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unschooling: so far so good

As you may know, I'm a little nervous about this whole homeschooling thing. Well, sort of. I mean, I'm a pretty self-confident person once I get going on something, so it's not like I'm going to all of a sudden decide that I don't know what I'm doing—much less hear that from anybody else. But I've never been solely responsible for anyone's education so far, and I'm using some pretty non-mainstream methods, so I'm very interested to see if it'll actually all work. And so I'm very pleased to be able to report another positive result.

All this time I've been saying we're not teaching Harvey to read—because we haven't. Like, not at all. We did lots of fun pre-reading practice with rhyming, and we played around with the alphabet, but there's been practically no direct instruction in phonics or anything. Oh wait, that's not true; I did make sight word flash cards one time, and we went through them five or six times together. And of course, we read a lot of books, and I almost always answer Harvey's question when he asks about words or letter sounds. So I suppose the lack of instruction isn't as stark as I imagine.

But still! Harvey didn't know how to read, and didn't know how to read... but he seemed to be spending a suspicious amount of time with his nose buried in a book—and to be able to recount plot points for books we hadn't read to him. So the other day I tested him on a text he'd never seen before:

Although it is difficult to grow good food in Norway because the summer is so short, Knut plants wheat, rye, and barley on his land.

(From The Time-Traveller Book of Viking Raiders)

I gave him the "although" and we'd already talked about how to pronounce "Knut" (and the analogous "Canute" in Old English)—the rest he got perfectly by himself. I was particularly impressed with "rye".

So yay! And yet he's still not sure he can read, because he can't pick up any book and understand it perfectly. I told him reading development is a life-long process (I didn't tell him lots of people never even have that as a goal!). The next day he picked up a chapter book and read "as much of it as I can" in the car on the way to the feed store. I offered to help him with strategies for the words he couldn't get on his own, but he was non-committal. He's been doing fine so far—why change things now?! After all, this is the boy who taught himself to ride a two-wheeler...

At least I get to teach him math. I can't wait to see what he learns to do next!

Harvey drawing at the playroom table

at work on his "Mad Birds" video-game-on-paper


farm-school outing

Way back a couple weeks ago the two older boys and I took an outing to Drumlin farm. It was on a Tuesday morning and we met our farm-school coop friends there, so the outing was totally in a home-schooling context. Of course, knowing us it wasn't entirely schooly!

Harvey, Zion, Taya, and Isaac running along the farm road

friends on the farm

Still, there was some learning done. Direct experiences are always valuable—especially so in preschool.

Zion petting a sheep through the slats of the pen

tactile learning

And being a teacherly sort I made sure to get some situationally-relevant math problems in there for the 1st graders. They also had some chances to explore the built-in teaching material on the farm, and I was proud of their interest and focus.

Harvey and Taya looking at instructional material about hay

reading in context

In fact, I was so amazed by how well Harvey was reading that it inspired my recent reevaluation of his progress!

But there was also plenty of time for good old-fashioned playing.

the kids atop a mountainous boulder

deep in kid territory

Whatever the educational justification, it's always nice just getting a chance to hang out with good friends!

Harvey, Taya, and Zion sitting on a log, Taya putting her hands on the boys' heads



closed-door policy

Maybe in reaction to living in such a chaotic household, Lijah has taken to shutting all open doors that he sees. It's a reasonable thing; every time he walks into the kitchen he sees two or three cabinets and a couple drawers just hanging open. It's a service he provides, closing them all up! If only he could reach the ones above the cabinets too. Shutting the closet door is fine too.

The bathroom, though, is a little more questionable; as is the bedroom door, which he always slams behind him when he leaves the room. And when I'm cooking bread and boiling water for pasta on a warm summery evening, I'd really prefer he not shut the door to the porch every time he walks by. We don't have that many windows that can open on the first floor—we need all the airflow we can get! I don't expect him to listen when I ask him not to, though. If there's one thing we know at this stage of life, it's that there's no reasoning with our delightful third child. So yay for closed cabinets!

moments from the week

Harvey and Zion sitting in the woods looking bored

waiting for the rest of us

Scenes and moments from the week that was.

Harvey and Taya weeding in the garden

working at weeding...

