Bag of Tricks


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I remember one day in sixth grade, sitting at the lunch table with a group of kids, all of them pounding on the table chanting, “Red, red, red.”  I was an insecure, gangly kid with a bad perm and I blushed at the merest bit of attention.  I stared at the table willing my face not to do what they were commanding, but it didn’t obey me.  I’m not sure how the other kids discovered my weak spot to begin with, but once they knew, they didn’t forget.  Middle school was brutal.

Between my introverted nature and my tendency to blush bright red, I learned to hate public speaking.  I spent a few years doing high school theater, but only managed it because I was pretending to be someone else.  In college I was horrified when my advisor told me that I would have to take a speech class to graduate.  I changed my major seven times and somehow that speech credit, or lack thereof, was lost in the shuffle, and I was spared.

So it’s kind of funny that the class I teach at our homeschooling co-op focuses on discussion and public speaking.  I have the usual mix of kids, those who can’t wait to get up and give a presentation, and those that always pretend they didn’t prepare one (when I know they have because their moms told me so), those that blush, and those that don’t (the lucky ones).  Most of them need a little help though, whether it’s with managing to utter a sound at all, or with slowing down and making better eye contact.  So, I started looking around for fun ideas.  When I didn’t come up with a resource that fit my class perfectly, I came up with my own plan.  A bag of tricks.  This week I brought my bag to class for the first time.  We all had loads of fun, even the shyest of the shy!

Here’s what we did:

We started with a tongue twister, saying, “Fresh French Fries,” over and over again together (from this book).  We may chant a different tongue twister every week just to help everyone relax.  Next, I pulled out story cubes.  (I bought the original set and the Enchanted add-on cubes.)  We took turns rolling and telling the next bit of the story based on the picture on the cube.  While the process was fun for everyone, the “stories” were more long chains of unrelated sentences rather than stories.  I think that next time I am going to write out the parts of a story on the board, and help each child as we go around the circle, relate their addition to the next logical part of the story.  So for instance, the first child might include the setting in their portion, the next might introduce characters, then move to plot development and conflict, etc.  My girls pulled out the story dice last night and told stories for about an hour.  I can’t believe I didn’t buy these sooner.

Finally, we played charades.  That was pretty hilarious, and even the shyest child in the class participated willingly and seemed to enjoy herself.  Again, why haven’t we been playing charades?

I also sent everyone home with a joke from this book (the same one with the tongue twisters) to memorize for next week’s class.  The jokes are really silly, many of them ridiculous.  I can’t wait to see how everyone reacts to them.  I tend to laugh hard at dumb jokes, so I am really looking forward to hearing the kids tell theirs.

My hope is that even the shyest kids will look forward to my class, and that eventually, standing up in front of the others to give a presentation won’t feel like walking the plank.

p.s.  I got a few rows beyond dividing for the sleeves on Bea’s sweater, tried it on her, and realized I needed to rip back and cast on more stitches under the arms.  How will I ever finish this thing in time?

p.p.s.  I’ve got a post up at Blessed is She today, in case you want to read it…

Handwriting with Heidi (and other things)

We started the week with snow followed by warm temperatures.  Only one day of fun playing in what quickly melted.  I am grateful for warmth and am really eager for spring.  We are resuming our goat walks, especially now that Robin is alone.  We don’t have plans for him to join our girls, but are working to find him a companion.  In the meantime, he is getting lots of attention and seems to be doing well.

We are definitely not moving to the farm.  We learned over the weekend that it is under contract now.  I am very much okay with that.  I had been praying for either a closed or a very obvious open door.  I am excited for all we have going on here on our six (soon to be 12, but more about that later) acres.  As temperatures warm up and we can pack away all the winter coats and clothing, maybe the laundry in our little house will stop erupting from the downstairs bath.  I will resume my ongoing efforts to make living in a small house with a large family a happy thing, not just a tolerable situation.  It’s not always ideal, but we can do it for a while longer if that is what is meant to be.

Keats turned thirteen last week, and Beatrix lost a top tooth.  These people are growing up.  Keats won’t tolerate photographs, but those are his hands holding the little bird (that hit the window, but recovered), and I got a blurry shot of him through the window.

I’ve had some emails lately about homeschooling and how we do it.  I’ve written a good bit about that over the years, and you can find a list of homeschooling posts here.  I think that most questions are directed towards the early years, and I have definitely written about that.  And then more on just how do we do it in the midst of all that comprises busy family life.  I’m not a big schedule person, and I am not highly organized, so I am afraid I don’t have any great advice.  I provide my children with a learning environment, we don’t have electronics such as video games, and we limit watching videos on the computer (though I resort to that more than I’d like in the winter months when little boys are going wild!) My older children (Seth, Gabe, and Keats) are pretty independent outside of math for a couple of them, and with my younger ones (Larkspur and Beatrix) I do my best to get through math and reading four days/week.  I am not a big fan of pushing academics before age 7 or 8, so don’t stress too much over kids who are resistant before that time.

I did decide that I wanted to focus more on handwriting with Larkspur and Beatrix this year, and wasn’t too happy with how that was going until we started a new bedtime routine.  Now they happily work on their handwriting while I read aloud.  We’re currently reading Heidi, so in the evening I call out, “Time for handwriting and Heidi!” They are pretty happy to settle down with their pencils and paper to work and listen.  Sometimes being flexible on timing and being a little creative is what is necessary to make a homeschooling chore something that is actually looked forward to!

I’ve been feeling motivated to improve my own handwriting (it’s pretty terrible.)  Each night after the girls are tucked in, I spend about ten minutes on my own cursive.

Here’s a list of our current handwriting materials (and a few other materials pictured in this post):  Larkspur is working on her cursive using Pictures in Cursive.  I recommend it.  We print extra pages and include some lined paper for extra practice.  Beatrix is using Memoria Press’s second copybook.  We use triangular pencils and grips for those struggling to hold the pencil correctly. I am studying Spencerian Penmanship, currently working through book one.  It feels kind of fancy.  Here’s a movable alphabet similar to the one we have (currently using it with Beatrix because it helps her with her All About Reading lessons) and the little blocks with pictures on them are called Varialand. We’ve had them for years, and I love them.

p.s.  Gabe built that little house.  He’s our engineer, always building something from motorized paper airplanes to houses.

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