Wednesday, April 30, 2008

They'll know we are Christians by our... tags?

From this morning's news:

Florida's 'I Believe' plates hit roadblock

I didn't know anyone was coming up with religious vanity plates. Now there's a conflict in Florida over the proposed plate there - the usual church and state separation argument. If a license plate has a cross on it, and the words "I believe," is the state endorsing Christianity?

I don't really have an opinion on that. I'm not a legal scholar.

But then, I wouldn't buy a vanity plate for any reason. I could just donate the $25 right to the charity the plate supports, and cut out the middle man. I don't need to proclaim my faith with my license plate.

Looks like this might get ugly:

Supporters countered that not approving it could also result in a lawsuit.

That makes me laugh, though it should make me sad and angry. Imagine that - Christians fighting for the right to force the state to create a symbol for their cars so they can show off to everyone what good Christians they are? Didn't Jesus have a few words for people like that?
This is not acting in a Biblical manner. It does not glorify God. And it makes Christians look like goofballs. Contentious goofballs.

Not a big fan of contemporary Christian music, but Steven Curtis Chapman rocks out a little and this song seems appropriate:

Well I got myself a T-shirt that says what I believe
I got letters on my bracelet to serve as my ID
I got the necklace and the key chain
And almost everything a good Christian needs, yeah
I got the little Bible magnets on my refrigerator door
And a welcome mat to bless you
before you walk across my floor
I got a Jesus bumper sticker
And the outline of a fish stuck on my car
And even though this stuff's all well and good, yeah
I cannot help but ask myself ...

What about the change
What about the difference
What about the grace
What about forgiveness
What about a life that's showing
I'm undergoing the change, yeah
I'm undergoing the change

- From "The Change" by Steven Curtis Chapman, based on 2 Corinthians 5:17 and 3:18:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

My advice: Get a bumper sticker. Or 10 of 'em - plaster them all over the car! We have the legal right to do that.

And get a Bible. Then read it.

Give the rest of the $25 to the poor, via your church or some other organization.

Problem solved.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Stupid CPS tricks

This should make you sick.

A guy at a ballgame orders a lemonade for his little kid. He doesn't notice that it's a "Mike's Hard Lemonade" which in case you don't know - the Dad didn't - contains alcohol. The boy drank some. He is sent to the hospital in which he is declared to be fine and alcohol-free, but in the blink of an eye the 7 year old boy is crying himself to sleep on his way to foster care. It takes a few days before he gets to go home; another before Dad is allowed back in his own house.

And all the while, police and CPS workers are saying this shouldn't be happening, but there's this protocol to follow...

DADvocate asks: Quick question: What was more harmful to the kid - drinking the Mike's Hard Lemonade or being separated from his parents for two days, his father nearly a week? If you have to think about this one, go to the back of the class.

This afternoon a police car went by my house, very slowly. I have to admit I wondered if someone had heard the kids playing outside during school hours, or heard the kids fighting, and had called the cops. Paranoia, sure. But...

Oh and by the way, don't think if you don't have minor children, this doesn't really matter to you. This is your tax dollars at work. These people who snatch kids away from their parents are paid by you and me. And in order to justify their existence, they've got to keep snatching.

Useful craft (maybe)

My daughter is a crafty girl. She is always making something and that means there are always little bits of paper, tape, glitter, glitter glue... all over the place. Just now I found her latest: doorknob signs. I picked one up; it said:

If you're a "grown-up" don't yell at the Kid in here Because it's not my fault it's a Jangle! (Maybe it's Jungle with a badly-formed "u".)

I am pleased with her proper spelling of "you're" but continue to be annoyed with her habit of capitalizing random words. I wonder about the quotes around grown-up. Maybe she thinks I don't really qualify as one.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Privacy in the internet age? No.


Wild Teachers on the Web

Young teachers are discovering that posting sexual jokes, vulgarity, nudity and comments about “retards” in online profiles is not a wise idea, reports the Washington Post.

Here's a snip, but you should read the whole article - this is not the worst thing, but this is a family blog:

Click "View Photos of Erin," and you can see her lying on her back, eyes closed, with a bottle of Jose Cuervo tequila between her head and shoulder. Or click on her "summertime" photo album and see a close-up of two young men flashing serious-looking middle fingers.

"I know that employers will look at that page, and I need to be more careful," said Webster, adding that other Prince William teachers have warned her about her page. "At the same time, my work and social lives are completely separate. I just feel they shouldn't take it seriously. I am young. I just turned 22."

Yeah, she sounds like someone I want my kids around for 6 or so hours a day, 180 days a year. A great role model for your teen, eh?

