Search This Blog

Sunday, December 18, 2016

New Reason Number One: FUN!!!

Truly, there isn't a number one reason why WE homeschool. An earlier entry mentions "Socialization" as my number one reason. That I can help my children to be "socialized" to the kind of environments that reflect future realities (that they will need to interact with people of different ages, different backgrounds, and who have different objectives), not to mention that I get to have a relationship with my children NOW (teaching social skills by MY example instead of allowing them to haphazardly glean social norms from peers), is certainly one of the things I love most about homeschooling.

But increasingly as we are out and about, living our lives and serving in the community at times when all the rest of the children are locked away in institutions, and when I see eyes widen when I answer that my kids are not with the rest because we homeschool, what I really want to make evident (and what should be inherently evident if you watch us for a few moments), is that we homeschool to have FUN!

Somehow, no one wants to believe that fun is a reason. Either they don't believe I'm REALLY having fun, or they don't believe THEY could have fun with their children. Maybe most adults don't talk about fun as a value, or if they think fun is important, they would never admit it. So they laugh as if I've shared a joke.

Well, we can all laugh at outrageous things, can't we? If we've gone to school, perhaps the idea that history, geography, or social studies can be fun is outrageous. Folks seem baffled that what we study comes from books from the library, and we know WHAT to check out based on what we are interested in and what looks interesting. (Not everything we are interested in looks interesting, and not every thing that looks interesting captures our interest, and that's okay.)

If we've studied the same rules of English grammar for 12 years, it may seem like an outrageous suggestion that good writing is born from reading, and not from an obsessive breaking down and deconstructing of tired sentences.

What seems outrageous to me is that in all the times I surely griped about studying my times tables and whined I hated math, that no one took 2 minutes to comfort me with the fact that when you have your 2's, 5's, 10's, and 11's down, that there are only about 28 facts left, and that there is a trick to the nine's and once you know the trick, you're left with only about 22 facts and that is SO MUCH MORE palatable than 144 facts to know! Why did no one sing me crazy skip counting songs? Why did no one attempt to teach me stories to help me keep my facts straight? Instead, I was left to suffer, and muddle through, and believe I didn't muddle very well... but it didn't matter anyway because math wasn't very fun and why would I ever do it when I was a grown-up and could CHOSE what I learned and did!?!!

Is school today the same as it was for me? If a teacher sang songs about math and read great books and made learning something FUN, would it be cheating? A friend of mine told me that a pre-school teacher frowned on using a video in her classes which engaged 3 year-olds and taught them to recognize their letters and sounds. Why? Perhaps in her mind, parents shouldn't pay her if they could plop their kids in front of a fun video and have them master in a few weeks the same material she slaved away to teach (and with less successful results too) over a period of several months? If this teacher's perspective seems valid, might it not also be true that we complicate A LOT of learning in school to justify all the time and expense we spend on school? Clearly, fun is not the current primary objective of our school systems. But have you considered that filling time and filling buildings may be? And if that is what we are truly filling, and not so much brains with knowledge or minds with understanding, is it a shame or shock that homeschooling for us would look almost nothing like public schooling?

Maybe all the grown-ups that laugh about homeschooling being fun learned best in school that learning isn't very fun, and if we say it is, we must be pretending for some child's benefit (but the adults know better, wink-wink).

Reason #274: The World Becomes Your Curricula

I wrote this post years ago and discovered it today. I'm not sure why I never posted it, but I hope it speaks to you, NOW. Enjoy!

Recently, my big kick has been expanding the vision of what homeschooling can be. While we can do school at home, there are many reasons why our family has not taken that approach. Really, the impetus from moving away from that model was a child for whom that model meant constant battles of will and the risk of turning her off from learning.

But as we gradually stepped away from worrying about what we learn compared to everyone else and when, what I came to realize is what I actually already knew: children are EXCELLENT learners. From the moment they are born - from before they are born! - they are learning and shaping their own understanding of the world.

