Joe came home that evening, I was at my wits’ end. I was mentally fatigued to the point that I felt like I was on the brink of a breakdown, and could barely restrain myself from yelling at everyone about everything. When Joe asked what was wrong, I snapped, “I’ve been doing nothing but working ALL DAY. I JUST NEED A BREAK.”
It was kind of awkward when he reminded me, “Didn’t you spend half the afternoon at that nice salon?”
I stopped whining immediately, per that law of the universe that states that you’re not allowed to complain about anything for at least six hours after you’ve had an aromatherapy scalp massage. Yet I still felt miserable. No matter how many times I admonished myself to FEEL GRATITUDE NOW, I still walked around in that red-zone state where I desired a break like a drowning man desires oxygen.
The big moment occurred when I was trying to explain to my friend why I did not find the salon trip relaxing. “What would you have rather been doing?” she asked.
I knew the answer immediately: “Writing.”
[F]inally, after digging my way through piles and piles of words, I hit the core of the issue: “It brings order to my brain. It’s like…there are all these things that happen in my days that make my mind feel — I don’t know how else to describe it — messy. Like I’m surrounded by chaos, but on the inside. And it keeps piling up and piling up, to the point where sometimes I feel like I’m drowning.
Just like with physical space, it is possible for your mental space to get “messy.”
Again like with physical space, it is critical to your sense of peace and wellbeing to regularly clean up your mental space.
I think the biggest insight, though, was this:
Just because an activity is relaxing doesn’t mean it’s good for helping me regain a sense of internal order.
There's a lot more to the article, so if this resonates at all with you—or if you know someone who seems inexplicably stressed by a life filled with activities that you think should be relaxing—do take the time to read the whole thing. I suspect this is a major reason why programs such as Mind Organization for Moms and Getting Things Done are so popular: they recognize the debilitation caused by mental chaos. What "Mental Neat Freak" adds is recognition of the need to identify and deliberately choose activities that promote clearing of mental clutter, which may or may not be connected to organizational activities. Jen, for example, has so far discovered the following activities to be very helpful:
Jogging while listening to music (oddly, it has to be both — one or the other doesn’t do it)
Reading a well-written book
Nearly everyone could be helped by MOM and GTD, but mind-chaos-taming activities are clearly many, varied, and personal.
While I've been here for Daniel's birth, I've had the privilege of joining the family for their noontime and evening family times. They begin with a general picking up of toys, followed by the meal. Family devotions, based on those in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, come immediately after lunch, and again in the evening after bedtime preparations and some play time (if the former haven't taken too long).
Two of the most amazing parts of the procedure are individual prayers with the children—Joseph spontaneously started praying for Daniel as he is prayed for by the adults—and singing time. The latter has been a growth opportunity for me despite all my choir training, because it's done a cappella. Normally I don't find singing the alto line of hymns to be difficult, but singing without accompaniment is much more of a challenge. Nonetheless, it's been awesome. Even our three-part harmony is lovely, and it was really great when Porter was here to add the tenor part to our soprano, alto, and bass. The kids don't sing with us—yet—but are taking it all in. Joseph has memorized several of the hymns and can occasionally be heard singing parts of them as he goes about his daily activities. (We have another grandson who sings or whistles a lot, too. Recently he was overheard moving seamlessly between Funniculi, Funnicula and Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.)
With all due respect to Sunday School/Children's Church, Vacation Bible School, and the many and varied children's music programs available, I think this integrated family prayer and singing time is an unbeatable foundation for a strong spiritual and musical education.
Not to mention a whole lot of fun.
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I've been writing a lot about Joseph, and recently Daniel has taken center stage, so before I write more about either of her brothers, it's time Vivienne had a post of her own. She is 18 1/2 months old, as Joseph was when I was here for her birth, so it's interesting to observe the similarities and differences, as well of course as their interactions.
I wonder if second children, who are born with a sibling, are more predisposed to compassion and an awareness of the needs of others. I remember noting that characteristic in Noah, and Vivienne has it in spades. She's physically very affectionate, too, asking to "snuggle," and freely doling out hugs. One of the first things she and Joseph do in the morning is to give each other good morning hugs. Unless Joseph is already eating, or otherwise engaged in intense concentration, that is. The funny thing is, I remember him as being much more reserved, and less demonstrative in his affection; it seems to me as if he has learned a lot from his younger sister.