Am I just too old and stodgy now? Should I think this is OK? Are work life and private life really separate when people splash their private lives all over the 'net?

Doesn't everyone have wood shavings all over their kitchen table?

Last week the boy got a Swiss Army knife and a Boy Scout knife card at a Webelos meeting, along with a class on proper knife use, care and safety. The card is to be carried at all scouting events at which the knife is carried; if a scoutmaster or older scout asks to see the knife card, and it is not produced, the knife can be confiscated till the end of the event. Say what you will about Boy Scouts, they seem to take knife safety seriously. As far as I can tell.

Then the boy found an old clementine box near the trash. I probably had put it in the trash but somehow it got out, which rendered it not trash. He dismantled the box.

Now he's whittling. He cut himself right off, so now he is wearing one of my tyvek gloves, which my husband' bought me from a cafeteria worker at his former employer. I cut myself a lot; or used to - a few months with the tyvek gloves and I find I don't cut myself anymore!

Anyway. Now our kitchen table is covered in little wood shavings. It's just everywhere. That is life with a boy who owns a knife, I guess.

Coincidentally, my girl has decided to try to be more graceful, so the background noise this morning is the sound of a book falling off her head as she walks around the house. Humming, of course. I don't think the humming adds to the gracefulness but try telling her that. Ooh, she just informed me she can walk down the stairs and scratch her heel with the book on her head. But do graceful women scratch their heels? Probably not, but try telling her that.

This is the life we chose. It must sound like a weird life to some people. A life with freedom to whittle and walk around with books on the head. Not all day, and not always first thing.

And not with good books. I told her to use a book we don't care about. So what did she choose? Of course: her grammar book.

UPDATE: She can now curtsey with the book on her head. The whittling moved to the living room floor so he could listen to me read aloud. (He can absorb an enormous amount of information from listening, even while whittling.) The wood shavings are just about all swept up. Life does go on.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Prior to moving here in August 2007, I had not lived in a typical American suburban neighborhood since 1972. Mostly I lived in apartments or somewhat rural areas. I'd never had anyone living across the street, and only for a short time had someone living next door. At my last house, there was only one house in close view, and it was vacant.

So I did not know how to be an adult in a neighborhood. I didn't know what to expect as far as interacting with neighbors.

Our next-door and across-the-street neighbors here are elderly widows. All of them came to this neighborhood as young brides over 50 years ago. Imagine that! Living in the same house for 50 years! I will never experience that. They are all very nice and kind; they brought us cookies and cakes when we moved in; they talk nicely to my kids and all are very interested (in a positive way) in homeschooling.

One change that comes with living in a neighborhood is the expectation of a nice front yard. In Oregon we did not have to have a nice front yard, and we didn't. We had a large-ish piece of property and it was weedy and messy and sometimes I hated that and sometimes I loved it. When we came here, a yard service was doing the mowing but we are living on a student's salary and could not afford $40 a week for 20 minutes of mowing. Actually, we couldn't justify it even if we could afford it, particularly since we own a lawnmower.

The neighbor who is in contact with us the most has a nice way of hinting when it's time for us to mow the lawn. My husband has figured out that within a day, or maybe just hours, of the lawn service coming to do her lawn, she thinks ours should be done. She is very diplomatic about it; her hints are subtle and never rude. But, we know when it's time to mow, and weed, and trim. She always pays a compliment when the work is done. You know, just like we praise our dog when he does something we want him to do: it strengthens the possibility that the good behavior will be repeated.

We are getting used to living in our neighborhood. So far, so good.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Heart of the Matter: Happy Habits of A Homeschooler

The weeks go by so fast around here. I keep forgetting to write any sort of review for the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. I didn't even remember to look at the Carnival of Homeschooling, much less post about it. But I did remember the Heart of the Matter Friday meme. This week it's all about homeschoolers' happy habits.

We aren't very good with habits around here, but we're trying.

One habit we do have, and keep to pretty well, is to start our day with the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and Training Hearts, Teaching Minds, which is a study guide for it. This means sometimes breakfast takes a very long time. My kids like to talk - maybe they just like to stall - and we do talk a lot. Much of our homeschooling is accomplished just by talking.

We have the habit of reading daily, or most days, some sort of nature writing or natural history. I count this as science because, well, it is, but it also often leads us to further research on some animal, plant, or place. Right now we're in the midst of North With the Spring by Edwin Way Teale. I love Teale's writing.