We adults do it too, but not as fluidly. Perhaps some of our sluggishness when it comes to taking in new information AND allowing that information to mold what we know or think we know comes from our school experience. In school, we learn what the teacher is prepared to teach, regardless of our personal interest in the subject. We learn the same things in the same ways as everyone else. Our learning is measured with letters and numbers which are supposed to represent how much or how little we can recall of the information.

Instead of learning about the subjects, very often what we learn is that learning happens when someone else has something they think is important and they speak it at us. If the words coming out of the mouth aren't especially interesting, we also learn that the subject is "boring." There may not be any authority figures in our lives who have words to say about anything we might otherwise be interested in, so additionally we learn that those things have no value. So we begin to group subjects and even life experiences as important and unimportant. What is important comes out of an authority figures' mouth and when we can repeat the concepts, we are given a number or letter. The number or letter are, in fact, MORE important than even the concepts.

Even when we have left this school context, we keep segregating knowledge and experience this way: this is important because it pertains to the numbers of my employment, while that is unimportant because no one is measuring or talking about it.

Perhaps one-year-olds are so much better at learning because they haven't learned yet about our segregation of information. Naturally, much of what they must esteem as important is based on the actions and even words of others. Do you remember taking your little one to hang out for a while with a child just older than him and noticing afterwards your own child trying new things and seeming a bit older himself? But your child did learn from another CHILD. And there were no tests. You didn't even need to suggest to him that he watch the other little boy and see if he could do or say some of what he saw and heard.

Learning happens. Or it will, if we haven't killed the skill. Why are we fixed on an arrogant system which assumes that the words coming from 12 years of text books and professionals are what really what matter in life? Or is it our own arrogance which assumes a child cannot perceive what learning is necessary and crucial to a happy, productive, and full life? Do our letters and numbers we assign to a child's learning teach them the essential nature of what they are learning? Or do they mostly teach that the letters and numbers are really what count?

The world and life itself are so full of knowledge and experiences to be had. If we must give a curriculum, why can't it be just that? "Kids, today I am going to learn something new and have an adventure. Would you like to join me?" In fact, when you homeschool, that CAN be your curriculum. Embrace and enjoy it!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Reason #15: Homeschooling and Language Immersion

This post begins with my confession: I was once very tempted to put my kids in public school. That moment came when I found out the Mandarin Immersion programs already in place in select elementary schools in Utah was coming to OUR area. Of course, it was coming too late for my oldest two kids who were past 1st grade, where immersion students begin the program. But for a moment, for the sake of the language skills of my younger two, I seriously considered public school. For a whole day.

In the end, I came back to where I had begun: sending my precious 6 year old off to be raised by strangers for the bulk of her waking time, sinking all her best energy, playfulness and imagination into a one-size-fits-most, fairly confining system, STILL didn't seem like the best formula for growing a healthy, happy, active, and imaginative child. Even if now it may grow bi-lingual ones. 

But I liked the bi-lingual idea! I learned Mandarin Chinese on my mission in to Taiwan when I was 21, and I suddenly was envious of the idea that kids, but not MY kids, were going to get to be bilingual in their YOUTH! So I decided right then and there that our homeschool would just have to do Chinese too.

Now, I actually don't very often compare our "school" experience to anything done in school. I avoid drawing comparisons for a whole fat heap of reasons. But in this one tiny area - language study by immersion - I decided if we were going to homeschool, we'd one-up our approach. We were going to learn Chinese IN TAIWAN!

So that's what I've been up to for all these months. Now I'm home, I thought I'd let you know how it went: AWESOME!

Taking your family of four kids, ages 3-12, to a foreign country can be an intimidating experience. But the freedom to do it, the ability to live with that kind of adventure and commitment is actually a big part of WHY we homeschool. We believe experience trumps "learning about...." We, with our children, can KNOW, instead of just "knowing THAT...."

We went for 3 months and extended to 4. We went without employment imperative. We went with almost ZERO contact with anyone IN the country. We made friends and found friends as we went. We learned by experience, and trial and error. 

