Home and Family, Homeschooling

Change is a good thing!

One of the challenges of living as a homeschooling family is the reality that you spend LARGE quantities of time together.  While that is a tremendous blessing, it can also be hard.  And same-y.  Daily anything can become a drag.  This summer as you spend time together, and during your planning for the coming academic year, insert some change.  (If you have children that depend on a routine, plan ahead, and let them know what is coming!)

  • Take a few days and reverse your meals.  Have dinner for breakfast, and vice versa, or eat outside.
  • Plan your meals using different themes.  Try all finger foods for a day.  Or add a previously untried fruit/vegetable at each meal. Don’t turn on your stove for 24 hours, but still eat at home.
  • Introduce a different culture’s cuisine every few days, and learn to make food from another part of the world, or explore the same basic food from different countries.  Some foods appear in most places, just in a different form.  Sandwiches become quesadillas, bao, etc.  Looks for examples of soups, one-dish meals, salads, pies (sweet and savory), or desserts.  YUM!
  • If you generally spend Friday running errands, pick a different day of the week, or check out a few less-familiar stores.  You never know what you might be missing!
  • If you live in a “touristy” area, become a tourist for a day and explore all those places people come from all over the country to visit.
  • Spend time at a different local swimming pool, library, or park.
  • If you can have access to them, teach your children to use a typewriter, or carbon paper, or use a slate and chalk for a day rather than paper and pencil.
  • Have a game day as a family.  No academics.  Minimal chores.  Easy meals.  Play games together-board games, card games, go outdoors and learn hopscotch and jacks and kick-the-can.  Laugh together.

As we open up the world to our children, we encourage them to think a little differently.  Flexibility is a requirement in today’s craziness!  Take some time as a family, and develop some together!

Home and Family, Homeschooling

Plumbers use jackhammers. Who knew?

Life is a constantly changing opportunity to play the game of “Associations.”  You know the one I mean- when I say a word, you say the first thing that comes to mind (Christmas/tree, spring/garden, birthday/cake, etc.).  I am learning a new group of associations.  Fascinating.

Plumber/jackhammer.  Not generally the first thought I would have had, but I am so grateful it is true.  How else would they get to the collapsed cast iron pipe under my foundation?  All drains are now working properly.  YEAH!

plumbersWM

Small children/medicine balls.  We found two of these at one of our favorite “odd lot” haunts (6 and 10 lbs. respectively), and brought them home.  What a wonderful thing!  Having the young ones roll them around, use them to get through a quick obstacle course or two, or push them in laundry baskets helps so much with large muscle use on a cold winters’ day, and gets them turned back “on” for academic time!

Penmanship/white clay.  For the eight-year-old, penmanship entails a piece of paper, a pencil, and the assigned items to write.  For the six-year-old?  Not so much.  Due to the differences in learning style and approach, he is creating clay letters and using those for word creation.  Since dyslexics see life in 3D, working with 3D letters helps him orient himself to the task at hand, and he is much more successful.  Love it!

Jacobclaywm

Cleaning/joy.  During the last week, we have had the opportunity to help clear the family home following the death of my father-in-law.  The eight, six, and four year-olds were troopers and carried things up the stairs from the basement so that they could be sorted and given away.  When my sister-in-law commented on their ability to focus and work as hard as the adults, the eldest beamed at her and said, “we love to work!  Especially with Grandpa in his garden!”  And then he got back to the task at hand.  What a payday for the parents and grandparents of that little boy (who is well on his way to manhood)!

Life is full of surprises, and the unexpected can be a learning experience all its own if we are watching for it!  All these, and so many more, are a great reminder that I am not as smart as I wish I were-and that’s okay.  Someone else has it covered, and He will send the unexpected and unanticipated to us when we need it!

Finances, Home and Family, Homeschooling

I can have a life or write.

Life allows for many things, but not everything.  Lately the choices seem to require that I look more and more at the bottom line.  What is the cost?  What are the benefits?  Where should I spend my time?  It has taken weeks to get back to the keyboard.  Why?  Life.  Lots of life.