We try to keep to the habit of doing our "table work" - that's math, grammar, writing - finished right after breakfast and kitchen cleanup, so we can get to the good stuff - reading history, doing science experiments or reading, research, etc. When I can combine work on these skills with the good stuff, it's a really great day. But that's not always possible, so we try to get it done quickly and move on.

We almost always close our day with a book too. Right now it's Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson. Very exciting and interesting book. This is one of those books my kids could read on their own, but I like kids' books too sometimes. I usually try to read them books that are above their reading level. I also like to read old books because the language is so much richer than most contemporary writing I've come across.

Afternoon teatime with a book is another happy habit, though we don't tend to want tea in the warmer weather so much. I like iced coffee and I don't want to start that habit with my kids quite yet. Reading in the hammock will commence soon.

Just this week we started a habit of going to an exciting and new place on Wednesdays. That is the day Daddy gets home from school early enough that we can go off for most of the day. (We are a one-car family right now.) We don't like leaving him home, but he needs time to study. This week we went to Valley Forge with our dog Max. It was beautiful; we had a picnic and a great walk. The semester is winding down so things will change after finals, but we need to try to keep up a weekly outing while we are living here. There is a lot to see in this area, and we only expect to be here about 3 more years. So, we need to keep moving.

Notice none of those habits have anything to do with house or yardwork. Those are habits we should be working on. But then this was called "happy habits."

Friday, April 25, 2008

More on happiness, criticism, and judging

I'm just running with this theme of happiness and the idea that people who are happy and secure in their lives don't feel the need to criticize other people for the way they live.

Most of us judge people all the time, whether we think we do or not. It's just a way of determining how we think about someone. We can decide that we don't agree with how someone lives their lives - that's judging, nothing wrong with that - but I think people who are happy and secure in their own lives are able to shrug it off and not criticize over it.

So, I can be sad or angry [came back to add: maybe disappointed and incredulous are better words] that people continue to send their kids to the hellhole that is the American public school system, but when I'm out walking the dog and run into the lady down the street walking her boys to the bus stop, I'm not going to tell her she's a bad mom and making the wrong choice for her kids. (Even though it's not quite 8 am and they won't be home till 4 pm, and they are 6 and 7 years old, for crying out loud.) If she ever asks me about homeschooling (that'll be that proverbial snowball in hell day, probably), I'll be happy to encourage her in that direction. But I'm not about to criticize her because she isn't doing what I do.

People who are vocal in their criticisms of homeschooling often turn out to be a little insecure because they are not so sure of their own decision to send their children to public school. [Came back to add: homeschoolers do the same thing to people who send their kids to school.]

It's not just about homeschooling, of course. I just happen to pick that topic because it's near and dear to my heart. I read a lot of criticism of stay-home moms/housewives on some blogs. I think it's funny because I can only assume this criticism comes from an unhappy person. If someone is happy they just aren't so concerned about what other people do. People who are secure in their choices don't need to convince everyone that they are right.

Do you think more homeschoolers are made by hearing people harangue them about the superiority of homeschooling, or by seeing happy, secure homeschoolers going about their business, raising educated kids?

Do you think more people will embrace Christianity by hearing people warn them that they are going to hell if they don't repent now, or by Christians quietly living their lives, worshiping and serving the Lord in whatever way they are called to do? (Now let's don't get into election vs. free will debates, 'K?)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Just musing on happiness

Are people who are happier in their own lives more "tolerant" of the way other people live? Less judgmental about other people's lifestyle choices?

I'm thinking of things like working mom vs. stay-home mom, homeschooling vs. private school vs. public school, professional life vs. working in the trades... not lifestyle choices like choosing to be a cat burglar or drug dealer for a living.

Are happier people just more secure in general?

Do unhappy people have to prove that their choices are the best?

C'mon, all 10 of you who read here... whaddya think?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Homeschool Hi-Light

Ellen at Fun Learning has started a new meme: Homeschool Hi-Lights. Each Monday we are invited to write about something great from the past week. She has a Mr. Linky to make participating easy.

I was having a hard time thinking of something. Then it hit me. On Monday I have a class from 2-5 pm, and I always leave my kids (ages 9 and 10 1/2) a list of work to do - reading, math, other workbook-type stuff they can do on their own. We don't do a lot of workbook work - most of our time is spent reading and talking - but it's a great thing to keep skills up and provide opportunities for independent work.

Last week I came home from my class to find they had done all the work I had given them, and more! My boy had even done some writing I had not expected him to do. He is not a writer, so that is a big deal. Usually he needs me to sit next to him and help him with spelling and just general encouragement. There's just something about writing implements that makes his brain shut down.

