Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Narrations from Kiddies' Bible Study

This week in the BSF Childrens' Program, my kids heard the story from Matthew 25:14-30, The Parable of the Ten Talents. These are their narrations from this afternoon.

Abigail (2yr 5mo):
Jesus told a story.

Anna (3yr 6mo):
The man gave one money to the servant. And then the servant buried it. When the man came back he got only one money from the servant. The man said “Throw him in the dark with gnashing teeth.”

Joshua (4yr 8mo):
Jesus told a parable. One man had lots of pieces of money. He gave five pieces of gold to one servant and he took it away. Another servant he called out and he gave him two pieces of money. To another servant he gave one. The man left.
The first servant put his money to work and made some more so he had ten talents. The next servant had two talents and the two talents got made into four talents. And the last one dug a hole and put the money in.
When the master came back he asked them if they had all the money he gave them. And one said, “I looked after it,” and the other said, “I looked after it,” so the man said, “You did well. I will put you in charge of many things.” The last one said, “I didn’t look after it,” so the master said, “You could have put it in the bank.” He sent him away in the darkness where there will be a gnashing of teeth (weep, weep, gnash, gnash).

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Samuel's latest efforts


Joshua and Thomas are friends. Thomas the Tank Engine, that is. Joshua loves to hear the Rev W Audry stories read aloud from his Thomas omnibus, he loves to watch Thomas on DVDs, he loves to play Thomas stories with his Duplo, he loves Thomas, full stop. (A long time ago I noticed that all the guys I dated had some sort of obsession: car stereos, RTS computer games, comic book heroes ... I just never realised until now that this obsessive nature was present in the male of the species before puberty.)

Yesterday when I woke up I found Joshua quietly drawing at the dining room table. He was drawing each of the trains that he has in his Duplo collection: Thomas, Percy, Gordon, Toby the tram and James. He showed me how he had written the correct number on each engine (although most of the numbers were backwards, and he admitted, "James' number 5 turned out a bit like a J.") He even included their faces, despite the obvious difficulty of perspective when you are drawing a train from the side, rather than the front, as well as getting their relative size correct.

Up until now, Joshua's Thomas obsession has led mainly to an interest in drawing maps of Sodor with train tracks covering the page. This is the first time he has set out to draw the engines themselves, and I'm pretty proud of his efforts.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Wanted: One Mentor

Romans 13:11-12 says, "And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; they day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darlness and put on the armour of light." We examined this verse in my BSF class this week, and the kids heard the parable (from Matthew 25:1-13) of the ten bridesmaids, five of whom were prepared for the bridegroom to come and five of whom were not.

As I re-visited this parable with my kids later in the week, and read over the class notes, I was reminded of how vital it is for Christians to be up and running in obedience to God. It is important that Christians are wide awake, diligently doing the tasks God has called them to do, in preparation for Jesus' return.

I think a godly mentor who teaches, encourages and rebukes can be very helpful in getting us up to speed and keeping us running. I know that Jeff has benefitted enormously from meeting regularly with his mentor, the minister of our church (where Jeff is a Ministry Intern). I am starting to see the value for myself in having a mentor with whom I would meet regularly. In a little over a year's time (or a bit longer, depending on how Jeff's training goes), I will be a Minister's Wife and, because I know myself so well, I know that I'm not sanctified yet! I could learn a lot from someone who has been in this position before, an older woman who could teach me how to fulfil the role of Minister's Wife in a way that will bring glory to God. I talked to Jeff about it, and we came up with two possibilities, one woman from our church congregation and one woman whose husband works at Jeff's Theological college. For now, we're just going to pray about it, and see what opportunities God provides.

Weekly Report #6

Samuel, our baby, was sick this week, so we tried to minimise our outside activities. We didn't get together with our homeschooling friends on Thursday as we usually do, but, as predicted by the doctor, Samuel was over his three-day fever by Friday so we went for a Nature Walk and then visited the library for some great picture books, all before morning tea time.