Harvey's hands crocheting the edges of his weaving project

... and weaving

lots of kids and a few adults at the picnic table

friends for a picnic

Lijah on the back porch wearing hat and mittens

garden gnome

a chicken standing just inside the side door

an unauthorized entry

Lijah holding on to the rings/bar on a neighbor's play structure (feet firmly on the ground)

hangin out

the three boys posing rakishly with their popsicles

popsicle brigade


charity ride begging post

We're doing this PMC Kids Ride thing again and we need your support! We had intentions of starting our fund-raising earlier this year than we did last time, but as with so many of our plans these days we never got beyond the thinking stage. But it's not too late—there's still almost a week for you to donate to the cause. Act now and be the *ahem* first one to make a pledge!

our family cycling in the woods

Team Archibald on the move (last year)

We're going to totally rock it, by the way. Harvey has a new bike that fits him; Zion is going to be riding a full half-mile; both Leah and I are volunteering so we'll get shirts too. It'll be awesome, and you totally want to be part of it by donating money. Plus it'll go towards helping to stop cancer or something, which is good too.

Here's that phone number pledge link again. Don't delay; pledge today!


our rhubarb this year

It's past time for my annual rhubarb appreciation post!

a piece of rhubarb crisp

plenty of rhubarb, plenty of crisp

The last few days I've been appreciating a new recipe for rhubarb crisp. I made it for our friends who come over for dinner on Fridays:I wanted something to go with the leftover butter crunch ice cream we had in the freezer and went with the best-looking of the first few search results for rhubarb crisp, Allrecipes' Ginger Rhubarb Crisp. It's a winner, and I'll definitely be making it again. Maybe not right away though, since I'm the only one in the house who likes it—and it's a 9-by-13 pan so I've been able to like it a lot!

Of course, I wouldn't be making it at all if I didn't have a couple of big healthy rhubarb plants in the garden. The eight cups of rhubarb the recipe calls for would set me back between $10 and $15, the way prices are around here now. It's good, but it's not that good! But as it stands I have plenty to go around for free, so I'm always on the lookout for new applications. Sunday morning I made muffins.

a couple of rhubarb muffins with struesel topping

more rhubarb goodness

And of course, there's pie (the one pictured below from a couple weeks ago).

half a rhubarb pie on the back porch table, with the garden in the backround

rhubarb morning

If you have a year-round garden and don't have rhubarb in it, you totally should. Come by in the fall and I'll give you a little clump to get started!


partying like it's 1992

Leah and I don't really do movies. But thanks to their culture loving grandpa, the boys get to experience all the greatest animated hits of the last half-century or more; two weeks ago it was the turn of Aladdin. For the most part, Grandpa provides a complete service: he shows them the films, and talks about them, and plays through the imaginative reenactments, all so we don't have to. But Aladdin's music is a cut above the rest—several cuts above—and it's leaked through to daily life here in our house. After two weeks of requests to sing the songs, including on almost every car trip (our car stereo is out of action, so singing is all we got), yesterday morning I finally broke down and procured the soundtrack. We were treated to three and a half playthroughs before I called a halt and told the boys they had to go outside.

Not that I minded the music: Leah and I wouldn't remember it if it weren't so catchy, and while they were listening (and dancing and acting) the boys left me alone to do work. As Leah remarked, it's funny how they constructed the score as by layering a few stereotypical Arabic instrumental sounds (not entirely racist in effect) over some 20s-style jazz. It sounds good, and would have sounded even better if Robin Williams had sung his lines rather than acted them. Good, that is, except for the Magic Carpet song. Guess which one I had stuck in my head as I was getting ready for bed last night?

And the funny thing is, as I heard the saccharine tones playing in my mind I didn't think of the movie at all; no, what came to mind was listening to KISS 108 radio back in 1993 or whatever. Up next "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" by the Proclaimers, or "All For Love" by Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, and Sting. Good heavens the early 90s were a tough time for music. I had to resort to Wikipedia to recollect the details of the latter gem; but clearly the concept still haunts me. Thank goodness I discovered Sonic Youth a couple years later, and free jazz shortly thereafter, and was able to leave commercial music behind forever.

But yeah, "Friend Like Me" still sounds pretty good. At least for the first three plays in an hour.



We spent a lovely hour or so yesterday evening playing at the skate park.

Zion holding on to the coping of the half-pipe

hanging on

After a picnic we were planning to hang out on the playground, but the boys suggested the skate park as an alternative—and it was an inspired suggestion. We joined about ten middle-school and upper elementary kids, who were playing a relaxed game of tag and generally hanging out; they were lovely company and offered to help Lijah get up the half pipe when I was otherwise occupied (they actually couldn't manage it, but it's the thought that counts!).

We got lots of exercise, and as I watched the boys play—and tried some tricks myself—it occurred to me how much more interesting the skate park is than the playground. It may seem to have fewer things to do—just a bunch of different sized ramps—but its open-endedness draws the boys in more than the playground's fancier features manage to. Or maybe we're just bored of the playground; we spend a lot of time there!

