March 2021

These daffodil bulbs came from my Dad’s property, and there’s a good chance they were originally planted by my great-grandmother. 🙂

Hello to anyone who still cares to read this blog. 🙂 I have been quiet here partly because there’s not much new to say. As you know, we are still stuck in this pandemic, though I’m starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. With a few spring-like winter days, our hearts are uplifted and looking forward to when we can start going places again.

Unfortunately, my extended family and I experienced a traumatic event in January as well as the loss of two family members. My husband, boys and I remain at home unable to visit grieving family face-to-face. This is another sad event during this time that is sad for so many people, and it’s not always easy. But I’m still grateful for so much that it’s hard not to be happy with life in general. It’s the tough times that make you appreciate the good times, so I’m grateful to them as well.

white crocus

I have to admit, there are some things I like about being stuck at home. I used to worry that we could not get as many homeschooling lessons done as I wanted because it takes a lot of time to get ready to go places, drive there, come home, etc. Of course, everything we did was very valuable, but this year, I think we’ve had more time to dig into academic lessons. I believe this because my 5th grader is a little further along in math than his brother was in the 5th grade. It’s not a huge difference, but it’s helping me plan something different for next year. Likewise, my 8th grader is making progress in all his subjects, though he has much more to balance considering he spends more time on music practice and theory.

Similarly, I can do the laundry more regularly, and I can predict which evenings I’ll feel like cooking a bigger meal. There’s something to be said for staying home. But, it can also feel a bit more like a grind, so when the weather warms up, like today, I told my boys to forget their afternoon lessons because we all needed to take a walk. And we did. I even have a little time to start this post before dinner.

camellias

One of the things that has gotten me through these past few weeks is reading a new textbook I bought for my son’s high school literature course, which I’m planning to teach him next year. I love it. I feel like I’m in college again, but this time, I don’t have to cram. I can read it slowly and savor everything. I forgot how much I love to read short stories!

Although I probably would not recommend it to any young person now, I’m very grateful that I was an English major in college. As a young person, I was very sheltered from the larger world. I kind of marvel at my younger self — I was so naive! But as an English major, though it did not prepare me for a lucrative career, it helped to open my eyes to the world, and it gave me so many valuable life lessons. It also made me a more compassionate person because literature offers a lens to see into other ways of life and how no one way of life is better or worse than any other. As I get older, I see that this kind of compassionate knowledge is missing in so many people. Most people I meet see the world only in black and white, and they don’t understand that it’s actually made up of many shades of gray. But who can blame them when the media, politicians, and even religious institutions will only paint the world in one stark shade with no room for nuance?

It’s for these reasons that I have enjoyed picking out the literature that my son reads for his homeschool lessons. (He reads a lot of books on his own too.) I have and will try to pick a broad range of titles that will give him many lenses to gaze through. I hope over these next few years, he’ll begin to see the world in all its complexity, and this will be one link in a long chain of lessons he has learned at home to prepare him for adult life.

purple crocus

Please leave me a message and tell me how you are coping during this pandemic. I hope you are well and that you’re keeping your spirits up.

Book: Anna Karenina

Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina was always on my bucket list, so my husband bought me the new translation by husband/wife team Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. They are translators of many Russian novels, and their work is critically acclaimed. This translation of Anna Karenina was published in 2000 and was the winner of the Pen/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize. According to the Paris Review, “Pevear and Volokhonsky’s translations have been lauded for restoring the idiosyncrasies of the originals—the page-long sentences and repetitions of Tolstoy, the cacophonous competing voices of Dostoevsky.”

I had never read the previous translation, and this was my first Russian novel. (Well, I tried to read Gogol’s Dead Souls, but I just couldn’t finish it. Maybe I didn’t have the right translation.)

(SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read the book yet, and you think you’d like to, stop reading now.)

I loved Anna Karenina. Before I read the book, I knew it was about a woman who cheated on her husband, but I didn’t know it was also about the character of Konstantin Levin. His story is juxtaposed against Anna’s story. He is struggling to find himself as he tries to prioritize work while also nursing a broken heart. He is young and anguished, and at times, annoying, but slowly, his circumstances change, and he becomes a better man because of all his experiences.

Anna is in a loveless marriage, though she seems content enough at the beginning of the book, and she adores her son. It’s not until she meets Vronsky, the man who becomes her lover, that everything goes wrong. Unfortunately, she lives in a society that is not kind to anyone who decides that they want to leave their marriage. It was very interesting to learn about 19th century high class Russian society, which reminded me a great deal of Victorian England. I spent most of the book wondering who to blame — Anna, Vronsky, Anna’s husband, or the society they lived in — and my sympathies changed constantly. I thought Tolstoy’s brilliance was being able to show how complicated people and life are. There are no clear cut lines.

