Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Carnival of Homeschooling

up at Corn and Oil; it's the "No Child Left Inside" edition.

Which is kind of funny to me since today we stayed mostly inside to hide from heat and pollen.

I finally submitted something this week too.

Go check it out (no, not mine, you already read that... all the other good stuff).

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

It doesn't matter how they learn it...

just that they do learn it.

It just keeps happening: people asking me if something we do "counts" as school. I related the story of the swimming lessons ("does this count as PE?") before. But even homeschooling moms do it.

The topic was spelling. Spelling comes up a lot, even at the playground. I related that I have a "natural speller" in my house, so I don't use a spelling curriculum or program for her. And I got that oh-so-familiar "you have two heads" look.

"You don't teach her spelling?"

"No. She doesn't need it."

"But... don't you need to teach spelling?"

"No. She doesn't have any trouble spelling. Sometimes she asks for a spelling test, so I grab a book she's reading and pull words from that. She mostly gets them right. If she gets something wrong, she learns it and doesn't get it wrong again."

"But does that count?"

I don't know how to answer that. How can it not "count?" The objective of a spelling program is to teach someone to spell. If the person knows how to spell... what is the purpose of trying to teach her to spell? My other child has a lot of trouble with spelling, so we do use some spelling curriculum.

It's the same thing with vocabulary.

"What do you use for vocab?"

"Nothing. We just read."


"We read, and when unfamiliar words come up we talk about them, or if the kids come across a word they don't know in their reading, they ask [I have to admit they don't use the dictionary much right now] and we talk about it."

"But don't you have to teach vocabulary?"

You might think that my kids have very limited vocabularies, given that I don't teach it as a subject. But they don't. They have very strong and varied vocabularies, if I do say so myself. This is their best area when it comes to their standardized tests; they always score very high. (Which is a good thing, because they don't always do so great on punctuation. That does not come naturally to them. Guess what? I do teach them grammar and punctuation.) This is simply a result of all of our reading. And, I think, not talking down to them when they were little. We always used "hard words" and explained them, rather than always using simpler words.

If a child learns to build furniture in Grandpa's garage rather than shop class, does it still count? Only if the chair doesn't fall apart when he sits in it, I guess. If a child learns to sew or cook at home, rather than home ec class (does that even exist anymore?), does it still count? Only if there are no wardrobe malfunctions or cases of food poisoning.

It's the same with "school subjects." If I start reading to my kids from our history book (having history class, so to speak), and one of my kids starts telling me what I'm about to tell him, or fills in more information than the book gives about the event or person, does that knowledge, acquired through the child's personal reading on an interesting topic, count? Does it count if he learned it by watching a documentary? Or how about from talking to someone knowledgeable on the topic, say at a museum or over the dinner table?

Kids can learn in all sorts of places and in many different ways. As long as they learn the skill, or internalize the information, or make the connections, it counts - because they know it, and that's the goal. Isn't it?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A grim realization

Yesterday I finally had to admit that I can't possibly read to my kids all the great books I want to read to them. I just don't have time; there are too many. This came to me as I handed my girl a copy of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, a gem I had read to them several years ago, and wanted to reread before going on with the rest of the author's books. But there isn't time, and if I wait till there is, they may be too old to enjoy it. So, she is on her own. (The boy may already be too old or it might not catch his interest anymore. He is now devouring Heinlein.)

I won't read the "Swallows and Amazons" books to them again, and maybe not even The Lord of the Rings. My reading aloud time has to be reserved for books they need to know, but that they can't or aren't likely to read on their own, at least not yet. Right now it's Great Expectations.

This reminded me of a day when I stared at the books in the shelves in my apartment (I must have been in my late 20s) and realized that I would never be able to read all the books I wanted to, or would want to. I just remember the despair I felt, over this lack of time. I got over it, and I'm not despairing now. But still...

People always warn against mothers wishing their children will hurry and grow up. You'll miss their baby/toddler/preschooler days! I never really miss those days. I am thrilled with each new independent step they take. I don't long for an infant. I long for more reading time with my children.

And, more reading time for myself. But, that may come. I can't imagine Heaven not having a big library. Maybe I'll even get to work in it! Though the way things are looking now, it seems more likely I'm to be laundress or cook. Still, probably we'll get reading breaks, right?

(Don't criticize my theology on this one, please.)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Compare and contrast

A mom calls the local Girl Scouts council to ask about a troop for her 8 year old daughter. They ask what school the girl attends. It is a private school, a bit of a distance from her home. The council says there is no troop for her. The only troops nearby her home are in public schools, and only open to girls who attend the school. Since this girl's school does not have a troop, she is out of luck.