Harvey vaulting a rail at the skate park

Harvey's trick

I couldn't help notice the contrast between the happy parent-free scene at the skate park (I don't count, right?) and the first-grade baseball game going on just beyond the fence. There were lots of parents there, and uniforms, and coaches giving directions. I guess those kids were having fun too.

the boys on the skate park, kids playing baseball in the distance

evening activities

A couple days ago we got home in the evening just as our neighbors were getting into the car to head out to soccer practice, and I was relishing our freedom to relax and ease into the night's quietness instead of having to force the kids into just one more thing (the neighbors had already managed school and homework). In the event our boys spent the next half hour shouting at each other—and I believe there was some physical violence as well—so this time maybe we got the worse of it, but overall I think we're on the right side of the question.

There's lots of interesting things to do in the world. Better to do each of them as they call to you, rather than having to follow a schedule all the time. Here's to organizing life just enough to make that possible!


PMC successful

Harvey among lots of other riders heading out on the course

a few among many

We had a great time at the PMC ride this morning: it was a success all around. It was just the first element of a very busy day, so more pictures will have to wait.. but I wanted to thank all of you who contributed to our fund-raising efforts. Our $1000 goal was ambitious (and totally arbitrary), so I was delighted with the $490 we raised. Thanks for chipping in! We (probably) won't be taking up another charity collection until this time next year.

moments from the week

Harvey and me (and Lijah and Liam) setting off on the PMC course

the highlight of the week

Photos from the week that was.

Harvey lying on the ground shooting the BB gun at a target

shooting with Grandpa

Lijah smiling at the camera and showing off his new sandals

new sandal model

Lijah eating a donut at the farmers market

first farmers market donut

Lijah and Zion at the bird sanctuary, wind blowing the vegetation

windy outing

Lijah wearing a king cape over his front (and nothing else)

modesty cape

naked Lijah standing in a mud puddle with a trowel

in the mud

Zion and Harvey chatting at a playground

planning and playing


happy birthday chicks

a bag of chick starter feed on our porch

a sign of the times

That's the sight on our side porch yesterday, and you know what it means: more chickens on the way! According to the schedule, four of the many chicks that'll be born today at the MyPetChicken.com hatchery are destined to arrive at our house tomorrow. This will be our third time raising chicks; the first time is well covered in these pages, the second not as much. It may be that this time we're a little more ready for the excitement—what with not having an infant in the house and all—and we'll be able to make a little more of it than we did two years ago. We'll see!

Right now we have five hens: two barred rocks from the original four, and a Blue Orpington, Partridge Rock, and Gold-laced Wyandotte from the 2014 class. Coming this week—if all goes well—will be an Australorp, a Buff Orpington, a Welsummer, and a Silver-laced Wyandotte. I'm looking forward to meeting them!

Of course, while we're excited we're also totally pros at this by now and, beyond buying the feed pictured above, haven't done anything in the way of preparation. We assume the brooder setup is still down there in the basement ready to use; I know we have lots of shavings in the shed; the heat lamp bulb may or may not work but we can always track down another one if needed.

That last is especially true because chicken-raising has officially gone mainstream here in Bedford: on our most recent trip to the hardware store a couple weeks ago the boys and I noticed that they're now stocking chicken feed (in bags half the size and twice the price as we get at the feed store out in the country, as befits the artisinal suburban hens it's destined for). We didn't see any chick feed, but I'm sure they have heat lamps. And if not we can always hit up the feed store, and while we're there pick up some more scratch for the big hens. The little guys will be cute, but we won't forget our old friends: they're the ones giving us eggs right now!


chickens in our kitchen

One thing I had forgotten about having chicks in the house was the smell. No, it's not bad, it's a delightful mix of pine shavings, heat lamp, and a little something from the chicks themselves. When they start smelling worse it'll be time to send them outside; for now they're totally indoor cuties.

Zion looking at the chicks, Mama holding one

new tenents

Leah was standing by the phone all morning yesterday, but once again the post office was happy to make a special delivery and brought the box by this afternoon at around 1:00. We had some new friends over—another local homeschooling family—and they were just about leave; naturally they waited a couple minutes to meet the new arrivals!