Joshua is continuing well with his writing and reading requirements, but I didn't given Anna any sit-down Pre-School activities at all this week. Instead I stayed on top of my laundry and cooking responsibilities and made sure I spent plenty of time playing with the kids and reading aloud to them. I am trying that bit harder at the moment to manage my homekeeping responsibilities well, because Jeff is at the hardest time of year with exams the week after next, and it is much better for him if I am a helper rather than another cause of stress!

Today is the first day of daylight saving here in WA, so we have also been trying to get them to bed earlier each day in preparation of the hour's jump forwards in time. At the beginning of daylight saving I am usually very thankful as the kids no longer wake up before 6am because "the sun's up, Mummy!" whereas towards the end I look forward to getting them out of bed at a reasonable hour with little grumbling. The seasonal variation that we experience here in the south of Australia has taken me by surprise because I am so used to the unvarying day length of the tropics.

On Wednesday night I stayed home from our small group Bible Study so Samuel wouldn't infect any of the other family's children, and I used the time to pray and plan about our academic plans for next year. I am planning to add in a bit of "Culture Appreciation" and some "Science" and "Geography" along with a more formal mathematics program (Early Bird Mathematics 2) even though Joshua will officially only be doing Pre-Primary (K5). I rang my Dad and asked him for advice on classical composers to include in Music Appreciation and planned out the framework of a science and geography course. In the first semester, we're going to look at one continent each 2-3 weeks and learn about animals that live in a selected habitat of that continent, as well as a bit about the physical geography (etc). To lead into this, we're doing a bit of a unit study on dinosaurs, because that is what fascinates Joshua at the moment. Graham gave Joshua a lovely dinosaur colouring book and a make-your-own dinosaur skeleton wooden kits (a Stegasaur) while he was here and Jeff has just found some Dinosaur lego that was handed down to us a while ago from neighbours with older kids. I'm trying to add into our read aloud story times some non-fiction on dinosaurs as well. If it all seems a bit much, I'll make the semester plan spead out over the full year. Otherwise I plan on doing something on Australian geography and the seasons in the second semester.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Thinking and praying about...

This morning Jeff had his last lecture for his second out of three years at Theological College, studying for a Masters of Divinity, with a view to being a church minister. Since Jeff started studying at TTC, we've talked a lot about what he'll be doing at the end. Before all this, he was an engineer (a water and sewerage engineer, to be precise) and he laughingly referred to himself as the "poo pipe man". While we're growing in our confidence and faith in the idea of Jeff being a church minister, we are at present grappling with the question of which denomination he will work with and for.

In Darwin, we attended a Baptist church. Jeff attended this church with his family when he was younger and then we started going there around the time we got married. It was through an Alpha course at this church that I realised that God was trustworthy and came to an adult faith in Jesus Christ as my saviour. When we moved to Perth, we started attending a Baptist church a few suburbs from our new home. Many of our biggest encouragements and blessings over the last year have come through the small group from this church (us and two other couples, all with young children) that we meet with once a week for Bible Study. We were comfortable within the Baptist denomination and have appreciated the sound biblical teaching we have received within its congregations.

In Jeff's first year at TTC he was sent to a Uniting church, closer in to the city, for a week of helping them in mission and ministry. He got on very well with the minister of that church, finding in him a man who loved God and His Word and also had many of the qualities that make a man a wonderful pastor to his congregation (like a shepherd who lovingly tends to his flock). Many of the congregation were born overseas - Singapore, South Africa, Indonesia - and there are people of all ages sitting in the pews. After much thought, prayer and godly cousel, Jeff asked to be taken on as a Ministry Intern one day a week for 12 months at this church, which we now attend as a family.