In preparation to go, I did work on Chinese with my kids for about a year. Knowing that they were going to USE it, in a MAJOR way, provided some of their interest. We made the rest happen with bribes, routine, and short lessons that were as fun and creative as I could contrive to make them.

I poured my heart out to the Lord for ALL of it - that Chinese would come, that we would get to go, that we could find someone to stay in our home while we were away, and that we would have a miraculous, life-changing time while we were there. God answered each plea with miracle after miracle.

We lived life not only immersed in a different language, but in an entirely different culture. For all the language progress we made (or didn't make) these lessons in culture made the deepest, poignant impressions. At the end of 4 months, if I were to pie-graph our learning in this experience, language would be only the tiniest slice.

That being so, and bilingual children my goal, the adventure continues. While we were IN Taiwan, we interviewed tutors to teach the kids back in the states in exchange for free room and board in our home. So now we are back, our house guest gives the kids a half-hour Chinese lesson each day, tailored to each child, addressing their strengths, weaknesses, and interests in the language. And because we homeschool, without too much fuss, we can add this into their schedules already full with dance lessons, swimming lessons, acting class, piano lessons, makers club, American Girls club, performance rehearsals, etc, AND get to enjoy quiet evenings at home together around home-cooked meals to boot! Only now, some of the dinner conversations are in Chinese!

Mass Rapid Transit - the road oft traveled
So, I was tempted, for the sake of learning a language, to send my kids to school. Once again, it turned out that with a little creativity, homeschooling provided the learning experience I thought I wanted, and so much more delight and LIFE beyond it!

If this reads a bit glossy, or like I'm bragging, I want to set a few things strait. First, my kids might have better Chinese if they were in a Chinese immersion program. Second, I realize that not all families can pick up and move to another country. I used to think MY family couldn't. Miracles were referenced because that's what occurred. My point here is that I might have made a different choice. I might have sent my 3rd to a public school so she could be bilingual. I'm betting if that is the choice I made, she would BE bilingual now. And if I had done that, we would not have been able to spend 4 months in Taiwan. We would not have been able to meet our tutor there who is now teaching ALL the kids. And IF she were in school, she would NOT be in dance class, or swimming class, or doing many of our extras, because school would take up that time and energy. Even aiming for language fluency, we chose to take the road less traveled. And that is making all the difference.
Hard to beat a road less-traveled than this one!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

MY Screwtape Letter for the Unappreciated Mom

I LOVE the Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. So OF COURSE I clicked on one that popped up on Facebook that said it was for the "unappreciated mom." Generally, I don't feel unappreciated, but we all have our moments, and I hoped to find wisdom for the next time I felt discouraged in my mother-work. Well, I didn't like it AT ALL. Though it had moments of insight, overall, I was more offended by what I read. I don't want to go in to the reasons here. But I found myself wishing there was a better letter - one that would encourage a discouraged mom, instead of adding guilt to her discouragement. So I wrote one myself! Enjoy! (And if you hate mine, maybe you'll like the one which inspired it, so I'll include a link to it at the end.)

Oh, and mine is for the Discouraged Mom. I think I swapped the two because though we can feel both unappreciated and discouraged, I'm not seeking to help moms feel appreciated. Their families, friends, and even society simply need to appreciate moms better. But while that appreciation may take a while, meanwhile, I do wish moms to feel ENCOURAGED now. So I guess MY letter addresses what one might plot to keep a mom from finding encouragement.

My Dear Wormwood,

I congratulate you on helping your patient to feel an obsession with comparison. I call it the ever-present measuring stick. I am writing to point out that though you may think it helpful that she is focused on trivial measurements (things like the number of cute outfits in her closet compared to other moms), even comparisons of a deeper nature (like the well-being of her family to other families) can serve our purpose to lead her to discouragement and despair. The despair over perceived inadequacies of meaning can, and likely will be as debilitating as the despair over frivolities.