Since one of my goals is to get my kids working independently, this was definitely a highlight for my week.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Missed it again - Saturday Review of Books

OK, this week I didn't finish anything, so that's my excuse for not submitting anything to Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books. Hey, it's only 9:20 am Eastern time, and there are 43 reviews up already. I can recommend #29 - Smallworld's review of Without a Trace. Not because I'm interested in the book, particularly, but because Sarah is a prolific reader and reviewer, and one of her favorite books is To Kill a Mockingbird - so what's not to like?

And since we've been waiting for The Lightning Thief at the library for a long long time, I look forward to reading #26, too.

Too bad I don't have time to read them all.

Oh, but I checked back and it's now up to 72. And Smallworld's review of To Kill A Mockingbird is there now.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The 8th commandment

Which is the eighth commandment? The eighth commandment is, thou shalt not steal.

How many ways are there to steal? We had an interesting discussion on this today. I love days that start like this:

- It's stealing to not tell the cashier if they give you the wrong change.

- It's stealing to make false alarms to the fire department: the cost to the fire department/taxpayers for the time, fuel, etc., the cost to other citizens because response to a real emergency might be delayed.

- You can steal someone's wife.

- It's stealing not to pay for the donut you ate in the store.

- Being late is stealing someone's time.

- Idol worship is stealing from God. (This was prompted by our Catechism book Training Hearts, Teaching Minds. But the boy is really keyed in on idols and got into this one right away.)

Yes, I love it when our mornings start this way. Because we homeschool we have time to really talk this over. We can really explore the implications of our actions, and the consequences of them. This is why breakfast sometimes takes a really long time in our house.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


Saturday Review of Books is up. 61 as of right this minute.

I meant to write a few "reviews' (I am not a real serious book reviewer) this week but was too busy. Don't take this blogging thing seriously enough. I had read The Code of the Woosters, The Uncommon Reader, and Cry, the Beloved Country in the last few weeks. Well, maybe I'll get to them next week. They were all good, how's that?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Signs of good weather

Walking to the post office and then to the local deli for pop. Yeah, I said pop. And candy bars. Too bad they don't sell iced coffee. How come walking is so much more fun with the dog?

Digging out the super soakers.

Fighting over the unbroken super soaker.

Finding the parachute ball.

Watching the parachute ball go really, really high! And then drop into the top of a very tall tree. Just above the homemade parachute (plastic grocery bag, string, Kong dog toy) that's been there for 3 months.

Seeing the magnolia tree start to bloom. I have long wanted a magnolia tree. Now I have one.

Wanting iced coffee but breaking the coffeemaker in the process. (The break was not permanent; user error, but not resolved till the moment was past.)

Carnival of Homeschooling

Writing daily for last week's Home Education Week was fun, and it was nice to have a topic for each day. Now, I'm out of things to say. But here is the Carnival of Homeschooling at Pondering Heart for your reading pleasure.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies

OK, this is old but we just discovered it. Messing around on youtube looking for 60s sitcoms... and we came across this gem. It is just amazing...

We were looking for Beverly Hillbillies because we'd been reminiscing about the boy's baby days, when we could calm a crying fit by singing the theme song. I don't think Gilligan's Island worked as well...

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Testing dreams

I guess this video is making the rounds, but I saw it first at Konkadu.

It gives me a perfect excuse to reminisce about my boy's first testing experience, about a year ago:

Yesterday my boy took his state-mandated standardized test. This test is due in August, and most people take it in May or June, but he has seasonal allergies (aka hay fever) and is either doped up or miserable during those months. Rather than add more torture, I decided to spread it around and have him take the test a little early.

He had never been tested before so we went over test-taking strategies. I periodically have him do test prep workbooks so he was familiar with filling in the little bubble. He thinks they are kind of fun. We had also done a practice test so he understood the concept of having a time limit. That is something I'm not good at working on in our daily table work.

The night before the test he went to sleep right away, which struck me as odd because usually before a big event he has trouble sleeping. The morning of the test he woke up in good spirits but admitted to being a little nervous. He told me he'd had a dream that "paper airplanes made of test papers were attacking me!" Then he went on with a big grin: "But I shot them all down, all except the math ones!"

Turns out he was right to feel that way about math. His computation score was pretty low, but was raised quite by a bit by his problem-solving skills. Whew! His results will probably be similar this time, too. But I don't think he'll have any bad dreams.

Well, it could have happened that way!

From Clinton drops hospital story from stump speech.

Sen. Hillary Clinton will stop telling an emotional story about a uninsured pregnant woman who died after being denied medical care, Clinton's campaign said.