Jeff has learnt a lot from the minister at this church who has carefully mentored and guided him as he has taken on various roles within the congregation, teaching an older Sunday school class, co-leading and coaching the other leader of a young adult Bible Study and co-ordinating a men's breakfast (to happen tomorrow) as well as preaching occasionally. I have really appreciated the friendships I have made within the congregation: the minister's wife who always seems to have a moment to answer my questions from mundane to serious; another couple whose older daughter attends Jeff's YABS and who we asked to be Samuel's godparents; and an elderly widow whose husband was minister at this church several decades ago. Our kids have been welcomed and have made several friends among the other children of the congregation.

As he nears the end of his contract at the Uniting church, with another year of Theological college still to go, Jeff has been thinking about the possibility of becoming an ordained minister within the Uniting Church denomination. He discussed it recently with our minister after another ordained minister within our congregation suggested he think about it. Jeff also talked to his college's Principal about it, and received a positive response.

In some ways, it seems a surprise for Jeff to be even considering this step (having been 'raised' Baptist). Upon reflection, however, I can see how God has led us steadily and gently towards this point.

This morning during my quiet time, I prayed for my husband. That he might have God's wisdom as he makes this decision, receiving godly counsel from faithful Christians that will guide him. That he will be able to enter and move through the process smoothly. That he will continue forward with the same passion to see Christians discipled in their walk with God that he has had since we first attended church together in Darwin. That he will be able to balance the requirements of his MDiv study, his commitments within our church, whatever he is expected to do in this process and his role as husband and father, well and without exhaustion.

I would appreciate your prayers for him in this as well.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Weekly Reports #4 and #5

I am reporting on these two weeks together because they have been so full of social activities.

Last week we had three families over on separate occasions, taking advantage of the official school holidays to get together with friends who do school outside their homes. We also attended a birthday party. I didn't do anything much in the way of reading or writing lessons and I really let the kids have a lot more freedom than they usually have in choosing what they could do. As the kids grow, I would like to use the holidays to focus in on practical skills (such as training in new chores), as well as continuing to take advantage of the extra social activities afforded by the holidays.

As a consequence of the extra freedom that the kids had in their weeks of holidays, it was to be expected that they wouldn't want to get right down to writing and reading this past Monday, but after (quite a bit of) whining from Joshua, he did complete his set task of reading and tracing one sentence, then colouring the accompanying small picture. (During the holidays, I made him a second A5 "Reader" with simple sentences composed of words from his Reading program.) Each day, his whining showed itself less, and my commendations increased, until Friday when there was no whining and some magnificent work done.

We also enjoyed having my FIL, Graham, stay with us for the week.
Jeff took him to the plane today after lunch, and we dearly hope that it will not be so long until we see him again.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

We've been making lemonade

Samuel got to the lemons first...

A while after he'd been comforted, the bigger kids made lemonade. Sugar makes all the difference!

Samuel's first word:


Last week, Samuel started signing, "more, please," when I slowed down too much with the spoon at meals. Today, Anna played Peekaboo with Samuel. Between giggles, he joined in.

Friday, 19 October 2007

A brilliant day!

Today has been a marvellous homeschool day. After breakfast, Joshua started making hand gestures to illustrate letters, asking me to guess what each one was. Then he decided to move onto the play mat and use his whole body to represent the letters.Then he asked me when we'd be "doing school" ... I didn't tell him he'd already been doing it for the last half hour.

After breakfast we all headed outside to finish painting the wood panels for the cubby house make over, this time with purple paint, and when the kiddos were all cleaned up I headed out to the gym, leaving them to play outside with Grandpa. Amazingly, they were still full of beans when I arrived home one and a half hours later with a nice bakery lunch.

Yesterday, as we've just finished The House at Pooh Corner by AA Milne, Grandpa read The Nightingale by Hans Christian Andersen to the kids, and this morning Joshua asked me if nightingales were real or pretend. I told him they were real, but he needed proof, so Grandpa took the kids on the internet after lunch and found some websites with fantastic pictures of birds, including the nightingale, and other sites with MP3 birdcalls (including nightingales and other animal voices) to listen to. The kids had a great time listening while I put Abigail to bed. I would not have guessed that zebras would sound like this!