In fact, the BEST measurement is the feeling that even her discouragements don’t measure up. She offered to watch the children of a friend whose husband has been diagnosed with cancer while the friend ran errands. You can taint every bit of joy she may feel from that service by suggesting to her, in her moments of exhaustion, that she is far too ungrateful because at least her husband isn’t terminally ill.

These measurements of “righteousness” or “worthiness” are far greater tools of defeat!  Let her concern herself with ALWAYS measuring her own acquisition of our enemies attributes with those around her! Not only will these never feel trivial, but she may begin to believe that discouragement IS sin and weakness failure, making our jobs all the easier! (Has she seen the recent Facebook post that suggests discouragement IS giving in to the evil one? I’ve been pleased with the time your subject spends on social media, and this idea, as well as a host of other measuring sticks to depress souls are easy to find there.)

If her discouragement is a passing thing that will go as her children become more independent, don’t ever let her know of it’s natural easing, nor of the cycles of rest and productivity. Not only may this knowledge comfort her during the discouragement to come, but she is so much more easily manipulated if she has the expectation that she can always be ANYTHING - even happy, or fulfilled, or serving others. Thus both phases, when not seen as part of a cycle, work to our advantage: even the good times can, with your help, set the expectation that selflessness and service need never be followed by rest and quiet moments to herself.

Perhaps keeping natural things like cycles and her real needs from her gets to my point: above all you must keep her distracted from seeing things as they really are. Our enemy, if the humans would ever be quiet enough to hear Him, often asks them to look, and then He fills their minds with light and knowledge - an understanding not only of themselves and those around them in the very moment they really look, but also a vision of how things may really be.

Don’t be so foolish as to congratulate yourself on keeping the real needs of those around her from her attention. Her family and even strangers may feel her love, even as she meets their wishes and whims and misses the bigger picture. This love has a power to fill in the gaps of what she does and the greater good she could have done. Our enemy is skilled at taking the meager offerings of his minions and working miracles with them. And besides, she may come to realize on some level that she can’t fully understand anyone perfectly but herself.

This can become dangerous for you if she ever tries to understand herself perfectly. She may be quite hurried now, but beware of any quiet moment, even a discouraged, overwhelmed, and giving-up moment when she really examines her heart and comes to know how she really is. If she ever stops to acknowledge how overwhelmed she is, she might recognize the expectations we have helped her to have aren’t based in reality, or on her skills, talents, or interests and DO something to change either her expectations OR her circumstances.

She has learned from our enemy to value selfless service. You skillfully turned that into a vague feeling that she should do for her family what they are capable, certainly much of the time, of doing for themselves. If she ever awakens to the realization that she can ask for help, not only have we lost in creating the sense of overwhelm for her, but by doing and serving their mother and wife, her family will grow as well, and that will make our work with all of them all the more difficult.

Though it may be effective to suggest other woman get by just fine without the help she needs, better to keep the idea of even recognizing her own needs as far from her conscious mind as possible. Keep her discouragement, her loneliness, her need to be understood as vague a feeling as possible. You’ve done great work on building resentment, as she doesn’t ask for and so doesn’t receive the assistance she needs. But don’t let her mind even acknowledge that she FEELS resentment. Better to keep that pleasant pit of bitterness in her heart growing unnamed than to have her ever suspect what it is and where it comes from. It’s so much more likely to remain if the pain in her heart only ever causes guilt that she feels pain at all!

Finally, aside for a conscious awareness of her measuring sticks and a perfect knowledge of herself as she really is at the moment, there are a hundred other truths our enemy might reveal to her about herself and the people around her to bring all our progress to ruin. It has been sheer genius that you have caused her to feel she builds her relationship to Him by listening to what others have to say about Him. There is so much other distraction in social media, anything she might come across there will be incredibly diluted. But even her sense that she should study His words can be yet another measuring stick, and if so used, may keep her worrying she hasn’t read her scriptures “enough” instead of noticing she feels overwhelmed with worry and just talking to Him about THAT. Let her feel “spiritual” by reading a few nice thoughts about the enemy here and there, and never really connect to Him with honest, sincere, and open prayer. Given such an opportunity, He is likely to fill her heart with peace about herself, not to mention the clear ideas about how she might help herself grow AND serve the people around her, and then so much of our work on her, as well as on those she influences, will be lost! Continue in diligence!