Turns out the hospital said it wasn't true. Seems someone had told the candidate, or her campaign, the story and though they could not or did not try to verify it, they repeated it anyway.

"Candidates are told stories by people all the time, and it's common for candidates to retell those stories. It's not always possible to fully vet them, but we try. For example, medical records are confidential. In this case, we tried but weren't able to fully vet the story," he said.

But, y'know, it doesn't matter because it could have happened, and that's just as good.

"She never mentions the hospital by name and isn't trying to cast blame. She tells this story because it illustrates the point that we have a very serious health care problem in America. That's a point very few people will dispute."

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Saturday Review of Books

up at Semicolon. There are 79 books listed as of right now. I added my comments on The Voyager's Stone. If you are looking for some reading material, there's your place. Many people have multiple reviews. I am constantly amazed at the amount of reading other people get done!

I am trying to interest my kids in setting up a book review blog. My girlie is a reading machine; she could do a couple a week. My boy is always at least browsing through some aviation or history (or history of aviation) book. This would be a fun way to work on those composition skills.

Day 7 (already?): Looking Forward

Home Education Week concludes:

What are your goals for home education? What do you hope to instill in your children? Are you planning any changes to how you educate your children?

I don't guess homeschooling parents' goals are much different from their public- and private-schooling counterparts. I want to give them a broad education, with deeper knowledge in their own areas of particular interest and expertise. I want to help them find their gifts and talents. I want them to have good writing and speaking skills.

A liberal arts education, one might say.

I want them to love learning and see it as an activity that goes on all the time. I don't want to forget the person we ran into one late summer day - I don't even remember the circumstances - who said to my kids "wow, school hasn't even started yet and you learned something already." In what real life does everything stop for 2 or 3 months of the year?

I want them to be curious, always, and learn how to find the information they need or want. I want them not to be attracted to the mindless entertainment provided by tv and video games too much. I want them to find productive ways to deal with boredom.

As they grow older, our methods for this will change. We change constantly, though not always perceptibly. Slowly I am forcing them to be more independent in their work. A shortish-term goal is to have them in the local community college by age 16, and earning money in some sort of entrepreneurial venture. (They've already been talking about a dog-poop-cleaning up business, but have found all the good names are taken, and think maybe the market's saturated already. Besides, they don't do such a hot job of cleaning up after our own dog. My girl is also a little too hung up on the color of the uniform. The boy thinks the most practical choice would be brown. Of course.)

On the larger scale I want them to love and wish to serve God. This does not mean they will become missionaries, pastor/pastor's wife, etc., necessarily. But I don't want their main goals of life to be "making lots of money" and "being happy." Those are fine things, but not the pinnacle, and not to be desired at the expense of fulfilling our purpose:

What is the chief end of man? Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. (Westminster shorter catechism, question 1.)

Also I want them to love to read. So far, so good.

Came back to add: I want to teach them to see and tear apart logical fallacies with ease. Too many people today feel when they should think, act on feelings rather than logical thought processes. This is one of the big challenges facing the US now, I think, and one of the reasons we homeschool: logic does not seem to be an important part of the curriculum anymore. We need it to be important.

For more posts on this topic, go to Principled Discovery.

Friday, April 04, 2008

In their own words: Home Education Week Day 6

Day 6 of Home Education Week:

Share your children’s home education experience in their own words. What have they said about their education? What are their likes and dislikes? Share some stories, some quotes, or turn your blog over to your children for the day.

My boy says: Uh.....

My girl says: It's fun. We can have free days when we want. We can have tea in the afternoon. We don't have to get into a bus at 8:00 in the morning! We have time to do things we like, like reading. We can spend time with our dog.

OK, maybe I shouldn't have asked them first thing in the morning. And I have to remember they have very little to compare it to - they've never been to school, so homeschooling is normal. They have no clue what school would be like at their grade levels (3 and 5). The closest comparisons are Sunday School and classes they've taken at local science museums, but those are nothing like regular school. Sometimes I wish I could send them as a visitor for one day to the local public school. But then again, my girlie might like it and decide she'd want to go. She'd do well, too - she is a very conventional learner. My boy never would want to go. He'd never make it in a regular classroom situation.

I know I'm biased, but I think they'd probably prefer being homeschooled.

See more posts at Principled Discovery.

Reforming the non-planner

Used to be, I didn't like planning out our homeschooling days. Oh, we had a math book, and a history book, and various other things we were working on, so I'd know what to do each day, sort of. But a lot of times things got missed because I'd forget, or we'd lose the book, or no one felt like doing something. I fought the idea of planning things out, because I feared I would lose spontaneity. I thought we wouldn't be able to get stuck in an interesting time period of history if we had a planned schedule to keep to. The partial unschooler in me rebelled at the idea of a schedule. The lazy person in me did too. (Note I am not equating unschooler with lazy.)