For school, Joshua did a narration of The Nightingale and I transcribed part of it for his penmanship lesson. I told him that because he couldn't read most of the words, he had to put all his effort into tracing the letters neatly and correctly. He did a magnificent job, and commented "Soon I'll be even neater than you, Mum!" and today it really seemed like it. I was also proud of his attention to detail as he asked me what the apostrophe was and what it was for before he traced it. After he had finished the writing (two sentences - with no complaints!) he coloured in the picture I had found for him at Karen's Whimsy.

Meanwhile, Anna worked on her penmanship of the letter G and coloured in her picture from the Sesame Street alphabet quite nicely, although for much of it she chose black. I have to remind myself that she is only three. Sometimes I think my standards are too high as I compare what she can do now with what Joshua can do now. When I look back at what Joshua was doing at the beginning of this year (six months older than Anna's present age) and realise that she is already better than him, and I need to recognise her efforts.

As our grand finale, when the girls wake up from their naps, we're going to bake gingerbread men together for dessert (and for me to take for supper tonight at my GEMs mothers' group meeting.)

It has been a wonderful day.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Chicken, Leek and Mushroom Pie

This delicious recipe, a firm family favourite, has been adapted from one I found in Family Circle magazine. Unfortunately, this wonderful resource which helped me to enjoy cooking for the first time is no longer published, a sad loss to homemakers all over Australia.

50g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 kg chicken thigh fillets, cut into 2cm pieces
2-3 leeks, leaves discarded, thinly sliced
bag mushrooms, finely chopped
30g (1/4 cup) plain flour
250mL (1 cup) chicken stock
125mL (1/2 cup) pure cream
chopped dill or tarragon
2 sheets frozen pastry, defrosted
1 tbsp milk

1. Preheat the oven to 220C.
2. To make the filling, heat half the butter and all the oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Cook the chicken in batches until just browned. Set aside in a bowl lined with paper towel.
3. Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining butter to the pan. Cook the leeks and mushrooms for 2min. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 2-3min, until the leeks have softened and their rings seperate easily.
4. Return the chicken to the pan. Increase the heat to high. Add the flour and cook for 2min, stirring to coat. Add the chicken stock and bring to the boil. Add the cream and dill/tarragon, reduce heat and simmer for 2-3min.
5. Pour the chicken filling into a large lasagne dish. Place the pastry over the filling and trim to fit the dish. Prick with a fork and brush with milk. (You could also bake this in ramekins for individual pies.)
6. Bake in oven for 30min or until golden.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Shh! They're all asleep

It has turned rainy this afternoon, and I can hear the wind stirring the trees outside. How on earth can this happen? Normally, I am lucky if I am even aware of a downpour. The answer is simple and oh so sweet. All of my four children are napping. I love these moments of silence, when I get to listen to my own thoughts. So I'll enjoy it while it lasts.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Home improvements for the cubby house

Jeff has bought some new plywood boards to attach to the wooden cubby house on stilts he made last year. We need to replace the planks that are steadily being removed by the kids - their latest attempt at dismembering the cubby house was because they "wanted to make it into an ark". He also got some tester pots for us to use to paint these walls-to-be, so this morning Grandpa and I helped the kids:They had a stack of fun, but agreed that it was very tiring. And yet, having had their naps they are now running around the back yard at top speed absolutely exhausting their poor Grandpa. Maybe I'd better rescue him?

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Home Haircut

Jeff got out the clippers on Friday ... and now Joshua looks like his best friend D and also a lot like his Grandpa, who has just arrived for a visit from Jakarta.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics

I have just finished reading Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics by Liping Ma (none too soon, as my inter-library loan expired yesterday) and I found it a fascinating and challenging read. The book comprises the findings of a study into how certain teachers approach their teaching of mathematics and how the teachers' ability can be deepened and broadened.

