Sunday, November 1, 2009

Singing hymns...

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Hymns have always been a big part of our worship.  We worship at our church in a more musically contemporary way with hymns sprinkled in now and then.  We like that too, but hymns have such a deep richness, a history, a boldness, and a beauty in lyric that is incomparable.  Today, being Reformation Sunday, I am reminded of one favorite hymn writer -- Martin Luther -- who composed one of many family favorites:   
A Mighty Fortress is Our God.

Every time I sing this hymn, and especially when I sing it with my family, I feel like I can conquer anything!  And we can through Christ who gives us strength.   Can you feel the courage and strength of the Right Man  On Our Side in this verse?
Did we in our own strength confide
Our striving  would be losing,
Were not the right man on our side,
The Man of God's own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He --
Lord Sabaoth His name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
 Even today as our children have grown into adults, they continually mention to me how much they enjoy singing hymns.  Really, they do!  By choosing just one a day to sing, my home scholars gained an appreciation for hymns that will last a lifetime.  I hope they pass their favorites on to their own children someday.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Why Does It Snow? (a poem)

Pic by Holly Heyser NorCal Cazadora

"Why does it snow?  Why does it snow?"
The children come crowding around me to know.
I said to my nephew, I said to my niece,
"It's just the old woman a-plucking her geese."

With her riddle cum dinky dido,
With her riddle cum dinky dee.

The old woman sits on a pillowy cloud,
She calls to her geese, and they come in a crowd;
A cackle a wackle, a hiss and a cluck,
And then the old woman begins for to pluck.

With her riddle cum dinky dido,
With her riddle cum dinky dee.

The feather go fluttering up in the air,
Until the poor geese are entirely bare;
A toddle, a waddle, a hiss and a cluck,
"You may grow some more if you have the good luck!"

With your riddle cum dinky diodo,
With your riddle cum dinky dee.

The feathers go swirling around and around,
Then whirlicking, twirlicking, sink to the ground;
The farther they travel, the colder they grow,
And when they get down here, they've turned into snow.

With their riddle cum dinky dido,
With their riddle cum dinky dee.

~Laura E. Richards

This poem is a special one to our family because every year when it would begin to snow, I would go to our well-worn Oxford Book of Children's Verse in America and find this poem to recite together.  The kids all memorized it at one time or another.  As it snows once again today, I'm thinking of this poem and my lil chicks acting silly as they would recite with me.  And while we were engrossed in our poetry book, we would turn the pages to a couple other  Laura E. Richards poems:   Eletelephony, Antonio, and Punkydoodle and Jollapin.

Special thanks to Holly Heyser for the terrific goose feathers picture. 
Do check out her amazing hunting blog here.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Little Boys - playing in the dirt won't hurt

click image to enlarge

Several years ago I clipped this article from a newspaper or magazine or something.  I'm not sure what its origins were really.  But the message was strong and clear and I knew I would refer to it again and again since I, myself, have four boys and just one daughter.  The article puts it well.  Young boys just don't always fit well intothe mold of a school desk and their hands don't conform well to a pencil and paper.  My boys could make a pencil do many things well except do what it was intended.  A pencil could become a dart aimed at a brother or sister or the dog.  It could become a SCUD missile complete with sound effects.  It could be used to launch rubber bands across the room or to dip wax from the candle in the middle of the dining table.  Once dipped in wax, the pencil could easily be lit on fire.  So many, many things that pencils could do, but to become a writing utensil in the hand of a boy and make it write legibly and intelligently was a most difficult task.  The darn thing would drop instantly out of the

hand, bounce on the floor, and roll off somewhere never to be found that day.  The lead would mysteriously break moments after touching the paper and there would be no sharpener to be found.  Even a mechanical pencil could be made to do many of the same tricks that a wooden one could do and it could disappear and lose it's lead just as easily too.

