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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Making Math More Valuable

Math was never my strong suit.

I had a mental block with Math beginning in 6th grade. And so I was lucky to be in a school where I could focus on my strengths. I didn't go very far with Math or Science, instead I took 5 years of Latin and Spanish, a few years of French and enjoyed Literature and writing based classes.

In revisiting math as I teach my homeschoolers, I feel less panic towards it. I remember wanting to know WHY it worked, rather than just accepting the formulas and memorizing their applications. Today I feel less frightened by Math....maybe my brain has matured? As my children progress, I am noticing that they like math less and less. Is it just because it is hard?

This year my oldest begins Geometry and what comes after that..well, that's about where I left off. So we'll see if I can still say, "I feel better about math" once we start covering material that is new to me. I do want my children to feel better about it than I did and to see it's value.

Today, this article was in my email from Crosswalk Home School Life and I thought there were so many points in it that I would like to repeat to my children.

Here are some...

Discovering the Hidden Value of Math
by Heather Shanks

"Mathematics is food for the brain," says math professor Dr. Arthur Benjamin. "It helps you think precisely, decisively, and creatively and helps you look at the world from multiple perspectives . . . . a new way to experience beauty—in the form of a surprising pattern or an elegant logical argument."1 A powerful description, but what if your family struggles with math? How do you teach math in a way that helps your children catch that vision?

The Myth: You Will Use This in Real life
I recently spoke with a mom who often pleads with her kids to study math, telling them they will need it later in life. Her mathematically frustrated offspring are skeptical. She wonders why so many children say: "I don't need to learn this. I am not going to be an engineer anyway, so why bother?" My response was: "Their young minds can't find a tangible, long-term benefit. Short-term fun and ease is much more appealing." For that same reason, the "you'll use this someday" argument can be exhausting and ineffective. It may even sabotage your efforts if your children recognize it as a lukewarm truth.

Before my Inbox fills up with flaming emails, let me elaborate. I took Advanced Placement Calculus in high school, college-level Math Theory, and graduate-level Statistics. As an adult, I have many responsibilities, yet I use almost none of that knowledge now. I am not atypical. On a daily basis, most people primarily use the four basic functions of math: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Even at work, most professionals are not steeped in algebraic equations daily. Computers do the heavy lifting, and kids know that. Using their future prospects as motivation for completing their algebra assignment doesn't convince them. You need to help your children override here-and-now thinking, but how?

The Real Secret of Math
In his insightful book, The Equation for Excellence: How to Make Your Child Excel in Math, Arvin Vohra reveals a simple, yet powerful, concept that most people overlook. In a nutshell, he points out that you don't do math because you are smart; you do math because it makes you smarter.2 Mathematical thinking builds the brain, just like weight-training builds the muscles. Mental discipline and clear thinking are required to master mathematical concepts. Both will make your children better at whatever they love. The best part is, whether they love art, Bible study, building, logic, or debate, their brains are being better equipped in the here and now.

Math is about making connections and seeing patterns. The concrete and abstract thinking required by math builds the brain's muscles, which in turn prepares you for other academic pursuits. The study of math is actually a springboard to increasing overall intelligence!

We all know that Leonardo da Vinci was a gifted artist. What most people don't realize is that he was also a brilliant mathematician. Da Vinci used the concept of "connessione," or connectedness, to create notebooks filled with ideas, formulas, and theories that were very advanced for his time.3 The secret recipe to math appreciation involves the internal motivation to increase intelligence rather than the external motivation of using it someday. Instead of telling your kids that they will need geometry if they decide to become an engineer, tell them that math will make them a better fill-in-the-blank (artist, football player, writer) right now.

How Math Builds the Brain
How does math do this? Math trains the brain to see connections and builds the neural pathways that make the brain stronger for all other things. These pathways serve as building blocks for myriad interests and subjects by:

• Creating the basis for systemic thinking.
• Developing the ability to analyze and solve problems.
• Stretching the mind to work on unfamiliar tasks with confidence.
• Developing the sequencing skills critical to arriving at accurate results or logical conclusions.
• Promoting caution and care in thinking by deciphering complex math problems to arrive at an accurate answer.
• Learning through the trial and error to integrate different principles to arrive at a logical conclusion.

These are cognitive resources that your child can draw on right away, regardless of his future career plans......

Final Words of Encouragement
It doesn't take the IQ of a genius to harness the brain-building power of math. Perseverance is more important than raw talent. Brains have both a natural aptitude and a capacity for growth; they aren't limited to one or the other. The next time you want to encourage your children in their math studies, teach them to see that math is not a burden but rather is a tool that will help them excel—right now.