So, these girls spend all day together in school, then get together in Girl Scouts after school. No one else is allowed in. So I guess my homeschooled girl couldn't get into a "regular" troop, even if I was able to get her to the after-school meetings in the school building. Nope. Have to attend the school.

Compare with the Boy Scouts, who have troops in various places, meeting at various times. Boys choose the troop that they like best, or that has meetings at the best time for them, or at the best location. Public school, private school, homeschool - come on in!

And you thought the Girl Scouts were all about diversity.

Actually this year they are all about "going green!" But then isn't everyone?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Maybe this is one reason the Post Office is losing so much money

We live on a typical American suburban street. Houses and driveways are pretty close together. There are short blocks. Everyone's mailbox is attached to the house by the front door. Most of the mail carriers park the truck and walk along the block filling boxes, then cross the street, fill those, and then move the truck to the next area.

But not our new carrier. This guy drives up to a house, kills the engine, walks up to the box, deposits the mail, gets back in the truck, starts up the engine, drives 75(?) feet to the next house, kills the engine, walks up to the box, deposits the mail, goes back in the truck, starts up the engine... all the way up and down our street. And I suppose he does the same thing on all his streets.

Maybe this mail carrier has a disability that prevents him from walking long distances. I know some disabilities are invisible. But it would seem that if that were the case, he'd have a different job.

This constant starting and stopping can't be good for fuel efficiency nor for the engine. Wonder how long our carrier's truck will last?

Seems like on any but the coldest/most stormy days - or the hottest/most humid ones - walking up and down the street would be much more pleasant anyway.

Your tax dollars at work

Mine too.

From the Washington DC Examiner (full story at the link):

On February 14, with the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Congress shoveled $787 billion of stimulus money out the door. Now they're using Google to find out where it went.

If they wanted, majority Democrats could demand real-time details from the Obama administration. But minority Republicans have no power to compel the administration to do anything. So Rep. Eric Cantor, the Republican Whip in the House, and GOP Sen. John Thune have set up a working group to track spending as best they can.

You might think that two high-ranking elected officials would have ways to learn such things, but the fact is, they don't. At the moment, the best tools Cantor and Thune have are Google and the Lexis-Nexis newspaper database.


Such searches led the Cantor-Thune group to the Binghamton, New York Press & News-Bulletin for a glimpse into how HUD is spending that $1.5 billion in the Homeless Prevention Fund. In early March, the paper reported that the small town of Union, New York would receive $578,661 from the Fund, even though "Union did not request the money and does not currently have homeless programs in place in the town to administer such funds."

An article in the Altoona Mirror reported that the small central Pennsylvania town was going to receive $819,000 from the Fund even though Altoona officials "may not have enough of a homelessness problem to use it." And a Google search turned up a report from WHP-TV in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania saying the city would receive $855,478 from the Fund, but does not know what to do with it.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Who will do this work?

A few months ago I took over the "meal ministry" at our church. This is a system whereby the church can offer meals and other practical support to people in need: births, sickness, bereavement. It's pretty simple and it works pretty well: I am advised of a need, and I call on women in the church to supply meals. Sometimes there are other needs: housecleaning, errand-running, companionship. But mostly, it's food. Housecleaning can be put off, but everyone needs to eat, every day.

Right now I'm working with a woman who has had surgery and is laid up at home. She is a single lady, with little family around. She is alone most of the day, except for visits from neighbors and coworkers, and the "church ladies" who are bringing meals to her. So we asked our volunteers to try to deliver meals at a time convenient for them to stick around a while and chat with this woman. Because she's home alone, and she's lonely, and we are her sisters.

Many of the women in our church work; there aren't too many stay at home moms or homemakers. This is presenting a real problem for our meal ministry: people just don't have time to get involved with it. My pool of volunteers is shrinking - and I've only been doing this a few months. It was the same way in the past, at other churches, so it's not just the current economy.

I don't have any memories of my mother taking food to someone who was sick. Maybe she did; I just don't remember. But I've read enough to know that a community, or a church, coming together to help someone in need was once common. Now that most women are working outside their homes, there are few people to do perform this sort of service. This is a bad thing for our culture.

Now I know that some people see housewives as a drain on society. There is a high value placed on earning a paycheck. But once everyone is out of the house earning a paycheck, there is no one free to be of service to others. You could argue that families should do this, and you are right. But not everyone has family around (or the family is dysfunctional and unable to help). Churches often pick up where the family left off. But our resources are limited because the women are contributing to society by working. How exactly are they contributing to society just by working? I guess by paying income taxes.

