Monday, November 29, 2010

Suzuki Violin Thoughts...

A new Suzuki mom asked a question on Suzuki chat about whether or not her 3 year old's progress within the method was worth all the practice when she'd heard that older student generally progress much faster needing fewer lesson to make the same progress. Then on the Well Trained Mind forums another mother was asking whether it was too frustrating to begin a 3 year old in formal music lessons.

The various answers given got me thinking about a number of things. I think there are pros and cons to starting at different ages so each family needs to take them into consideration.

Many people claim that a 5-6 year old will progress much faster than a 3 year old beginning lessons and maybe for the average child that is the case. This seems to make sense due to the increased maturity, longer attention spans, and improved manual dexterity. But there are a number of 3 year olds who progress as quickly or more quickly than the average 5-6 year old. These kids are playing concerti by 5-6 years old. They may have progressed very quickly if they started at 5-6 but they wouldn't be where they are at 5-6 if they hadn't started early and kids beginning at 5-6 years old are not catching up to them until many years later as they all hit that time when kids really begin to decide whether or not music is a major force in their lives. So then one wonders whether or not it is important to be playing concerti at 5 years old or later in ones life...probably not important in the sense that music education is not a race; however, I think there are other benefits to beginning music instruction early.

Haley does not know her life without music and daily practice in it. Music wasn't something we had to make room for in her life because she has always done it as far back as she can remember. The habit was formed very young. She also knows that she can learn to do anything with practice. Wow, is that an important bit of knowledge. She practices like crazy anything she wants to learn whether it is a cartwheel, a song, writing...whatever. She's a determined kid who's found the path to mastering anything she wants to accomplish.

Also, I have read studies that claim perfect pitch occurs more frequently in children who begin ear training at 3 years old than in the general population.

Another benefit is the time spent and relationship built pursuing a common goal. I treasure all the time I have spent with Haley practicing her violin. At first it was 10-15 minutes here and there and all her practice was fun and games. I got very good at breaking every large technique into smaller, more easily accomplished parts and use that skill in many other areas of our lives.

One final benefit, at least for Haley, was helping her work her way through her perfectionism. Initially, Haley didn't want to try anything that might take more than one attempt. She'd roll on the floor or talk about everything in the room just to avoid anything she might consider difficult...meaning anything she might not get the first time. Through her play and practice she began experimenting with her violin and learned that it was okay to make mistakes and sometimes those "mistakes" sound really cool. I also frequently repeated the mantra, "we practice to make it easier!" Now she has no problem improvising or trying anything.

I am not saying that early music study is for everyone. Some may be too frustrated by progress. Unless you can enjoy the process without worrying about the progress, early music study is not for you. For some people, resources may be limited. Time and money are definitely needed. In those early years, it is best to be able to sit with your child to practice whenever they pick up the instrument. Also, music study is not inexpensive...I can't think of any activity kids do at the higher levels that isn't expensive so that is relative.

All in all, it has been a worthwhile pursuit in our household. We are enjoying the ride!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What's for dinner?

Whenever I have a day without a full schedule I manage to try a new recipe. This recipe came originally from my sister who gave it to my mom. My sister got it from I doubled it to feed my family.

Old Time Chicken Divan

2 heads broccoli cut into florrets, steamed until tender-crisp, then run under cold water and drained well.

2 cups cooked boneless, skinless chicken cut into pieces

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
3 tbsp sherry or white wine
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp salt
 pinch pepper

1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Locatelli cheese

Melt butter in a saucepan over med. heat. Whisk in flour and cook whisking constantly until begins to turn to a pale beige (about 3 min). Whisk in sherry, broth, and cream until smooth. Bring to boil over med-high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 min; add salt and pepper.

Place drained broccoli into 9X13 pan. Top with half the cream sauce. Place chicken on top then mix cheese into remaining sauce and pour over chicken. Top with extra cheese if desired.

Bake at 350 for 20 min or until heated through then broil for a few minutes to brown top. Serve over egg noodles or other favorite noodles. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Dinner was eaten. Homework was done. The boys were nowhere to be seen. I went looking for them, wondering what kind of mischief they were up to being so quiet together. This is what I found...two boys quietly playing checkers together.

Of course it quickly deteriorated to this! Now that's more like normal. Ah!

Maryland State Irish Festival and Fleadh

 On Sunday, we went to the Maryland State Irish Festival. It was held at the Cow Palace of the Maryland State Fairgrounds. (We were very excited to go to a Cow Palace...ROFL) The festival was very nice. There were 3 huge rooms. The first was mostly informational booths for different Irish Societies, the State Police, animal rescue, and Irish cultural exhibits. The middle room had bouncers and other activities for young children and the third room had most of the food booths, rows and rows of vendors selling everything Irish you could think of, and two stages for entertainment.