Heather Shanks, aka Professor Mom, is an author and researcher specializing in best practices in academic curriculum, character education, and learning styles. The Professor Mom website (, is an education planning ministry for moms, providing low- or no-cost resources and coaching to help families create an authentic home education. Heather enjoys living and homeschooling in the Midwest with her husband, Professor Dad, and their two sons.
Copyright 2010. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Spring 2010. Used with permission. Visit them at For all your homeschool curriculum needs visit the Schoolhouse Store. View our new and free resource, the Homeschool 101 Digital Supplement.
1., The Teaching Company—Joy of Mathematics Course Description, accessed Jan. 25, 2010.
2. Vohra, Arvin, The Equation for Excellence: How to Make Your Child Excel at Math, Roland Media Distribution, 2007, italics added for emphasis.
3. Gelb, Michael J, How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day, Random House, Inc., 1998.
4. Wise-Bauer, Susan and Jessie Wise, The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home, W. W. Norton & Company, 2009.
5. Vohra, Arvin, The Equation for Excellence: How to Make Your Child Excel at Math, Roland Media Distribution, 2007.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ice Men

Wish the bleachers had cushioned seats and backs, but other than that...watching my big boys play the sport they LOVE is fun!

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Event

Looks like I've found my new LOST! this point, I'm guessing Aliens.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mother and Sons ~ from Me to We

On one of my homeschool yahoogroups the moms were discussing how to relate to boys.

They're different.

Sometimes boys want to talk about things that females are not so interested in. We agreed that often our eyes glaze over, or we get grossed out and just have no connection to the topics they are wanting to talk about.

Been there.

But I remembered something I read a while back. It was about deeply connecting to my children to make them feel loved. It said the first thing I should do every morning when we first meet was to look deeply into their eyes, stop everything...give them my attention and love. Something about the way the author wrote that and it's impact on a child made me take it to heart and practice.

Today I was reminded of that.

Sometimes we have to FAKE IT TO MAKE IT.

I really want to connect to my 3 sons. I want them to *want* to talk to me and feel connected to me and that their world matters to me! Knowing what I want at the back end of this journey together...closeness, I have to fake interest sometimes. And to do so, I ask questions...trying to engage myself. I look them in the eye and take a moment with them. A little interest goes a long way. Sometimes I even do find a spot of interest for me and then...grace...efforts rewarded and genuine connections bless us.

Because if I don't take interest in them, they'll look for approval elsewhere. They'll come to see me as a roadblock, a dead end. "Don't go down that road it leads to no where...go somewhere else." I don't want what my disinterest will result in. It sends a message and disconnects us from one another.

My active listening will make our relationship better and that's ultimately what I want. In modeling that, I model to them that their interests matter and that they can have a relationship with a woman that respects their interests and HOPEFULLY it will lead them to model the same generous respect to others...perhaps to their future wife? When I make it not about me and my interest, it is my intention to not only make it about US and our parent/child relationship, but to encourage them to be the same "engager" to others. If not, then it's all about them. We must move past selfishness.

In all good relationships we must move from a ME mentality to a WE mentality. Finding a way to do so is a worthwhile venture, one to dedicate my attention to ... going above the snips and snails and puppy dog tails...

I really needed to remember that today and to re-embrace that. And what is that, in a nutshell? It's attention - giving myself over the act of listening in a bid to instill/model virtue. LISTENING is a lost art and a virtue of charity, generosity and selflessness. It belongs in family life and has no gender boundaries.

I thank those moms for reminding me and recommitting me to keep that end in mind!

Holy Family, +JMJ+, pray for us.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

There's a New Squirrel in town ~ Flat Stanley

We have many squirrelly visitors and we've named many of them. There's Squirrelious Caesar, Crassus, Pretty Girl, Big Belly, Poopie-on-the-Grill, Big Ears, Pirate, the late, great Chitty-Chitty Bang- Bang and C.C.B.B.2, Twitchy and Boozer.
This new guy has earned the name FLAT Stanley.

He's always spread out flat, sunbathing!

It could be worse....they could be armed....
....and dangerous!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Joys in June

Dismantling the school room of last year's schoolwork/books and prepping for next year, among other things, has kept me from blogging some of our JOYS IN JUNE. But that job seems never ending so I am going to take a breakand recap some of our June in a super post!

2nd son glistening in a deck sunset and my daughter enjoying the glow of summer nature below.
Friends enjoying moments together. We're getting into the swing of summer.

Father's Day Mass - I think my little girl is looking older. Getting 6 inches of hair chopped off changed her.

My 2nd son serving at the altar, with his Father, on Father's Day. He said, "This is my gift to my *other* Father."
A Father's Day swim....