And she, of course, is learning a lot from him. She does not have the same fascination with letters and numbers that he did at 18 months, but knows more about them than most her age, if only in the same way a fish knows about water. She can already count to five in three languages (Swiss German, English, and French), because we always count the toys as they are being put away.
Vivienne, in one sense, is all girl. She's a dancer, always moving, especially if there's music or even rhythmic speech to be heard. She has a petite frame, despite having been born both longer and heavier than Joseph, and has blonde hair with soft curls. I've mentioned her tender heart; if she notices Joseph needs something, she'll often get it for him, and while she'll scream bloody murder if he takes a toy from her, frequently after getting it back she'll voluntarily hand it to him. She's adorably cute in her little dresses, and I'm convinced she knows it: she has a look that can bend adults to her will, and will probably enslave more than a few boys in her teen years. Joseph has a few favorite pieces of clothing he will wear until forced to change, even to the extent of wearing long sleeves and long pants on hot summer days; Vivienne sometimes finds the day too short to wear just one outfit. Plus, she loves shoes. There's a rack of shoes outside the door to the apartment, and a favorite activity is to sit on the steps and try out other people's footwear. Our Swiss National Day celebration included a bounce house, which Joseph could not get enough of—but Vivienne preferred to investigate the assortment of shoes left on the outside.
But this is no "girly girl." She'll be an ezer warrior for sure. She's tender—her cheek is rarely without a tear from some physical or emotional wound—but at the same time tough as nails. When she wants to get somewhere, she runs rather than walks, reminding me of her cousin Joy. (On the other hand, if an adult wants her to get somewhere, she must stroll and stop to examine every flower, bug, and pebble.) She's eager to keep up with her big brother, whether running, climbing, or flinging herself off the slide into the ball pit at the nearby shopping center. She has a real temper and a scream that would wake the dead, leading me to suspect that her Irish ancestry (on both sides, though somewhat distant) has contributed more than the slight reddish tinge to her blonde hair. But she recovers quickly and is quick to sign, "sorry." She's much like her mother at that age: her hair is fine and with all the activity won't stay combed for more than a minute, which contributes to a ragamuffin, gamine look—as do the skinned knees and an affinity for dirt and water.
Ah, water. Called "mo-mo," for no reason discernable in either English or German, it's a Vivienne magnet. Water is her beverage of choice at all meals, and many times in between. She'll drink from a cup, directly from the faucet, and from any vessel that passes through her hands while she helps me wash dishes, which is one of her favorite activities. In a book, in a video, through the bus window—if Waldo were water, Vivienne would spot him before anyone else. If there's a puddle, she's in it. Larger bodies of water are even better, especially if there are stones around; as far as Vivienne is concerned, the purpose of pebbles is to be thrown into any available water.
But water is not her only love. She's crazy about airplanes of any sort, especially the jets that fly overhead multiple times a day, to and from the nearby military airfield. When they were considering this apartment, Joseph was eight months old, and Janet saw the airfield as a plus, thinking it would be great fun for a little boy to grow up watching the jets. And he does enjoy them, but not nearly as much as Vivienne does: she must run to the window whenever she hears their (extremely loud) sound. She's also the more enthusiastic about watching the new construction going on next door: the diggers, the bulldozer, the front loader all doing their (very loud) work all day, every day but Sundays and holidays. (Did I mention enough times that it is loud here, and do you remember that we have a newborn in the house? Oddly enough, none of it seems to bother Daniel, though he was intelligent enough to be born on Mariä Himmelfahrt, so his first day was uncharacteristically quiet for him in this Catholic canton.)
Here is another difference between Joseph and Vivienne: At this age, his wooden number puzzle was one of the great joys of Joseph's life. Vivienne also likes the puzzle, and can easily put the pieces in the right places, but the + and x pieces, which to Joseph were "addition" and "multiplication," are both airplanes to Vivienne.
Vivienne adores going out, whether to help in the garden, or to run errands, or simply to play on the swingset. Oh, how she loves to swing! She has been able to hold on well to regular swings from a young age, and has a much longer attention span for swinging than most adults, who often alleviate their boredom by counting the pushes. (Joseph makes that a challenge by requesting the count be in French, or by 5's, or as he did recently for me, by 51's. He's patient with my struggles, but if he asks for 51's in French, I'm giving up.)
She also loves balls, can throw pretty decently, and kick really well for her age. Not to mention carry them around in her mouth like a mama cat with her kittens.