Wolf Hounds
We saw these huge Wolf Hounds and talked to their owner. They were as tall as a Great Danes and gentle as can be. He said they were originally bred to kill wolves but were so good at their job that they worked themselves out of a job about 300 years ago. Now they are kept as pets. These two were rescue animals.
Dylan receiving his medal
Haley and Dylan competed in the Fleadh at the festival. Haley in the under 13 fiddle and Dylan in the under 13 guitar accompaniment. Haley played for Dylan to accompany. Haley and Dylan both placed 1st in the divisions/instruments and Haley placed 1st overall for the under 13 competitions.
Haley receiving her medal

Ceili (Dance)

Back in July, when we were attempting to raise money for Haley's trip to the All Ireland, the CCE Delaware Valley branch held a benefit for Haley and two other young musicians. Haley and her friend, Alex, were unable to attend because we were on our way to Swannanoa Gathering so the group asked them to come to their ceili on Saturday night and provide entertainment prior to the dancing. The kids met just before the ceili and put together a short program. Alex played his slow air (his competition in Ireland was slow airs) and another jig set with Dylan accompanying. Then Haley played a couple reel sets with Dylan accompanying and Alex came out to dance a reel during one of them. Then all three kids played a couple reel sets together. They all did a great job!

 After their program, Dylan and Alex went into a room to play pool while Haley joined the adults in some dancing. (She loves to dance!) She danced with Cass Tinney for the Gay Gordons. But she was especially glad her friend, Tommy (Cass's grandson), was there. The two of them dance together every time we attend a ceili in the city. They danced the Haymaker's Jig then waltzed together giggling the entire time. They were bumped into and bounced around by the adult couples like a couple of pinballs because the floor was so crowded. They eventually gave up and ran to the other room to play pool with the other boys.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Scrambled Pancakes...

Newt has been lifting and trying to increase his protein intake to build muscle. Breakfast has been difficult for him because he isn't too fond of eggs especially first thing in the morning. Though he suffers through and eats them, he was especially keen on me finding him some alternatives.

I remembered a dish we lived on while I was in PT school. One of my roomies was of German ancestry and she introduced us to it. When money for groceries was running low this is what we ate. I couldn't remember the exact recipe or the name of the dish so I searched on the internet and combined a few recipes and what little I remembered to come up with this...

Scrambled Pancakes

2 tbsp melted butter
2 tbsp sugar
pinch salt
4 eggs
2 cups flour
1 cup milk

Mix all ingredients well. Melt butter in pan on medium heat (or spray pan with cooking spray). Dump mixed ingredients into hot pan then chop into pieces, turn, and let cook until cooked dry and the pieces are beginning to brown (my kids like the browned pieces because they are a bit crunchy). I have made it without the added sugar and butter in the recipe and it tastes fine. We serve it with cheap (ie. fake) maple syrup and melted butter.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Reading Skills

There has been an ongoing discussion on the Well Trained Mind Accelerated Learner board about early readers and those who are gifted vs. those who are early readers due to exposure but eventually level out with their peers as they get older. The seeming "competition" to have the earliest reader in some circles annoys me.

I am all for teaching a child to read when they are asking and showing the signs of being ready to read but while working in homes where the TV is on in the mornings, I often see commercials for the Doman method for teaching reading where they parade tiny babies and toddlers raving about their early reading skills. Having raised bright kids, I know personally that a bright child will learn whatever they are exposed to. I just don't think being exposed to flashcards of words at 8 months old when there is so much more to do with your baby is ideal.

Here are some of my other thoughts on the topic (from the discussion on the board...with some added thoughts)...

I think there is a huge difference between being able to in being able to decode words and understanding what is read especially when kids hit the age where they need to understand more than the plot of a story. I read about the Glen Doman method when my kids were little before deciding against it. I figured my kids would learn to read when they were ready and our time could better be spent exploring the world and playing.

I am not so sure methods like Glen Doman can help with the comprehension of what is read making the children who learn to read through the method more like hyperlexic kids who read much higher than their average peers without the comprehension necessary to read at that level.

Early reading is not an absolute indicator of high IQ. A "gifted" child may be more likely to read early but an early reader does not necessarily have a high IQ. So, I think like the previous poster mentioned, those kids who learn to read using that method (unless of course they were gifted) will eventually level out with peers in reading...eventually everyone learns to read (decode) and reads fairly well.

I imagine there are can be psychological consequences to being seen as gifted and to having people make a big deal about a skill like early reading only to discover in later years that you are no longer above everyone else especially if that one ability (being able to read early and better than kids your age) was a big part of who you saw yourself as being or the way you got attention from others.

As to the psychological consequences of raising a "real" child prodigy...I'm sure that could be another discussion entirely.

The discussion morphed by some into how to develop comprehension skills...

For my early reading kids, some of the comprehension type skills like inferencing and predicting seemed to need life experience to develop more than being something we could specifically work on. I saw this most clearly with my dd, who when assessed by a reading specialist (I think she was 6 or maybe a young 7 at the time...don't remember) was decoding at a 12th grade level but comprehending at a 7th grade level. The questions she was missing the answers to were those that required her to have knowledge outside of the passage itself.

If a very young child is decoding at a high level, they tend to end up reading books meant for a more mature child so they don't understand the inuendo or the figures of speech, etc... until they've been exposed to them. I found often she didn't understand that characters would have an ulterior motive or might be being dishonest. She was just too innocent to even think along those lines.