Despite being enthralled with the story, I can’t come away from Anna Karenina saying it’s one of my favorite books. At times the book was boring — Tolstoy adds a lot of social commentary on Russian society that was lost on me — and Levin’s long, drawn-out religious conversion at the end was a let down when I wanted to spend more time with Vronsky and those mourning Anna’s death. I understood that this, too, was a sign of the times and commentary from Tolstoy, but that didn’t make me like it better.

Having not the advantage of reading this in a Russian literature class, or discussing it with others, I still enjoyed it, and I’m so glad I read it. Have you read it? What did you think of it?

Homeschool Priorities Part 2: Imagination * Play * Motion * Literature

scenes from my five-year-old’s puppet show

My first priorities for my sons at the ages of 5 and 2 are: imagination, play, motion and literature.

I grouped imagination/play/motion together because they go hand and hand.  At five-years-old, my son is using his tremendous imagination constantly.  The two-year-old is quite adept at it too. Playing is their number one job.  Right now as I type this, the five-year-old is upstairs with all his stuffed animals.  He has arranged them “just so” on his bed, and he says he’s keeping them warm.

He runs up and down the hallway, and he pretends he’s a horse. He “flies” toys around the house. Outside, he’ll find a strand of wild onion, tell me it’s an “eel” and then go feed it “ants.”

I’m thrilled to see that at five- and two-years-old, my boys are beginning to play together well, creating forts and pretending to be dinosaurs or ocean animals.  (This is also a big relief to me because I’m getting a little more free time to myself.)

Rough and tumble play is a frequent activity in our house.  My boys are always moving, always pretending, and I don’t want to discourage that.  There is clear evidence that children learn through play.  In addition, authors Michael Gurian (The Wonder of Boys) and Steve Biddulph (Raising Boys) both write about how important it is for boys to have plenty of space, and they need to move their bodies.

Biddulph writes in Raising Boys, “Sitting still at a desk for a long time is usually hard and painful for boys (and some girls too).  In early primary school, boys (whose motor nerves are still growing) actually get signals from their body saying,  ‘Move around. Use me.’ To a stressed-out first grade teacher, this looks like misbehavior.”  (This is in a section titled “Starting School: Why Boys Should Start Later.”)

I probably don’t have to convince you how important play and movement is for children (or any of this for that matter), so I’ll leave it at that.  But I will tell you exactly what I’m doing besides giving them ample time to imagine, play and move.  This is where my second priority, Literature, comes in.  The number one “schooling” activity kids this age should be involved in is soaking up books and stories: fiction, non-fiction, oral storytelling, plays, you get the drift.  (The phases of learning mentioned in this post is very intriguing to me, and I want to read more about educational philosophies that support this notion.)

  • We read books often.  If we’re not going anywhere, I have “book time” with both my boys in the mornings, and then we (my husband and I each take one child) usually read one book at bedtime with the five-year-old and look through several picture books with the two-year-old.  We go to the library too, but I’m lucky to have quite a nice collection of children’s books through library sales, so I find we have long stretches of time when we don’t go to the library because we’re busy with other things.

We read storybooks as well as non-fiction.  My five-year-old is very fond of science books about bugs, snakes, the earth or whatnot.

For a long time, I wanted to incorporate another way to foster make-believe with both my boys that I could easily participate in.  I also wanted to create some kind of morning ritual with them.  I wasn’t sure how to do this.  I started “book time” but I wanted more than that.  Then one morning my five-year-old pulled down the finger puppets that were sitting on the top of my bookshelf in the living room.  (They had been there untouched for a long time.)  He wanted to do a puppet show.

  • And that was the beginning of our morning puppet shows.  We all take turns putting on a play, and even my two-year-old will get behind the love seat and put on his own puppet show!  How cool is that?

We don’t do a puppet show every morning.  If we are going somewhere, or if the boys are playing nicely together, I don’t push it, but I do encourage it and ask for a puppet show on a regular basis.   My puppet shows are another outlet for me to impart some wisdom, though mostly I entertain.  (Once I even let their toy alligator try to eat the puppets.  It’s nice for me to have an outlet to do “boy stuff” in a way that suits my energy level.  Afterall, I’m a forty-year-old girl who likes to sit in one place!)

In addition:

My future goals:  In the near future, I hope we can find an art class for the five-year-old.  Long term goals: some kind of art study, music study, and/or creating more elaborate puppet shows.  I’d like to make some puppets or make a puppet stage.

What do you do to stimulate your child’s imagination?  And please come back.  I’ll continue to go over my homeschool priorities in detail.