A few weeks ago, one of the two-year-old twins pulled a hot bowl of soup off the counter, and we spent three days making trips to the ER and burn unit in Salt Lake City.  He is on the mend, and we are so grateful that there shouldn’t be any lasting scars or other damage; but a week just got sucked away with doctor visits, medications, and grandma time for the other kids.  (I think medical black holes are some of the biggest out there!)

We have had the electrician in twice in the last couple of weeks, and have one more repair scheduled.

Our four-year-old grandson has been in and out of evaluations and other appointments.  We now know that we have an additional grandson with Sensory Perception Disorder and he also has auditory processing challenges.  Goody.  More therapy and evals coming in the near future.  It will be wonderful to be given the tools so that we can better help him as he grows.

Military trainings are not scheduled around families.  Just sayin’.

I got the flu. Ugh. Okay. Not the H1N1 crud that is going around right now, but I got pretty sick.  In some ways, it was nice to be forced to take a few days and rest.

Our plumbing sprung a leak.  And then another.  We are now in the process of having entire house replumbed.  In the end it will wonderful; right now it is a bit chaotic.

What have I learned?

  • Setting a New Year’s resolution about being calm and letting go is easier said than done.
  • School day disruptions are not the end of the world, but things will run more smoothly the more closely life can resemble whatever “normal” is.  Keep good habits going as you can.  Also, having an in-home library, and lots of hands-on activities is a real blessing!
  • Prayer is a wonderful thing!
  • Music is a gift.  I can listen as clean, think, or hide.  And I can watch the joy in my eldest grandson’s face as we work on his piano together.
  • I am blessed with an incredible network of people who are willing to jump in and help me keep my head above water.  I am so grateful!
  • All of the $$$ skills we learned as a young family are indispensable!  As we pay for plumbing, and other unexpected expenses, it so great to know that I can dust off my copy of The Complete Tightwad Gazette and channel my inner tightwad.  We can do this!
  • Thank heaven for food storage, and the tools/skills to use it!
  • When you buy an older home with lots of “character”, repairs are in your future!
  • The Lord is faithful.  Our family is returning to health.  We found a plumber who will do the job, and is willing to work with us.  My home is still a refuge from the storm.  And I can be happy as life goes on around me.

Can I have a nap now?  And then I will work on more writing…life allowing.