But I am changing my ways.

In 2005 my family had the privilege of spending 4 weeks traveling in the UK. It was a dream come true. Some of our trip was planned, some not. The unplanned parts of our trip were sometimes frustrating and stressful. It was no fun driving around trying to find a working phone booth or free wireless location in order to secure a place to sleep that night or the next night. Internet access was not as easy to find as we'd thought! We had travel brochures and some lists of bed-and-breakfasts, and the tourist offices in the towns we visited, but sometimes I had to call 4 or 5 places before we'd find one that had room for us. Way too much of our precious time was wasted as we dealt with our lack of planning.

The planned parts were wonderful, satisfying, stress-free. Of course we did not want every minute planned out. But when we had planned chunks of time (ie. 1 week in London, 3 days in North Yorkshire, 4 days on Lewis, etc.) with accommodations planned and some ideas of things to do and see, we were in heaven, enjoying ourselves, and not thinking of what we had to do next.

Of course if we had planned our trip carefully we might have missed seeing Urquhart Castle, on Loch Ness. We might not have enjoyed a wonderful day at Chatsworth, which we happened upon at the end of our trip. So there were some good things about being unplanned. But overall, I don't think I would do that again. I think I'd do more research and a little more planning, and build in time for free exploration.

Hm, planning, with time built in for free exploration. Sounds like an ideal homeschool. Too bad it took me 2 1/2 years to make that connection.

So I am planning now. It is not as burdensome as I had thought it would be. I don't spend much time on the basics. We do some form of math, grammar, spelling, composition, that sort of thing, most days. We have our math books and when we are done with those, we will progress to the next one. I don't care about fitting that into a school year; we just keep going till we're done.

Then, history. This is the core of our homeschool, our favorite part, and thus where I spend most of my planning time. We just started Story of the World book 4. Now I am in the process of finding the extra reading I want (if any) for each chapter of the book, putting it on a list to request from the library or locate in our shelves/boxes, and estimating how much time each chapter might take us. In determining the extra reading, I think about how the importance of the topic, how interested my kids will be, and what sorts of books will best help them learn about it. So,
the British invasion of Afghanistan gets an overview and no extra books; the American Civil War will probably take 2 weeks. I found several books we already own on our shelves, and requested more from the library. My boy will read some biographies of generals and books about the battles and weapons; my daughter will read some books about Clara Barton and other females involved. Both will get the basic overview they need from Story of the World.

Science works the same way, except we don't really have anything going in science right now, other than reading North With the Spring and doing some animal classification exercises from
The Prairie Primer. Oh, and theoretically, working through the experiments in a chemistry set.

There are other things we do, but that's the basic idea.

All this information goes on a weekly checklist. I make the "bones" of the checklist several weeks ahead, and keep plugging things in as I plan or as things come up. I can adjust to fit in a field trip or play day. On Monday I print it and keep it close at hand so I can keep on track. This saves me so much time each day because I don't have to think about what to do next. It helps me remember to request books from the library in advance, not the day before I want them. If we don't get to something on the weekly checklist, I either delete it or carry it over with no feelings of guilt. If I see we never check certain items off (why are we never doing any experiments with that chemistry set?) I try to figure out if it's something we need to put more effort into, or something we can just skip.

Spending some time planning really helps me stay focused and feel like we are actually getting something done. It gives me a record of resources used, which I need to comply with my state laws. It helps me see that we are accomplishing something.

And, it doesn't hinder us from real learning, from spontaneity, from camping out in an interesting time period for a while. If it looks like there is just so much interesting reading on the Civil War, and we decide to take 2 days to visit Gettysburg instead of just one, I can add it, and adjust our plans going forward. This is not a schedule. It's a plan, and it feels good to have it.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Special Moments; Day 5 of Home Education Week

Home Education Week at Principled Discovery Continues:

Show off those talents. Share a story, a special moment, a piece of artwork. Any accomplishment, great or small, is fair game.

Now this is getting really hard. Talents? Stories? How about special moments...

Being able to allow a sick child to crawl back into bed with a book rather than do tablework.

Watching a child's eyes light up when a new concept suddenly clicks. Even better when it's something that was hard.

Helping a little girl make a batch of teatime treats - with her own recipe.

Snuggling all together under a big blanket to read.

Having the science museum all to ourselves (almost) on a school day.