Some of the things we did/do to work on comprehension are to read and discuss deeply books way below their decoding level...along the lines of Classics in the Classroom and Suppose the Wolf's an Octopus' higher levels of questioning.

We intermingle well written picture books with chapter books and novels because there are so many great books out there to read. I tend to think along the lines of "so many books, so little time," so we didn't rush to chapter books and forget about picture books as soon as the kids were able.

 I also had them work through a couple of the Reading Detective workbooks to learn to find the answers to questions with backup from the text. Learning how to take apart a story by discussing the parts of the story and outlining the action in a story seems to help.

But really those much deeper ways of thinking about a story still seem to need maturity and more exposure to life. Though I am saving many of those really great classics for when Haley is a bit older and will be able to fully enjoy them, we do pick some to work on now and then that I think she may enjoy reading more than once in her life. I still find myself appreciating a book differently when reading some books with her that I enjoyed in high school. It is really neat to think about how the change in perspective affects how you read a book.

Monday, November 08, 2010

All Heart...

 In our study of the human body, we have taken a detour from PLATO science to do some detailed study of the different systems of the body. Some of the supplement materials we are using include a Gray's Anatomy coloring book, The Human Body for Every Kid by Janice VanCleave, David Macauley's The Way We Work, and The Body Book by Donald Silver and Patricia Wynne. We are really enjoying The Body Book which was suggested to us by our homeschooling friend Marda. It contains hands-on models that are easy and fun to make.

We have worked our way through the respiratory system then last week began the circulatory system. A couple years ago the boys and I had fun dissecting a cow heart which was not much different from a human heart and very large so easy to see.
This year we were able to obtain a cow's heart from our friendly neighborhood butcher shop. The guys were a bit amused by our request but they got us one and called when it was ready. Today Haley and I had a good time dissecting the heart and identifying the main parts. Haley was excited to find a small clot on the cow's equivalent of our tricuspid valve. We attempted to make microscope slides of the blood and tissue but since we couldn't locate our good slide making kit (thanks to our move...probably still in a box somewhere), we weren't very successful. I will be looking for that kit and the good microscope as soon as I get a minute to go through the unopened boxes still in the basement and we will try to make slides of my blood instead.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Happy Birthday, Poppop!

These are the most important people in our lives and the best parents/grandparents anyone could ask for.

They are the reason we still live where we live. Since I have the choice, there is no way I could allow my kids to grow up someplace where they couldn't see their Grammy and Poppop regularly. Besides vacations, they have not gone a week without seeing them and they have loved them "best of all" since they were newborn babies.

Not only do they do the normal grandparenty things like dinners at their home, letting us swim in their pool all summer, and presents on holidays...they go above and beyond.

Grammy and Poppop are always willing to travel with Haley and I whether it is across the river to Philly for an Irish session, to Minnesota for a week long orchestra, or to Ireland for a Fleadh. We call them our bodyguards. They also have attended nearly every concert she has ever performed in...sitting through some of them has been a feat in itself!

They travel with us to all the Towheads performances as well, often transporting us in their van because it is the only vehicle that will hold all of us along with sound equipment and instruments.

This past year, Poppop has been a Godsend. As my schedule with Haley's music has gotten crazier and crazier, he has stepped in to help Newt with his wrestling. He is home every afternoon to help the boys when they come over after school to workout, has done research to find the best workout program for Newt, buys or builds the equipment he needs, attends his practices (often taking Newt by himself if I have to work late), and takes him to tournaments on weekends now when my weekends are consumed by orchestra rehearsals and trips for fiddle lessons in New York.

I don't know if Newt appreciates the effort as much as he should now (being a teenager and all) but I do know that some day, maybe when he is grown, he'll look back on this time he was able to spend with his Poppop and will treasure it. I also know he is helping to shape the man Newt will be someday.

Happy Birthday, Poppop! Thank you for everything you do for us! I love you more than you will ever know!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Chicken Potpie...

Nothing better on a cool day! Not your normal pie kinda potpie but the southern kind with slippery noodles. Yummy!

Chicken Potpie

In a huge stock pot place a large roaster chicken (add some boneless skinless chicken breasts if feeding a crowd), cover with water, then add 1 can Cream of Chicken soup, 1 med onion chopped, 2 celery sticks chopped, parsley, salt and pepper to taste.

Bring to boil then let simmer on low for hours (3-4 hours to all day if you want).

Take about 2 cups of chicken stock from stock pot and place in fridge to cool while you prepare dough...

Mix together:
3.5 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 tsp baking powder
pepper to taste

Cut in 1/2 cup Crisco completely. Then add reserved cooled stock a little at a time, mixing in as you go until dough comes together in a ball (drier is better than too sticky). Roll out of floured surface very thinly (less than 1/4 inch...the thinner the better). Cut into small squares and place on a plate.

Remove chicken from stock pot (it should fall apart so be careful). Bring liquid to a boil then drop the dough pieces into the liquid one by one moving already added pieces to the side with a spoon while dropping in others. Put heat to low and cook 30-45 min.

While potpie is cooking remove chicken from bones then serve noodles over chicken pieces.

We like to have it with candied sweet potatoes and peas on the side.