The biggest change in Vivienne in the four weeks I've been here is an absolute explosion in language. Both English and German, but more noticeable (at least to me) in English, probably because it's been the dominant tongue in use since I came (though not exclusive by any means). The meaning is clear enough for those in the know, though there's not a lot yet that would be understandable to outsiders—except for "Nei! Nei! Nei!" which with a shake of the head and a stamp of the foot may be the most universally recognizable utterance. "Nei" has been around for a long time, but recently she has added "no" for my sake; even at her age she is sensitive to who speaks what language. It is an exciting privilege to be present at this point in her development.
As it is to watch all of our grandchildren blossom, each in his or her own, individual, marvellous way.
Vivienne's post is overdue, but it's long, and getting written in bits and snatches. So today I'll record a Joseph story before I forget it.
Early this morning, Joseph awoke and went into the bathroom to get dressed. He seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of time in there, so I peeked in (the door was open) to discover him sitting naked, counting the holes in the laundry hamper. In French. I backed out and left him alone, though I made a point of listening. He counted 115 with no trouble, which was impressive, given how squirrelly French counting gets past 69.
But this hamper might have been designed just for Joseph, because the air vents are not just holes, but shaped into circles, triangles, and rectangles. After the first enumeration, Joseph began again, this time counting the triangles....
There's never a dull moment around here; it's time to write them up that's scarce.
The Evolution of Diaper Laundering
(both sides of the Atlantic)
- Washed separately
- Special baby detergent
- Hot water
- Special cycle
- Extra rinse
- Washed separately
- Regular detergent
- Hot water
- Regular cycle
- Thrown in with the rest of the laundry
We are now at Due Date Plus Five. The intense activity aimed at fitting as much as we could in while Dad-o was still with us has passed, and life has setting into—well, not normal, since there's always the "labor could start at any moment" anticipation. Perhaps I should say "mundane," though that, too, is a poor word to use with grandchildren around.
For example, who would have thought I'd ever leave my laptop computer alone with a three-year-old? I don't, for long—but I do. The apartment is small, and it's easy to make a quick check and to keep an ear out for trouble. Still, Joseph sometimes surprises me.
He and Vivienne have two interests in my computer: writing e-mails, and watching the PowerPoint shows I have created for our grandkids. Though Vivienne would like to control the mouse, I have put Joseph in charge of running the ppt shows, and they can both watch for quite a long time. When they are done, Joseph exits out of the show (via a button that is part of the show), then out of the show menu (another special button), then X's out of PowerPoint itself. (I've been running them from within PowerPoint, but am thinking of setting them up differently so he can be even more independent.) Next, he "puts the computer to sleep" by holding the Fn key and typing F4, waiting till the disk and network lights go off, then carefully (from the middle) closes the lid. Then he puts the mouse to sleep (turns it off) and lays it gently on its "bed" on top of the computer. Today he added another step: the computer was in my bedroom instead of out in the living room, and he noticed that the power cord was plugged into the wall but not into the computer—so he proceded to rectify the situation. I was torn between reminding him that he was not to do anything to the computer without asking me first, and wanting to see what he would do. The latter won, and indeed, he plugged the computer in as quickly and as smoothly as I do.
When Vivienne sees me at the computer, she runs over and says, "e-mail Dad-o." ("E-mail" isn't so clear, but she's consistent with it, so I know what she means.) I open up a composition window and she sits on my lap and types. "E" she says as she types, and I respond, "L." "L" she says, then types another letter, again saying "E." I respond with the correct character, and so we continue until one of us decides she's done. Then I hover the mouse pointer over the "Send" button, and she clicks the mouse button.
Both Vivienne and Joseph had written to Dad-o early this morning, but wanted to do it again. I explained that it wasn't even time to get up yet where Dad-o is, and so he hadn't received their first e-mails yet. Vivienne accepted this, but Joseph immediately replied, "E-mail Aunt Heather!" So he did. He usually types out the recipient's name, then "touch types" apparently random strings of letters: he places his fingers in approximately the correct typing position, then rapidly wiggles his fingers, all with an intense look of concentration. When he goes over the end of a line, he backspaces enough so that his letters fit into the window, then types Enter, and begins another line. When done, he will sometimes type his name, though not always. Until today, I would then send the mail in much the same way I do for Vivienne. But today I had left him typing to go into the kitchen for something, telling him to call me when he was ready to send the e-mail. When I checked back a few minutes later, the composition window was gone. I thought perhaps it was hidden behind another window, but it wasn't. Then I checked the Sent folder....