Home and Family, Homeschooling, Parenting

20 Years Later: Things I Would Do Again and Things I Wouldn’t

Things I would do again (and often wish I could)-

  • Read about home schooling, home schoolers, and education theory in general.  Talk to people who have been successful.  Get involved.  Learn enough to have a wide overview of my options- and then choose wisely.
  • Laugh.  A lot.  Find the humor in the hard days, the struggle, and the joy.
  • Find families that have great teens and ask how they got there.  I am so grateful to those willing to share with me.  (Great teenagers do not just fall from the sky that way.)
  • Have absolutes.  No double standards.  Your children will spot hypocrisy a mile away.  It is confusing and frustrating for them.  Help them learn what you value before the world has a chance to rewrite their value system.  Live what you preach.
  • Apologize to your children when you are wrong.  We all make mistakes.  Create learning experiences out of them so that your family can be comfortable knowing that it is okay to mess up.  The problem is being unwilling to work it out.
  • Limit screen time.  For years, our television lived in the closet.  It came out for special occasions, surgical convalescence, and holidays.  The computer was for academics.  It is easier to focus when the distractions are limited.
  • Put a stop sign on the front door.  Ignore the phone during academic hours.  Take the time you have with your children seriously and those around you will learn to as well.
  • Limit the junk.  Life is full of time-wasters, distractions, and wasteful options.  There are not enough hours in the day to waste them on things that do not build, feed, encourage, or edify.  Mere entertainment in not enough.
  • Remember – you are the model your children will follow.  You are the adult with whom they have the most contact.  You must choose to handle stress, the unexpected, the wonderful, the negative, and the shocking, with grace and control.  If you don’t, how will they learn to do so?  (I learned this a number of years into our family life by watching my children be “me”.  Not pretty!)
  • Identify the learning styles and personality types of your children.  We used the information we learned to not only “school” more effectively, but to help communication within our family.  Not everyone sees the world in the same way; recognizing the way others see it is a tremendous tool.  We learned to relate to each other better and be more patient with each other.
  • Have a schedule.  Success is much more likely if you are flexible within a framework than if you have no guidelines or expectations.  People are inherently lazy- adults and children alike.  Self-mastery comes from meeting expectations, having discipline, and consistency.  That applies to the parents as much as the children.
  • Have annual goals: Academic goals, spiritual goals, service-oriented goals, life and skill-related goals for each member of the family.
  • Begin the day with group time.  In our pjs.  With hot chocolate.  (Okay, get dressed if you must.)  But seriously, starting the academic part of the day together with an opening devotional, reading literature and history together, doing drill and memorization work as a group was such a great experience.  Sometimes it lasted for an hour; sometimes much more than that.  Having time with my children every day to discuss things, hear their thoughts and ideas, and just enjoy each other was brilliant.
  • Find a phone buddy.  Having a calm, supportive, and friendly adult to talk to on hard days helped me laugh at myself, see the humor in the struggle, and be a better mom to my kids.
  • Have my teenager’s friends in my home.  Do units in the summer with public school and home school kids.  (We did a few of these and they were SO fun.)  Bake cookies.  Host group date activities.  Feed them.  Even more fun, teach them to cook.
  • Take time for your marriage.  When the children leave home, and they eventually will, it is important to know how to spend time together as adults and communicate.  Nurture each other.

Things I would Not do again-

  • Get caught up in worrying so much.  You are the parent.  Be one.  Take the best from each idea or method you come across.  Leave the rest.  It’s your decision.
  • Spend so much on “stuff”.  I am a home school junkie.  I admit it.  If I had only found companies like Timberdoodle and books like The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer (great resource lists) I could have saved a bundle!
  • Begin without any organization.  I overspent and duplicated too much by not knowing what I already owned.  You don’t need things to be perfect, just have a framework, a few ideas, and somewhere to put things!
  • Avoid things I disliked in school.  As I stopped feeling intimidated or disinterested in things, I found I love history, and really enjoyed art.  I can think scientifically.  And my children were more willing to try as they watched me learn with them.  Home schooling has given me a second-chance at my own education.
  • Tell another parent they should be home schooling.  I love to teach people how to do what we have been able to do, but I have learned to wait until asked.  Home schooling takes commitment, time, money, and patience.  It is not for everyone!  As we support others and the choices they make, our children will learn to appreciate and celebrate the differences in people.  What a great lesson to learn!
Gardening, Home and Family

Clearing the weeds

It has returned.  The attack of the weeds has begun again!  My herb garden is becoming over-run, so I have begun my nightly routine of 10-15 minutes of pulling what doesn’t belong.  (If I do any more than that at one time, my fibromyalgia flares and I am out of the game.)  Then I looked in my lawn and realized that the entire summer may be spent with a trowel and digger in hand!  Where to start?

Here is what I decided:

  • Begin with what can hurt me or the someone else.  Utah has these wonders called goat heads.  They resemble the caltrops used in the warfare to make a horse go lame, except they are small, wooden, and stick into feet about 1/8 of an inch.  OUCH!  There are also thistles with spikes, and other stickers of various shapes and sizes.  I have no mercy on any of them.
  • Move on to the vines which aren’t as much a threat to me but will choke my plants.  Bindweed looks similar to a miniature morning glory, but isn’t as pretty or as helpful.  Morning glory has large, gorgeous flowers which follow the sun and climb so that you can plant it and create your own privacy fence or trellis wall.  Lovely!  Bindweed, on the other hand, creeps along the ground, up the fences, and across everything in sight.  It sends out roots that cover the same area underground.  The only truly effective way to eradicate it is by hand-pulling it every time you see any.  AUGH!  No mercy here either.
  • Pull whatever else is there which shouldn’t be.  There are indigenous plants which pop up here and there.  One tug and out they come.  No big deal.  Just not invited into my lawn or garden.