Mama and Harvey opening the chick package

opening ceremony

All four chicks were alert and active in their packing box, but super ready to get out and start eating and drinking, which they were able to do without any intervention from us. They were plenty warm enough too, and didn't feel any need to huddle under the heat lamp; we've already moved it up twice.

the chicks in their brooder under the red heat lamp

red-light district

Our second-grade visitor wanted to know right away if we had named them—were we going to name them? None of our current hens have names, since we look at them more as livestock than as devoted family pets. And yet, we did get all of our chicks from MyPetChickens.com, so a little petting seemed fair—once they had gotten used to their new surroundings, of course. All the boys were very gentle.

Zion and Lijah petting a chick

petting the pet

Our friends had to leave before that point, so now we can be sure they'll want to come back. We'll have the little cuties in our kitchen for another couple weeks; come visit them in their fuzz-ball stage, before they turn into gangly chicken teenagers!


moments from the week

the boys atop a hill looking towards the horizon

breezy view at Robbins Farm

A few images from the past week.

Lijah, Liam, and Henry playing in Liam's driveway

little buddies

naked lijah walking with Mama in the shallow water at Walden

by evening he decided he liked the water

Lijah lying down wearing a pink and purple tutu over his clothes

prettiest boy

Harvey in his newly-made Green Lantern shirt, using his power ring

ready for a superhero birthday

Lijah in the midst of a birthday party covered with blue frosting

he liked his cupcake


a nice evening for a birthday

Harvey turned 7 today. He has a great birthday; the longest day of the year means plenty of time for fun and excitement. He spent the end of the day today playing outside with the neighbors and shooting video on the new tablet device he got as a present yesterday (thanks Grandma Beth!), and we capped the evening sitting in the front yard watching bats as we listened to the 9:00 taps echo over at the Air Force base.

As well as birthday celebrations—which'll continue all week—today also marks the end of the school year in town. That doesn't mean so much to us, but since I failed to ever update anyone on Harvey's progress throughout the year I thought I'd better put together a "year-end" report before it was too late. It's nice to have deadlines. I did it all online, so you can take a look if you're interested in what our homeschooling looked like this year, when packaged for public-school educators.

Tomorrow we're getting up early for strawberry picking, if all goes well... why can't we have long nights and long days in the summer?!


moments from the week

Leah and Zion picking strawberries

tis the season

Some photos from the past week.

Lijah looking at all the shredded coconut he spilled

all over the house

Lijah feeding a goat through the fence

goat visit

Harvey blowing out the candles on the cake at Grandma Judy's

second seven cake

Harvey and Zion on a playground

intrepid playgrounders

Zion sleeping in the woodchips under the play structure

working off his sleep debt

Zion and Lijah eating strawberries on a straw bale

eating some more

Harvey and his friends looking at his birthday cake on the picnic table

party time


a day in June

Summer is a busy time of year—there's enough chores and amusements to fill every waking hour. But every once and a while we manage to have a day to just kick back and relax.

Harvey eating an orange popsicle

summer treat

Well, relatively; today I still had to manage a lot of production around a couple church services—the bigger boys and I were on the church campus from 8:15 to 2:00, as usual—but today some of that production involved throwing a watermelon-and-popsicle social for the families. It went of great, the kids all had fun, and I loved seeing parents getting to know each other better. Everyone was so relaxed none of the parents objected when some of the kids started setting up an organized cage-fighting tournament under the climbing structure.

When we got home, Leah took Harvey out to do some swimming; after playing inside for a bit the other two boys and I spent about an hour spraying each other with the hose (and watering the plants a little bit too). Then some time on the hammock in the shade. Summer has its advantages.



pint jars of strawberry jam on the porch railing

the first of 2016

I made the first couple batches of this year's jam yesterday evening: strawberry and strawberry rhubarb. Leah hulled and mashed all the strawberries just after we picked them and the weather had turned delightfully cooler in the afternoon, so it was about the most pleasant jam-making possible. But I didn't even make it through half of the strawberries we picked, so it'll be back to work again later today!

Lijah's language today

I had a delightful time playing with Lijah early this morning, before the other boys were up and while Mama got some well-deserved time to exercise outside of the house. His vocabulary and sentence structure are expanding by leaps and bounds—which is just what he needs to show off his distinctive personality.

Lijah with his bike helmet on and swim goggles pushed up on his forehead

a great summer look

This morning the game was knights. A small portion went like this:

Lijah: "I put you in the dungeon with the baby dragon. Lock lock lock. You locked up!"

Me: "Oh no! The dragon will eat me!"

L: "No he won't do anything bad to you. He won't eat you or burn you with his fire or... put something on your head."

Of course, I've standardized the spelling—his language may be sparkling, but his speech is still a little impenetrable! But the grammar and everything else is all his. It's very impressive; too bad no one else can understand him!


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