We all look forward to lots of time at my parent's house over the summer. GrandDandy and Pops have a resort of fun for their grandchildren, a magical place where twizzlers always can be found in the pantry!
I came upon this happy crew giggling like this. We decided to add some guests of honor to the same arrangement. Pops and his grandchildren, my 3rd son's baseball trophy!
My husband and his children who couldn't love him anymore than they do! He is their joy.
Summer Sundays and pool days at my parent's begin. In fact, we're off for a dip now! Stay cool!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Solopaca's Madonna Del Roseto Tradition

Bringing the Madonna down from the Mountain Church....

The first Sunday in June is a time for my family to remember their Italian heritage. My husband's mother's family came from Solopaca, Italy, where they have had a Madonna Del Roseto procession and celebration for decades.

Immigrants from Italy to America still honor this tradition and have a replica statue and their own Madonna Del Roseto celebration here every year, not far from where we live. Families come from many states to reconnect with their "Solopachesi."

When my children have made their First Holy Communions, Grandmom arranges for them to be the crowner of the Madonna at the Mass. After Mass the statue of Mary holding baby Jesus is paraded around the church. Then the families all meet at a banquet hall for a meal and dancing.

Here's a video from years ago with my daughter dancing to Italian music with her Father at the after party.


Here is our statue. The baby Jesus could use a haircut! And here is a "crowning" from a few years back.

Below is my daughter with "Mr. Tickets" who calls out the auction winners of the gift baskets that the organizers create. It's a highlight of the evening to hear the banter that comes from this adorable gentleman! He's of the same family name as Padre Pio.
And this is my Mother-in-law, whose mother came from the village. We are so proud to join her every year and honor our dear "Nan" and heritage.

"Grazie per tutto. Tutto era molto buono!"

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Training Future Leaders Through Summer Reading

Me: Son, how are you liking that book? What can you tell me about what you read today?

2nd Son: I can tell you nothing. It's a secret. Only 10% of the world is supposed to know these ideas in order to make the rest of you our minions!

Aahhhh, summer reading.......
(Felicitations Malfactors)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bottle Rockets, Bonfires....

Battle Star Gallactica?!

Scenes from a evening spent celebrating the beginning of summer vacation!

My 2nd son discovered bottle rockets recently and thinks he's found his calling. It's metaphorical how much he "lights up" over explosives!

Since I was dating my husband he has always entertained my family with is "coffee house" guitar repertoire. Now, my children love to hear him play and sing. My oldest also plays the guitar and my 2nd has a love for Warren Zevon and The Eagles that seems incongruous with his age....

Love evenings like this and I hope my children will always hold the memory of them as dear as I do.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Letter To A Mom With Homeschool Doubts

Recently a mom who is joining my local homeschool group and pulling her kids out of "school" wrote about her second-guessing her decision, because of feelings of doubt .

This is a letter to her. (Edited a bit)

She wrote back that it helped, so I hope it might help others.

Dear Friend,

These feelings of remorse are feelings I am sure all homeschoolers have had at one point or another. Doubt is a demon of homeschooling, a true sign of it's goodness are the attacks against it. Often when we embark on a new journey, that we feel led to by God, we notice sudden obstacles popping up to deter our commitment.

I remember a day like yours. It too was at our final commencement ceremonies at our local Catholic school. As I was videoing the sweet singing voices, I was remorseful, nostalgic and had trepidations about my decision. There was good in that environment...we just wanted better.

You know what you're letting go of, just don't know yet what you're about to meet.
And it will be better. Homeschooling is the best, you eliminate so much pollution. And you can add so much more of your Catholic faith into your day. I don't know if I heard/read it from Father Hardon or Father Corapi or when Dr. Mary Kay Clark of Seton went to the Vatican  but there is this quote that came out that Catholic Homeschooling is seen as the work of the Holy Spirit to renew the faith!!
Today was just one of those days to illustrate some of homeschoolings sweetness to me. Running errands with my oldest son, him talking to me in the car and us laughing like pals, he reminded me that most other teens don't even talk to their parents...they have their ears plugged with an Ipod and glazed over eyes. Later we all had dinner on the deck, celebrated our school year, went around the table talking about it, each student and their accomplishments... it fills my husband and I with such confirmation, moments like these. There have been many others. Our kids like being together ...with a family. No one is looking to duck out and be elsewhere. There is a palpable feeling of connectedness and shared family identity. Have you read Hold On To Your Kids:Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers?

Parents need to sometimes make hard decisions that our kids won't always like or first. My oldest didn't know when he left 5th grade that he wouldn't be going back. It would have upset him, that's natural and it's natural for your daughter to be sad at this transition. She will adjust and, like my children, get involved with new friends in our homeschool group. Read a Haystack Full Of Needles.