Spending an entire day reading a great book, and being able to count it as school!

Getting compliments from the ladies in the beauty salon - because of those nice quiet kids that sit in the lobby and read while mom gets a haircut.

Reading history in Starbucks.

Reading natural science books in the park.

Reading anything in the hammock.

Lots more good reading at Principled Discovery.

Science, Geography, Fun: The Voyager's Stone

A great book is a wonderful thing. And when a book does more than one thing, it is a treasure. The Voyager's Stone: The Adventures of a Message-Carrying Bottle Adrift on the Ocean Sea by Robert Kraske (illustrated by Brian Floca) is one of those books.

We first read it a few years ago and loved it; took it out from the library many many times. After raving about it repeatedly to a friend, we received it for a Christmas gift one year. (Thanks L's!) We read it yet again, and again. Now, my kids are reading it on their own and doing a project around it for our homeschool reading group.

The Voyager's Stone is the story of a bottle tossed into the sea. The bottle contains a rock and a note. We get to follow Voyager as "he" travels the oceans to his destination. During these travels Voyager encounters an octopus, killer whales, sharks, whales, penguins... Gets stuck in the mud and released by a huge storm... goes from the Caribbean up to the Grand Banks, to North Africa and beyond.

Our reading group project involves a large world map, some map pins, string, and pictures of a waterspout, a lighthouse, an octopus, the Sargasso Sea... among others yet to be drawn. This will be presented at our next meeting.

The Reading Group is comprised of about 10 homeschooling families with kids ranging from 4 to 10. Every month we meet to share books we read on a particular topic. This month it's oceans; last month was artists, other topics were animals, history, and space. Broad topics, intentionally. The kids share the books in whatever way they like best: we've seen poster, Lego projects, Playmobil figure setups, handmade books, written/oral reports. It's a lot of fun and such good practice for the kids to get up and speak a bit before a group.

The Voyager's Stone is an adventure story, a geography lesson, a jumping-off point for all sorts of science investigations. This is a book to treasure.

Updated to answer a question: This is a large-ish format picture book, about 80 pages (no pages numbers!), some pages are more picture than text. I imagine we have read it in one sitting. But most likely we'd pop up a lot to look something up... and I just noticed it's out of print! Buy a used copy today!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Recipe for Success: Home Education Week, Day 4

Already on day 4 of Home Education Week at Principled Discovery:

It is also National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day! So share a recipe…figuratively, as in two parts love, one part creativity, or literally, as in a super quick, nutritious meal your kids scarf up. Think about what you do in the day, what helps keep it organized and you sane (or how you got past that need for organization and saneness!), and curriculum materials you find effective.

This started out to be hard. What do we do that keeps us going? What is effective around here? What do we do all day? And then it came to me. Of course.

Books. Lots of books. History books, science books, silly books, serious books, grownup books, picture books, beautiful books. If I could give my children all they needed by just reading great books to them, and encouraging them to read great books on their own, I would. I almost can.

Someone once expressed surprise (maybe I should say shock) because my kids want me to read to them still. They are 9 and almost-11, and they are reading on their own; pretty well, too. But I can't imagine not reading to my kids. Sure, they can read. But there are some books that are better read together the first time. I had never read The Chronicles of Narnia. Why would I hand those off to my kids to read on their own the first time? Last year we read Oliver Twist. That, they probably couldn't read on their own, but they loved listening to it. And then of course there was our marathon: the entire "Swallows and Amazons" series, 12 books, our "pleasure books" for months. We still talk about those books, two years later.

I am looking forward to the day they both feel comfortable reading aloud to me, so we can all take turns with the books. Won't that be a great time?

See more on this topic at Principled Discovery. And add your own!

The April Fool's Edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling

Today at Why Homeschool - and including some famous April Fool's pranks. I haven't had a minute to look at it but wanted to pass it on. You know there is some good reading there.

Day 3: Ever Feel Like A Fool?

Day 3 of Home Education Week at Principled Discovery: April Fool's Day!

And we have likely all felt the fool in one way or another. Share your greatest challenge. Or one of those terrible, horrible no good, very bad days where the only thing there is to do seems to involve moving to Australia.

In October 2006 we had a very bad day and yes, I very much felt like a fool. I blogged about it then but I'll put it up here now; it's a good reminder for me too.


Yesterday we had a very bad homeschool day. Nothing worked well and I ended up chucking all the plans for work, getting out of the house, and repairing my slightly raveled relationship with my kids. Later in the day we shared tapioca pudding and watched some baseball, and by bedtime all was well.