What am I learning as I pull, tug, dig, and yank?  My life is also full of weeds.  Some aren’t necessarily dangerous; they just get in my way if I let them.  Others choke out the things I would prefer to have in my life instead.  They are the time and/or energy wasters.  I just need to be vigilant to keep them at bay or I will find everything I intended to grow and flourish is buried under something much less desirable.  Then there are those things which can really damage me or those I love.  Anger, worry, judging, selfishness, and vitriol can become so encompassing I lose sight of the beauty and grandure which surrounds me.  If I am not careful, they will steal my peace of mind, and make having a grateful heart near to impossible.  People are fallible, me included.  My garden grows as I accept them for who they are and what they have to share.  I grow as I share and accept and love.

Maybe as I weed this year, I can clear more ground than what is outside my window.

Finances, Homeschooling

Differences in curriculum

Confession: I am homeschool catalog junkie.  As a mom, I created our curriculum each year.  With very limited funds, we used what I could find second-hand or on major markdown, create myself, borrow from the library, and request from Grandma and Grandpa as gifts.  No apologies for what we did.  It worked well.  All my children went to college.  They were offered multiple scholarships, and both daughters graduated with honors.  (My sons have not completed their university educations, but are both at the top of their class and thriving!)  Each of them are contributing adults in the communities in which they live.  I wouldn’t change them for the world!

Now they are beginning their own families, and I am the Grandma.  More catalogs come in the mail than when my children were younger; there are so many more choices now.  I love it!  The games, curriculum options, and diversity of ideas is exciting!  As I watch my grandchildren grow, and work with other moms on curriculum planning, I am discovering these things all over again!  One reality I find most interesting and fascinating to explore is each child needs different things, and any budget can be effective with proper planning and focus.  There is no single perfect curriculum which is ideal for everyone.

Here is a sample of what I have learned.  In our home, we have spelling curriculum from Christian Liberty Press, Rod and Staff Publishers, and a copy of McGuffey’s Eclectic Spelling Book.  While all three are not strictly necessary, there are strengths for each one.  I used the McGuffey…Speller for my children.  It covered K-12, cost me $10, and was effective.  The other two series we have acquired for my grandsons.  Some copies were found second-hand; some we purchased new. I love the Christian Liberty Press books for J, my second grandson who is 5.  He is a dually-exceptional learner and does extremely well with consistent formats and review in logical steps.  Rod and Staff is what the 7 year-old is using.  He is highly gifted and loves that handwriting practice (currently cursive), critical thinking, and spelling are combined in one lesson.  We skip the minimal review sections, test orally, and move on to the next lesson as soon as he is ready.  He is currently in book 3, but will be moving into book 4 shortly.  If we were simply testing his spelling ability he would be in book 5, but because each lesson requires he understand and be able to use each word properly, and encourages a bit of thought, we backed up a bit.

As I expand the companies with which I am familiar, the need to understand how your children learn, and to have a budget seems more and more crucial.  If you have the need and/or desire, you can create your own plan for minimal expense and give your children the chance to soar.  If you are not comfortable creating your own plan, you can look into the myriad of options out there to meet the needs of your child.  There are strengths, weaknesses, and biases in each written curriculum.  World-views differ.  Some focus on traditional learners, while others are better suited for advanced and gifted learners who tend to require less practice, more information, and are able to infer connections differently than their peers.  Many are book and seat-work based, or you can find one which leans heavily on computer-use, or is focused on tactile learning.  If you hunt, the selections are seemingly endless.