What's a mom to do when her little boys can't sit still?  I say, work with the wiggle!  That's right.  Let them wiggle and squirm and fiddle around while you read aloud from Rifles for Watie.  Let them build Lego cars and trucks or stack blocks or play Lincoln Logs while you read from Milne's Winnie the Pooh.  I promise (I really do) that your little boys are paying attention.  It may not look like they are listening or soaking anything up, but they are.  Try this experiment and see if I'm right.  When you are in the midst of reading aloud and they are quietly playing , stop reading in mid-sentence.  See if they notice.  (they will.)  Then ask a question about the story, and I'll bet you one of your many mother's hats that they will be able to answer you.  Try it and see if I'm right.

Boys, especially little boys, really must be allowed to wiggle and move and be busy with their hands while they learn.  School desks are mere traps to boys and they don't allow for much freedom other than lifting the lid for a pair of scissors with which to cut the braids of the girl in front of him.  One thing I have learned is that all children, especially boys, do well with short lessons when it comes to school-ish things.  Did you know that the first 10 minutes of any presentation or speech is the most listened to and the most absorbed?  So with a child, a 15 or 20 minute lesson in handwriting or math is plenty if you wish to capture their attention and have them truly learn.  More time than that, and their eyes begin to wander out the window and to the tree fort where the pirates are just now sailing alongside the cargo ship....and you've lost them.  You might as well open the door and set them free to sail.

The other thing I've learned about boys is that they need lots and lots of time outdoors -- thinking their own thoughts, arranging their own battles with the Redcoats, hunting for skunks, hammering nails into another section of the tree fort.  It all goes right along with their education.  Without a hefty amount of free play time and work time, I don't think their brains function right, and they certainly have far too much energy to sit still for long if they aren't allowed to burn it off.  One of my favorite energy burners that often took place when I was at my wits end was laps around the house.  No matter the weather, I'd send them all out the door to take laps.  I designated the number and counted the laps off as they ran past the picture window.  It always seemed to fix the problem and give their brains some added energy for the task at hand.  Plus it was fun!  I'm no psychologist or child expert, but from my point of view, kids need wiggle room, fresh air, and time to romp every bit as much as they need pencils and books.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Five Lil Chicks Story

Stitching by Giggleface Studios

There once was a Mother Hen who wanted to raise her chicks in the way of the Lord. She wanted to raise healthy chicks fed on the very best wheat and the plumpest worms available. She wanted her chicks to be smart and wise and hard workers. She prayed, she listened, she heard. What did she hear her God say? "Homeschool."
Could she do it?

Homeschool seemed way out of Mother Hen's league and way beyond her abilities, but she felt God calling her to it so she studied and studied all kinds of books like: Let's Have Healthy Chicks and Dare To Discipline Your Chick and You Can Teach Your Chicks at Home. She listened to Focus on the Family and to a couple dubbed The Grandparents of Homeschooling, Dr. Ray and Dorothy Moore. Little by little, Mother Hen became convinced that this lifestyle could be had if Papa Rooster thought it best too. And he did.
So they did.

The 5 Lil Chicks sat under their mother's wing day after day and learned all the Important Things that she and Papa Rooster deemed necessary. There were days when the chicks didn't want to learn to read or do their math. There were days when the only thing the Lil Chicks wanted to do was to play outside or peck at each other. Mother Hen thought she was never going to teach them a thing. But she pushed on, one day at a time, keeping her lessons short and sweet and giving her healthy chicks lots of time in the sunshine and fresh air. Papa Rooster gave his chicks work to do which made them strong and he taught them fine lessons too. They hoped their chicks would thrive.
And they did.

As the chicks grew in wisdom and stature, Mother Hen knew that one day they would each have to fly the coop and find their own way in the Big World. She taught them in the way they should go according to the Good Book and she tried to direct the chicks' studies after their particular interests with hopes that they would do well on their own, but ultimately the chicks would have to work hard and diligently. Would they be wise enough to fly on their own?
Yes, they would!

