Preparing for the new year

Admittedly with life at home as the steady stage for our days, the holidays begin with gusto. Promptly on December 1st the festive moments seem to unspool like ribbons caught in a rowdy bird’s beak—stacks of holiday books appear, celebratory parties speckle the calendar, indulgent baking supplies spill out of the pantry, extra candles arrive at dinner. Practices for the local rendition of A Christmas Carol filled up our afternoons. Mixes of carols took over the stereo.

(May I recommend this playlist on Spotify? It begins with grand hymns and moves onto modern renditions. Lovely.)

Also during the holiday: the particularly heady mix of household manager, ritual-creator, tradition-upholder, and gracious all loving benevolent gift manager yet wise budget-keeper becomes a weighty crown. I would be remiss not to mention it here, though I cannot lighten its load nor can deny its value.

Our co-op wrapped up academic work the first week of December, with a big party and potluck the week following. This year I realized that the schedule of our weekly co-op naturally pauses every six weeks. Of course I had realized that last year too, but last year I just took that week as a break and each of them blinked on by. This year I made a point to sit down and reflect on the last six weeks.

So that’s what I’ll be doing at the end of December. And though it’s tempting to look back and reflect on what we wish went differently, be sure to write up a list of all the moments to celebrate alongside.

For example, I’m really pleased with the simple success of assigning a three-ring binder to each child. Taking a moment to hole-punch documents—the good ones, you know?—completed science experiments, creative writing, particularly attentive art projects, and tuck them in has totally paid off. I was able to recycle the piles of otherwise, and keep things sorted and easy to find.

And as you mark the approach of the last days of 2019, I’m curious: what are you thinking for the new year? Anything you are particularly excited about? To change, or leave behind? Reply to this email and let me know, and I’ll compile a list of reader ideas for the January edition. This newsletter has over 700 subscribers now! Here’s to reading emails together with eggnog and blankets. Or lemonade and bare feet, as your case might be.

A Springish Book That We Started Anyway

After we finished A Christmas Carol, Joe began reading The Hobbit in the evening and we began Anne of Green Gables in the morning. The timing isn’t quite right: it would be much better as a Spring read, what with Anne’s beloved flowering trees and armfuls of tulips tantalizing us from the page.

I was interested to find the six-year-old was my most eager listener. The eight-year-old remained quietly supportive. I’ve noticed that as a courtesy (or a true fear of spoilers) she does not read ahead in books I’m reading aloud. I appreciate that. The three-year-old listened, occasionally repeating a word loudly that I had just read, though largely missing all the plot elements. All of three of them bemoaned and cringed at Anne’s dramatics, but like all of us—it secretly appealed to them.

We are planning a tea party to watch the movie with some friends for when all three families have finished the book.

On the idea of celebrating after a book—I loved this photo and invitation that Erin Jang shared on Instagram. She and her son finished reading The BFG and she invited him to watch the movie with her and drink very special green Frobscottle.

It’s brilliant and sweet, and more to the point: it just nails the advanced literacy that can come along reading together. Retelling the story to each other (“narrating”), noticing the details (“themes,” “motifs”), parodying or dressing up as a character (“character studies”) are all powerful tools in reading fluency.

A Recent Youtube Favorite   

I can’t think of any parallels to describe what YouTube is for our children. If your parents allowed television, perhaps your life was shaped by Fred Rogers and Bob Ross. Maybe you remember watching the Olympics, and the moment you realized what a triple back handspring could be.

But the amount of fascinating, detailed, narrated content at their fingertips today? There is no parallel.

As we make long road trips for the holidays, the girls open their YouTube app to find downloaded videos by makers of all sorts. Primitive Technology is a recent favorite of theirs. They silently watch his videos of making bricks, creating lime, building a stove, thatching a hut, and weaving with dried grass. Birdsong and crickets hum in the background, the occasional sound of rushing water, a slap of fresh clay, and the crackle of a fire break up the otherwise silent film.

My primary source of video content is The Kid Should See This. Aside from that wonderful vetted source, I never download a video for them that I haven’t watched in its entirety. And we don’t allow browsing from video to video, they only watch from the offline downloaded “library” within in the app.

In the Mood for Homework  

After spending the weekend with friends that attend public school, the eight-year-old requested more homework. By which she meant—packets of paperwork that she could complete on her own. I looked into teacherspayteachers, a site full of all kinds of options, but settled on an education.com membership for the month. I wish Teachers Pay Teachers offered a one-and-done pricing option, because they have better documents. But the search capability, the option to sort by grade, and the monthly price that Education offered was ideal for me.

So for the next two weeks I printed off worksheets of all sorts—telling time, Roman numerals, basic math operations, punctuation review, and completing short stories—and left them on the table to greet the girls at breakfast. They loved it and I liked watching them decode the worksheets. Each one seemed to be written from a different deep room within the Common Core matrix. Assessing, decoding before solving the question was half the puzzle!

A Blessing for You

All the goods in heaven and on earth belonged to him. They presented no danger to him; he could use them and yet keep his heart completely free of them. But he knew that it is scarcely possible for people to have possessions without succumbing to them and being enslaved by them. Therefore, he gave up everything and showed more by his example than by his counsel that only one who possesses nothing possesses everything. Edith Stein

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