As an ex-high school mathematics teacher, it was interesting to read of US and Chinese teachers' responses to four different mathematical situations (subtraction with regrouping, multi-digit number multiplication, division by fractions and the relationship between perimeter and area). I like to think that I would have been able to answer all of these questions correctly, but I would have to acknowledge that I could not come up with the fullness of answers of the best of the Chinese teachers. I have the procedural ability, but the depth of my conceptual understanding is less that of some of these teachers, and I do not necessarily see all the connections from one mathematical idea to the next. From that perspective, it challenged me to wrap my head around the answers that were given, to learn these ways of thinking for myself.

The last section of the book considers at how to increase a teacher's "profound understanding of fundamental mathematics" and this encouraged me to:
1. Obtain my mathematics teaching textbooks (and other curricular tools) early and study the teaching materials intensively.
2. Think through carefully how to teach the topics using the textbooks.
3. Be open to learning mathematics from my children's ideas.
4. Get on with doing mathematics, trying to find several ways of solving any one problem and analysing the strengths and weaknesses of each method.
Now I have a plan, I just need to execute it!

Quite the artist

Joshua spent pretty much all his free time for the last two days colouring in this drawing. His dedication to the task which he set for himself has been impressive. It is inspiring to see what he can achieve when ...
his Duplo blocks are confiscated!

Monday, 8 October 2007

The state of English teaching in Australia

English teaching in Australia seems to be in a bad way, and I'm not sure if it has any chance of getting better.

On the one hand, I was heartened to read recently that the new Western Australian OBE English course for Year 12, in which students "were asked to study the Big Brother television show, Mr Men children's books and movie posters", is to be scrapped and replaced with a more traditional course that actually specifies students must study "at least one major text, such as a play or a novel". I do truly pity those students who have been caught in the middle of this OBE schemozzle.

On the other hand, it seems that at the federal level there is no way to beat back the encroachement of the critical literacy army of the various English Teaching Associations. The latest Weekend Australian says that the plans of the Federal Liberal government to provide professional development summer schools to teachers in order to improve their literacy teaching skills appear to have been scuttled by the inclusion of the AATE among the organisers. The AATE plan to waste teachers' time with discussions of whether a blog should be studied as a "literary text", and the so-called importance of including so much "cultural diversity" in the texts students read that they will have no understanding of the majority of Australians' historically Judeo-Christian culture. One of the academics involved is interested in "ways in which heterosexism might be countered in English classrooms". Not exactly the sort of "literacy outcome" most parents would expect or prioritise for their child's time in English classes, I would have thought.

I would like to offer a counter-proposal: have the teachers spend their time renewing their knowledge of correct Standard Australian English spellings, learning some of the rigorous grammatical rules for proper sentence construction and analysis, and actually reading some quality literature from the Western Canon, such as Homer's Iliad, Dante's Divine Comedy, Cervantes' Don Quixote, or even something a little lighter by Jane Austen or Charles Dickens. Afterward, they could share some of what they have learnt with their students. Unfortunately, I suspect that's a bit too much to expect of the people to whom we entrust the instruction of this nation's children in the beauties of their mother tongue.

The Iliad, Comment #1

Homer's Iliad tells the story of the last stages of the Trojan War. The descriptions of the fighting that I have read so far are not for the faint hearted, being graphic and gruesome in a somehow clinical manner. For example:

Thoas the Aitolian hit Peiros as he ran backward
with the spear in the chest above the nipple, and the bronze point fixed
in the lung, and Thoas standing close dragged out the heavy
spear from his chest, and drawing his sharp sword struck him
in the middle of the belly, and so took the life from him,
yet did not strip his armour,
[Book Four, Lines 527-532a]

Yet this almost overwhelming detail is balanced by the poet's occasional sweeping overview of the situation:

For on that day many men of the Achaians and Trojans
lay sprawled in the dust face downward beside one another.
[Book Four, Lines 543-544]

I am really enjoying the marvellous similes in The Iliad, as they break up the narrative of the poem, giving time to pause and appreciate the rhythmic flow of the language. I am reading in translation, and Richmond Lattimore has done a fantastic job of maintaining the poem's metre while also using some glisteningly gorgeous words. I was particularly struck by this passage, just prior to the engagement in general fighting between the Achaian (aka Danaan) and Trojan warriors (that was described in the quotes above):

As when along the thundering beach the surf of the sea strikes
beat upon beat as the west wind drives it onward; far out
cresting first on the open water, it drives thereafter
to smash roaring along the dry land, and against the rock jut
bending breaks itself into crests spewing back the salt wash;
so thronged beat upon beat the Danaans' close battalions
steadily into battle, with each of the lords commanding
his own men; and these went silently, you would not think
all these people with voices kept in their chests were marching;
silently, in fear of their commanders; and upon all
glittered as they marched the shining armour they carried.
But the Trojans, as sheep in a man of possessions' steading
stand in their myriads waiting to be drained of their white milk
and bleat interminably as they hear the voice of their lambs, so
the crying of the Trojans went up through the wide army. [...]
and Terror drove them and Fear, and Hate whose wrath is relentless.
[Book Four, Lines 422-436, 440]

Now that was poetry.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Weekly Report #3

It is officially school holidays here in WA and even though we don't specifically follow the school terms, because, after all, we're only doing Kindergarten, I haven't been as structured with the kids' academic activities this week. Instead, I've sent the kids outside to enjoy the fine weather and used the time to read up on Australian curriculum and also to put together a second Kindergarten Reader for Joshua.

We have spent the last few weeks introducing the basic code graphemes [i] [u] [g] [d] [b] [r] and [j]. He has decoded and traced five or six words each lesson comprised of these letters in combination with those he already knows. Then he has read short sentences which include each new word. The task for the next few weeks is to reinforce what he knows with repeated reading practice and sentence copywork (actually tracework) from this Reader. I am using photos I have taken of pictures from books in our home library, as well as images from flickr and some photos I have taken specifically for the purpose to illustrate each sentence. Mostly, this is a project to help give Joshua confidence that he can read "real" books. Admittedly, it's not exactly high literature, but it is helping him to be assured of his own ability to "really read". It also gives him material to read aloud to his Dad to demonstrate how he is progressing.

As I write, Joshua has been sitting in the study with me, sounding out the story "Tom's Dog" from the Ladybird Phonics reader Hot Fox: "Tom's dog has lots of spots. Tom and Bob do not have spots. Splot! Now Tom and Bob have lots of spots, and Tom's dog has not got spots." Absolutely amazing! He did it with the bare minimum of help, for the words "do" and "now" which represent phonemes he hasn't been taught (/oo/ and /ou/) for the familiar grapheme [o] read as /o/. I am so proud of him - and also of myself, because I have actually begun to teach him how to read. Hooray! Three cheers for Teacher Mum!

Something else Joshua has produced:On the left is a banana tree with lots of banana bunches on multiple branches, next to a house with Mum inside. In the middle is a pirate ship (the pirate on the left is holding a treasure chest, the sticks with squares on them are masts with sails). On the right are three people, Joshua (replete with many arrows and a bow, with an arrow notched) fighting off two soldiers with guns.
He drew these pictures in a series over about 15 minutes, bringing each picture to me for comment before he did the next. Sometimes, I am amazed at what is going on in that brain of his. He sure is inventive.

Also, on Tuesday Jeff took Joshua to see a Thomas the Tank Engine play, complete with giant puppet Thomas and Percy trains onstage. He had a fantastic time and came home telling me "The Fat Controller talked to me! The Sodor trains are real, Mum, because I saw them. I told you!" Apparently when he visited a friend that afternoon (also a Thomas fan) he told him that Thomas and Percy were real and they got into a disagreement over it. Then when later in the week, Joshua's friend also went to see the show, he came home and told his mother "Joshua was right after all!" Now both sets of parents have to go back and re-visit the whole thing of real and pretend and pretending to be real ...