Your affectionate uncle,

Here's the one that ruffled my feathers:

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Steffanie's Favorite Valentine Cookies

These combine peanut butter and chocolate, two things that like good couples are okay separate, but just SHOULD be together. I love these cookies, and by my standards, they are healthy too. (I haven't bought into fat being bad, and I think sugar in moderated quantities just makes life sweet.) So here you go! We'll call the recipe my valentine to YOU!

2 packages dark chocolate Dove hearts (apx 32 hearts)
(you've seen this recipe before with kisses, but Dove is better chocolate, is heart shaped,
AND dark chocolate has all the anti-oxidant properties for a great excuse to down a few more!)
1/2 c. butter
3/4 c. pure peanut butter 
(again, no preservatives or added anything but a great punch of protein)
1/3 c. sugar
1/3 c. brown sugar
1 egg (go Omega 3 eggs for more reasons to love these cookies)
2 tbsp milk (local milk, anyone?)
1 tsp. vanilla

1 1/2 c. flour (whole wheat works but will make the cookies drier and more crumbly)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

Add dry to wet ingredients. Form dough into small balls (the smaller the better balance of chocolate to PB) and roll in sugar. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet 8-10 minutes. Put chocolate heart on center of ball and press down slightly immediately when cookies come out of oven. 
Let cool and chocolate melt through and reset. Then ENJOY!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Personality and Learning

I've written elsewhere on this blog about my second child, oldest daughter. Our experience today with cursive - a subject she wanted to work on to have fancy writing - reminded me of her little 10 month old self.

She was a determined mover who developed her own system of getting around - she crawled backwards. It wasn't efficient, and she struggled to get where she wanted. Worse, she would often wedge herself under chairs, side tables, and a couch of ours. Adorable, but understandingly frustrating to her.

So the three big people in her life - her dad, me, and her older brother - did what we could to show her the "correct way." We modeled, we cheered, we inscentivized, and we even moved her body for her. Despite our best efforts, she hardly made any progress. I still remember the first time she did crawl forward on her own. She cried as if it was torture, as if each leg and arm movement caused pain and represented an unwilling surrender.

Interestingly, she hardly used her new-found skill of forward crawling. A few days later she mastered walking. She walked BEFORE she turned one, which beat the record of her older brother who had no problems crawling, but didn't walk 'til around 13 months.

I can't help but smile at her current frustration with cursive, and her insistence that she can just lift her pencil, move it to the spot she needs to finish the letter, and call it good. SHE IS BEING TORTURED, she is sure. Maybe next month she'll write a book. :)

Friday, January 2, 2015

Blessed Bedtime

I love homeschooling because being with family gets to be the natural state of our lives.

I've heard many moms remark that they can't wait for the winter school break to be over so their kids can get back to school. I remember feeling excited to GET back to school as a kid because I was sick of being at home!

So do we homeschoolers ever get sick of our families and being with them ALL THE TIME? Despite the impression a few glowing blog posts may convey, the answer is YES!!! That is why I LOVE bedtime! Many of the homeschoolers I know have comparatively early bedtimes for their kids. I've often felt this is possible because we get all day to do all the things we WANT to do - family time, lessons, playing outside. Whatever it is, we get it done and can then BE done!

But I also think early bedtimes (at least for ME) mean mom is ready to be "off the clock," doing whatever it is she WANTS to do which is NOT meeting a thousand real and perceived needs generated by her handful(s) of children.

I've been asked before, and wondered before homeschooling myself, "don't you ever need a break?" I can honestly now answer YES, and I get it when my kids go to bed. It's yet another GREAT time of day to be a homeschooler! :)