But that doesn't help the lonely new mom who needs someone to come over and hang out while she's learning how to take care of her baby. It doesn't help someone like my friend, who would just like some companionship for an hour or so along with her meal. It doesn't help the new widower who can't walk through his house without bumping into memories, and would like someone to share them with.

Sometimes people have great ideas on how to make this work better. Efficiency! Someone suggested to me that they take a large pan of lasagna, so it could last this lady 3 or 4 days. Imagine that - popping in to leave a giant lasagne for a single woman and expecting her to eat it for the next 3 days while everyone else goes about their lives. How many days in a row do you want to eat lasagne, alone in your apartment with your tv?

What was that deal about loving our neighbor as ourselves?

This is one of the ways our culture is dying. Few people have time to help others in this casual way. Our new President wants us to participate in community service, but I don't think this is the kind of thing he's thinking of. This is personal. This is about one person helping another, without the benefit of a government grant, or a community organizer getting in the way. It's loving our neighbor and helping him out when he needs it, in the way he needs it.

Now excuse me while I go make some chicken rice soup.

Direct post stealing

Lentils at Falling Like Rain.

'Cause I don't have anything to say, and no time to say it anyway.

(Yeah, I know it takes no time to say nothing. Oh, wait...)

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Lessons at the snack table

1. If you offer to be one of two people bringing snacks to a gathering about about 100 people, don't bring 2 dozen big, lovely, cookies, even if there are 12 each of two different flavors, because only about a quarter of the people will get the opportunity to sample those lovely cookies - maybe fewer, if the kids get to the snack table first (and they always do) and have been trained that it's OK to take one of each. Remember that the other person bringing snacks could do the same thing, and you'd have 48 gorgeous cookies, and 100 people brawling over them.

The kids reported that the cookies were delicious.

2. If you have children, teach them to assume that what is on the snack table when they arrive is all that will be available all day long, for all the people at the event, including those who are still chatting in the seats and those who are old, slow, or otherwise not able to beat them to the food. And that no matter how good those big cookies look, and how many kinds there are, they may take only one. Not one of each. (They could always plan to check back after everyone else has had a crack at the cookies.) They should not assume that everyone is like their own mother, who always holds some back to replenish later, after the first flurry of children has gone. You do, or your mother does that, right?

3. Don't smile indulgently at your child as he or she fills his plate with one, two, or more of everything. Someone is going to find that plate in another room, mostly full of food with one bite out of it. Or smeared into the floor.

4. If you want to allow food fights in your house, have at it. Teach your children the difference between home and other places.

I think I am still in the bad mood created this morning by my stupid clock.

Stupid clock

When I woke up this morning I was stunned to see how late it was. I don't usually sleep past 7, and here it was 7:30. In order to get to church on time without leaving all the breakfast dishes in a mess before running out the door, we need to be up and preparing by 7:30. But I was so, so tired...

At 7:45 I badgered the equally exhausted seminarian to get up. I tried not to be too snippy. But there is a lot to do today.

I stumbled to the kitchen, let the dog out, and chopped up some apples to cook. Put the bacon in the oven. It was about 8 by now, so the timing was perfect. I started preparing the food I need to take to church today. I felt a flash of irritation at hearing the shower starting up. Tut tut, breakfast is going to be late (he makes the pancakes)...

A few minutes later I looked at the clock on the oven: 7:10. Huh? No, it should be 8:10, right? I got really confused. Wow, what a mistake! How did I think I woke up at 7:30 when it was only 6:30? Did I read the clock wrong? Or did I miscalculate the amount of time we needed? How would I do that? (We've been doing this for a long time.) Or maybe I'm losing my mind... I always knew it would happen, but I didn't think it would be this soon...

I went to apologize to the seminarian for forcing him awake so early. I expressed my regrets and my confusion. Then I looked at his clock: 7:30. I looked at mine: 8:30.

Aaahhh! Sweet understanding!

My clock is programmed to change automatically when daylight savings time starts and ends. But since my clock was manufactured, those times have been changed. My clock sprang forward this morning! Causing me to spring out of bed way too early.

At least we'll have time for a leisurely breakfast and dishwashing this Sunday morning.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

If they are the White Sox...

why are the socks black?

Little League opening day today. We paraded through the little neighborhood downtown at 8:15 on a very windy cold morning.

The boy's first game is not till the 16th! And no practices or scrimmages between now and then.

But they looked spiffy, in their black socks.