Friday, 5 October 2007

Dumbing us down

In the last two days I have read Dumbing Down by Dr Kevin Donnelly, a treatise on the impact of OBE and political correctness on the education curricula taught across Australia. Frankly, it scared me. It also explained some things to me about the ways in which I was taught, particularly in secondary school, and the methodology which I was taught to use when I did my Grad Dip Ed in 1996. Finally, the book encouraged me to stay committed to homeschooling and to keep on the path of a traditional, conservative, liberal arts education (aka neo-classical).

Having read Dumbing Down, which is full of quotations and referenced research from both sides of the OBE debate, I felt the need to read a bit more of my newly-acquired West Australian Curriculum Framework. Having been forewarned, I was unsurprised to find that "Reading" and "Writing" are only the last two of nine outcomes listed for the English Learning Area. Further, the types of materials listed to be read include such "texts" as "signs, billboards, notes, messages, memos, instructions, reports, newspapers, magazines, CD-ROMs, Web pages ..." as well as more difficult texts that conservatives like myself would categorise as "literature".

As Dr Donnelly warned in his book, the requirement of critical literacy (analysing texts in terms of an awareness of power relationships, from an anti-establishment, cluturally-left perspective such as feminism) seems to be everywhere in the Curriculum Framework. English outcomes 3 (Conventions), 5 (Listening), 7 (Viewing) and 8 (Reading) all list the desired outcome of "critical awareness" along with the more reasonable and expected "understanding". I would rather have my children taught cultural literacy than critical literacy.

Another point well-made in Dumbing Down was the sad lack of measureable standards against which a student's achievement can be assessed. The outcomes themselves are vague and the "Phases of Development" that suggest typical curriculum experiences give no measureable standards by which I can confirm whether my children are achieving at the required level or not. For example, in early childhood (K to year 3), "Positive attitudes towards reading and an understanding of the relationship between meaning and print are [to be] encouraged. ... Students are taught strategies such as use of picture and context clues to make meaning, rereading to reestablish meaning, visualising or 'making a mental picture' and sounding out unknown words. Over time, students are encouraged to take responsibility for their use of strategies and to use them independently. Children respond to texts in many different ways. These provide the means through which students can demonstrate understanding and interpretation of texts." What on earth does this edubabble translate to?

I think the first sentence means that I should encourage my kids to enjoy reading and being read to, and to understand that graphemes represent phonemes and thus written words represent spoken words. (But if they meant that, why not just say it?) Following on from that, I am obviously meant to teach my kids to read by telling them to look at writing and guess, and if that doesn't work, (and why would it?) I should teach them the grapheme-phoneme correspondences of the English language and thus how to actually decode and read what is written. (At what level? Should I expect them to be able to read simple CVC words or multisyllabic, compound words of foreign origin?) Over time, (presumably by the end of year 3), I am to expect them to become an independent reader, able to read fluently on their own using their knowledge (presumably of the grapheme-phoneme correspondences of English). (At what level? Should they be able to read simple Cat on Mat classroom readers or chapter books with few, if any, pictures?) Finally, my kids will be able to respond to the written word somehow. (How? Do they need to draw a picture of what they have read (eg in a story), use ideas from it in their play, answer questions about the characters, or simply narrate back to me what happened?) And yes, even in Kindergarten they are expected to (critically) interpret whatever they read.

Oh dear. I see I shall have to work out a teaching syllabus all on my own, because this Curriculum Framework provides no framework at all.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Read Aloud Reflections

In the past fortnight I've taken my kids to the library twice, which is really unusual for me. I like libraries in general, but my local one here just doesn't click with me, although now I've started to order inter-library loans I may well appreciate them more.