I believe the main secret to Joseph's surprising activities is keen observation and a great memory. He had seen me plug and unplug the computer; he had seen me click on the Send button. I find myself trying not to be too obvious when I type in my password.
As you can see, Vivienne woke up from her nap and wanted to type, and now Joseph is waiting for his turn. So I'll save my Vivienne notes for another post, and get on with life!
The question of the day is, why have I been writing mundane book reviews when I could be telling more grandchild stories?
This one is again about Joseph. I wish I could have recorded the moment, but there's no more certain way to break a mood than to bring out a camera.
While Vivienne naps, Joseph takes a rest in which he doesn't need to sleep, but must play quietly by himself for two hours. This is a lovely, creative period for him and he has no trouble filling the time with activity. When quiet time is over, especially if Vivienne is still asleep, Janet usually goes in and they enjoy some one-on-one time together. Joseph particularly enjoys working on the blackboard that was his "gift from Vivienne" when she was born, and that's what they were doing when I walked in on them yesterday.
The room was (no surprise) a mess, and Janet was helping Joseph pick up. She would write on the blackboard, "Please bring me the sheep"; Joseph would read the sentence, go get the sheep and put it where it belonged, then wait for Janet to change the sentence: "...the other sheep" or "...the boy and the dog" or "...two hens." Not a very efficient way of picking up toys, but totally delightful to Joseph—and to Grandma, who never tires of watching this barely-three-year-old blow her socks off.
(All our grandchildren blow my socks off. This is why I am usually barefoot.)
The next time I came into the room they were writing numbers. Janet would write, say, 3,725,304 and Joseph would read the number. (He crowed with delight at 111,111.) Then it would be Joseph's turn to write. After a while, the game morphed into Roman numerals. At one point, Joseph wrote vii, and I explained that that was the lower case version, whereas VII was uppercase. But when Janet wrote VII, she drew the top and bottom lines all the way across, as I was taught in school. The game then transitioned into Greek letters, and Joseph wrote an alpha, added lines above and below, and announced it was an upper case alpha.
I did not overtly correct him, but exclaimed over his logical thought processes. Janet, however, noticed that he was quite aware from my reaction that he had done something "wrong." He didn't fuss about it (though sometimes he does when corrected), but grew quiet and tentative for a while as they continued writing the Greek alphabet. No wonder she and Stephan prefer not to correct him, but to let him adjust his own model of the world over time.
After the journey from reading to large numbers to Roman numerals to Greek letters, it was back to cleaning up, then playing with/fighting over the Brio train set with his sister. Which event is "normal"? Around here, both of them.
Oh, one more quiet time story. Joseph had been disobedient and surly over some issue, so Janet told him I would not be able to help him pick up after quiet time. When cleanup time came, he was distressed, and kept begging, "Count in French!" (When I'm helping, I count each piece of the train set, or the Legos, or puzzle, as he and Vivienne put them away. Depending on his mood and mine, I count in English, French, or High German. We all miss Dad-o, who would count in Dutch for them.) Finally, I took pity on him, and told him, "Joseph, I can't count in French for you today, because you disobeyed and had a bad attitude. But, you know, you can count in French." At which revelation he picked up all the toys, cheerfully counting past 50 in that language.
For all those anxiously awaiting news of the next grandchild: not yet. But my prediction in the Baby Pool is for tomorrow, so I'm hopeful. Not that I've ever gotten the date right....
I'm not sure, now, whether Hooker and Company... is a favorite picture of Joseph's or just a favorite name. He seems to have a preference for long phrases, or at least he practices them more. During today's naptime I overheard him repeatedly reciting (while playing with trains) the Albert Anker title, Heinrich Pestalozzi and the Orphans in Stans.
One thing I forgot to mention in my previous post is how absolutely clear and distinct is Joseph's diction, which I find usual for someone just a month past his third birthday. It makes me feel guilty for my own sloppy speech!
I also catch myself using unnecessary "child speech"—not baby talk, but the simple way adults usually talk to beginning speakers, such as, "say 'please.'" Like any three-year-old, Joseph needs to be reminded to ask politely, but it appears to be just as easy for him to say, "Please, Grandma, may I have some more milk?" as simply, "please." And now that he has caught on to that, the reminder, "what do you say"—or a pause, or similar actions that parents use to get their children to say please—will often evoke the whole sentence, with "milk" swapped out for the appropriate word.