Nowadays Mother Hen and Papa Rooster have only one lil chick left at home. Mother Hen is still encouraging her chick in the way he should go, still hunting for delicious worms to serve him, and looking for the perfect books just for him so he, too, will grow in wisdom and stature just like his chicklings. After all this time Mother Hen decided it was time to share some of her thoughts and ideas with other Mother Hens who want to teach their own lil chicks at home.
So she did.

Five Lil Chicks

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Music in the home...

"Make a joyful noise unto the Lord!"

"Sing to Him a new song, play skillfully with a shout of joy."

"Let them sing for joy on their beds."

Music has always been an integral part of our family life. Chickens aren't known for their beautiful singing voices, but they still have their own sweet clucking sounds that bring communicate perfectly to their chicks. Children naturally love to sing and love being sung to, even if Mother is a bit off-key. I brought my chicks up singing nursery rhymes, Jesus Loves Me, and Shortnin' Bread, and together we've learned a lot about music. Mainly, we've learned to love all kinds of music. We've learned bits of music history, spent time listening to a few of the great composers, and we learned to play simple instruments as we sang our favorite songs together. By no means have we become music connoisseurs, but we have enjoyed it in our own simple ways.


In our home, we have sung everything from old folk songs, patriotic songs and songs in round, to cowboy songs and hymns. I usually played guitar to accompany the children, but we also sang a capella (no instruments) and we sang with tape and CD recordings. We especially liked the Lester Family tapes of a capella music in rounds, cannons and hymns. As the kids became piano players, they took turns accompanying our sining sessions. Below are a few samples of the genres of music we sang together.


Shortnin' Bread - Skip to My Lou - Git Along Little Dogies - Dinah - Oh Susanna! -

Camptown Races - Wait for the Wagon - Down in the Valley - Erie Canal


Yankee Doodle - You're a Grand Old Flag - When Johnny Comes Marching Home - Dixie Land - Battle Hymn of the Republic - America the Beautiful - Battle Cry of Freedom


Row Row Row Your Boat - Are You Sleeping/Fr-ere Jacques - Canoe Song - Horsie, Horsie! - Upward Trail - The Merry Lark


This is My Father's World - Fairest Lord Jesus - Great is Thy Faithfulness - Doxology -

A Mighty Fortress is Our God - What a Friend We Have in Jesus


Although these are classified as Christmas songs, they were often sung at any time of the year in our home because they were favorites.

Jingle Bells - Silent Night - The Holly and the Ivy - Hark! The Herald Angels Sing! - I Heard the Bells - Up On the Housetop - Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer - Away in a Manger


One of the best sources I found for these old timey songs are the old school music books, circa 1950-70. Often you will find them on the discard table at your public library or at public school book sales. You may also find them on for rare and out of print books. The book I used for years is called Together We Sing by Irving Wolfe and is considered an "all grades edition". Mine was published in 1952. I found it at a country school which was closing down. It's truly a treasure that I will use with my grandchildren one day.

Another good source is church hymnals. I have three old hymnals which I love to sing from.

I have found a few Golden Book song books. We have a very good Christmas songbook which works nicely for caroling. Another book is called the Reader's Digest Family Songbook of Faith and Joy . It includes simple piano accompaniment for favorite hymns, spirituals, cradle songs, folk songs patriotic song. It's out of print now, but still available if you look for it. You can always check your mother's or grandmother's piano bench for a copy.


We've been known to use a variety of instruments during our family singing which most folks have around their house.

Spoons: two held between thumb, index finger and middle finger. Clap against the other hand or the leg while sitting.

Wooden Spoons: one in each hand and hitting together to the beat of the music.

Pan Lids: either clanging together as a cymbals or one lid played with a wooden spoon tapping to the beat of the music.

Sandpaper Blocks: two wooden blocks with rough sandpaper stapled to edges and rubbing together to the beat or on the off beat.