Among other picture books, we borrowed Stone Soup by Marcia Brown. It is a Caldecott Honor book and was first published in 1947, based on an old French tale of three soldiers who come to a small village and ask for some food and a place to stay the night. I have read it to the kids three time now and I find myself adding more commentary each time I read it. One way of looking at this book is to see the lack of generosity of the village folk and reflect on it with sadness, but then be pleased when they decide to share what they have as they all ultimately contribute to the village feast. So on the surface, this book is about how much better it is to give than to withold mercy. The problem that I have with the book is its underlying theme that the ends justify the means. The villagers do not just choose to share what they have, rather they are fooled by the three soldiers' trickery. Inherent in the story is the belief that it was okay for the soldiers to trick the villagers, because the villagers needed to learn to share. I disagree. Indeed, as a Christian I have been convicted that good ends do not justify evil means. God looks at our heart, He sees our motives and He also sees our choices, and He will judge us for them. We cannot choose evil simply because it is expedient.

In my second trip to the library, Joshua chose Anansi Finds a Fool by Verna Aardema, also a re-telling, this time based on a tale from the Ashanti people of Ghana, in Western Africa, first published in Akan-Ashanti Folk-tales by Robert S Rattray (1930). Briefly, this story tells of Anansi planning to find a fool who will partner with him to go fishing and do all the work. Another villager (Bonsu) decides to go fishing with him. It is Bonsu who, forewarned of Anansi's plans, slyly tricks Anansi to do the work, until he finally concludes "Anansi, you were looking for a fool to go fishing with. You didn't have far to look. You were the fool yourself." This book follows much the same vein as Stone Soup. It is assumed that because Anansi was planning to trick Bonsu, it is just and reasonable for Bonsu to get in first and trick Anansi, to teach him a lesson. Yet Anansi does not appear to learn any lesson at all, and Bonsu debases himself in his own use of trickery. In the last scene, Anansi's wife (who had gossiped of Anansi's plans in the first place) laughs so hard at his foolishness that her water jar falls off her head. She is a terrible example of what a wife can be in her disrespect for her husband, yet there is no lesson to be taught to her.

I was very disappointed in these books. They have reminded me, however, of the caution I need to take when reading moralistic tales that were not conceived within a Christian paradigm. Aesop's Fables are on our read aloud list for the future along with other traditional favourites, and I can see I will need to do more pre-reading than I had thought.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Just singing a song

While she was visiting us, my MIL taught the kids a new song which they have been enjoying at every opportunity.

I'm too young to march in the infantry,
ride in the cavalry,
shoot the artillery,
I'm too young to fly over land and sea,
But I'm in the Lord's Army ... Yes, Sir!

Anna, who is probably our biggest drama queen, has decided to use the winder on our washing line for a microphone. Here she is, making the most of her delighted audience:

Like Mary, I want to treasure all these moments in my heart [Luke 2:51].

My husband is so wonderful...

For our seventh wedding anniversary Jeff gave me some diamond earrings (I had broadly hinted for cubic zirconia and he went for the real thing!!) and then later that afternoon suggested we go out for coffee ... whereupon he took me to a Resort, only five minutes from our house, where he had booked a "Romance Retreat" package for the night! I got to spend uninterrupted time in conversation with my husband for hours at a stretch, and I was able to duck home to breastfeed Samuel as necessary. Jeff's mum stayed at our house over the weekend to look after all four kids and also visit Great-Granny, her mother, who lives nearby. It was so wonderful to be able to eat a three course meal - uninterrupted - that I had not cooked and then retire to a bed that I had not made, in a room overlooking a grassy landscape that was not strewn with kid's toys. The view from the balcony was truly magnificent:

What an amazing privilege, to be able to have a real "time out" with my husband. Oh yeah, I am so in love! Thank you, God, for the fantastic husband you have given me.