Until next time, of course. Bad days happen sometimes. I know of only a few homeschool moms who never, ever, say "I'm done; I can't do this, where's the closest school?" Most of the time these are idle thoughts that pass. Sometimes moms do give up, but usually not. (I'm not talking about parents who make a rational decision to put their kids in school. I'm talking irrational here.) We know that the bad days come and go, and all in all, the kids are better off at home.

As I thought about our day, I determined that the cause of all our problems had been... me. My actions, my reactions, my expectations:

#1. I got out of bed late. Caused, of course, by trying to jam too much into the day before and staying up too late. When I got into the kitchen, one kid was already up. He didn't need me, but I like to be alone in the morning for a while to read the news headlines, my email, and a few blogs, and then do some exercise...

#2. Which I didn't have enough time for since I got up so late. I squeezed in about 20 minutes instead of my usual 30...

#3. But was still late getting breakfast going, and by then was in a bad (worse) mood because I'd failed in my exercise goal. Oh, and I had dishes left over from the day before to deal with. Of course that led to not taking time to pray or prepare properly before it was time to sit down for math...

#4. Which is needed because we have some issues with math facts in our house. We've done flashcards, songs, games, drills, Bob Jones Math, Math U See... they still struggle. This bothers me way more than it should. And I tend to get impatient when I see them staring at, say, 7+5 as though they've never seen it before....

#5. So I lecture them about the importance of math, of applying themselves to the work, good work habits, etc. etc. This of course puts us further behind in time. Not that we have anything but a self-imposed schedule to keep, but we like to get our "table work" done before lunch so we can get to the interesting stuff - you know, the real education: science, history, etc. The table work is just skills - necessary but not very interesting. This lecture goes on too long and...

#6. Frustrates the kids and causes one to cry out "I'm so stupid!" So some repair work has to be done there. The boy is not stupid. The mom is.

Finally I decide that that's it, we're done for the day, what's for lunch? Oh...

#7. No lunch food in the house, except stuff for burritos, but we can't have burritos - we're having those for dinner. Hmm...

So after a quick shower (right, I hadn't done that yet), we grab our current exciting read-aloud and go. A quick lunch, grocery store stop and overdue movie drop-off at the library. Then home for some outside play on a beautiful Indian summer day. And time for me to reflect on the morning and all the things that I did to make it so bad.

So once I determined that I was the cause of the problems, what to do about it?

#1. Get enough sleep. We know our kids can't perform well without adequate sleep - why would we expect to ourselves? Don't misinterpret that line in Proverbs 31 about her light not going out at night. That has nothing to do with sleep deprivation.

#2. Determine your family's best schedule or routine, and follow it. A family of night owls doesn't have to force themselves to be at the table at 9 am. Families for whom unschooling works,
or older kids who are motivated autodidacts might not need any sort of routine at all. Figure out what works best and remember, if you are the parent who is home with the kids, you are the one responsible for making it happen.

#3. But don't be rigid. Plan for days when everyone, or just someone, doesn't feel well, or interruptions come, or things just don't click right. I've found that sometimes a good long reading day is the best, most productive thing.

#4. Allow for personal time, whether it's in the morning, in the afternoon or at night. This is easier for those of us who don't have babies or toddlers, but usually there is some time to sit, pray, read, gather thoughts, or stare out the window while drinking a cup of something. Plan for it, make it happen; don't expect it to happen spontaneously. Don't say "I'll sit down when all the housework is done" or you'll be up for the next 20 years. And, take it from me, don't stand at the kitchen counter flipping through the day's junk mail while eating chocolate (or potato) chips and call it a break. You won't find that satisfying.

#5. Go to bed with a clean kitchen. Don't leave dishes overnight to deal with in the morning. Exception: a lasagne pan that needs to soak.

#6. Adjust expectations. I know math facts are hard for my kids to memorize. So why do I exasperate them with it? I don't mean to say we should just drop it. But I need to change the way I react to it. Math computation is important, sure. But it's not the most important thing. And it's not worth damaging a relationship.

#7. Plan ahead for basics like, you know, those meals. Keep food in the house. Food the kids like. It doesn't matter if we are well-stocked on cold cuts if the kids hate that. In our house, lunch needs are pretty simple - or would be if I kept the food around. I think lunch should be quick, fun and easy to eat while reading; dinner is the time to try out new foods.

Today is a new day. I set the alarm clock a little earlier, and got out of bed. Got in all my exercise and a shower, and my kids are up and about, awake and ready to start the day. It's going to be a great homeschool day. Was I really thinking of quitting? Silly me.