The method of education you choose does not need to be dictated by your pocketbook.  Classical education supplies can be purchased in curriculum sets for hundreds of dollars or you can gather your own for much less.   Whether you lean towards child-led learning, Charlotte Mason, or some other method, you can teach for pennies or spend a ton on curriculum and fun stuff.  It is more important that you understand how your children learn, what their gifts are, and purchase (or create) from there.  Teaching your own just gets more and more exciting as time goes by!

My favorite catalogs are Timberdoodle, Veritas Press, Dover Publishing, and Critical Thinking Company.  What are yours?

Homeschooling

Curriculum planning rant

It is that time of year again.  Now is often when homeschool moms get into the books for the coming year, and put an academic plan together.  If you use a programmed curriculum, it is fairly straight-forward.  You buy their books, and use what works with the learning level for your child.  It may require a tweak or two, but nothing too crazy.  Then again, if you are trying to assemble curriculum on your own (as we did), it can get confusing.  Let me explain.

Obviously you need math, language arts, history, science, and some fun stuff for the year.  Add in critical thinking, cultural arts, religious studies, life skills, and a bit of this and that and it can look undecipherable.  Let’s try making sense of it.

Math.  Pretty clear.  You have a text-book, flashcards, and maybe some math songs for learning basic skills.  Done.  But what about games and activities like tangrams, pattern blocks, or other math-related critical thinking options?  Is that math?  Is that critical thinking?  Is it just for fun, and not recorded at all?  Is cooking math, science or life skills?  Hmmm…

Let’s try it with language arts.  This generally includes reading and literature, spelling, vocabulary, penmanship, grammar, and writing.  Oh, boy.  Do you do spelling and vocabulary together?  One list for each?  Isn’t that a lot of writing?  If so, does it also count for writing?  Not really.  Oh.  Okay.  Grammar could be done in your best hand, and then it may also count for penmanship…or not.  Reading.  Simple enough.  Pick a book and read.  Literature means find a well-written, classic work.  Read and talk about it.  Okay.  If we are reading The Door in the Wall, is that literature?  Do we count it as history?  It does provide a great jumping off point for a discussion about life in medieval Europe. If we are reading Bible stories is that literature, history or religious studies, or something else?  If you teach them to outline on the computer, is that writing or computer skills?

Enough of that.  Let’s look at history and social studies.  History- the story of what has gone before us.  Social studies- the lives of people throughout the world.  Sounds pretty basic.  Where do you add geography?  Or is that a subject on its own which deals with different cultures and covers also orientation and map-reading skills?  If you study specific countries around the globe, and include commonly used phrases and a titch of their grammar, has that just become a study of foreign language or language arts?  What about political studies and law?  If you include a study of your nation’s founders, and the creation of your government is that history?  Law?  Or does it get a more specific title such as Government Studies?  Then there is economics.  It generally falls under the social studies umbrella, but does it count for math if you are working on interest rates, checking and savings accounts, and such?  Or do we call those things life skills instead?  Perhaps some of each?  And is the study of art and/music history part of history or cultural arts?

Is science any easier?  Are we simply working on a specific branch of science such as physics, or biology using reference materials and experiments?  What if we begin studying about Newton, and Darwin?  Is that still science?  Has it just become history?  Or if it is a classical work they have written, are we now doing literature (which is language arts)?  Do we teach evolution or creation science as science or do we create a comparitive study of them as a critical thinking exercise?  Is growing a garden and preserving the surplus considered botany and chemistry, or should you call it life skills?

You get the idea.  In all seriousness, Mom, don’t over-think this!  The answer to these questions if YES;  you can place this material where ever you see fit.  Set your goals.  Choose your materials.  Put your plan together, and get to the exciting business of learning as a family!  If you have high-school age youth who will need a transcript, you may find it helpful to use more diverse labeling for their studies in order to include what they will need for college admissions.  (Just ensure that you cover enough information to be able to claim completion of that subject!)  What matters most is that your children receive a broad, well thought out, and challenging education that provides them with the knowledge base, discipline and study habits to serve them throughout their lifetime.  However things were categorized when they were children, they will remember it as part of their education.  Isn’t that what really matters?