Consider too the often devalued relationship of siblings. Sibling relationships are important to work on, I think they get neglected or brushed off as unimportant and yet they are the ones God chose you to be with from cradle to grave. I read recently about a woman who said she wanted homeschooling for her daughters for that very reason...because she remembers the way "school" taught her older sister to ignore her (the younger sister) and how they were never friends again. To add to the sibling dynamic we also found that homeschooling relieved the dynamic of many school-related stresses. Our family rush became more peaceful and our planning more flexible.
Yet, it isn't always going to be rosy and wonderful in homeschooling. You'll have to deal with issues face on that you could have otherwise handed over to some acquaintance/teacher... but who is ever going to love your children like you do?! Who always has their best interests at heart? That's your right and privilege and perhaps God's way to sanctify you. Hard things are often the MOST WORTHWHILE!

No one else is going to have the vested interest and the *accountability* to educate your kids for heaven, their ultimate goal....for heaven, not Harvard, as the saying goes.

A friend of mine who has been homeschooling longer than I told me about an encounter she had with Laura Berquist of MODG recently. Laura's words brought tears to my friend and to me, in her retelling. This friend (who doesn't even use MODG for her son) told Mrs. Berquist she wasn't sure she was giving her son enough and was considering putting her "good" and "sweet" boy back into the school system. Laura (with no business interest in this boy) spoke from her heart and squeezed her hand and said, "Don't! You tell me now that he is sweet and good and after a year in school you won't be able to say that the same way."

The sacrifice to homeschool will be rewarded...we just live in a society that will spread doubt on self-sacrifice and the concept of losing ME time.

Did Jesus have ME time?

Wasn't He the Way, the Truth and the Life and didn't He say He came to serve, not be served.

Offer yourself in His name and He will not be outdone in generosity. Offer yourself like Mary and Joseph did to their child, Jesus. The Holy family is our model for family life. Ask for their intercession. I'll be praying along with you.

Be not afraid, friend!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Wedding Photo ~ Our 19th Anniverary

It's that day again to post wedding pictures.

19 years ago, on this day, I wed the perfect man. That girl didn't know that like I know that now. The way he loves me and his faith are daily lessons to me.

Thank you Lord for this husband and my family. I ask for the grace to serve them both well and in your Name.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Top 200 Catholic Blogs


It was so nice to be told on the 3rd anniversary of my blog that it made the list of Top 200 Catholic Blogs as based on subscribed Google readers. (So I know a lot of more popular blogs may not be represented...)

I came in at #141 and I am soooo grateful to have 140 subscribed readers, 100 visits a day.

Readers/Friends, you have all made my day! What a treasure the Catholic Blog community is... so many friends out there I wouldn't have "met" otherwise. God bless you! I offer my First Friday Mass and prayers for you all.

I am reminded of this quote, Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, “What! You too? I thought I was the only one!” ~ C.S. Lewis

Thank you for the 75,000+ visits here so far to share this journey of Catholic living with me !

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Good Spot

I came home from our Memorial Day vacation to find a hanging basket of geraniums in desperate need of watering. Upon bringing it down to quench it's thirst, a small, reddish bird flew out! Looking inside, I found this nest.

Mama bird has 4 in her nest, just like me. Immediately I liked her! She had chosen a pretty the shade...away from it all yet near the birdfeeder. Smart girl. A GOOD SPOT.

She has me thinking of my nest.

For my 4, the school year is about to end. Excitement surrounds us as they finish their syllabi's. Next week, after assessments and standardized testing, summer vacation begins for them. I wonder if it will somehow coincide with the four in the nest breaking forth from their confinements as well?

And the mama bird will be just as will I.

The end of their school year is not the end for the teacher. In fact, I feel like it will be an even busier time. Collating all the school materials...what needs to be sent in...what needs to be saved...what needs to be purchased for next to set it up...what to prepare for....?

I'll be busy around my nest. To prepare it for the fall, the old must come out and the new must come in. Planners need organizing, syllabus to read. I will be assessing a library book request calendar, filling it in my Catholic Women's Day Planner. Xerox copying many maps, poems, reference tools and work charts, I will be adding these into each student's binders. It's painstaking but makes the year much smoother...the more I do now...

Like the mama bird feathered her nest, I will be getting my nest ready to "birth" a new school year in the midst of trips to the pool, redoing 3 bedrooms, and trying to keep summer reading and some math review a habit. They'll be practice for PSATs to monitor and a summer job for my territory. A yearly purge of what's not needed happens during the summer, too.
And I look forward to it all... the changing rhythm of the days...the nights out on the deck. Mostly, the feeling of being prepared and the peace that brings is what compels me; I am frazzled without order. (But, that's another post...)

Right now....I'm thinking about my four, our nest and how we too are in a good spot.