Drinking Glasses: filled with water to different heights, they make a nice ringing sound when gently tapped with a utensil or wooden spoon handle.

Cheeks: mouth opened, tightened cheeks and tapping gently with the hands. Open and close mouth to make different pitches of sound.

Lips and Teeth: practice whistling a tune through the lips or teeth.

Hands: practice clapping to different beats and times (4/4 and 3/4), snapping of fingers.

Voice: singing or making your joyful noise!


We enjoy listening to a good variety of music in our home. We like anything from classical to country-western, folk songs to 50's and jazz to pop. If it's good music, we'll listen. I did not grow up listening to classical music and so I learned to appreciate it while teaching my children, as I did with many other subjects along the way. It is amazing how easily a child (or a mom) can pick up on a particular composer's music as they casually listen to CDs throughout the day. I did not demand deep study into the lives of the composers or their styles, but chose to gently expose the kids to the great composers by simply playing them in our home. Soon the children found their favorites and even asked for one by name. "Mother, please play Brahms at Bedtime while we fall asleep," was a common request. Classical Kids has some nice CDs for younger children. They include a sampling of the chosen composer's classical music along with an adventure story about the composer. We listened to these over and over again. You can purchase a whole collection or individual CDs about the composers. Sometimes the public library carries these in their audio section. Our favorites were: Mr. Beethoven Lives Upstairs, Mr. Bach Comes to Call, and Tchaikovsky Discovers America.

We have studied composers at various times and tried to learn a few of the most interesting things about them. One book we found quite amusing is called Bach, Beethoven and the Boys by David W. Barber. It is a trivia book, of sorts, showing the great composers as "real people," relating some funny or odd things that they did or unusual events that happened to them. Barber has written some other books on the opera and baroque music. Check for these books at your library. As I recall, you may want to preread the chapters first before reading them aloud to your children.

I have learned to see the importance of giving my children the knowledge of all styles of music, always looking for the best in each genre. We live in the Mid-west where country-western music is popular. We do enjoy it, but realize that it isn't all good. I enjoy some of the "oldies" and the children have learned to like them too. In fact, three of our younger boys worked at a golf course where all that was played in the club house was Classic Country-Western, so Johnny Cash became a favorite of theirs that summer. It was funny to hear them rattle off names like Patsy Cline, Hank Williams and Tammy Wynette. There will always be pop music and so we try to find the best artists to listen to. Do you remember when the Beatles were considered a long haired fringe rock band? Nowadays they are considered "classic rock" and hold their place in our music collection. I enjoy folk music and some blue grass with fiddle, dulcimer, guitar, banjo, and bass so the children were exposed to this style just because I played it and listen to it myself. In my mind, being exposed to a smorgasbord of music builds an appreciation and ear for music.


Some of our children have taken formal music lessons from trained instructors. Four of five children took piano and two still play as adults. One of them wished to learn guitar and I taught him the basics of what I knew and then he searched for an online program and learned far more finger picking than I could do. We found a neat way of taking music lessons at home. We purchased cassettes and CDs from Homespun Music Instruction and have found them to be invaluable. The student can listen to lessons over and over again and take his lessons at any time and learn at his own pace. The cost is very reasonable, especially when compared to weekly lessons from an instructor. These music instruction CDs and DVDs are made by the best instructors in their fields and they are guaranteed! How can you beat that?

As the children have grown into adults, I find it interesting to notice their tastes in music. My daughter and her husband walked out in procession from their wedding to Tchiavkowsky's 1812 Overture. This same daughter called me the other day to say she was listening to favorite childhood classical CD that we always listened to at home. My sons have told me that they prefer singing hymns over contemporary Christian music because the lyrics are so rich and thoughtful. I'm just grateful that they have had such a diverse and deliberate music experience growing up in our home.

He who sings scares away his woes. ~Cervantes